Although I had visited Minerva in Portsmouth earlier this year, this was my first Swan Hellenic cruise. The full cruise was for a couple of weeks in October 2012, but I and five other agents were being hosted by Swan Hellenic for four nights, from Naples to Civitavecchia, to give us the opportunity to experience discovery cruising on Minerva.
While onboard we were lucky enough to have a good look around, including the bridge and the galley. Everywhere we went the crew were extremely friendly, and Captain Giovanni Biasutti was no different. He was one of the friendliest and communicative ship's Captains I have met. On one sea day we had some bad weather, and after giving a detailed update over the speakers from the bridge, he said that he would make his way to the library where he would be happy to answer any questions which passengers might have. It was easy to see how much he loves the Minerva, and he told us that it is the ship he wants to retire on.
Talking of the crew, the cruise director Paul Carter obviously has a great working relationship with both the members of his own team, and also with the captain. Paul has worked for Swan Hellenic for over 16 years, and his enthusiasm really shows and is appreciated by the passengers.
Ship Facts and Figures - Minerva is just 12,449 tons, has 6 passenger decks and carries 350 passengers. There are 181 passenger cabins, and since the recent refit 44 of these have a balcony. There are 160 crew members, who are mainly Filipino and Ukrainian, with the officers being British and European. The onboard currency is sterling, which passengers appreciate.
Daytime Entertainment - One of the reasons Swan Hellenic has such a high level of repeat cruisers is the high calibre of the Guest Speakers they have on their cruises, including NADFAS speakers. On this particular cruise the Guest Speakers were Mr Andy Bunten, who has degrees in Zoology and Environmental Technology, and worked for the RSPB for 26 years, Mr Jeremy Paterson, who taught ancient history for almost 40 years at Newcastle University, Professor Lord (Richard) Harries of Pentregarth, who was the Bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006 and has written a number of books, and finally Professor Colin Renfrew (Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn), who is the author of many books on archaeology.
The Darwin Lounge is usually packed when any of the Guest Speakers are talking, but the talk is relayed live to the screen in the Livingstone Lounge, and can also be watched later on your cabin TV. There is also a selection of feature films shown on your cabin TV.
Also during the day there are games, such as Scrabble, Chess and Backgammon etc available in the Livingstone Lounge. Minerva also has a very large and well stocked library, where you can also add one or more pieces to a jigsaw as you pass through.
Excursions - a major benefit of cruising with Swan Hellenic is that there is a full programme of shore excursions which are included in the price of the cruise. For example, during our day in Naples there was a morning excursion to Pompeii, and an afternoon excursion to Herculaneum, and while in Livorno there was a morning excursion to Luca and an afternoon excursion to Pisa.
I was particularly impressed with the fact that a number of the onboard crew accompanied us on the coaches. Then when we arrived back at the designated meeting place one of them was there to meet us. They would direct us where to go, and there would be other members of the crew at various points along the way to ensure that no-one got lost.
Evening Entertainment - unlike many mainstream cruise lines, entertainment on Minerva doesn't include dance troupes with west end productions, or comedians. During the evenings you might like to listen to a cocktail pianist in the Shackleton Bar, or perhaps go to the Orpheus Lounge after dinner and dance to the music of the Sunflower Band. There will usually be some other occasional entertainment during the cruise, and later in this particular cruise there was going to be a concert performed by the four members of Opera Barcelona.
Dining - the main dining room is called the Swan Restaurant on Main deck, and all meals are on an open seating arrangement, and gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie for dinner. There is also the more casual Veranda on Bridge deck, which also benefits from an outside area for Al Fresco dining. The menus are the same in both dining rooms.
Other Onboard Facilities - there is a small shop, and a kiosk selling sweets, medicines and other general requisites you might have forgotten to pack, an internet lounge, a complimentary self-service laundrette with excellent washing machines and dryers, a small gym and a beauty centre, and a swimming pool.
Summary - Swan Hellenic isn’t going to suit everyone, namely those looking for an action packed cruise, with big stage show, ice skating rinks or climbing walls. However, it will most certainly suit anyone looking for small ship discovery cruising, where the destination is the most important thing, and they want to learn about the places they are visiting.
Swan Hellenic offers good value as the price you pay includes flights and resort transfers (when Minerva departs from a non UK port), a programme of shore excursions, Guest Speakers, full board accommodation and pre-paid gratuities.