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CruiseReportSwan Hellenic MV Minerva4A cruise review of Swan Hellenic MV Minerva in Scandinavia
 
 
by C. Dikmen and
R. Richardson
 
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  MV Minerva Editorial
 
Oslo & The Fjords
 
June 2013
 
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
 
Itinerary: Portsmouth, Oslo, Aalborg, Haugesund, Ulvik, Flam, Forde, Andalsnes, Olden, Bergen

PRELUDE

Can you remember when cruising was about more than glitzy casinos, rock-climbing walls and roller-blading? Back in "the day", it was about discovering new and exotic locations. It was a time when gentlemen dressed appropriately for dinner and the main activity was the destination. Nostalgia is a powerful force and Swan Hellenic appears to be leveraging it to their advantage, and to the advantage of those who sail with them. Discovery Cruising is more than a tag line, it is what Swan Hellenic is all about.

We have wanted to sail the Norwegian fjords for quite some time, so a 15-night Oslo & The Fjords sailing on Minerva seemed a perfect fit. Swan Hellenic is a cruise line that may be unfamiliar to most Americans. It is a premium British cruise line with a strong British following. In fact, about 85% of Swan's passengers are from the UK. On our sailing, there were only a handful of Americans, and at least four Canadians. This is a cruise line that has a huge following in Great Britain, but not so much in North America, at least not yet. Swan Hellenic operates only one ocean-going cruise ship: MV Minerva. And, there is quite an interesting history of the company and the ship, but that is a story for another time.

One thing is immediately apparent to any first-time guest on Minerva: this ship has a loyal following of repeat guests. In fact, I would have to say that the people we spoke with showed more passion and loyalty for this brand than we've experienced with any passengers on any other cruise line on which we have sailed. Virtually everyone we met was a repeat guest, and most could recite the history of the cruise line and the ship. When any brand fosters that kind of loyalty, there has to be a reason. We found several.


THE SHIP

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Minerva is your typical 12,500 ton cruise ship. She was launched in 1996, was moved to another cruise line for a period when Swan Hellenic became part of P&O Cruises/Carnival, then brought back (by demand, it would seem) to Swan Hellenic 5 years ago to resume her originally intended service after Swan joined the All Leisure Group. The ship was recently refurbished and balcony suites were added to the upper decks, a new Orpheus Lounge was added to the Promenade Deck and other areas of the ship were refreshed as well. She can carry 350 guests when fully booked; however, there were only 225 on our Norwegian fjord sailing.

Swan Hellenic is one of three cruise brands under the All Leisure Holidays "umbrella" along with Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises. For more information about Swan Hellenic, you can visit their website at http://us.swanhellenic.com/.

The general condition of Minerva is excellent. She has obviously been well maintained and cared for. The recent refurb and refit treated her to new furnishings, carpet and fabrics in many public rooms. The Orpheus Lounge was added to the Promenade Deck and Balcony Suites were added to the Bridge and Sun Decks. There is no casino on board Minerva, a nod to her more serious role as a "discovery cruising" vessel. There are three lounges/bars where guests can enjoy cocktails, two of which include entertainment at various times throughout the day. Drink prices are comparable to what you will find in most hotels and restaurants, but Americans should be advised that all prices onboard Minerva are in British Pound Sterling (£). On our sailing, the exchange rate was approximately 1.55 US$ to 1 Pound. Therefore, a £3.25 cocktail is really $5.03. However, Swan does not tack on a 18% bar service fee/gratuity as many cruise lines do. All gratuities onboard are included in the cruise fare.

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Elegant and colorful leather in The Orpheus Lounge

It is very easy to find your way around the ship.There are two stairways, one forward and another aft. The forward stairway and elevator go all the way to Promenade deck and Orpheus Lounge. The aft elevator only goes to the Sun Deck. There is a lot of open deck space. An expansive Promenade deck is great for walking laps around the deck and there are teak tables and chairs on Sun Deck aft and Bridge Deck aft.

