Those smiling red lips and exotic Cleopatra eyes on the bow make AIDA’s cruise ships the most strikingly dramatic-looking ships in any cruise port, from China to Miami to the Mediterranean. Yet outside of Germany, AIDA is almost unknown, even amongst cruise-lovers.
I was the only American, and the only non-German speaker on my week-long cruise on AIDA’s newest ship AIDAperla … and it was one of my best and most unique cruises ever.
“Aren’t you worried that no one will speak English,” a friend asked me before I left.
“Well, not speaking German wouldn’t stop me from visiting Germany,” I explained. “So what’s the difference?”
More than 95 percent of AIDA guests are German speakers, but all of the crew speaks English, and very well too. In fact, it’s the official language the crew uses to communicate since they are from all nationalities. All of the major announcements are made in German, but most are repeated in English. If you are an experienced cruiser, you won’t have any difficulties.
In fact, being on a German line while cruising through Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium (plus a day in the UK) made the cruise more immersive in the European experience, both in the shore excursions and then back on board. I had all the cruise advantages — not having to unpack and repack for each destination, no worries about transportation — yet the ship was like a beautiful small German town. I could take a leisurely walk around the sophisticated little town each evening and try a different international restaurant, check out what was happening in the town square, watch the cabaret show perhaps, have a drink at an outside terrace bar to catch the sunset, and afterwards enjoy the beach party under the stars on the top deck. There was even a late-night takeout currywurst (curry-flavored pork sausage) stand and a tapas bar outside the disco where revelers could take a break from the loud dance music and neon lights to have a snack and hang with their friends on the street outside.
And just like a real town, the guests were a mix of families, groups of friends, couples, and people of all ages.
But the differences on AIDAperla go well beyond language.
Informality, Inside and Out
The atmosphere on AIDA is informal and individual. There are no rules about attire or formal nights. If you want to dress up and go to the steakhouse, then go ahead, but you can also stay casual and eat very well at one of the informal buffet restaurants. Over a beer one night, a fellow guest confided that her husband loves AIDA because he never has to put on a tie. There is even a nude area in the spa and a secluded clothing-optional area for sunbathing on the top deck.
The ship design was bright and modern with lots of natural materials and innovative spaces. “Germans like to be outside or feel like they are outside,” one crewmember told me. The design of AIDAperla is oriented towards the outdoors, with lots of light and windows everywhere. Most of the bars and restaurants feature outdoor tables, and even some of the inner spaces like hallways, are designed to look like tree-lined streets, and the spa and gym feature cleverly designed ceilings that make you feel like you are working out under a beautiful green canopy of trees.
The informal feel of AIDA extended to the entertainment as well. The main theater on AIDAperla is a three-story amphitheater that is wide open on all sides in the middle of the ship. This made stopping to watch just part of the show much easier as you walked passed the space.
Food and Bier
In keeping with the informal theme, there is no main dining room, and other than a few specialty restaurants that charge a small supplement, you never need to make a dining reservation. Dine anytime you please, with whomever you please. There are 12 unique restaurants aboard AIDAperla, and about half are buffet style. The food is extremely varied, from a large Asian restaurant, a sushi bar, a steakhouse, Italian and French restaurants, and a beautiful and elegant gourmet restaurant. The house wine and beer are included at every meal and there are small supplements for more expensive wine and cocktails.
The uniquely German Brauhaus is a lively space where guests sit at long wooden tables. Unless there are sing-alongs, where guests are dancing on the tables. The AIDAperla biermeister brews three different beers aboard using actual seawater!
One of my favorite spaces was the Lanai Bar on Deck 7 at the very back of the ship. The large open bar features unique, outward facing booths where guests face the water yet are protected from the wind. It’s the best-designed space….
By Sharon Kenny
Photo: AIDA Cruises/Joern Pollex