Review: SH Diana by Swan Hellenic Cruises – State-of-the-Art Expedition Innovations and Boutique Chic, All in a Yacht-Inspired Setting. 98/100

A 9-Night – Historic Ports of the Western Seaboard – Western Europe from Amsterdam to Lisbon Itinerary

Embarking on an expedition cruise with Swan Hellenic elevates your sense of adventure. Visualize gliding through the waters on Swan Hellenic’s state-of-the-art boutique expedition ships, charting thrilling journeys to remote villages and the icy polar realms. These vessels blend cutting-edge polar ice-class technology with elegant, refined interiors. Experiencing life aboard Swan Hellenic, you may well find yourself never wanting to leave.

10/10 – Surprises at Every Turn – The cruise offered an astonishing blend of history, culture, cuisine, personal encounters, education, and pleasant surprises throughout.

  • Imagine a private library with a snug ambiance, filled to the brim with enthralling books, where a staff member caters to your comfort by bringing blankets and drinks.
  • The dedication of the officers, staff, and crew knows no bounds, always aiming to surpass the desires of their guests. For instance, when the captain learned of my wish to experience the Zodiac (despite the ship offering its own ferries for easier shore access) – he ensured a Zodiac was made available during a landing, providing me with a memorable water-bound adventure.
  • When another guest narrowly missed the lunchtime by merely 20 minutes, the staff reopened the kitchen especially for the couple—a flexibility rarely seen on other ships that tend to adhere strictly to their set rules.
  • An exemplary world-class launderette showcases this unparalleled service.

10/10 – Exceptional Expedition Ship for Polar and Global Adventures – These vessels are not only tailored for adventurous expeditions but are equally adept at navigating quaint villages and captivating ports worldwide.  They are  assigned a Polar Class notation PC5 – the highest classification awarded to an ice-strengthened hull. The PC5 classification is combined with oversized stabilizers which provide excellent motion control, ensuring the most comfortable operation on excursions through the polar regions.

10 /10 – The Restaurants – Enjoy the finest in foods from 5-star Michelin rated restaurateurs. Swan Hellenic has partnered with JRE-Jeunes Restaurateurs, which is an association of young restaurateurs and chefs with one common goal in mind: to share their talent and love for food with like-minded individuals. JRE is proud to have over 375 restaurants and 160 hotels, spread across 15 different countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. JRE-Jeunes Restaurateurs chefs combine deep passion, culinary expertise, and an appreciation for local ingredients and tradition.

  • The Swan Dining Room – The Swan Dining Room is the heartbeat of Swan’s culinary offerings, presenting a delightful mix of international and local dishes marked by superior quality, ingenuity, and zest. Relaxed seating lets guests savor their meals unhurriedly, from sunup to sundown. Mornings and midday see a lavish buffet setup, transitioning to an elegant dinner setting, adorned with pristine linens. Every dish springs from the combined genius of celebrated culinary masters like Italian maestro Andrea Ribaldone and Korean culinary artist Sang Keun Oh, promising a feast that dances across diverse palates.
  • Club Lounge – Functioning from dawn to twilight, the Club Lounge embraces guests with the warmth and comfort of a grand living space, extending to the breezy Pool Grill and Bar. Its ambiance fluidly evolves from a serene morning setting to a laid-back lunchtime, culminating in an opulent afternoon tea. By night, it becomes a hub for congenial conversations, peppered with delightful family-style dinners. Not to forget, the iconic Piemonte-style pizzas and an assortment of drool-worthy desserts.
  • Pool Grill & Bar- Set against the mesmerizing backdrop of the sparkling sea and lovely pool, the Pool Grill & Bar is an alfresco gastronomic haven. Imagine diving into timeless grill favorites like deliquesces from the sea, burgers, hot dogs, and succulent fish, all seasoned to perfection. It’s the quintessential venue for memorable BBQ soirees, complemented by a bar that crafts bespoke cocktails tailored to any guest’s preferences.
  • Observation Lounge- With vistas that seem to stretch infinitely, the Observation Lounge & Bar beckons those with a thirst for both knowledge and exquisite drinks. By day, it doubles as an insightful learning hub; by night, a cozy nook for choice beverages. It’s an idyllic alcove for some solitary reading or musing over the day’s adventures with newfound acquaintances.

10/10 – Personal & Custom Experiences are the trademark – The Unparalleled Officer, Staff & Crew Performance- Envisioning a crew more passionate, professional, and committed than those on board would be challenging, particularly given that gratuities are included in the all-inclusive fare. Even so, the crew’s stellar performance had many passengers generously offering additional tokens of appreciation on our final night even though gratuities are included.

10/10 – Ideal Port Excursions- Each stop provides a meticulously planned shore expedition, with at least one included on each port of call. Most destinations are within walking distance or accessible via a bus tour, ensuring guests always have something intriguing to explore.