Internet service is offered in the Internet Lounge, an area that has been carved out of one corner of The Library. There are 6 workstations. Internet charges are based on four different plans (shown below). The more minutes you purchase, the lower the per-minute costs. Swan's Internet charges are very competitive compared to other cruise lines. Connectivity and service were good with only a few outages during the 15-day cruise. Whenever the ship was sailing through the narrow fjords, the satellite signal was obviously being blocked. The ship is equipped with Wi-Fi and we had no problem getting a connection in our Balcony Suite. However, we did have a Wi-Fi transmitter mounted just outside our stateroom door in the hallway which, I am sure, helped some.

Internet Plans

Plan
British
US $*

Cost per minute
30 Minutes  £ 2.50  $3.87

 $0.13
60 Minutes
£ 4.40
$6.82

 $0.11
4 hours
£ 12.60
$19.53

$0.08
12 hours
£ 21.00
$32.55

 $0.045

* Based upon 1.55 exchange rate

A small, but very well-stocked, gift shop on Main Deck offers such items as jewelry, fragrances, clothing, and logo wear. There is another small shop that has every sundry you could ever need and then some. The Reception and Shore Excursion desks are located on the B deck aft. We visited Reception on several occasions and found the staff to be friendly and very helpful. Working at Reception is a tough job on a cruise ship. If someone has a complaint or a problem, this is where it ends up. So, a warm and friendly Reception staff is a real asset to a ship.

There is a nicely-equipped medical center on A deck. Rickee had to visit the ship's Doctor on the third day of the cruise due to tooth/gum pain. She was prescribed an antibiotic and they offered to arrange a dentist visit in Oslo. However, it turned out to be unnecessary. The charge for the visit was comparable to other cruise ship medical services. Of course, we always travel with third party travel insurance which should reimburse us for the cost.

For those who are looking for a way to stay in top shape while traveling, Minerva has a nicely-equipped fitness center on A deck aft, starboard. And, on the same deck port side, there is a Guest Laundrette equipped with 4 washer/dryer stack units, iron and ironing board. Detergent is complimentary as is use of the washers and dryers. The ship has laundry services as well and prices are comparable to other cruise lines or hotels. There is a small full-service salon on A deck that offers hair and nail services for a fee and massages, too.

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva

Fitness Center

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Guest Laundrette


ACCOMMODATIONS
Swan Hellenic Amenities

We were very fortunate to have a Balcony Suite (BS4) for our 15-night sailing. The Balcony Suites are found on the Sun Deck (7) and Bridge Deck (6) and were added to Minerva during the most recent refit.  Our Balcony Suite was 216 sq. ft. with a 76 sq. ft. balcony and all furnishings in it looked brand new.


Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Balcony Suite

Our Balcony Suite is located forward port side. Our suite is conveniently located near the forward stairs, however, even the aft stairs on this vessel are not a long walk down the hall. As I mentioned earlier,it is a very easy ship to navigate. Our twin beds have been combined to form one large bed with a single duvet. There are two nightstands, each with its own lamp and LED reading light, a nice touch. I am sure that everyone has their own standards as to what constitutes a comfortable bed. This bed is a bit on the soft side, but not too soft. And, the pillows are perfect.

Across from the bed is the "living room" with a small sofa, chair, coffee table and wall-mounted desk unit with a chair. A small flat screen television sits atop the refrigerator/mini-bar enclosure at the end of the desk unit. The TV is on a swivel base so that it can be seen from the bed or the living room. The desk unit has a couple of large open shelves, a cabinet with two additional shelves and a desk drawer. There is more than enough space for a laptop, camera gear and any other electronic devices you might travel with. Unfortunately, there is only a single AC outlet on the desk, so if you have multiple chargers (cell phones, cameras, iPods, etc.) you may need to pack a power strip. However, make sure it can handle 220 volts.

