Cruise clients will find themselves fully immersed in less-travelled destinations, reports Rebecca Barnes
Key selling points for travel agents:
- Marketed as a “brand for the thinking person”
- Stable and powerful: Vega has a Polar Class 6 ice-strengthened hull and extra-large stabilisers
- Three restaurants
- A sauna with views
- Fireplace feature in cabins
Swan Hellenic was founded in the 1950s when British travel agency Swan’s Tours, run by an enterprising father and son, organised a discovery cruise that sailed to Greece’s historical sites, with 128 university society members and three guest lecturers on board.
Marketed as a “brand for the thinking person”, the line’s USP was to never repeat the same itinerary twice, taking guests to places that, at the time, were mostly undiscovered, even by the most intrepid travellers.
True to its Roots
Now, 70 years later, following a 2020 relaunch under new ownership, Swan Hellenic is moving in a more premium direction while continuing to honour its British roots and give guests the chance to “see what others don’t”. Whatever you do, though, don’t call Swan Hellenic a luxury line.
“The word luxury sometimes has a negative connotation and isn’t always authentic,” says chief executive Andrea Zito. “We prefer understated elegance – the decor should not distract from the real show outside.”
Named after the first ship to cross the Arctic Northeast Passage, the new-build 152-passenger ship Swan Hellenic (SH) Vega, which launched this summer, features cutting-edge technology that allows it to sail to the most remote destinations and lesser-known ports of call.
Built for Ice
Following in the wake of twin sister SH Minerva, which launched in December 2021, Vega has a Polar Class 6 ice-strengthened hull and extra-large stabilisers. This is in addition to an advanced waste water treatment system and dynamic positioning technology that enables the ship to remain stable without having to drop anchor into fragile seabeds.
As well as being noise-free to prevent disturbing sea life, Zito maintains that the ship will never be trapped and can move at a speed of six knots in one metre of ice.
“This part of the world knows how to build ice breakers,” he tells us, referencing Helsinki, where the ship was built and christened in July.
Facilities and Excursions
Inside, the boutique ship features floor-to-ceiling windows for unobstructed views, and an understated ‘Scandi luxe’ design that never distracts from what’s happening outside.
Three dining venues offer international and local cuisine inspired by regional ingredients. The Swan Restaurant is the main venue, while the Club Lounge serves tapas-inspired dining and freshly baked pastries. Afternoon tea is served daily, and the Observation Lounge mixes up cocktails and low-key music – it’s also where guests gather to swap stories of the day.
Wellness is on the agenda too, with a small spa and panoramic sauna featuring possibly the best views on the high seas – it’s bound to be a hit with guests. There’s also a heated outdoor pool, hot tub and poolside seating, as well as a gym for those looking to keep on top of their fitness levels.
Although the interior is impressive, guests are likely to spend a lot of time out on deck, and like us, they will love watching the ever-evolving landscapes from the forward-facing Swan’s Nest observation and stargazing decks.
Swan Hellenic is laser-focused on immersing clients in the destinations: the hub of the ship is Basecamp, which is where guests are briefed and kitted out in preparation for expeditions or Zodiac tours. There is also the science laboratory, where travellers can meet guest scientists, join a workshop on cloud observations or analyse water samples.
Staterooms and suites are spacious. Most have generous balconies, and the feeling throughout is high-spec and welcoming, with evident attention to detail. All cabins feature holographic flame effect fireplaces that provide a real focal point.
“The accommodation is one of the highlights of the ship,” agrees Lee Whittington, marketing executive at The Cruise Line. “My balcony stateroom had more storage space than I have ever seen on any other vessel, and the fireplace was a unique feature.”
Vega's Future Itineraries
In 2023, Vega will venture south to Antarctica before heading to Cape Town. Then it’s on to Africa’s west coast “to see elephants roaming on the beach” and visit Loango National Park with its 12 gorilla families. Also on the itinerary will be South Georgia, the Arctic, Canadian Arctic, Halifax and South America.
So, what does the future hold for the heritage line? Already under construction in Helsinki shipyard, the slightly larger 192-guest PC 6 ice-class vessel SH Diana will feature the same creature comforts and understated boutique styling that Swan Hellenic is now becoming known for.
Scheduled to be christened in March 2023, it will, says Zito, return to the origins of the line that was taking Brits to archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Diana’s 2023 itinerary highlights will include Greece; the theatres of Taormina; the Algerian coast; Spitzbergen; east and west Mediterranean; the Red Sea; Seychelles; Kenya; Zanzibar; Madagascar; Mozambique, and Antarctica.
Ask the Expert
Lisa McAuley, managing director at Silver Travel Advisor, shares her tips for selling Swan Hellenic cruises
1. Recognise that you may have Swan Hellenic ‘client types’ in your database. The ship, destinations and type of cruise appeal to adventure-seeking clients who appreciate understated luxury.
2. Swot up on the ship’s expedition staff and make them part of your sales pitch – they each have stories to tell. The depth of knowledge will match your clients’ expectations in having access to experts.
3. Vega can make shore landings that larger vessels may find challenging. This matters in certain destinations – the pace at which clients disembark can make a difference to time ashore. Plus, on small ships people get to know each other much more intimately.
4. Expedition cruising is not a cheap holiday, but it’s great value when you consider what’s included and the destinations visited. If you break it down to a daily cost, value for money is more easily explained to clients.
Book it: An 11-night Antarctic Peninsula cruise on SH Vega costs from US$11,500, departing 4 December 2022. The price includes regional flights, transfers, one shore excursion and one night pre-cruise accommodation.
For more information, visit swanhellenic.com