By Alison Root
Cruising is popular but if you can throw golf into the mix then you’ve got the best of both worlds. Alison Root set sail on her first ever cruise and is now completely sold on this type of holiday.
Being a newbie is exciting and so i was very much looking forward to my first cruise experience. After taking a flight to Lisbon I caught a taxi to the port and stood looking in awe at the Europa 2, a ship that took its maiden voyage in May 2013. It is one of four ships operated by German company Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and the Europa 2 and its sister vessel, the Europa, have been awarded as the only 5-star-plus cruise ships worldwide by the Berlitz Cruising Guide for a second consecutive year.
I had assumed that accommodation might still be less spacious and impressive compared with an equivalent bedroom in a luxury hotel. However, my assumption was wrong. My standard suite (not cabin!) was light and airy with a separate dressing room, large bathroom with bath and shower, an area in which to relax and a decent-sized veranda. We’ve all learned never to touch a hotel mini bar because of exuberant prices, but the contents of this mini bar including water, soft drinks and beer are free.
Shortly after a quick refreshment the alarm sounded for the compulsory safety drill and it was at this point that I wished I wasn’t a newbie cruiser, as I self-consciously had to ask for help putting on my lifejacket! A mass of orange-bodied cruisers including adults and children assembled on the pool deck and it was here that I met my fellow international golf media cruisers.
Hapag-Lloyd offer a variety of themed cruises and this includes golf. From Lisbon this seven-night cruise sailed to Cadiz, Malaga, Ibiza, Mallorca, and Barcelona, with three rounds of golf at Montenmedio in Cadiz, El Parador in Malaga and Alcanada in Mallorca. The passenger capacity of the Europa 2 is 500, and this number is relatively small compared with other cruise ships that exceed thousands. The general passenger to space ratio is remarkable and is evident from the extra wide corridors, stairways and high ceilings so it never feels cramped. It’s also easy to connect with the ocean because wherever you are; you never lose sight of the sea, even from the elevator, as there are windows everywhere.
The overall design is contemporary modern; there is limited marble and no gold as that is deemed old luxury. There’s certainly a freshness about the Europa 2,designed with plenty of limestone, light wood panelling and silver detailing that’s complemented by 890 individual pieces of art throughout the ship.
After setting sail during the evening, a full day at sea the following day meant that I could find my sea legs, and this was one prospect that I was not looking forward to. The pieces of ginger that are subtly available for guests to chew should they feel seasick are a welcome back-up and just one of the many nice touches on board. Thankfully not one that I had to abuse!
It was then time to swing a club, as golf is not confined to dry land. There are two golf simulators on board with one offering swing video analysis, and it’s possible to book a lesson with one of two PGA teaching professionals. After whacking several balls with a little more sway than usual due to the slight motion of the ship, we headed next door to the gym and were introduced to the Logical Golf System. This is a range of resistance equipment and when used to replicate various parts of the golf swing, like the backswing, impact position and weight transfer, you can really feel your muscles working and understand how you should swing a golf club!
Of course, it’s renowned that cruises revolve around food and this one is no exception. My preconceived idea of mealtimes on a cruise ship was of hundreds of people piling their plates with food and being allocated a table for the duration of the trip. This might well be so on some vessels, but the Europa 2 prides itself on flexibility and individuality when it comes to dining. You can choose with whom, when and where you want to eat, but this degree of standards comes at a price. There is no all-inclusive option, soft drinks and alcohol at the table are extra, but this does allow for an extensive wine list.
At least I didn’t have to pack a suitcase full of ultra glamorous clothes as the dress code is fairly relaxed. Smart casual - yes - but if you want tradition, then the Europa 2 ship is for you. On this ship you can indulge in five-star luxury without the pomp and ceremony.
There are seven restaurants including four speciality restaurants - French, Italian, Asian and Japanese. Each has its own colour scheme and unique décor with outstanding lighting like the spectacular chandelier that hangs over the unofficial Captain’s table in Weltmeere, the ship’s largest restaurant that’s open for breakfast and dinner.
It’s the finer details that when pointed out reflect the ship’s quality, like the design of the tableware that blends beautifully with each restaurant’s colour scheme. I have to admit, I was always more interested in the delicious food rather than the colour and design of the plate I was eating it from!
The Yacht club is clearly a firm favourite; largely because a section is open-air so you can eat alfresco for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chefs cook and carve in front of you specialities from the grill and the choice from the buffet is amazing. This is definitely a restaurant where it’s easy for your eyes to become bigger than your belly, but as the whole group will testify, it’s also a memorable one for a sail-away dinner.
The ship docked in Cadiz and I didn’t even realise, at least not until I pulled back the curtains. After only one day I’d become accustomed to the relaxing view of the open sea, and one that I would be happy to return to after a day on the golf course.
Montenmedia Golf & Country Club is in a secluded location and apart from the large colonial-style clubhouse, there is not another building in sight, which is unusual for Spain. It’s a very pretty and enjoyable golf course surrounded by forest, and its natural setting makes it a haven for migrating birds and wildlife. There’s a variety of holes and plenty of elevation, both tees and greens which is always nice, especially when they offer lovely views of the countryside.
The stop in Malaga included a round at El Parador Golf Club, the oldest golf club in the heart of the Costa del Sol, just a short drive from the port and airport. This is a typical resort course with some holes running parallel to the beach. Compared with Montenmedia it was noisier and flatter, although the flocks of parakeets did contribute to the noise factor! The fairways are wide but there are some tight approach shots to the well-kept greens and the par 3s are no pushover as my driver came out of the bag on two occasions.
My group disembarked at Ibiza so two rounds of golf was our limit, but time still allowed us to enjoy an abundance of facilities on board. There are two main decks for sunbathing and an enticing swimming pool. The Ocean Spa has eight treatment rooms and while you can cover up in the sauna and steam room, it’s likely that you’ll encounter some naked Germans and Scandinavians!
There’s a full entertainment programme and six bars. Most lively is Sansibar which is an authentic beach bar at sea with a chandelier consisting of 1,000 wine bottles.
Gin is the in-thing at the moment and as the Europa 2 has the largest gin collection at sea, it’s not surprising that gin tasting sessions are proving popular. I have learned so much more about my favourite tipple and the different tonics to use as mixers. Let’s just say that sea legs got the blame!
This was a suite and a ship that I was disappointed to leave. I cannot compare the Europa 2 with another ship, but I suspect I have been spoilt for life and this is probably one assumption that I haven’t got wrong!
For more information visit www.hl-cruises.com
To view more European golf breaks click here.