Will Swan Hellenic Survive?

March 9, 2006

Will the acquisition by Princess Cruises of Swan Hellenic's Minerva II, beginning in April 2007, put the fabled one-ship cruise line out of business?

The relatively venerable Swan Hellenic, based in England and marketed primarily to a U.K. traveler, has been offering discovery-oriented cruises for more than 50 years. The line's interpretation of the discovery concept has been to blend top-notch enrichment lecturers who speak on topics ranging from archeology and history to wine and art, which directly relate to ports on the ship's itineraries. Minerva II, which joined the fleet in 2003, replacing the storied Minerva (I), is also known for its breadth of destinations; it rarely repeats an itinerary as it sails around the world each year.

Swan Hellenic has repeatedly garnered major awards and, rather distinctively, owns its niche in the cruise marketplace with no genuine competitors. The line has, of late, been making an effort to court a more widespread English-speaking passenger base from places such as Canada, the U.S., South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

These days Swan Hellenic is one of the lines owned by Carnival Corporation.

At this point, David Dingle, who as managing director of Carnival UK oversees its operations, tells Cruise Critic that the fate of Swan Hellenic beyond April 2007 is simply, at this point, up in the air. "The timing [of the news' release] was driven because Princess needed to announce its 2007 program. But the announcement came before we had properly had a chance to look at alternative options, and that is now what we're doing."

Dingle notes that a new build for Swan Hellenic is out of the question but acquisition of another ship is a possibility. Another possibility is the sale of the cruise line. Swan Hellenic, even for a one ship operation, is "a great brand, very well managed and profitable," he adds.

Swan Hellenic has also won many critical plaudits. In Cruise Critic's own review of the ship, Editor Carolyn Spencer Brown, who sailed on Minerva II, noted that "the experience on this one-ship cruise line focuses almost entirely on ports-of-call -- as opposed to onboard frippery. When the ship is at sea, time is often taken up with guest lectures offered by a series of erudite, mostly British, experts in fields ranging from archeology to wine. The usual onboard cruise diversions -- casino gambling, bingo, bad hair day lectures and "sun 'n' fun" activities poolside don't apply."

Other outlets giving Minerva II top scores include Best Specialist Cruise Line by the Daily Mail, Best Cruise Line by the Guardian/Observer Travel Awards as well as by the Daily Telegraph, and Best Specialist Cruise Company 2005 from Travel Weekly.

In the meantime, Swan Hellenic's Minerva II will continue to sail until April 2007. "All the published cruises will operate," Dingle notes. "We are committed to providing our customers with the high standards for which Swan Hellenic is famous. We will be making sure -- whatever our future -- that we're going to protect and retain its integrity."