Luxury for beginners: Hapag-Lloyd’s new ship

Evening dress, the Captain’s Dinner and assigned seats are over. With the MS COLUMBUS 2 Hapag Lloyd cruises have just become a lot more casual. The new ship has been cruising the seas for the Hamburg-based cruise ship company since 17 April 2012. 

She bears a name many Hapag-Lloyd fans will be familiar with. And, if you do the sums, you may notice to your astonishment that she is only one year younger than her eponymous predecessor. But compared with the “old” Columbus (which is moving to Plantours & Partner at the beginning of May and will be renamed the Hamburg), the “new” Columbus – the Columbus 2 – is a completely different ship.

In Palma de Mallorca, where she was christened on 17 April, she is about to set sail for the long-established Hamburg company. She has been officially chartered from the US cruise company Oceania Cruises for two years with an extension option; but already, reading between the lines, one senses that Hapag-Lloyd would love to keep her for longer, perhaps even buy her. By October at the latest, when the option deadline expires, we will know more. The signs appear to indicate a continuation. What better reason could there be to take a closer look at the Insignia, as the ship was called in her previous incarnation at Oceania? A two-day cruise from Mallorca to Menorca and back immediately prior to the christening – a “shakedown cruise” in the industry jargon – was the ideal opportunity.

The moment I step on board it is immediately clear that compared to the former Columbus the new one offers more of everything. That’s not really a surprise, considering she is quite a bit bigger. Instead of 420 passengers on the old ship, the new one has space for nearly 700 passengers. But the Columbus 2 isn’t simply a four-star ship (the “old” one had three) on account of its size, but because of its quality and luxury: the new ship provides more space per passenger, a greater variety on board, more luxurious cabins and a far more deluxe ambience. The latter is probably the legacy of the American owners: the country club style is the hallmark of Oceania, with solid upholstered furniture, gold-framed pictures, wine-red carpets, marble fireplaces, polished brass. The highlight of this romantic country mansion style is the library, which is possibly one of the most beautiful of its kind, conjuring up images that even exceed anything even Rosamunde Pilcher could have imagined. 

Due to the short two-year charter practically nothing has been charged – and why should it be? Only the casino (which is an absolute must on any US ship) has been transformed into a nightclub with DJs and a dancefloor; called Martinis Club, this is probably destined to become the main meeting place on board. And what was once the internet café and the card room is now the kids and teens’ club with table foosball, Wii screens and cuddly toys by Steiff, the new brand partner of the Hanseatic cruise company, which will be helping to attract more families and children. There is space on board for up to 50 children per cruise, and 13 cruises in the first season are explicitly being advertised as family trips. 

Accordingly, it makes sense that the atmosphere on board is very relaxed by Hapag-Lloyd standards. There’s no Captain’s Table here, and nobody needs a dinner jacket on board the Columbus 2. In the Albert Ballin, the main restaurant, there are no assigned seats and set dining times; instead passengers can come as they wish until between 18:00 and 22:00.  Other dining options include the Lido Restaurant and the Lido Grill, where passengers can dine outside under the stars. And for a special evening there are the fine dining alternatives Toscana (Italian cuisine) and the Polo Grill (fish and meat specialities). Both require prior reservation, but they are included in the ticket price, as is a choice of 81 beverages at the bar, if one books the “Full Package” option (starting from €90 per person) which also includes credit for excursions on land.

In contrast, passengers must pay for all spa treatments, which is standard in the cruise industry. However, Hapag-Lloyd offers them at low prices, which is very laudable. And even more so because the spa and fitness facilities are surprisingly spacious on this ship; the whirlpool at the front in the bow, under the open skies where one can relax and look out over the ocean, is a true gem. You can enjoy the same view one deck higher – without having to get wet: this deck features eight sun islands, called Cabanas, which give you a great view over the bow. A daily fee of €20 is charged for this pleasure – a fee that is easily twice as high on comparable ships.  

So all that remains is to take a look inside the cabins: while there are a few signs of wear and tear, on a whole the condition of the vessel – which is 14 years old – is incredibly good. A real bonus is the fact that only 28 of the 349 cabins are located on the inside! That is a mere eight per cent – on the previous Columbus it was nearly one third. There are 321 outside cabins, which have an average size of 20 square metres, 170 of which have their own balcony and 62 of which are suites ranging up to 60 square metres in size. You really couldn’t expect any more of a four-star ship. 

The new Columbus has been plying the waves since 17 April, when she was christened in Palma de Mallorca by Carmen Riu Güell, the director of Riu Hotels & Resorts. Between Venice and Malta, from Barcelona to Athens … after that, she’ll be coming to Hamburg for the Cruise Days in August, where visitors will be able to enjoy a mini-cruise lasting two or three days. Or why not go for a longer cruise? The summer cruise schedule includes family cruises to Norway and the Baltic which last between 12 and 19 days, and you’ll need to plan 172 days for the very first world cruise under the Hapag Lloyd flag in the winter: starting from Monte Carlo she’ll be heading west once round the globe. 

Will she be a permanent member of the traditional orange and blue fleet founded by Albert Ballin in 1891 by then? One can only hope so.  

© KREUZFAHRT GUIDE / Bellevue and More Verlag;

Author: Johannes Bohmann; photos: Johannes Bohmann&nb