Cruise Articles - Cruise Reviews :
 In the Baltic with Swan Hellenic

Europe with Swan Hellenic
Her Loyal Passengers Love Mv Minerva

by Doug English

There’s no casino, no Broadway-style shows, and most definitely no bingo. The cabins lack balconies, and when you enter the main dining room, the tuxedoed maitre d’ directs you to wherever there’s room at a table.

It’s Swan Hellenic’s Minerva, and her loyal passengers wouldn’t have it any other way.

What kind of cruise ship is this, anyway?

Compared with most cruise ships, British-owned Minerva is a midget. When my wife and I were aboard for a Baltic Sea cruise in August, she carried 365 passengers, her maximum. (In contrast, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas can accommodate 6,000).

Another key difference is that guided shore excursions – typically a couple at each stop – are included in the price. On our cruise, these ranged from a visit to Kronborg, the Danish castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to a walking tour that included the cells of a former Stasi (security police) prison in Rostock, in what was once East Germany.

The longest stop was in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Minerva stayed two nights and parts of three days, considerably more than ships from big-name lines.

Finding fresh attractions takes some doing because most of Minerva’s passengers are older and well-travelled. So a few optional excursions are also arranged. Among those offered to us were a private ballet performance at St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Theatre and a coach tour of Berlin.

Europe with Swan Hellenic

Swan Hellenic’s type of cruise is definitely not for everyone, but we loved it.

A guided walking tour might prove disappointing – a couple of ours did – and the weather might turn nasty – the heavens opened up during a stroll through the gardens at Peter the Great’s summer palace near St. Petersburg – but we could always rely on shipboard life.

This included:

– Daily talks from four on-board lecturers, some of whom taught at top British universities.

– A library with thousands of books and magazines, and where, shortly after the cruise started, one couple put out a jigsaw puzzle and explained that it was meant to be solved by any and all.

– Tastefully furnished lounges with attentive servers and reasonably priced drinks. A pianist and clarinetist held forth in one, a lovely young harpist in the other.

– Well-prepared meals, plus morning and evening coffee and afternoon tea with desserts.

– Evening activities that included classical concerts by a woodwind trio and quiz night, another Swan Hellenic favourite in which passengers formed teams and duked it out for a bottle of bubbly.

– Weekly “gala’’ receptions and dinners, with complimentary wine, where the daily program read “Gentlemen are invited to wear black tie’’ and many did just that, arriving with wives in floor-length gowns.

But perhaps most of all, it meant meeting so many friendly and interesting people. One repeat customer described the voyages as “middle England afloat’’.

“No, a slice of middle England,’’ said a first-timer who had found it “a bit clannish’’.

That’s probably because it’s common to be asked early on how many Swan Hellenic cruises you’ve done. This isn’t a bit of British one-upmanship – it’s just that most of your new companions will have done many.

Minerva’s itineraries cover most of the globe, from Antarctica to Greenland, from around the British Isles to the Orient, and none is shorter than two weeks.

What’s ahead? Minerva returned this past winter to India, the Persian Gulf states and the Far East and did spring sailings in the Mideast and Europe.

Photos courtesy Swan Hellenic Discovery Cruising

For more information on Minerva’s Discovery Cruising visit the Swan Hellenic website

Doug English
Doug English is a freelance travel columnist whose weekly column on leisure travel appears in the London Free Press every Saturday and in other SunMedia newspapers in Canada at other times. He has twice been honoured by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, receiving The Globe & Mail Travel Media Award, one of TIAC’s National Awards for Tourism Excellence, in 2007, and TIAC’s 1991 Explore Canada Award for Canadian Print. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo Doug English courtesy London Free Press

 Cruise Travel  Writers

Find out even more aboout the top Prow's Edge Travel writers

 Cruise Articles - Reviews

• Africa : Single Women Out to Sea
• Africa : Seychelles

• Alaska : Into the Last Frontier
• Alaska : Hot and Icy
• Alaska : Cruise to Lose
• Alaska : Dah'monds
• Alaska : Gone Fishin’
• Alaska : Small Ship Cruising
• Alaska : Up Close

• Antarctica : White Continent

• Asia: China to Japan
• Asia: Japan to Canada
• Asia : SuperStar Gemini
• Asia : On the Mekong
• Asia : Star Cruises 1
• Asia : Star Cruises 2
• Asia : On the Irrawaddy
• Asia : Borneo Journey
• Asia : Boutique Luxury Cruising
• Asia : China River of Heaven
• Asia : Down the Mekong
• Asia : In Japan
• Asia : On the Rajang River
• Asia : The Road to Mandalay
Asia : Victoria Cruise Line

• Atlantic : Crossing the Pond
• Atlantic : TransOcean Adventure
• Atlantic : All Inclusive

• Australia : Celebrity Solstice
• Australia : Great Barrier Reef
• Australia : River Murray
• Australia : Sydney Harbour

• Canada : St Lawrence River
• Canada : BC's Coast

• Caribbean : An Oasis of Memories
• Caribbean : Grenadines
• Caribbean : Cruise Into Mystery
• Caribbean : Down-island Groove
• Caribbean : Disney
• Caribbean : Escaping Winter
• Caribbean : At a Different Pace
• Caribbean : Jazz all at Sea
• Caribbean : Island to Island
• Caribbean : Island Hopping
• Caribbean : Navigator
• Caribbean : Puerto Rico
• Caribbean : Windsurf Cruise

• Europe : River Cruises in France
• Europe : Beautiful Britain

• Europe : Croatian Adriatic Coast
• Europe : On the Danube
• Europe : Mv Minerva
• Europe : Along the Danube
• Europe : Canal Barge in France
• Europe : Languedoc’s Vineyards
• Europe : Ireland’s Shannon River
• Europe : Norway’s Coast
• Europe : Scotland’s Isles

• Galapagos : The Golden Age

• Mediterranean : Luxurious Lifestyle
• Mediterranean : Luxury
• Mediterranean : More luxury

• Middle East : Lycia - Turkey
• Middle East : Sailing in Turkey

• Pacific : French Polynesia
• Pacific : Cultural Fijian Cruise
Pacific : Heritage Fijian Cruise
• Pacific : Tahitian Princess
• Pacific : Tahiti - Just Imagine
• Pacific : A Charter in Tahiti

• Panama Canal : With Cunard
• Panama Canal : Getting it Right
• Panama Canal : The Big Ditch
• Panama Canal : Ruby's Progress

• USA : Columbia River in Comfort
• USA : Cruising on the East Coast
• USA : Maine Windjamming
• USA : Maine by Schooner
• USA : Mississippi Steamboatin'
• USA : A Taste of Britain