UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
Sailing with Hapag-Lloyd to profile 500-passenger Europa 2, we took a day in Greece to sample shore excursions. Initially, my ship-focused attention found the notion of spending a day ashore a bit of a distraction. I was here to see the ship. Said to be ‘the most luxurious ship you never heard of’, odds are if I had skipped this trip entirely, no one would have missed the story. But what caught my attention and lured me ashore was a very simple statement made by one of our German Hapag-Lloyd hosts. He wanted us to see “what they were all about” with a subtle but passionate energy that we don’t often run across.
The day began as others we had seen in the waters around Greece with a marvelous sunrise. Looking back at the bridge of Europa 2 where the day before we had experienced sailing away from Thessaloniki, I had a great appreciation for the view as we approached Limenas. Back with the Captain again, this time he was piloting a Zodiac expedition boat and took us first on an up close tour of the ship.
Our tour ashore started with a visit to the mountain village of Panagia. On a walking tour of the village, we strolled though narrow streets and passages, stopping from time to time before continuing on to La Scala beach for a leisurely time soaking up the local flavor. Continuing up the steep mountainside terrain, we stopped for a typical Greek lunch before making our way back to sea level and Europa 2.
A Greek-themed wine tasting highlighted Europa 2’s cellar that holds over 400 labels curated from around the world, reflecting the places Hapag-Lloyd visits on a unique roster of itineraries. Sailing a short distance for an overnight in Kavala, we were met by local dancers from the Greek port, performing on the pier.
It was a full day of unique experiences that did indeed afford us the opportunity to experience Hapag-Lloyd’s commitment to providing a quality experience for travelers choosing to sail with them.
Still, thoughts were turned toward the ship and just exactly who this experience would be a good fit for. Strolling around and through the multiple included dining venues there were no surprises here: this is a mostly German group of passengers. Still, the Hapag-Lloyd version of a luxury cruise is starting to come into focus and the resulting image is both unique and pleasant.
If I stopped right there, threw up a bunch of photos, answered reader questions and moved along to the next event, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 would rate nicely. No big surprise there either, the ship has received multiple ‘best ship in the world’ awards. But doing so would be taking the easy way out. There is a whole lot more to this story and defining for whom this ship would be a good fit for is going to take some extra work, for a number of reasons.
Unlike every other cruise line we have ever profiled, Hapag-Lloyd has nearly no online social presence. No Twitter. No Instagram. No Pinterest. No Google+. A limited Facebook effort is about it. As what we do here goes, this is about like asking a carpenter to build a house out of wood with a knife and fork: difficult but not impossible. The situation begs the question: Why?
This is a cruise line with vast resources at its disposal, fueled by a robust container shipping line. At the end of the day, a thought occurred to me that helped put things in perspective.
They have spared no expense building a stunning ship that is simply amazing, done well with the German market and are working so very hard to source English-speaking guests.
In a way, the situation reminds me of when Italian cruise line MSC initially tried to break into the North American market. Not taking the time to figure out what North Americans want in a cruise, they sailed into town with MSC Orchestra and totally botched the job. We were on one of the initial sailings that had passengers nearly fighting to get off when it was over. The only truly bad cruise we have ever been on, the line refunded our fare and offered us a future cruise for free that we never took. It has taken MSC years to recover from that debacle but new MSC Divina seems to be on the right track.
A far more forward-thinking Hapag-Lloyd is taking a different approach. That will be the topic of our next chapter.