The bathroom is located on the right as you enter the room. There is a bathtub/shower combination, marble countertop w/sink, a mirrored 3-shelf medicine cabinet and a large storage shelf underneath the sink. It should be noted that Balcony Suites on starboard side of the vessel have showers while port side have bathtubs. Stepping up and over the side of the bathtub could be a challenge for some with mobility issues, something to consider when booking your Balcony Suite. Bathroom amenities are top quality L'Occitane and include bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion which were replenished as needed. There is a small, round magnifying mirror integrated into the mirror on the back of the medicine cabinet door, but a lighted magnifying makeup mirror would be a welcome addition. Towels were top-quality and we even had two washcloths, which is unusual for a European ship. Towels are replaced daily unless you hang them on the towel rack indicating you want to re-use them.

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Bathroom

The closet is located next to the bed along the hallway wall and, while not a walk-in closet, is very large and well designed. There are plenty of wooden hangers and hanging space. The closet makes use of storage shelves and drawers. The doors and drawers are held by strong magnets which are a bit noisy when they open and close, but do a fantastic job of keeping the doors and drawers secure with no rattling in choppier seas. There is a programmable electronic safe for valuables and two bath robes with slippers. We moved our bathrobes to the bathroom hooks to free up space in the closet for longer hanging items. We had more than enough storage space for our 15-day trip. The two hooks on the wall behind the entry door were a nice touch! We love having hooks on the wall to hang things like backpacks and jackets so they are easily accessible as we go out the cabin door.

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Large closet


The outside wall is dominated by large floor-to-ceiling windows and a door opening onto the massive balcony. The glass is coated with a film to reduce sun and heat in the cabin. The balcony has a teak deck, two teak padded deck chairs and a small teak table. There is enough space on our balcony for a lounge chair as well. Our balcony looks out over the top of one of the life boats, but this does not obstruct the view significantly. All-in-all, it is a very nice balcony and one of which we took full advantage.

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Balcony

One thing missing from the Balcony Suite is a 110 US-style electrical outlet. I suspect the same is true of all staterooms on Minerva. In a departure from other cruise ships on which we have sailed, Minerva uses a 3-prong British-style outlet (220 volt) instead of the 2-round prong European standard. I always pack several 2-prong to US-style adapters when we travel, but they were useless in the British outlets. Fortunately, I discovered this before we left Portsmouth and I was able to disembark and make a dash to the gift shop located in the cruise terminal and purchase 2 British-style adapter plugs. There are a total of 4 available outlets spread around the room. One is located atop the desk, two are located underneath the nightstands (one each) and another, oddly enough, under the main light switch on the wall next to the stateroom door.


British plug adapters

We found the Balcony Suite to be extremely comfortable and roomy. There are a few times when the room got a little warm and the A/C unit seemed to be unable to keep up. However, we learned that there is a three-position air flow adjustment on each vent in addition to the thermostat. Once we opened that up, the problem was solved. The television has a movie channel with new movies each day and all of the lectures are run in a loop on several channels. There are also a few BBC channels available and Sky News. The acoustics of the room are very quiet making for peaceful nights' sleep. Overall, we would easily rate the Balcony Suite a 5 out of 5 for comfort.

During our sailing, our stateroom attendant, Natalya, did an excellent job of keeping the room in order. When we returned from excursions, our room had been completely made up. Each evening, she would replace towels, if necessary, and turn down the bed. Some evenings we choose not to go to dinner, especially after a large lunch and Afternoon Tea. We would instead go for for a cocktail around 6:30 and by 7:30 when we returned, she already had the room ready. Excellent!

DINING
 Swan Hellenic MV Minerva

Minerva has two dining venues: The Swan Restaurant is the main dining room, and The Veranda is the buffet/Lido-style dining area. The Swan Restaurant offers full "menu" service at breakfast, lunch and dinner each day as well as an Afternoon Tea service (4pm). The Veranda offers buffet-style dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day as well as an Early Riser continental breakfast each morning at 6:30 am. Tables in both restaurants are set with linens, flatware and china; there are no plastic dishes to be found. Weather permitting, you can also dine al fresco on the deck outside the Veranda.