10/10 – Futuristic Ship Design- Visually striking and avant-garde in its architecture, the ship is a testament to modern maritime design. In addition, these are “green” vessels – note the world-class water purification system they utilize, as well as their lack of single use plastics.

10/10 – Elegant Staterooms- Boasting a chic Scandinavian design, the staterooms are generously spaced with more than ample storage space, ensuring a spot for every possession while providing an impressive level of soundproofing.

10/10 – Smooth Transitions – From the airport to the hotel, which is included in the fare, and from the hotel to the ship – every transfer process was executed seamlessly, ensuring no hitches during embarkation or disembarkation.

9.8/10 – Shopping Experience – The ship houses a small shop stocked with expedition essentials. While on land, our voyages led us to exquisite apparel finds in Spain, Portugal, Belgium and France.

10/10 – Impeccable Beverage Service – Guests are treated to complimentary cocktails, a bustling bar atmosphere, and a variety of beverages during meals. Additionally, a superb curated wine list showcases intriguing culinary selections.

For a taste of enchanting journeys like this one, along with 2024 voyages to Scotland and Ireland, discover Swan Hellenic’s offerings by clicking here. Swan Hellenic Cruises (cruisecompete.com)

This year, Swan Hellenic is offering a select few extraordinary voyages at exceptional rates. View the itineraries and request a quote. Swan Hellenic Cruises (cruisecompete.com)

Day 1   Amsterdam, The Netherlands- Arrive Amsterdam – short ride to the Hilton hotel which is included (something most lines do not offer). Not only did they include the hotel, but a full European breakfast was included as well.

Point of interest: the John and Yoko honeymoon suite. The hotel has a quaint old-world bar named the Half Moon Lounge, resplendent with comfortable, heavy leather furniture and gorgeous views overlooking the river. We indulged in appetizers and good drinks and then headed off to bed.

Our port is the gorgeous Dutch city where a boat cruise along the canals gets to the very heart of things, but where walking the narrow streets and over the hundreds of bridges is magical too. Discover a treasure trove of fabulous museums such as the Rijksmuseum, filled with paintings of the Dutch Masters – and just around the corner from the Van Gogh Museum. Don’t forget to explore the windmill-filled stretches of countryside canal south of the city.

Swan Hellenic has a brand new bus to take us to the ship. What a pleasant surprise as we arrive – ship captain Remi Eriksen personally greets the guests as they board the SH Diana on a sun filled day.  We cannot wait to start this adventure of historic European villages and towns!

Day 2   Zeebrugge, Belgium – We sail into the Belgian port and seaside resort of Zeebrugge. The old fish market in the marina houses Seafront, a maritime theme park in the old fish auction house. The port is linked to the city of Bruges – or Brugge – via the Baudouin Canal. Famous for lacemaking, Belgian beer and chocolate, Bruges is also known as the Venice of the North for its charming canals. Take your time to appreciate these waterways by hopping on a leisurely boat tour. Very clean little town with amazing shops – the streets are filled with locals buying groceries to furniture.  Its always amazing to see how different others are yet the same.

Many of these quaint villages typically feature a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel in their town centers.

Day 3   Honfleur, France – As our ship sailed south, we journeyed through the English Channel, gazing upon the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. During our stop in the charming and picturesque town of Honfleur, we splurged in purchasing an array of souvenirs: elegant purses, French sea salt in delightful containers, distinctive toys, and exquisite jeweled necklaces.

If the city looks familiar, that’s because Honfleur was a favorite subject of Monet and many other artists as well, including Boudin, Corot, Courbet, Dubourg, Sisley, Bazille and Daubigny.

Thanks to artistic landscapes by these masters, the town’s timber-framed houses and the appealing Vieux Bassin (Old Harbor) are part of our collective consciousness.  Before the city became a refuge for 19th-century artists escaping Paris, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Honfleur was one of France’s most important ports. It was from here that, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain set sail to found Québec. Some of the city’s must-see attractions include Les Maisons Satie Musée d’Ethnographie et d’Art Populaire Normand, Musée de la Marine and Musée Eugène Boudin. The Eglise Ste-Catherine is an extraordinary wooden church. Constructed in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, it contains maritime motifs.

Day 4   Saint-Malo, France – As we made our way through the security terminal, we spontaneously decided to hire a private car. The day, although rainy, was enchantingly beautiful. Our driver, arriving in a sleek, brand-new Volvo, exuded grace and was among the most refined gentlemen I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He took us to the fortress where we indulged in rich cappuccinos with the vast sea as our backdrop, right next to the imposing fortress.

