Snapped up by G Adventures, a rather unlikely buyer, there were some promising signs that a relaunch would be imminent. However the difficulties that Swan Hellenic faced were significant, having never managed to pull off the same successful mix of lectures, shore excursions and congenial company when operating beyond their core European destinations with a classical focus. The challenge wasn't unique to Swan. Sister company Voyages of Discovery failed at the same time, whilst Voyages to Antiquity, which offered similarly culturally-focused itineraries on the ageing Aegean Odyssey, suffered the same fate in 2019. Both single ship operations were at increased risk from geopolitical events, and running older tonnage came with unsustainable maintenance costs.
We were never convinced of the suitability of G Adventures to revive the brand. A small group specialist, with its origins in gap year trips, its experience in cruise is limited to a Galapagos programme, and polar expeditions on the 134-guest G Expedition. It was of little surprise that the brand has languished until recently, when a flurry of activity has seen it acquired and relaunched by the Russian company Vodohod Cruise and Travel.
Those hoping for a return of the country house casual style and itineraries examining classical Mediterranean sites may be a little surprised to see the new build 152-guest SH Minerva launch her programme in Antarctica in winter 2021. This is the new look Swan Hellenic, and much has changed. To all intents and purposes this is a new cruise line. The executive team has a wealth of know-how, although not quite the 70 years of Swan Hellenic experience claimed on their website.
Still aiming to provide enriching trips, the expedition itineraries will focus on Antarctica, the Arctic and the Russian Far East, to meet the increasing demand for off-the-beaten-track adventure that has seen the expedition sector balloon in recent years, rather than reverting to the brand's former product offering which proved to be unsustainable.
SH Minerva will also look very different from her former namesake. The PC5 ice-strengthened vessel is described by Swan Hellenic as 'Scandi-luxe' with contemporary interiors of blonde woods and muted colours, all with the intention of providing an 'unobtrusive and relaxing background that allows guests to be fully immersed in breathtaking scenery'. Thought has been given to ensuring unobstructed views from cabins and public spaces, including the sauna.
A photography lab, base camp-style mudroom, expansive observation lounge and plenty of deck space, including the Swan's Nest at the bow of the ship, add the expedition elements. Zodiacs and kayaks allow guests to explore but the ship eschews the current trend for a larger selection of tools for exploration such as helicopters and submarines. Also pared back compared to others are the dining experiences. The main Swan Restaurant hosts breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is complemented by the Club Lounge for casual dining and drinks. Spacious cabins and suites include the entry level ocean view, three balcony grades, plus the suites and premium suites.
The ship will soon be joined by a sister ship in April 2022 and a third, slightly larger vessel in November 2023. All will cater to a predominantly British clientele with a smaller international contingent. We expect Swan Hellenic to be ideal for those seeking to explore the most remote of regions, with just a handful of other guests, without the bells and whistles offered by some, and priced accordingly.