Swan Hellenic's Minerva has come a long way from its beginnings as the ice-strengthened hull of a planned Ukrainian spy ship to its current position as an upscale ship with a country-house hotel atmosphere, catering to Brits with a penchant for educational travel. Registered in the Bahamas, the six-deck Minerva first came to Swan Hellenic in 1996 but was replaced by the much larger Minerva II (formerly Renaissance 8) in 2003. In 2007, the Carnival Corporation, Swan Hellenic's owner, eliminated the line, but it was revived by former P&O Chairman Lord Jeffrey Sterling and All Leisure, a British holding company. Minerva (I) was chartered again, and many of the key former Swan staffmembers returned to work in the office and onboard.
In 2011, the ship went into dry dock for an extensive £10 million overhaul, emerging in March 2012 with new bathrooms, new balconies, an extended walkaround promenade deck and a brand-new lounge (the latter two on Promenade Deck, which before the refit was known as Funnel Deck). More technical improvements included new tenders that allow for a faster, more comfortable ride ashore when the ship is anchored some distance from the dock; given some of the unusual ports at which Minerva calls, this is an important and useful enhancement.
The current Minerva is a 12,500-ton ship that carries up to 352 passengers, double occupancy, on in-depth, cultural itineraries in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and East of Suez into the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.
As the ship was originally designed for Swan Hellenic's intensive cultural enrichment programs, which cater to mostly British passengers, it has a country-house hotel atmosphere and is decorated with many paintings, prints and drawings that reflect its cruising regions. The officers are European, the stewardesses Ukrainian and the restaurant and bar service personnel Filipino. Swan's mostly British cruise staff have superb organizational skills, especially when it comes to smoothing out the process of getting on and off the ship and orchestrating shore excursions. Virtually everything happens right on time.
While the cabins are generally of moderate size with most of the usual amenities, the ship is a most comfortable conveyance for those who enjoy sea travel, attractive lounge surroundings and good conversations. Indeed, plenty of passenger interaction is possible during open-seating meals, in the lounges, during the lectures and on the excursions. Anglophiles from other countries form a minority, but their numbers will grow as the line resumes its presence in international markets.
Finally, don't let the high fares put you off. A full program of tours and all gratuities are built into the pricing, so rates are not as unreasonable as they may first appear.
Most passengers are British, with a small number of Americans, Canadian and Australians onboard, depending on the itinerary. Repeaters, known affectionately as Swans, often make up a high percentage of the passenger manifest. Most Swan Hellenic cruisers are ages 55 and older, and the average age on cruises departing from British ports is about 10 years older than on a fly-cruise itinerary. Travelers younger than 50 are almost always part of multi-generational family groups.
At night, the Swan Restaurant requires jackets and ties for men, but the Veranda Cafe does not. Women typically dress in nice trousers, skirts or casual dresses. There are usually three formal nights on 14-night cruises, during which men must don dinner jackets or dark suits, and women typically wear cocktail dresses or gowns. Dining in the Veranda is always casual, though the mostly British Swan passengers generally do not wear jeans or T-shirts, even during the day.
Swan Hellenic includes all onboard gratuities and tips to guides on all the shore excursions. Although it is not expected, some passengers do tip extra.