I was awestruck by the grandeur of the Cathedral of St. Vincent, and the timeless charm of the cobblestone streets added to the allure.  The enchanting coastal city of Saint-Malo is a labyrinth of medieval streets filled with history and culture. Dating back to the 12th century, Saint-Malo was once a haven for pirates and a stopping point for merchant ships. Today you’ll find colorful shops and outdoor alongside aromatic markets, cafes and restaurants. Oysters and crêpes are the local delicacies – definitely sample some while here. The ancient walled town of Intra-Muros forms the heart of Saint-Malo. Here the striking Gothic and Romanesque Cathédrale de St Malo dominates the skyline.

Our shore excursion also allowed us the opportunity to:

  • Drive to the quaint fishing village of Cancale along the breathtaking coastal road
  • Experience a hands-on workshop to learn the ins and outs of being an oyster farmer

Day 5   In Concarneau, I was pleasantly surprised to witness pipers captivating audiences in the city square, the locals clearly enthralled by the performance. I stumbled upon a coffee shop uniquely adorned with towering burlap bags brimming with coffee beans at its entrance. Further exploration led me to a chic boutique, boasting an array of intriguing finds, among which the exquisite Grecian purses particularly stood out.

The picturesque French port city of Concarneau is in the Finistère department in Brittany. Its medieval walled city is on a tiny islet with narrow alleys and ramparts that are perfect for a leisurely stroll. Nearby, the charming artist village of Pont Aven, discovered in the 1860s by American painters, became a popular stop for French artist Paul Gauguin who set up the École de Pont-Aven art movement known as synthetism. Try galettes, the local melt-in-the-mouth Breton butter biscuits.

Day 6   Bilbao, Spain We passed through stunning neighborhoods showcasing grand mansions with abundant assortments of striking flowers everywhere. You could smell the scents of a wide variety of blooms.  Our extensive tour for the day led us to the Guggenheim Museum. While there were numerous visitors, it seemed the architectural marvel of the building, crafted from titanium and resembling a ship or perhaps Noah’s Ark, captivated many. Personally, while I appreciated the contemporary art within, it didn’t resonate as deeply as the classic masterpieces from yesteryears. Even so, the contemporary art motifs were undeniably intriguing. An additional notable highlight was a towering floral sculpture shaped like a dog at the top of the museum stairs, reportedly valued at an astounding 37 million dollars.

The industrial city of Bilbao is the de facto capital of the Basque region, famed for its culture, skyscrapers and the striking ship-shaped Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which sparked significant revitalization when it opened in 1997. Tour the city’s many pintxo bars and browse the stalls at the lively La Ribera Market whose origins date back to the 14th century. Spain’s famous La Rioja wine region is a full-day trip from the port, with plenty of time for wine tasting.

Day 7   Gijon, Spain – In this picturesque port town, there stands a beautiful hotel – The Camelia – encircled by elegant black wrought iron gates. Once more, I savored an exceptional cappuccino in the village plaza.

The Asturian port city of Gijon with colorful old houses is surrounded by rolling green hills, and is home to the Atlantic Botanical Gardens, packed with over 2,000 plants. Wander around the fisherman’s old quarter of Cimedevilla to see the monumental Eulogy to the Horizon sculpture, crafted from cement blocks by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida in 1990, and the Campo Valdés Roman Baths dating from around 100 AD. Local ciders are a specialty, best enjoyed in a traditional sideria.

Day 8  Finisterre, Spain – Finisterre lies at the westernmost point of Spain. Otherwise known as Land’s End, this is the end of the road (finis terrae in Roman), literally and for pilgrims visiting Santiago de Compostela. Our ship made a stop here to allow booked guests to take part in the tour visiting Santiago de Compostela.

As coincidence would have it, today was the holy day of the Assumption.  The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly referred to simply as the “Assumption,” is a significant Catholic holy day. It commemorates the belief in the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. This dogma was officially defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in the Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus.”

Guests who took the shore excursion disembarked at this location, spending the day here before ultimately taking a bus to Vigo where they met the ship.

  • One “must see” in Finisterre is the Cathedral in Tui, consecrated in 1225 AD during the monarchy of King Alfonso

Day 8   Vigo, Spain – Gateway to the Atlantic, the Spanish Atlantic city of Vigo is one of Europe’s major fishing ports, known for its freezing and canning industry. Wander around the steep narrow streets and picturesque squares of Casco Vello, the old town towards the fish market. Hike to the top of Monte O Castro hill encompassing an old fortress and the 3rd-century BC archaeological site of Castro. Outlying Cies Islands are part of the Atlantic Islands National Park, renowned for its birdlife. Inland Santiago de Compostela, an important pilgrimage center, is a short bus ride away.

Day 9   Figueira da Foz  – A popular coastal town in Portugal, known for its vast beach, historical attractions, and vibrant nightlife. The town has a mix of traditional and contemporary shopping and dining options.

