This year's issue has just been released with fanfare, and a press statement that says: 'If you want a holiday that's hasslefree, virtually pre-paid, and that lets you see lots of places while only needing to pack and unpack once, then you should try a cruise. This best-selling book is the cruise industry bible: it gives you all the information you need to choose the right cruise for you.'
I would take issue with that statement of course! Whilst it gives you loads of information, I still think you need a two way conversation to help you choose the right cruise for you, and one with a specialist agent at that, who can really work out your tastes and preferences. My old friend Douglas Ward and his team meticulously update the book every year, and whilst I tend not to agree with his ratings, I cannot fault the content of the book, packed with useful information about cruise holidays, and specific details of individual ships. And as he himself states, 'there really is no best cruise ship - only the ship and cruise that is right for you'.
His admiration of Hapag-Lloyd, whose ships Europa and Europa 2 (and indeed the previous Europa!) are awarded the coveted five stars plus rating, runs deep. And whilst we are sometimes reluctant to recommend Europa, which is a staunchly German ship, Hapag-Lloyd have worked hard to ensure that Europa 2, despite a predominantly German passenger list, maintains an international style on board and totally bilingual delivery. So let's take a look at why Europa 2 achieves that stellar rating. First of all, as we have described on these pages before, the ship itself is beautiful, with a calm, minimalist Northern European décor, flooded with light throughout. In contrast, Hapag Lloyd's signature orange and blue funnel looks even more inappropriate than usual, but there you go, a logo is a logo. Accommodation is spacious with excellent attention to detail, in particular the joinery (including drawers expressly designed to accommodate the coffee capsules for the in-suite coffee maker).
Out and about is stylish, and key for us is the huge choice of dining options with a relaxed book as you go reservation system.The spa and wellness area is absolutely amazing - with a rather typical northern European emphasis on health rather than pampering, the facilities are extensive and there are sweeping sea views throughout with an impressive range of equipment and some unusual treatments. The ship was designed to create a welcoming environment for families with excellent kids clubs, good family accommodation and special parent free shore excursions. Facilities include some quite funky lounges and bars, a wonderful Miele Culinary Arts cookery school, and an interesting art gallery, which is an extension of the excellent collection of art work displayed on board. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend Europa 2 if you are travelling as a small group of family and friends, or if your preference is for a self-contained holiday with not too much social inter-action
Find out more:
· Request a Hapag-Lloyd Cruises brochure