Swan Hellenic specialised in discovery cruising “for those with a mind to travel” – and emphasise a more academic and more formal approach to cruising. A feature of their itineraries was to schedule more time ashore to discover more. Entertainment more likely to be String Quartet, Harpist, or Opera inspired than influenced by West End musicals.
Swan Hellenic’s ship Minerva was small by most people’s standards with a maximum of 350 on board – and sailed an incredible schedule of itineraries – covering mainly northern Europe, Canaries and Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean but with cruises that followed on from each other to the next phase of a journey rather than necessarily repeating the same standard ones over and over.
Sadly at the beginning of 2017 Swan Hellenic’s parent company All Leisure Group was unable to viably keep its cruise business going (which included Voyages of Discovery too), and so Minerva stopped sailing.
There’s some good news that a Canadian company, G-Adventures, which has some wonderful holiday and cruise itineraries to more unusual locations is to revive the Swan Hellenic name, we understand with a different ship though.
We’ll keep this blog post here though, in case she reappears somewhere, as Minerva is a lovely ship.
Minerva is an older ship, built originally for the Russian Navy with ice-breaking capabilities – but has been operating with Swan Hellenic in recent years.
The public spaces on the ship don’t leave you feeling short-changed: with comfortable lounges, restaurants, sitting areas, deck space and the much prized library – which is probably one of the most used libraries at sea, and certainly a much admired section of Minerva. You get a sense that many areas are multi purpose in function to allow the ship to provide more varied and wide-ranging programmes and facilities, but that there is enough public space to ensure that it’s only at the lectures by the guest speakers when you’re likely to be cheek by jowl with your fellow passengers.
The cabins range from compact but well fitted-out insides to nicely spacious balcony suites. All in all there are only 44 cabins with balconies. Only a handful of cabins are ‘accessible’, but Swan Hellenic are considering if this can be improved.
Minerva aims to have the ambience of a country house – this is evident in the furnishings, the approach to service, the nature of the more sophisticated entertainment, and the layout of the public lounges and dining rooms.
The Shackleton Bar with Grand Piano is a classic place to enjoy drinks pre- or post-dinner. The Wheeler Bar is a more comfortable lounge with welcoming sofas and armchairs. The Orpheus Lounge at the top of the ship is a more contemporary space offering panoramic views – this is also where you will get your dancing shoes on for night time dancing.
The Library boasts c5,000 volumes and will include a selection of reference materials relevant to the itineraries being sailed. The Darwin Lounge is a large versatile space hosting the lectures from the Guest Speakers with a spill-over video feed in the Livingston Lounge, next to the Card Room.
The Swan Restaurant is the formal eating venue, to an open dining arrangement, where you’ll expect white tablecloths and shimmering cutlery and glassware. The Veranda Restaurant by the outside canopied pool area will provide for smart semi-formal and more informal dining. The outside space at the aft of the ship is delightful – with a small pool
8 circuits of the wrap-around Promenade deck equals a mile, so you can make some effort to keep fit on sea days – and there is a small gym too and salon centre. As this is a small ship, on some of the more adventurous itineraries there is also the possibility that you’ll have to hold on to your hat! (as evidenced by the occasional hooks to hold down some of the chairs).
Swan Hellenic has a more mature profile of guests, but this is not to say that you have to have a pension book to be allowed on, and the range and depth of itineraries and the extensive programme of lectures, guest speakers, and excursions (which are inclusive in the cruising price) will appeal with many “with a mind to travel” as the cruise line’s saying goes.
Swan Hellenic works in partnership with organisations such as the National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society, and the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. These arrangements help to emphasise mutual interests, develop attractive itineraries, and provide knowledgeable guest speakers.
The ship Minerva is a genuinely small ship at under 13,000grt, with length of 437ft and beam (width) of 66ft – this gives her access to places and ports of call that are excluded from many itineraries because of practicalities – so Minerva is able to explore more with itineraries that are unique.