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The Reinvention of Swan Hellenic Cruises Includes Fireplaces at Sea 

Published on: October 28, 2022 | Last Updated on November 6, 2022
Swan Hellenic Vega in Halifax Harbour ready for its short cruise to Boston

Guest contributors John and Sandra Nowlan take a first look at Swan Hellenic Vega, the line’s new expedition ship.

Swan Hellenic, with a seven decade tradition of small ship geographic and cultural exploration (its first cruises sailed from Britain to the Greek islands), has bounced back from obscurity. It now aims to be a significant player in the fast growing expedition cruise market

The maiden voyage of the ship we recently joined, SH Vega, was in July of this year. The 10,500 ton vessel with a large crew of 120 was built in Finland as an identical sister ship to SH Minerva, launched in 2021. These two, 115 metre boutique ships with Polar Class ice-strengthened hulls will be joined by another vessel in 2023: SH Diana, which will be ten metres longer with a 192 guest-capacity. 

Swan Hellenic turns thoroughly modern

Soon to be an ultra-modern, three-ship operation, Swan Hellenic has been through several ownership changes over the years including stints with G Adventures, and Carnival Corporation’s P&O Line and Princess Cruises.

Currently, Swan Hellenic is owned by three Cyprus-based companies with offices in Germany and Monaco. Now, with millions invested in contemporary, Scandinavian inspired ships, Swan Hellenic will place its emphasis on high-end cultural expedition cruising with year-round trips to remote sections of our planet.  

A peek inside the new SH Vega

Evening entertainment in The Observation Lounge on SH Vega

Evening entertainment in The Observation Lounge on SH Vega

The commitment to quality is evident as soon as we boarded SH Vega in Halifax for a short introductory cruise to Boston. An open design with large public spaces, panoramic views, and comfortable furniture in muted colours is conducive to relaxing. Or, as we soon learned, to excellent illustrated lectures by a team of scientists and researchers as well. 

For science lectures, Swan Hellenic has partnered with the Carl Sagan Center.

For science lectures, Swan Hellenic has partnered with the Carl Sagan Center.

The full-width Observation Lounge, taking up the most space on deck seven, was the best area we’ve ever seen on an expedition ship for lectures and learning. In addition, the lounge serves as the entertainment area with a grand piano, and on night two, a talented saxophone player. 

Like other expedition ships, the emphasis is on culture, science and nature, not lavish entertainment or casinos.

Staterooms with fireplaces that wow


A unique Swan Hellenic feature, fireplaces in all staterooms

A unique Swan Hellenic feature: Fireplaces in all staterooms

When staterooms include an authentic looking fireplace, you know this is no ordinary cruise ship. Granted, the fireplaces are electric but they had flames and logs with sparks and fire crackles. It should be a special treat for guests on upcoming Arctic and Antarctic expeditions.




Most rooms on SH Vega are a generous 302 square feet plus a large balcony. One of our fellow journalists said it reminded him of a mini-suite on large cruise ships. Storage space is huge, the best we’ve ever seen in a standard balcony cabin. For privacy and reading there’s a curtain divider between the Queen bed and the sofa/desk area. 

Balcony staterooms on SH Vega are a generous 310 square feet.

Balcony staterooms on SH Vega are a generous 310 square feet

The bathroom was generous in size with a large, semi-open rain shower. Unfortunately it leaked onto the bathroom floor when showering but a well placed towel solved the problem. The soap and shampoo are both in large, push button containers, an environmental protective trend on many ships these days. We now bring our own bar soap on cruises, since we prefer it. 

Lighting was excellent in the rooms but the thermostat to control temperature was very strange with just hard-to-read plus and minus buttons and no indication of actual temperature. Other modern ships have the current room temperature on the thermostat (in F. or C.) and guests simply move arrows up or down to get the comfort they want. 

Dining on Swan Hellenic

“Swan,” the main dining room on SH Vega

“Swan,” the main dining room on SH Vega

The main dining room (the Swan Restaurant) on SH Vega is a delight. It offers buffet breakfast and lunch and a more formal dinner service with white table cloths and outstanding service from the mainly Asian crew. 

Breakfast even included smoked mackerel, smoked salmon and smoked trout that the chef picked up in Halifax (although with its British tradition, it was surprising there were no kippers). 

Nova Scotia seafood choices at breakfast. Smoked mackerel, salmon and trout on Swan Hellenic Vega

Nova Scotia seafood choices at breakfast. Smoked mackerel, salmon and trout on Swan Hellenic Vega

In good weather, there’s a BBQ on the back deck next to the infinity swimming pool. We enjoyed wonderful ribs, chicken and two kinds of European sausages with a wide selection of wine and beers. Standard spirits are complimentary (premium are extra), too, at several bars on the ship.

Open bar at the back deck BBQ on SH Vega

Open bar at the back deck BBQ on SH Vega

BBQ on Swan Hellen with Chicken, ribs, shrimp and sausage

BBQ lunch with Chicken, ribs, shrimp and sausage

The complimentary wine at dinner was a standout. Waiters offered two whites and two reds each evening, all excellent quality. If you’d like a small sample before a more generous pour, no problem. 

Dinner our first night was unexpectedly a buffet, but with excellent choices, especially the lamb chops. On the second night our South African executive chef, Avhier Singh, offered pre-dinner caviar and then a choice of herb-marinated lobster tails (another Nova Scotia treat), tender medallions of beef, or beetroot risotto. His creativity was only surpassed by that of the pastry chef who produced an array of outstanding sweets for meals and for afternoon tea time (a British tradition the line has wisely maintained).

Main course of lobster tails on SH Vega

Main course of lobster tails on SH Vega

Creations by the talented pastry chef on Swan Hellenic Vega

Creations by the talented pastry chef on Swan Hellenic Vega

Appealing expedition cruises 

Lowering Zodiacs in calm waters off New England

Lowering Zodiacs in calm waters off New England

Our cruise was a short one between Halifax and Boston (as the ship then carried on to Antarctica) but the seas off New England were calm and the captain decided to stop, lower a few of the 13 Zodiacs stored at the stern (eight kayaks are also on board), start the outboards and let guests enjoy a trip or two around the ship. Many had never been on a Zodiac so the unexpected treat was a welcome and exhilarating experience. It’s one of the pleasures of a small expedition ship – spontaneity and surprises.

With three modern Polar class ships at its disposal, Swan Hellenic has ambitious plans for the next few years:

  • SH Minerva  will have routes covering southern South America, much of northern Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan.
  • Our ship, SH Vega, will cover the Arctic, Greenland and a return to Halifax followed by South America, the Antarctic Peninsula and the west coast of Africa. 
  • The newest ship, SH Diana, will concentrate on Northern Scandinavia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. 

Expedition cruising is a niche product with prices that reflect the unusual itineraries, relatively large crew (including many scientists, historians and naturalists) and fine dining. Prices on SH Vega start at $US8204 per person for an 11-day Antarctica cruise this winter while, in the spring, prices start at $US6856 per person for 11 days in the Norwegian fjords. However, those prices include return regional flights to the port of embarkation, one night in a hotel prior to embarkation, all transfers, excursions, port taxes and gratuities. Plus a polar region parka you can bring home.

With more cruise lines now offering an expedition product, competition will become fierce. Swan Hellenic has been and will be investing millions in its three unique ships. Judging by the quality and commitment we observed in our short cruise, this latest iteration of the historic brand should be very successful.  

All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan

Disclosure: The Nowlans were guests of Swan Hellenic Cruises but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.

Other posts on expedition cruising on MoreTimeToTravel:

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Reinvention of Swan Hellenic cruise

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