A highlight in this picturesque little Portuguese town was the many shopping opportunities.  Figueira has a range of boutique shops selling traditional items such as ceramics, textiles, and souvenirs. The Street Markets were very busy offering purses, luggage, fresh produce, antiques, and crafts.

Being a coastal town, Figueira da Foz offers a plethora of seafood dining options. Fresh catches of the day, like sardines, cod, or sea bass, can be enjoyed in many eateries.  We found Traditional Portuguese Cuisine, “bacalhau” (codfish) in various preparations, “cozido à portuguesa” (a type of stew), and many other local delicacies.

However, here was our culinary highlight: Pastelarias (Bakeries/Cafes).  Don’t miss trying out local pastries, especially the famous “pastéis de nata” (egg custard tarts).

Day 10 Lisbon – Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a historic and vibrant city that marries the charm of its antiquated streets and landmarks with a pulse of modern European energy. Its location along the Atlantic coast provides a pleasant maritime climate, enriching its rich cultural tapestry and contributing to its unique appeal.

Swan Hellenic SH Diana itinerary map

Here’s an overview:

Geography and Climate – Located on the western coast of Portugal, Lisbon stretches along the northern bank of the River Tagus, close to its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean.

Lisbon has a storied past, with settlements dating back to the pre-Roman times. Over the centuries, it has been influenced by various cultures, including the Romans, Moors, and Christians.

Key Attractions – Belém Tower: A UNESCO World Heritage site, this fortified tower was built in the early 16th century and symbolizes the Age of Discoveries.

Jerónimos Monastery: Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this monastery is a testament to Manueline architecture and is closely associated with the Age of Discoveries.

Alfama: The oldest district in Lisbon, known for its narrow streets, historic buildings, and the famous Fado music.

Tram 28: A historical tram that offers a scenic route through many of Lisbon’s iconic neighborhoods.

Culture and Lifestyle:

Economy and Infrastructure – As the capital, Lisbon is the economic and political center of Portugal.

The city is a hub for finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, and international trade.

Lisbon has a modern transportation system comprising buses, trams, metro, and ferries, The Lisbon Portela

Gastronomy – Lisbon offers an array of culinary delights, with a focus on seafood. “Bacalhau a bras” (shredded cod with eggs and potatoes) is a popular dish.

Don’t forget to try the famous custard tarts, “pastéis de nata,” especially at “Pastéis de Belém.”

This overview only scratches the surface. Whether you’re wandering through its ancient streets, indulging in its gastronomic offerings, or taking in the views from its many miradouros (viewpoints), Lisbon promises a rich and rewarding visit.

Days 10 and 11 –  We opted for a stay at a former palace nestled within the serene Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Penha Longa Resort exudes opulence and elegance. This premier resort boasts a world-class golf course, a rejuvenating spa sanctuary, and an array of sophisticated dining venues, promising an unparalleled experience in the heart of nature’s splendor.

Magical Sintra is a picturesque town located in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, near the capital, Lisbon. Famous for its romantic 19th-century architecture, historic estates, and beautiful landscapes,  Sintra is often described as a place where nature and history come together in a magical way. The town lies within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Sintra’s climate is temperate maritime, with mild winters and warm summers. The mountains and the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean contribute to its microclimate, often bringing misty conditions, especially in the mornings.

Gastronomy – Sintra is known for its traditional pastries, notably the “travesseiros” (puff pastries filled with almond cream) and “queijadas de Sintra” (cheese pastries). Both are a must-try when visiting. Sintra offers a rich and immersive experience steeped in history and natural beauty.

In summary:

Swan Hellenic offered a captivating cruise experience, journeying to Europe’s most historic ports. We enjoyed an immersive dive into the continent’s rich past, blending luxurious onboard comforts with enlightening shore excursions. We discovered some of the timeless tales and traditions of Europe’s ancient harbors, making each stop a step back in time. With Swan Hellenic, the essence of European history is not just learned but lived.

Rates Include

  • Regional flights to the port of embarkation and/or disembarkation (ONLY available for Antarctica cruises starting or ending in Ushuaia, Arctic cruises starting and ending in Longyearbyen and Kangerlussuaq)
  • Group return transfers from the airport to the cruise port (via our included accommodation where applicable)
  • One night pre-cruise accommodation with breakfast in a 4/5-star hotel or onboard
  • All meals onboard
  • Onboard accommodation in a stateroom selected category
  • 24-hour room service
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks and selected alcoholic beverages available 24-hours per day
  • Lecture programmes by our experienced expedition team and guest speakers
  • One selected shore excursion/expedition activities per port of call (Kayak not included, bookable for a fee on board)
  • Branded Swan Hellenic expedition parka and use of rubber boots in Polar Regions
  • Standard WiFi
  • Onboard gratuities & port taxes

Cover photo: Bilboa


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