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Posted by on Mar 30, 2008 in Bargains | 0 comments

MS Europa: Extreme Luxury at Sea

MS Europa: Extreme Luxury at Sea

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MS Europa

There are many reasons why MS EUROPA is the only Five-Star Plus ship in the 2008 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships and why it was the only cruise ship to receive a Six-Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Science. I discovered those reasons when I sailed, with my daughter Nina on the EUROPA on a 10-day cruise of the Black Sea.

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"Though the cruise itself provided plenty of pampering, I could not pass up the Ocean Spa, which offered a full menu of body and facial treatments, as well as nail and hair services."

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When I arrived at the dock in Istanbul, service began immediately. Two crew members met us, relieving us of our luggage, checking boarding passes, taking our passports to complete the check-in process and then escorting us onboard, where champagne, hors d’oeuvres and music awaited. I had never experienced this level of ease and welcome when boarding a cruise ship.

After some light refreshment, we took the scenic elevator to our stateroom which was picture-perfect, with a comfortable seating area as well as an inviting private veranda. I knew that the EUROPA was an "all-suites" ship and that 80% of them have private verandas. But actually being here, I was even more impressed. Our suite, like all the others, had Cruise Net, a complimentary TV information network with private e-mail, a terrific selection of movies, music on demand, cruise information and the Internet. A bottle of good champagne was chilling in a bucket and our mini-bar was stocked with soft drinks, beer and mineral water; all were complimentary and the mini-bar would be restocked regularly. We had a walk-in closet the size of a small room and a spacious bathtub and separate shower in the bathroom. Our cabin stewardess came by to introduce herself and to show us how to operate the various CruiseNet services. Already I could see why the service level on the EUROPA was renowned: the ship has the highest staff to passenger ratio in the industry, with 280 staff members for 400 guests.

When the ship sailed, traveling along the Bosporus out to sea, there was more champagne and a commentary on the sights by Capt. Friedrich Jan Akkermann, the 13th generation of his family to be a sea captain. I noticed that there was little noise or vibration. A few days later, during a bridge tour, the captain explained the reason: the ship’s electric motors and propellers are suspended in pods below the hull. (We also learned that the EUROPA, only 650-feet long with a shallow draft, can dock in places where larger vessels cannot.

As night fell and lights illuminated the historic buildings along the shore, Nina and I decided to dine at an outdoor table at the Lido Caf so we could continue to watch the city of Istanbul slipping away. Though the Lido is the ship’s casual dining venue, it would be a mistake to confuse it with the long buffet lines and the erratic service sometimes associated with larger ships. The service was as attentive as it would be in a fine-dining restaurant, with beverages brought to the table. And though there were several buffets, offering a variety of cooked food, salads and desserts, there were no lines. The food, too, bore no resemblance to mass-produced buffet food. It was varied and well-prepared with top ingredients. During our cruise, there would be several "theme nights" at the Lido Caf .  For Turkish Night, the wait-staff, colorfully dressed in ethnic costumes, brought complimentary raki and trays of Turkish dishes, explaining each one. And for Russian night, we had the customary blini and caviar and vodka.

Dining at the other restaurants the Europa (main dining room), the Oriental (Asian) and the Venezia (Italian) was like dining at a multi-starred restaurant. For example, the menu on the first formal evening included superb lobster and plenty of champagne, but also excellent and impeccably served caviar (I learned that the cost was 1600 Euros a kilo).

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With all the lavish dining, not to mention the delectables delivered by room service, some form of exercise was necessary. Fortunately the Fitness Loft had panoramic windows overlooking the pool deck, so doing time on the treadmills wasn’t a chore. And the 20 meter by 75 meter pool was never crowded and often empty, so doing easy laps was a pleasure. The nearby hot tub was the perfect place to wind down–and later, covered with a comfy blanket, I could daydream away a pleasant half hour or so.

If, however, I happened to be in the pool area in mid-afternoon, good intentions would go right out the window because that’s when the aroma of hot waffles would fill the air. Who could resist waffles with ice cream? Not I. Nearby, in the library, yet another temptation was the afternoon tea, a proper English tea, properly made with top quality tea leaves and served in lovely individual teapots to accompany the temptingly displayed sandwiches and cakes. Ah, well, I thought, after succumbing to temptation more than once, surely the tranquility of the voyage, the walking I did in all the ports would provide a health benefit to balance those extra carbs and calories.

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Though the cruise itself provided plenty of pampering, I could not pass up the Ocean Spa, which offered a full menu of body and facial treatments, as well as nail and hair services. Here, too, there was an atmosphere of quiet, and I could almost count on total privacy when I wanted to relax in the solarium or take a steam or a sauna. What I liked is that the spa would stay open past the usual 8 p.m. closing if a passenger wished a later service.

So one evening, I decided to have what was described as a "Sleep Well Massage" (40 Euros for 30 minutes) at 8:30 just to see if it would indeed send me off to dreamland. After I checked in, Inga settled me comfortably on the massage table and   proceeded to work her magic where it was most needed: my neck and shoulders. Then, using fingers, hands, arms and elbows, she worked her way along various muscle groups, soothing aches and releasing kinks. All this soothing was compounded by the gentle movement of the ship, and when my time was up, I felt as if I were rooted to the europa-7table. Reluctantly I returned to my room and to my own comfortable bed. The next thing I knew, it was morning. My daughter told me that I had literally staggered into the room the previous evening and was out like the proverbial light within minutes.

I should mention that the EUROPA does have spa suites, decorated in the same shades of red and gold as the spa, with whirlpool bathtubs and windows in the bathrooms. The lucky passengers who occupied the spa suites were just steps away from all the pleasures the Ocean Spa had to offer.

The MS EUROPA was awarded six stars plus by Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation 2007; Fielding’s Guide to Luxury Cruises voted the MS EUROPA Ship of the Year 2006.

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