In case you missed the first instalment of this special Fast Lane two-parter, last week I was battling a heavy spring storm through the streets of Hamburg en route to the harbour. Having long been fascinated by the idea of taking a cruise, I wrapped up last week’s column just as I was about to board Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Europa 2 – bound for Copenhagen. We’ll pick up the story as I boarded the ship and was greeted by two very dapper porters in navy uniforms with brass buttons.
With Mom and Mats in tow, our bags were tagged and we were escorted through security, down a tarpaulin corridor and then up MS Europa 2’s gangway. On board we were handed over to a female steward who showed us to the lift and we silently ascended to deck 10 – trying to take in the interiors, the mix of guests and the general buzz ahead of casting off.
Standing across from us were two German gentlemen (nice denim, well-cut shirts and good footwear). They smiled our way and attempted to start up a conversation but were cut short when the doors opened on deck nine and they had to exit. One level up we were met by a gentleman who introduced himself as our butler and we walked down the woody/beige corridor, first stopping at my Mom’s room and then moving along to ours.
With an oaky/taupy palette, accented by stainless steel, the interiors felt properly nautical without any of the gimmicks. The wood gave the interior of my mother’s suite a timeless quality that might have borrowed a few design cues from the classic French liner Normandie (MS Europa 2 was built in a French yard and set sail last year) and the designers have focused on drawing the eye to the balcony and sea beyond.
Along the corridor in our suite (all 100 plus metres of it), the colour scheme was similar but there was a separate bedroom, two bathrooms and a very large area for entertaining. “Please let us know if you’d like any canapés or have special requests should you invite any fellow passengers back for a small party,” said the butler.
As he proceeded to set up the room and organise the luggage, I tried to think of the last time anyone at a hotel had ever encouraged me to invite people back to my room for a party. In fact, it made me think of a recent visit to Sydney’s Park Hyatt, where I was warned in advance about making too much noise because I’d placed a large room-service order that the night manager thought might erupt into a rooftop rave.
We settled in, and threw open the doors to the harbour beyond, as the skies started to clear and Hamburg began to brighten up. Sitting out on the balcony for a drink, I was impressed to see the company had chosen Garpa furniture for its outdoor loungers, chairs and tables. I reckoned it made sense that a German ship should choose the best in German design. Back in the cabin, I looked at other pieces of furniture, then the glassware, then the drinks in the minibar and the selection of toiletries. Everything was either made in Germany or procured from a German-owned company.
Indeed, it seems that solid German quality is a defining feature of MS Europa 2’s overall brand ethos. At dinner we enjoyed an excellent Grauburgunder from Baden; later, as we sailed along the Elbe, the gin on offer was from the Black Forest-based Monkey 47 and the tonic from a small, up-and-coming manufacturer in Berlin. The bar was a special franchise of the club Sansibar, from the North Frisian resort island of Sylt and, if you were peckish later, the overnight room service menu offered Currywurst mit Pommes or Frankfurters mit Kartoffelsalat.
For sure, some British newspapers would have a field day poking fun at all the German clichés but, by the following morning, I was very happy to see that strong social capital (and strong social codes) made for a very tight ship; fellow passengers speak in hushed tones and are courteous (lots of nodding of heads as a silent form of greeting) and children are well behaved and not allowed to run riot around the pool. At lunch and dinner, passengers made an effort to look the part with outfits ranging from respectable to chic by day and good blazers and elegant dresses the staples for evening.
As we only booked a three-day cruise (it being an experiment and all) we didn’t sample the spa, the dance floor, the jazz bar or even four of the other restaurants. It was lovely enough just being on a very empty deck (the ship was full) with an Aperol spritz and plenty to read. Would I do it again? The ship’s catalogue is currently riding around in my tote bag and I’m thinking southeast Asia, early next year.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine