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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Cruise Diva's CRUISE DIARY

Pride of Hapag-Lloyd's Fleet

Would I remember any of the German I learned as a teenager living in Kaiserslautern, Germany in the '60s? Maybe I should have spent less time learning to drive and listening to the Beatles and instead concentrated on the language of the country.

I really tried to converse with, or at least greet, fellow passengers and crewmembers in their native tongue. Unfortunately, I understood only about every tenth word. Fortunately, without exception, they smiled at my efforts and responded in English. After all, this was a bi-lingual cruise on board Hapag-Lloyd's flagship Europa.

Hailed by Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships annual guidebooks, as THE world's top ship, Europa had quite a reputation to uphold. Did it live up to his accolades? Since he was on board, I asked him and compared observations. You be the judge!

The Itinerary

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Baltimore, Maryland

  • Sea Day

  • Charleston, South Carolina

  • Savannah, Georgia

My schedule allowed for me to sail only four nights of the 12-night itinerary, but it was enough... enough to make me yearn to continue on to Florida, the Caribbean, and Nassau.

Philadelphia Embarkation

Philadelphia Naval Business Center

The last time I joined a cruise ship in Philadelphia embarkation was at the "fruit terminal" where vehicles literally drove through the building to drop off luggage. It was neither inviting or an auspicious beginning to a cruise. All that has changed with the development of the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, which was once the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Surrounded by brick buildings, Marine Parade Grounds, manicured lawns, and restaurants, the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal is the most pleasant facility from which I've sailed. The US Navy really did things right and Philadelphia hasn't dropped the ball since taking over the facilities.

It didn't take long to pass security, show identification, and proceed to Europa shortly before the scheduled 4pm boarding time. After an easy embarkation, I was somewhat weary from my early flights and an extensive tour of the city. Greeted by the Purser, I was shown to a seat in the reception area and gratefully accepted a flute of welcome-aboard champagne while she checked on the availability of my suite (all accommodations on Europa are termed suites).

The Europa difference was immediately evident as my champagne was served on a linen cocktail napkin. No paper here! Within minutes I was shown to my suite by a cheerful stewardess who pointed out its features and patiently instructed me in the use of the television's email function. It took a bit of practice, but I mastered its use after a few tries. Every passenger was issued a unique shipboard email address to use the complimentary service during their voyage.

Europa was launched in 1999 and one would expect a five-year old ship to show a bit of wear and tear. Not so! My balcony suite was spotless and everything appeared brand-new. As I unpacked, I explored my quarters... the walk-in closet with dozens of wood hangers, personal safe, shoe horn, umbrellas, clothes brush, and bank of deep drawers was adequate for a much larger wardrobe than mine. Stocked with bottles of shampoo, shower gel, body lotion, q-tips, a sewing kit, and heavenly scented soaps, the bathroom also had plenty of storage space behind mirrored doors as well as drawers and cabinets beneath the marble topped sink/vanity. A tub and separate shower with glass door and adjustable shower head offered options for bathing.

A touch I had never seen on a cruise ship made a positive impression... his-and-hers sized bathrobes. The amenities just didn't stop—a mini bar stocked with complimentary bottled water, juices, beer, and soft drinks; a variety of glassware; drawers in the desk/dressing table; plush duvets; slippers; a messenger-bag tote; accordion-style file holder for papers; personalized stationery; and a sitting area that could be separated from the beds by drawing a wall-to-wall curtain. The deep balcony was furnished with a table, two chairs, and a lounger (all with padded cushions).

Attention to comfort was evident throughout. The bedside reading lamps even have nightlights. If I had to pick a quibble, it would be that sound from the hallway could be irritating, although I never heard anything from the suite next door. Even my quibble had an upside—while dressing for dinner I could enjoy the pianist performing in the atrium Piano Bar one deck below.

It took some effort, but after refreshing myself with champagne and the strawberries waiting in my suite, I tore myself away from my private plush surroundings to take a look around the ship before dinner.

What did I find between the boat drill and our departure from Philadelphia? 

First I ran across Douglas Ward and a film crew...

  • Part Two -- Tour Europa & Baltimore's Inner Harbor

  • Part Three -- At sea, a day in Charleston & debark in Savannah

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