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Soul Cruiser by Michaela Cordes | 31st May, 2024 | Travel

Often referred to as the most beautiful yacht in the world, the Europa is celebrating her 25th anniversary this year. GG had the opportunity to travel on board from Halifax in Canada to New York City along the U.S. East Coast. Why small but exquisite is a fine combination or how Hapag-Lloyd ignites the love for very special cruises.

t’s one of those exhilarating moments when you feel that the weather gods are beaming down on your plans: I am surrounded by the sparkling Atlantic, glistening sea spray and a brilliant blue sky. From my sunchair on the deck of the Europa, I spot a waiter balancing a tray full of champagne glasses. I adjust my sunglasses, snuggle into the cozy blanket and focus my gaze past the railing towards our final destination. On the hazy horizon, I can make out the ever-expanding outlines of the New York City skyline, towards which we are now heading. It’s a moment that has long been up there at the top of my bucket list: to sail into New York.

As a true Hamburger, I grew up by the water and on boats. Some of my fondest childhood memories include adventures at sea: in oilskins, in constant rain, sailing on the Baltic Sea. But a cruise? I hadn’t been much of a fan of this increasingly popular way of ­traveling. The idea of being on one of those floating skyscrapers with over 6,000 other passengers, being offered nonstop amusement and entertainment, a kind of Club Med on the water. No – but thank you! Just thinking about it turned me into a snob.

Until now. After a week on board the exquisite Europa, which, at 200 meters, is only 20 meters longer than the Azzam (currently the world’s largest private yacht at 180 meters), I am converted. And I have developed an almost affectionate relationship with this ship, which has transported me in the most beautiful manner to the gates of Manhattan in the last few days. This year, the flagship of the Hamburg shipping company Hapag-Lloyd celebrates its 25th anniversary.

A trip down the East Coast of the USA was on our itinerary. We started in the Canadian city of Halifax and continued from beautiful Portland, Maine to Boston (where we went on an excursion to Harvard University), to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where, after a spectacular whale-watching tour, I could check another long-awaited adventure off my bucket list. I owe this unforgettable experience to the excellent team of the travel agency on board, which organizes everything for its guests, from extraordinary excursions like helicopter flights to private limousines.

From the small observation boat in the midst of the plankton-rich waters, we saw countless humpback whales leaping out of the water at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. At this time of year (from April to October), the marine giants gorge themselves daily on up to a ton of fish per whale to prepare for their long journey and mating in the West Indies. After each excursion, when I return to the ship, it feels a little more like coming “home.” This is due to the special warmth and sincerity that I experience on the Europa. This unique atmosphere is largely created by Gabi Haupt, the product manager of the Europa, who knows each of the 285 employees by name. Considered by many to be the heart of the cruise ship, she and her team are also responsible for creating individual journeys.

With many repeat guests who come back for more (most book two to three weeks), creating new routes and destinations is a challenge. Due to complex factors like reserving port slots and booking excursions ashore, preparation often starts three years before a cruise actually departs. Over the past 20 years, passenger requirements have changed significantly – and with them the Europa. Shortly after its completion in 1999, it was still considered a traditional cruise ship with daily gala ­dinners at ten-person tables for which people got all dressed up. Today, in the traditional Europa restaurant, you won’t find large tables anymore, but many small ones. Tuxedos and evening gowns are passé, only a jacket is required for gentlemen. The fact that the etiquette is much more relaxed on board today, but no less elegant, is also underscored by the conversion of half of the onboard hair salon into a kids’ club.

To meet the changing demands of an increasingly younger generation, the Europa underwent extensive renovation in 2019. In record-breaking 14 days, 800 craftsmen and 60 subcontractors at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg built a 700-square-meter spa and a gym on top of the ship. Innovative fitness classes, nutrition workshops in collaboration with physician and author Dr. Anne Fleck, as well as lectures by renowned experts on health and relaxation have been part of the program ever since. The maximum of 350 passengers can be accommodated in 200 veranda suites.

The culinary experiences offered on board have also received an upgrade. The Italian restaurant Venezia was expanded by a few square meters and at the stern of the ship, the very popular Sansibar – well-known among fans of the North Sea island of Sylt – opened up. Inspired by one of the cruises he had worked, on which he liked taking his mattress up on deck at night to sleep under the open sky, three-star chef Kevin Fehling created the new gourmet restaurant The Globe. Another haute cuisine temple is the new caviar bar Pearls (all restaurant visits are included in the price, you just have to make a reservation). Here, Chef Michael Hoffmann prepares an extravagant six-course caviar menu, which delights us with the variety of ways that delicious fish eggs can be served.

The Captain’s Dinner is still a popular highlight for which guests like to dress up more elegantly. Captain Jörg Peter Berendsen, who was raised in Lübeck in northern Germany, worked for 15 years on sailing cruise ships like the Sea Cloud and the Alexander von Humboldt II. During our visit to the bridge, he enthuses that he has been on board since June 2022 and regards the MS Europa to be the Olympus of cruise ships: “I consider it a real task to maintain this beautiful tradition. For this, I was willing to give up sails.”

Just before we reach New York, he and his crew have a very special surprise in store: After dinner, we are invited on deck for a rare spectacle that takes place over the next few hours. In the middle of the dark night, on the calm Atlantic, we encounter the equally brightly lit sister ship Europa 2, an event that is celebrated with great applause and a loud blowing of the ship’s horn. At the same time, a dinghy crosses the waves from ship to ship, taking the sculpture the “Wanderer” from the Europa to the Europa 2. From there it will move on to other Hapag-Lloyd ships and travel the world.

Yes, emotions run high on this special cruise and reach their climax when we arrive in New York City and cruise past the Statue of Liberty to Frank Sinatra’s famous song “New York, New York” echoing from the speakers. It may sound “cheesy,” as Americans like to say, but standing among all the other passengers on deck, a glass of champagne in my hand and a broad smile on my face, passing the Freedom Tower and the West Side Highway, with a clear view over New Jersey and Manhattan, is unforgettable!

By the way, in its belly, this ship transports not only 14 tons of fresh food, seven tons of fish and lobster and 60 kilograms of caviar, but also 12,000 bottles of wine and champagne. A few hours later, we are docked at Pier 90, from where I can walk straight from the ship into Midtown Manhattan. In the evening, I enjoy one last drink in the Sansibar, where I chat with a lady who clearly qualifies as a regular guest. She has taken more than 30 cruises on this ship and raves: “I love the Europa – it’s simply a soul ship!”

IssueGG Magazine 03/24
City/CountryHamburg, Germany
PhotographyCourtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises