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Lynn Houghton and Catherine Beattie review the ‘feel good factor’ on two very different cruise ships, the Europa 2 and Norwegian Breakaway

Sanctuaries at Sea

Spas, fitness and wellness facilities have become popular features on cruise ships in recent years. Some on board spas are so elaborate they rival those on land with a more extensive choice of treatments and a wider range of facilities. Lynn Houghton and Catherine Beattie review the ‘feel good factor’ on two recently launched cruise ships. 

Ocean Spa on Europa 2 by Lynn Houghton

Spas on ships are nothing new and the modern era has particularly good offerings on luxury cruise vessels. Looking back to the turn of the last century, marketing teams for the great ocean liners of the day had to do headstands and cartwheels to get wealthy clientele on board. And to appeal to this class of elite guest, trendy fitness centres, swimming pools and rudimentary spas became a feature of those magnificent ocean liners. 

As Europa 2 is considered to be one of the very best ships in the world*, I expect the spa to be fantastic. First impressions are excellent. The Deck 5 Ocean Spa has a cool ambience with distinctive cream décor and light toned wood flooring. At 1,000 square metres, it is large, though does not compete with the enormous spas on the Royal Princess and QM2 ships. However, the facilities are well laid out. The relaxation area is near the changing rooms and has Kniepp step pools (cool and warm water to enhance circulation), Finnish sauna, Jacuzzi, ice wall, a separate area with heated loungers and an outdoor deck area with sun loungers. There are eight treatment rooms, one of which is a private suite with whirlpool and one features a hammam slab. Another is specifically for Shiatsu massage with a mattress on the floor. Add in the fitness centre, golf simulator and beauty salon and you have the full complement of amenities. 

Although Europa 2 is a mainly German speaking vessel, everything is translated into English including the Ocean Spa menu and special offers. My Classic Massage with therapist, Agnes, was excellent and she did exactly as I requested, focusing on my problem areas. As I have dry skin, I was keen to have her use aromatherapy oil, even though normally this massage is on dry skin. ‘Kein problem!’, exclaimed Agnes. The Classic Massage costs upwards of €100, slightly pricey, but certainly worth every cent.

I stayed in one of Deck 5’s spectacular 52 square metre Spa Suites, which boasted a ten square metre balcony. Spacious, certainly, but it is the bathroom with its rain shower, personal sauna cubicle and Jacuzzi bathtub that is amazing. The mirror covers an entire wall and a section in the middle has a flat TV screen. The opposite wall, behind the bathtub, is made entirely of glass and overlooks the bedroom and the rest of the suite with a pull down blind if you want privacy when bathing. 

I should warn spa aficionados in advance that you might be sharing the Jacuzzi or sauna with naked passengers. I admit I have never understood this European affinity for stripping off and I’m not comfortable doing this myself. Ingrid, the spa manager, spoke to me about the International focus of the ship and, by extension, the spa. I asked about some English and American passengers’ discomfort with going ‘au naturel.’ She explained that Germans feel going nude is the healthiest way to experience sauna and they are supremely confident about their bodies. I guess I couldn’t really argue with that. In the end, guests have a choice how to engage with this environment and will never be required to fully disrobe themselves.

*Douglas Ward, of The Berlitz Guide to Cruising

For further information on Europa 2 visit Hapag-Lloyd Cruises website 

Norwegian Breakaway’s Mandara Spa by Catherine Beattie

Norwegian Breakaway entered service in April 2013 and is the world’s fifth largest passenger ship having 18 decks and accommodation for over 4,000 passengers. She sails year-round from her New York homeport on seven and ten night voyages to Bermuda, Florida and the Bahamas. Breakaway called at Southampton prior to her first transatlantic crossing.

Having indulged in a 24-carat gold leaf facial and a luxurious pedicure on sister ship Norwegian Epic, I was looking forward to trying Breakaway’s spa. But disappointingly, no appointments were available during her short stopover in Southampton so I had to make do with tour of the facilities.

The enormous Steiner-operated Mandara Spa spans an impressive 23,000 square feet and encompasses two decks. It offers over 50 treatments using mainly quality Elemis and Bliss products carried out in 22 treatment rooms. Treatments prices are high considering that an additional 18% service charge is automatically added to the bill. Oxygen facials (Elemis or Bliss) cost from $160; Elemis Hot Stone Therapy massage $149 and a 90-minute Steam Rasul and Couples Massage $364. 

You can also have medi-spa cosmetic facial treatments such as Botox, dermal fillers and lip enhancements. All are performed by a doctor and cost from $300 (with a free 15-minute consultation). Ionitherme cellulite reduction programmes ($159) and acupuncture ($150) are also available. In addition, a full service Salon offers a comprehensive choice of hair, nail, waxing and tooth whitening services and the men’s Barber’s Shop provides haircuts and traditional warm shaves. 

Entry to the spa’s Thermal Suite costs $49 per person day or $149 per person for a week and gives access to the 13 heated tiled loungers, the vitality pool, steam rooms, dry sauna, hot tubs, waterfalls and the first salt room at sea. Salt therapy is said to promote better sleep, strengthen the immune system and improve respiratory and skin problems. 

A myriad of fitness classes (some free, others with additional fees ranging from $12-$30 per person) helps burn off any excess calories consumed in the ship’s 29 restaurants and food outlets. The amazing choice includes Zumba, low impact Spirals and Chi Balls, Yoga, Pilates, Body Sculpting, Bootcamp, Fight Klub and more. You can also work out with weights, use Technogym cardio equipment and book ‘spinning’ classes with rides set to heart pumping music. Breakaway also has extensive sports and entertainment facilities.

Breakaway has cabins and suites for all budgets – from single occupancy studios to the most luxurious Owner Suites. Our standard cabin was compact but comfortable with a sumptuous bed and an adequate en suite – no bath tub but an excellent shower. The balcony was small with barely enough room for two chairs and a table. If you want more space, you could splash out on a Large Balcony Cabin or opt for one of The Haven’s 42 suites, located at the top of the ship with butler service and private facilities. For spa enthusiasts, the Spa Suites close to the Mandara Spa include complimentary use of the Thermal Suite.

For further information on Breakaway visit Norwegian’s website 

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