I was invited aboard Swan Hellenic’s newest ship, SH Vega, for a short cruise from Halifax to Boston. It was a great opportunity to explore the ship and meet the expedition leaders and senior company executives. Greeted by smiling crew members offering champagne and assistance to get registered and find my stateroom, I immediately felt at home in this swanky and stylish floating boutique hotel.
SH Minerva and SH Vega, two new 5-star Polar Code PC 5 expedition cruise ships with ice-strengthened hulls, respectively launched in December 2021 and July 2022. Each accommodates 152 guests in 76 suites and staterooms, the majority with large balconies. A slightly larger PC 6 ice-class vessel, SH Diana, accommodating 192 guests with 96 staterooms and suites will be launching in 2023. Each ship has extra-large stabilizers to make cruising as smooth as possible.
What is Expedition Cruising?
Expedition cruising, one of the fastest growing types of the cruises, focuses on technical sophistication using ships that can navigate close to the shore in shallow waters. All have fleets of Zodiacs for transporting passengers from the ship and for landings in remote natural environments. Some are equipped with sea kayaks and other toys as well. An onboard expedition team knowledgeable about each itinerary and immersed in research and science, often enhances the passenger experience.
Swan Hellenic’s Expedition Team comprises 10-15 people per voyage including expedition leaders, photographers, polar meteorologists, ornithologists, naturalists and invited experts. No two voyages are ever the same. While an itinerary is advertised, the captain and expedition team make real time adjustments based on weather, wildlife, snow and ice, and the remote host communities. Pack your sense of adventure and be prepared for surprises (good ones) along the way.
No two expedition cruises are the same
True to the promise of spontaneity during an expedition cruise, on the second day while we were cruising in the Atlantic near Cape Cod, the Captain stopped the ship and made a surprise announcement that the Zodiacs were being lowered into the water and guests were welcomed to go for a Zodiac excursion. I returned immediately to my stateroom to fetch my life jacket and headed straight to Basecamp to transfer onto a Zodiac. We were able to see and were very entertained by some curious dolphins circling our Zodiac. Then our captain took us for an unexpected fun and fast cruise allowing for a 360-degree view of the SH Vega.
Exploring the new SH Vega
The décor of SH Vega can be described as understated elegance using modern Scandinavian designs and materials. For an expedition ship where the focus has typically been on off-ship adventures and exploration, Swan Hellenic has delivered style and comfort while offering adventure, science and exploration. From the moment I entered the reception area on Deck 4 and was greeted by smiling staff offering champagne, I was struck by the luxury aspects of Swan Hellenic’s ships, coupled with their genuine hospitality. For example, wandering all 9 spacious decks, mostly using the open glass centrally located staircase, I immediately appreciated the choreography of Scandinavian furnishings and artwork. I even found an outdoor stargazing (or sunbathing) area and a helicopter pad used in the event of an emergency on the highest deck.
Panoramic Observation Lounge and Club Lounge
The spacious Observation Lounge, occupying half of Deck 7, afforded panoramic views on both sides of the ship and of the bow with a small circular area on the front of the ship ideal to view wildlife, sunrises and sunsets, called the Swan’s Nest.
The lounge was ideal for reading, enjoying a drink, listening to lectures by the ship’s experts or the pianist playing softly on the white baby grand piano…or to just watch the scenery. A gift shop selling expedition gear, along with a well-used bar were also located in this lounge.
The Club Lounge on Deck 7 featured a café/patisserie and a 24-hour coffee station, and access to the pool and outdoor grill making this the busiest part of the ship during our sailing. A heated infinity pool surrounded by comfortable padded loungers provides a luxurious oasis to relax and enjoy the surrounding scenery.
Wellness Center (Gym)
The Wellness Centre and Sundeck are located on Deck 8 and include an indoor gym with state-of-the-art fitness equipment and weights. There is also a sauna room with large windows and an outdoor hot tub. The Beauty Salon (and small treatment rooms for massages at additional charge) is located on Deck 2 next to the Medical Clinic. I enjoyed a relaxing deep tissue massage during the cruise.
The Expedition Lab – Science and Learning
There are opportunities to engage in scientific research in the Expedition Lab on Deck 3 adjacent to the Basecamp. During our sailing Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute presented on searching for life in the “Cosmic Ocean”. The Expedition Lab was not being utilized during our short cruise; however, I anticipate it will be a hive of activity during the upcoming expeditions in Antarctica. A Library is located opposite the Expedition Lab.
Lockers and expedition equipment were found in Basecamp on Deck 3 with large doors used for guests to embark on off-ship adventures. Zodiac boarding is conveniently accommodated on both sides of the ship.
Located mid-ship on Deck 6, balcony stateroom #609, had 2 single beds side by side to create one King bed, a comfortable bathroom with shower stall, a pair of large closets with sturdy wood hangers, and loads of space to store shoes, clothing and gear. I have not had this much storage space in a ship stateroom before.
