Swan Hellenic Minerva Cruise Ship, Cabins & Public Spaces. My Review, Advice & Tips
Swan Hellenic Minerva. Cruise ship review, tips and advice
This review covers my thoughts, advice and tips for travellers about the Swan Hellenic Cruise Line’s Minerva ship. It is based on visiting the ship, tour it and speaking to people who work for the line and on the ship. You can watch my video tour of the ship at the end of the article.
I thought the line would be old-fashioned, behind-the-times and stuffy. I thought the ship would be jaded and past its peak, as I knew that it was a fairly old ship. What did I discover?
What is Swan Hellenic Minerva?
Swan Hellenic is a UK based cruise line whose promotional material promises “small ship cruising, with country house style” for “people with a mind to travel”. What does that mean?
The Minerva holds a maximum of 350 passengers and its itineraries and on-board program is focused on arts, cultural, history, architecture and current affairs. It visits unusual ports destinations, has more unique destinations than more mainstream cruise lines with larger ships and its on-board program is heavily slanted towards educational programs and cultural activities.
Swan Hellenic has been offering cruises for 60 years. It was launched in 1954 in a period of post war austerity. It was revolutionary at the time as it was offering an all inclusive cruise, on-board speakers and cultural itineraries. These key principles remain today, although it has evolved to meet the changing expectations of passengers. In 2012, for example, they responded to passenger needs and added balcony cabins, more extensive internet access and created more open public spaces.
Swan Hellenic is part of the All Leisure Group, which is a collection of cruise lines that also includes Hebridean Island Cruises and Voyage of Discovery. The line had passed through varied ownership prior to this. It had been owned by P&O Cruises and was part of the acquisition when P&O was bought by Carnival. Carnival eventually decided that Swan Hellenic did not fit with their strategy and reallocated the one ship it had to their Princess line. Lord Stirling bought the brand name, acquired the current Minerva ship and continued the line. In addition to the Minerva, they also charter a ship to a selection of River Cruises with the Swan Hellenic name.
Who is Swan Hellenic Minerva best suited for?
One thing that struck me as I met people from the cruise line is how clear they are about who they are trying to satisfy, and who would most like the line. This is UK based, or English speaking, mature passengers, either travelling as a couple or solo – and have a healthy interest in arts, culture and history. In addition to cruisers, it will also suit travellers who enjoy escorted tour type travel but have not yet tried a cruise.
Passengers on Minerva tend to be mature and over 60 years. Due the nature of the routes and on-board entertainment, they will be interested in arts, culture and history and enjoy holidays with a strong educational element. Swan Hellenic has strong partnerships with societies like the National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society and Fine Arts Association and promote their cruises via them.
Solo travellers are frequent users of Minerva, although the brochure suggests they may have to pay 100% surcharge to have single occupancy, there are often no surcharge promotions and discounts (so worth signing up for the promotional emails and newsletters!).
How do Swan Hellenic cruises work on the Minerva?
The key features of a Swan Hellenic Cruise are:
- All inclusive fares that include meals, gratuities and tours. In Ports that are visited frequently, there are, in addition to a core excursion, a number of excursions that focus on specific aspects of the area to provide alternatives for regular travellers. Guest can chose excursions up to a value (around £500 in total for the cruise) and if they want to take additional ones there may be a charge.
- 3 to 4 Guest Speakers will be on-board each cruise, providing a series of 40 minute talks based on the region being visited. The speakers are usually from educational, research and journalist backgrounds.
- Entertainment in the evening has a more classical slant, and so is more likely to include classical music and opera and theatre play readings. They do also bring on-board local acts relevant to the port of call.
- It has all the “required” facilities people expect on cruise ships, but they are smaller and more limited due to the size of the ship. For example, there is just a small gift shop, small spa with one treatment room and 2 hairdressing seats, small gym, and one pool.
- Dining is open seating at all meals to encourage guests, and lecturers, to meet, mingle and share experiences and learning. This is also designed to help solo travellers feel more integrated. The menu seems to be large and varied with a number of choices for starters, main and puddings. There is a main dining room (Swan) and a self-service (Verandah) one. They do lay tables with linen table cloths, crockery, cutlery and glasses in the self-service restaurant, so it felt more refined than the usual Lido style on most cruise ships. It has a mix of formal / semi-formal / smart casual nights, although they are experimenting with the mix as passenger tastes change, and also looking to reduce formal nights on fly to cruises due to the restrictions on luggage on airlines.
- Every port has a guided excursion included in the fare. In addition, many will have more in-depth or active tours available at additional cost focused on niche or specific topics.
- Mix of balcony suites, window and inside suites. Many have showers, again due to being a smaller cruise ship and space. The new balcony cabins are a good size and have good sized balconies.
Summary of my tips for travellers about the Swan Hellenic Minerva
- The Swan Hellenic Minerva is for mature passengers who are interested in visiting interesting and unusual destinations and meeting people who share their passion for arts and culture, rather than travelling on the latest, most advanced and features packed ship.
- The ship is comfortable and well maintained, especially after the refit which added the more open and pleasant public rooms, balcony cabins and canopy covered rear pool deck area, but it is not a modern ship – but it is also not a “cookie cutter” cruise ship layout and design which makes it unique. To meet the mature audience profile, it has a traditional country house based decor.
- I suspect this style is well liked by the over 60 audience, though younger travellers may feel it more dated. Personally, I though they had captured the feel well and it did not feel dated (although some carpets in some areas like reception and the dining room were a bit old fashioned for my tastes … what is it about cruise ships and carpets generally – they all seem to have some sort of unusual carpet tastes!)
- Personally, I thought the balcony rooms looked bright and welcoming and had decent sized bathroom facilities for the size of the ship, and would recommend those strongly if people could stretch to those budget wise (as I felt the window and inside cabins and bathrooms less welcoming).
- The crew seemed to have a real passion for the product and passengers. Knowledge of both the routes, destinations and what works is high as service lengths seem to be long. Overall service seems to be geared to be flexible and personal, which is possible on a small ship like this. I suspect this helps generate the high repeat rate of travellers on the line.
- One nice touch is that most of the artwork around the ship is work done on-board by passengers on various cruises. So budding artists could find that the art created in a class on-board could be hanging on the ship!
Watch my video tour with commentary of the Minerva: