Minerva markets itself as a sea borne country house for those who want something a bit more traditional. This is highly accurate, apart from the lack of wallpaper. From the moment we set sight on our fellow passengers waiting to board our ... Read More
Minerva markets itself as a sea borne country house for those who want something a bit more traditional. This is highly accurate, apart from the lack of wallpaper. From the moment we set sight on our fellow passengers waiting to board our BA flight to Athens, for the ‘Mediterranean Escape’ cruise in November, we knew this would be a very British traveller’s experience. Previous reviews had lead us to understand that there would be a good supply of retired teachers, lecturers, civil servants and ex-armed forces passengers, and we were not disappointed. The cruise itinerary was changed some months prior to departure to miss out a call to Tunis, and this was replaced by a second call to Sicily.
Shortly after leaving Heathrow, things started to deviate from the plan when there was an announcement requesting “senior cabin staff to the cockpit”, and then an another indicating that there was a spot of bother, and we would be returning to Heathrow. “Don’t worry about the fire engines”, we were told, as these were purely routine. Later, someone remarked that the calmer the captain’s voice, the worse the emergency, and I later discovered a report on our spot of bother at http://eu.greekreporter.com/2015/11/09/flight-heading-to-athens-from-london-lands-safely-in-heathrow-after-midair-turmoil/
Regrettably support from Swan Hellenic was absent in the subsequent rescheduling of the flight, which was unable to take all passengers. Passengers drifted in to Athens over the remainder of the day and night: just as well we were scheduled for an outing the next morning in Athens. To their credit, after I made a call to their head offices, the Minerva laid on a splendid late night buffet meal for passengers as they arrived.
The Minerva is a traditional craft with little pretense of being modern. Some might even call it old fashioned, but the faithful love it. There is no raked theatre or high atrium, but it is kitted out rather like a country house hotel with armchairs in nooks and crannies. Cabins, even ours at the lowest level was comfortable with adequate space for two. There is some changing about of cabins after booking so they can keep on selling those at the lowest advertised prices for as long as possible. There has been a lot of comment about the noise in the aft cabins, which is true. The ship has noisy diesel machinery, and some discussions suggest that this is a known long-term problem with cavitation from the propellers, but the bottom line is that the ship is noisy when moving and the back is worse than the front. The ship chugs along, never doing more than 11 knots and I would not be keen on sailing in rough waters: fortunately we were blessed with mainly calm weather.
The good news on the Minerva is that unlike some of the cheaper (American) cruise lines, there is little or no attempt to make everything an extra with a hard sell. There are no drinks packages (drink is on sale at very reasonable below London prices), no photographers, and tips and all the excursions are included. The down side to this last point is that there are reduced opportunities for ones own exploration at ports. Other returning passengers told us that there have been cut backs over the years, but as new customers (cygnets as they are termed) we could only evaluate what we saw.
Despite other comments, we thought the food on the Minerva was great. There was sufficient choice, good quality, and mostly served relatively hot. Buffet food on ships is always a problem for hotness, and Minerva was probably better than most. There are two dining options: either the formal, somewhat old fashioned Swan restaurant or the less formal Verandah restaurant which is more buffet style, but unlike some other brands, has properly set tables with cloths and glasses and staff to help you get the food to the table. Food in the main and buffet restaurants is almost identical. Breakfast is either served or buffet style and most passengers seem to opt for the Veranda restaurant, where you can sit outside. There is a sit down tea served every day. The Swan restaurant is text book formal and tries to impose a dress code, where smart casual means jackets for men. It is easy to be served a five-course meal if you want such a thing, and one of the better features is an imaginative cheese board. Wines are at normal restaurant prices. On a two-week cruise, there were two formal nights, which were taken seriously, and the meals served were slightly better with complimentary house wines. You will not go hungry, but it is noteworthy that food stops at the end of dinner, and unlike some of the American cruise liners, there are no late night snacks. As the excursions are part of the package, lunch is adjusted to suit the return of the trips, but it was sometimes a little tight and a packed lunch was provided for all-day excursions.
There is only one sitting for dinner with free seating, but you can take your place any time between 7-9pm. Table sharing is encouraged, which can be good news and bad news as we prefer a table for two which the maître d’ helped us with. The bars serve as a platform for checking out whom you might want to dine with, and alliances strike up fairly quickly. Horse lovers find each other. Service was brisk and helpful, but if you were on a big table, this might not be the case.
If you want West End/Broadway style entertainment, then Swan Hellenic is not the place for you with the lack of a proper theatre and the demographics of the passengers. On the cruise being reviewed, there were a selection of erudite speakers on relevant academic topics and wildlife, a trio of opera singers, a small band and female vocalist, a palm-court style violinist and the Totties review duo. This is not to everyone’s taste, but many passengers were enthralled.
Excursions are part of the package and there is a brochure sent out pre-cruise from which you choose your included trips. They were fairly well organised, and whilst well shepherded it was good to not be wearing the badge of shame that comes with most other cruise lines. Most port stops were fairly short, and unless you made a decision to miss lunch or tea, there would be little opportunity to explore on your own. Also the ship docked inconveniently at several ports with no shuttle service for independent explorers. On Menorca, a trip entitled archeological highlights failed to live up to its promise, as only one site out of many was visited, and most of the time was spent on the road between the two main towns.
Despite an unpromising start to our holiday and one or two minor reservations about the destinations ports, we were very impressed by the Minerva and what she offered. There is the lack of the big ship WOW factor, but the small ship experience does have advantages including accessing destinations not available to the behemoths. The acid test is whether we would go on Minerva again, and the answer is definitely yes. Read Less