The Veranda dress code is "smart casual" for all meals, which basically means no shorts or swimsuits. The Swan Restaurant is smart casual for breakfast and lunch and "jacket and tie" in the evenings. There were two "formal" nights on our 15-night sailing and most guests take formal night very seriously. Black tie is recommended, and most adhere to the policy; however, you will see a few wearing a dark suit and a tie.


Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Rickee poses with one of the waiters in The Veranda

Minerva also offers room service from 10 am to 10 pm each day with a selection of sandwiches, burgers, salads, steak, chicken, spaghetti and desserts. Interestingly, there is no room service breakfast offered.

The food we experienced in the Veranda was identical to what we had in the Swan Restaurant. In fact, the two menus are virtually identical each day. As with any cruise ship, or restaurant for that matter, food is a matter of personal taste. In general, we found the food to be average to good, with a few really exceptional offerings. I learned after a few days that the Asian and Indian dishes offered nearly every day were exceptional. They were all very flavorful and a few were even spicy hot, which I love. I suspect that the Brits' love for Indian food is being catered to. The crusty rolls served at each meal were fresh and delicious and all of the soups we had were very good. If you have a sweet tooth, you will love the desserts. There is a dessert bar set up each day in Swan and Veranda and the selection in excellent.

Afternoon Tea is served each day at 4 pm in the Swan Restaurant and offers the traditional scones with clotted cream and preserves. However, they also offer finger sandwiches, cookies and a wide assortment of cakes. And, something a little unusual, there is a savory choice as well. When was the last time you saw chicken nuggets offered at Afternoon Tea?

Swan Hellenic MV Minerva
Temptations at Afternoon Tea

Our two room service experiences were less impressive. My cheeseburger with fries arrived with no ketchup for the fries and slathered with Thousand Island dressing. And, on both orders, no salt & pepper was included on the tray. We decided that ketchup is not a British staple since they usually use HP sauce so we made sure to request ketchup the second time. The only other mystery was when I tried to order a burger in the dining room for lunch and was told that they were only available through room service. I thought that was odd. However, towards the end of the cruise, I noticed another guest was served a cheeseburger at lunch in the Swan. I overheard a conversation where he apparently was told the same thing I had been told about burgers only being available through room service, but when he inquired as to "why", his waiter asked the chef, who readily prepared a burger for him in spite of the "policy". I am just guessing that having burgers available on the lunch menu is probably an "American" thing that the Brits don't consider.

The service in both venues is very attentive. One day at lunch I asked Rickee where she found the hard-boiled eggs on the salad bar and she said they were an ingredient in one of the salad offerings. A few moments later, our waiter brought a small plate with three sliced hard-boiled eggs to our table. Anticipating what guests want is a hallmark of excellent service. We were always given a table for two when we asked. (There are a few two-top tables in both dining venues.) Since we usually arrive early for meals, the tables were always available. So, if you would like a table for two, it pays to be early. All dining is "open seating". There are no set dining times per se, and you can sit wherever and with whomever you wish, which was the another reason we were given that Swan Hellenic has such a loyal following, according to the repeat guests with whom we spoke.

ACTIVITIES
Swan Hellenic MV Minerva

The main activities aboard a Swan Hellenic cruise center around the destination and the shore excursions. Every Swan Hellenic cruise offers a wide selection of complimentary shore excursions that are included in the cruise fare. This makes Swan Hellenic a huge value and is one of the three main reasons we were given when we asked fellow passengers why Swan is so popular with repeat guests. The excursions on our sailing were typically 3.5 hours in length. Some excursions were city walking tours, others were coach tours. We even did a 5-mile hike up a mountain in Olden! No matter which excursion we chose, Solveig, the Shore Excursion Manager, was always nearby to make sure everyone got the best experience possible. Every excursion included a local English-speaking guide and usually a stop for "tea and cakes". A representative from Minerva also accompanied each excursion. The motor coaches used on excursions were all new, clean, modern and air-conditioned. Also, there are no gratuity requirements for the local guides as Swan has taken care of that too! In general, we found the shore excursions to be comparable to those offered on other cruise lines for $75 to $120 per person. There were several excursions to choose from for each place we visited, and you sometimes were able to select a morning and an afternoon excursion for the same day!

