Swan Hellenic Increases Capacity With Larger Ship

Discovery-oriented line also sets sights on luring more U.S. cruisers

By: Anne Kalosh

Swan Hellenic recently doubled capacity with the addition of its Minerva II, the former Renaissance ship R Eight.

Opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa served as godmother for the July 4 christening of the 676-passenger vessel in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge.

Minerva II replaces the 300-passenger Minerva.

The British discovery-oriented cruise line also aims to significantly boost the number of Americans it carries, as it debuts its first-ever Central and South American itineraries early next year.

Over the past year, Swan Hellenic has stepped up U.S. marketing in a bid to draw 15 percent of its business stateside.

“We’d be happy to see that going up to 20 percent to 25 percent,” managing director Carol Marlow said from the company’s headquarters in Southampton, England.

Swan Hellenic is a division of P&O Princess Cruises, now part of the Carnival Corp. family.

Still, Marlow said Swan Hellenic will continue to keep a British feel on its cruises.

“Our American guests would be disappointed if that feel didn’t come through,” she said.

Minerva II imparts a “country house” atmosphere, with fine dining, several lounges, an extensive reference library and a daily program of guest speakers who are experts on the destinations being visited.

“We’ve been running discovery cruises since 1954 for people who want to find out more about the places they’re visiting, not just lie about on deck getting a suntan,” Marlow says.

Depending on the route, passengers might get to hear the firsthand impressions of a former diplomat, a bishop recalling life in a multinational diocese, an archaeologist or a foreign correspondent.

Although the 30,000-ton Minerva II is much larger than the Minerva, a shallow draft enables the new ship to explore the smaller, out-of-the-way destinations that Swan Hellenic has built its reputation on for the past 50 years.

And the Minerva II’s greater speed makes a wider range of itineraries possible. Swan Hellenic already goes to some unusual places. For example, the company has been calling at Libyan ports for years.

This winter it will embark on its first Central and South American season, adding little-known spots like Salaverry in Peru for an excursion to the ancient Chimu capital of Chan Chan, and Las Piedras in Venezuela for the colonial city of Coro.

Marlow says the itineraries mingle the big-name destinations people have always wanted to see with smaller places that reflect an ethnic flavor.

In style and philosophy, Swan Hellenic resembles Clipper Cruise Line and Special Expeditions, but Marlow draws a distinction in the level of comfort and quality offered by Minerva II.

Ninety percent of the Minerva II’s cabins offer ocean views, and three-quarters of those feature balconies. Dining choices include four open-seating restaurants.

Swan Hellenic replaced R Eight’s casino with the Wheeler Bar, named after archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who served as one of the line’s first guest speakers, and later, its chairman.

Minerva II offers mainly two-week cruises, with one excursion per port and gratuities included in the fare. Prices begin at $3,086 per person, double occupancy, for a 15-day program.

The ship is currently sailing from the U.K. to the British Isles, Western Europe and Scandinavia before striking out for the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Minerva II crosses the Atlantic to Barbados in December and launches the company’s Central and South American program in January.

Swan Hellenic works with U.S. travel agents through a general sales agent based in Commack, N.Y. The line also enjoys a strong group base in the alumni association market, especially Ivy League universities.