I’ve never had a fireplace glowing and crackling in my ship cabin before, but there it was, built into the cabinets at the foot of my bed. While it wasn’t a real working fireplace, thankfully, I was charmed so much that I kept it on all night and awoke to the crackling sounds.
One unusually practical feature in my stateroom was a heavy curtain that can be drawn between the bed sitting area with a desk and small sofa, offering some separation when two guests share the cabin. The desk had a built-in make-up mirror compartment that I used happily. My days began with a strong morning espresso made fresh in my cabin, while waiting on my private balcony (in my plush bathrobe) for the sun to rise.
Most of the 75 staterooms on the SH Vega are 302 square foot balcony staterooms, and there are 6 larger suites and 16 ocean view staterooms, including one that is wheelchair accessible. Adjoining staterooms are available for families. All of the staterooms are located on Floors 4, 5 and 6.
With three dining venues, the Swan Restaurant, Club Lounge and Pool Bar & Grill, there’s something for everyone. For early risers, a light breakfast selection was also available in the Club Lounge. At 7:30am in the Swan Restaurant, a full breakfast could be ordered a la carte at the table, or from a large buffet that included fruit, yogurt, freshly baked breads, pastries and eggs. The cappuccino came out piping hot with perfectly frothed milk.
The weather cooperated for guests to enjoy dining al fresco at the Pool Bar and Grill with an assortment of hot dogs, sausages, chicken, and steak accompanied by French fries and many salad choices.
Dinner was served in the ship’s main dining room, the Swan Restaurant with table service from the menu along with daily specials noted by the wait staff. One highlight was a bowl of French onion soup followed by a Lobster tail served with vegetables.
On our first night, we enjoyed selecting our salads, soups, main courses and desserts from a beautifully displayed buffet. A Caesar salad followed by perfectly cooked lamb chops and assorted green vegetables hit the spot for me. A choice of two red and two white complementary wines were offered by the wait staff, however, for wine aficionados a cellar of vintage wines, premium spirits and craft beers are also available, at additional charge.
You can also choose to enjoy your meals with the 24-hour room service which I likely would welcome on a longer cruise.
Following our cruise, SH Vega started her journey along South America on her way to Antarctica for the 2022/23 winter season. Her sister-ship, SH Minerva will join her shortly in Antarctica. Swan Hellenic’s third ship, the slightly larger SH Diana will be named in 2023 and will cruise the Mediterranean. The itineraries for the Swan Hellenic fleet include exclusive off-the-beaten-path experiences in the most exotic destinations in the world. Imagine the joy of exploring all 7 continents on Swan Hellenic’s expedition ships in the lap of luxury.
If you are considering an expedition cruise to see what others don’t, and have the desire to do it in luxury and comfort, choosing Swan Hellenic would be an excellent option.
Many thanks to Swan Hellenic and its very capable team in working with me on arranging and helping us with this wonderful cruise. Thanks to the CruiseCompete and All Things Cruise team as well for introducing me to Swan Hellenic!
Ed. Note: See Swan Hellenic cruises here Swan Hellenic Cruises (cruisecompete.com)
About Swan Hellenic
Swan Hellenic was relaunched in July 2020 to proudly continue the spirit of cultural expedition cruising the company pioneered in the 1950s. Building on its British roots, the new company has a global cultural cruising outlook dedicated to providing guests with the opportunity to ‘see what others don’t’.
Swan Hellenic’s purpose-built ships feature elegant Scandi-design interiors, extensive outdoor spaces and dedicated expedition facilities. SH Minerva and SH Vega, two new 5-star Polar Code PC 5 expedition cruise ships with ice-strengthened hulls, respectively launched in December 2021 and July 2022, each accommodate 152 guests in 76 spacious suites and staterooms, the majority with large balconies. A slightly larger PC 6 ice-class vessel, SH Diana, accommodating 192 guests in the same distinctive comfort and style in 96 staterooms and suites will be arriving in early 2023.
All three ships feature 3 dining venues – the Swan Restaurant, Club Lounge and Pool bar & Grill – and are being built in full compliance with SOLAS Safe Return to Port requirements. Dedicated to guests with a passion for adventure and cultural exploration, the company’s meticulously planned itineraries explore the wild landscapes, wildlife, peoples and unique cultures of the world’s less traveled regions.
The crews each include a team of 12 seasoned expedition guides, expert speakers and lecturers, for a total complement of 120 and 140 persons respectively, offering outstanding staff-to-guest ratios to deliver the highest standards of attentive personal service.
Headquartered in Cyprus with offices in London, Dusseldorf, Monaco, Fort Lauderdale (serving the North America market) and Hong Kong (serving mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam and South-East Asia), as well as partnerships serving India, Japan and Australia-New Zealand, Scandinavia and Iceland, Swan Hellenic supports the travel trade with specialist local partners to provide customers with expert personal service worldwide.
Ed. Note: See Swan Hellenic cruises here Swan Hellenic Cruises (cruisecompete.com)