Solvieg
Solveig, Minerva's shore excursion manager

All activities, along with the evening meal dress code, are noted in the ship's daily program which, unlike on most ships, is delivered to your cabin each morning for the next day. By receiving this information early on the day before things are scheduled to take place, you have ample time to examine what is in store for the next day so you can make plans and be sure to schedule time for any activity that appeals to you. This way, you also have advance notice of any sales in the gift shop or specials in the Beauty Centre (salon). We really enjoyed receiving the program this way.

Sightseeing from the decks was a favorite activity on this voyage. Deck talks would be given by onboard lecturers about the area through which we were sailing, pointing out areas of interest and detailing historical events. When sailing through the scenic fjords of Norway, Captain Moulds would go out of his way (often to the chagrin of the local pilot onboard) to move the ship closer to impressive waterfalls and other points of interest. He would make sure that both sides of the ship were able to view the scenery by turning the ship 360 degrees while in the scenic area. 


Former British Ambassador to Norway, Sir Richard Dales

The other main activity on Swan Hellenic is the lecture series. The lectures dovetail with the destination and the excursions. A lot of thought and planning has gone into the selection of esteemed lecturers on board every Swan cruise. On our voyage, our lecturers consisted of a Professor, a PHd, a Sir and a Lord! Every guest aboard Minerva goes home "knowing" about the places they have visited. This adds a very unique dimension to the cruise experience and is another of the reasons given for Swan's popularity with repeat guests. Lectures are conducted every day, and there are several lectures to choose from. However, every lecture has some relevance to the destination. This makes the cruise an educational, as well as an entertaining, experience. During our Norwegian Fjord cruise, we learned about the Viking history of the region, the geographical and geological history of Norway, and even the history and significance of the North Sea.

All lectures are broadcast live on the ship's closed circuit television so that they can be enjoyed in the stateroom. And, lectures are repeated on a loop throughout the day on multiple channels. This is a great feature that no other cruise has quite matched.

On our voyage, there was also the opportunity to take part in an "Art Workshop" conducted by an experienced water-colorist. Various sessions were held throughout the voyage and an exhibition of passengers' creations was held on the last evening of the cruise.

The well-stocked library on Bridge Deck is a comfortable place to sit and read or work one of the many jigsaw puzzles that were available during the cruise. Newspapers and magazines are also found here.

ENTERTAINMENT

The entertainment onboard Minerva was much better than we expected on a ship this size. In the late afternoon/early evening, Claire Harper could be found playing the piano and singing in Shackelton Bar. This made Shackelton Bar a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail, or to sit with friends after dinner. In the Orpheus Lounge on Promenade Deck, the band Tuxedo Class performed most evenings after dinner, especially nice for those who like to dance the night away. The Sixth Avenue Singers were on board during our sailing to deliver several operatic evening performances in The Drake Lounge.

Claire Harper - Swan Hellenic
Claire Harper entertains each evening in The Shackelton bar


THE ITINERARY
Swan Hellenic MV Minerva

Our 15-night sailing from Portsmouth could not have been better planned or executed. Four of the five days at sea were perfectly placed with two days at the beginning and two days at the end of the sailing, with one more thrown in on the fifth day. Notwithstanding one call in Denmark, every place we visited was in Norway. We saw everything from the big cities of Oslo and Bergen to the small villages tucked away deep inside the fjords of Norway. And, while on the subject of fjords, they are amazing. This is scenic cruising that is rivaled only by Alaska, New Zealand and perhaps Antarctica. We were also very fortunate with the weather we experienced on our voyage. Norway is well-known as a rainy place, but we only had rain on one or two days. It was beautifully warm and sunny for practically the entire voyage.

Chris Dikmen
Magnificent waterfalls are common in Norway



SAFETY & SECURITY

Every guest is issued a boarding ID card that gets swiped each time they leave or return to the vessel. However, unlike some ships, this card does not double as a room key. Each stateroom has two "old school" room keys. Doors do not automatically lock when shut, so you must remember to use the key to lock the door when leaving the stateroom. Each stateroom has an electronic, programmable safe large enough to hold a small laptop, Kindle, iPad, etc.

A thorough muster drill was conducted before the ship sailed. Guests were instructed to bring their life vests to their muster station where they were shown the proper way to wear them. Everything was handled professionally and seriously.

Hand sanitation dispensers were everywhere you looked and the staff made sure you used them before entering the dining venues. On shore excursions, staff members would walk around with a hand sanitizer pump to make sure everyone's hands were clean. The ship has not had any cases of Norovirus and they are committed to keeping it that way. In the Veranda Restaurant, main courses and hot dishes are plated by galley staff which is much more sanitary that allowing guests to serve themselves. There are also hand sanitation wipes available in the Internet Lounge at each computer station. Minerva is the most health-conscious ship on which we have ever traveled.

DAILY BLOG

To read about our experience day-by-day, click the links below to read our blog entries:

Day 1 - Embarkation
Day 8 - Ulvik
Day 2 - At Sea
Day 9 - Flam
Day 3 - At Sea
Day 10 - Forde
Day 4 - Oslo
Day 11 - Andalsnes
Day 5 - Aalborg
Day 12 - Olden
Day 7 - Haugesund
Day 13 - Bergen
  Day 14 - At Sea

CruiseReport.com Blog



ATMOSPHERE & EXPERIENCE
Swan Hellenic MV Minerva

Swan Hellenic refers to the decor on Minerva as "British Country Home", and that is an accurate description. Furnishings throughout the ship are elegant without being stuffy. Every public space is comfortable and inviting with a very British feel.

During the day, casual attire is the order of the day and may include casual slacks, jeans or even shorts. T-shirts are rarely seen and swim suits, other than at the pool, would really look out of place. So, if you swim, bring a coverup or a robe. Some gentlemen can even be seen wearing sport coats during the day. Life on Minerva seems to be a bit dressier than on "contemporary" cruise lines.

Evenings are even more dressy with jacket and tie being suggested in the Swan Restaurant each evening. The attire for Veranda is smart casual, which technically means no shorts or swim suits. However, I felt under-dressed in jeans. In fact, after 6pm, throughout the ship, casual slacks and a polo shirt are about as casual as you will find with most men wearing jackets with tie.

The average age on our sailing was definitely at the upper end of the scale. I am in my late 50s and I suspect I might have been the youngest on the passenger list. I cannot say if that is typical for Swan Hellenic or not. However, the ship is definitely not geared toward families with small children or teens. There are no programs for kids and no staff to keep them entertained. This is a cruise for adults.

EVALUATION


Swan Hellenic has found a niche and done a very successful job of catering to it. The ship wants to appeal to mature adults who want to truly discover a destination. Even though they gear menus and lectures to British tastes and interests, Americans and Canadians should not let this stand in the way of experiencing this excellent ship. This ship has the most passionate following of loyal guests we have ever seen. And what are the top three reasons given for its popularity?
  1. Size of the ship
  2. Included gratuities and shore excursions
  3. Open seating dining
Swan Hellenic not only takes you all over the world, they transport you back to a time when gentlemen dressed for dinner and cruising was about discovering new and exotic places. It's that whole nostalgia thing, and it appears to be working quite well.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW

CruiseReport's Minerva 2013 album on Photobucket

VIDEO



It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
 
 
 
 
       


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https://cruisereport.com/crReview.aspx?id=2620   |  6/26/2019 7:08:39 PM