Since its revival in 2017, Swan Hellenic has been paving the way for luxurious, boutique-style expedition cruises by offering its guests access to remote locations as well as bucket-list destinations, alongside cultural experiences and educational lectures from world-class researchers.
With expedition cruising on the rise, part of the brand’s exclusive offering is its onboard expedition team, who guide guests onto the ocean and introduce them to the landscapes, wildlife, people and cultures that the itineraries visit.
“The most important part about our itineraries is that we take guests to see what nobody else sees,” says Pierre Thomas, director of expeditions operations at Swan Hellenic. “I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years now and Swan Hellenic’s itineraries caught my eye in particular because they were offering something completely new onboard their ships. It’s something I hadn’t seen before with expedition cruises.”
All three of Swan Hellenic’s ships – SH Minerva, SH Vega and the upcoming SH Diana – will offer itineraries in or based around Antarctica. From there, they operate across different areas of the world with SH Minerva moving towards New Zealand, Australia and East Asia, SH Vega sailing northwards towards West Africa, the Arctic and back down past eastern Brazil, and SH Minerva offering Mediterranean-focused itineraries.
“Depending on the season, the Arctic the Antarctic are very special places to visit,” says Thomas. “Of course, the elements that guests experience are unmatched in other regions of the world.”
SH Vega’s northwards advance will call at locations such as South Shetland Islands in Antarctica where guests can see wild seals, whales and penguins; Walvis Bay in Namibia with flocks of flamingos between November and May; South Loango National Park in Gabon for up-close views of forest elephants, lowland gorillas, forest buffalo and hippos; Madeira and the Desertas Islands in Portugal to explore its volcanic formations; and Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland to learn about its geothermal landscapes. The ship’s Zodiacs will be operated by Swan Hellenic’s expedition team, allowing guests to access places that are usually difficult to reach, while onboard researchers will collect, collate and analyse scientific data.
Each itinerary is planned out in detail, several years before they are announced for sale. The planning process begins with the cruise line fine-tuning its offerings, including the types of activities and its target market. Then, itinerary planners and explorers such as Thomas scout hundreds of destinations to find places for its guests to ‘see what others don’t’, which is Swan Hellenic’s motto.
“The world is already discovered, so it’s not that we’re going to discover new places to visit, but more that we can offer new experiences for our guests,” says Thomas. “It may be a popular destination, but we’ll be providing a new experience for the guests onboard our ships.”
Expedition trips and excursions can also be personalised for guests that are seeking the ultimate luxury experience either through private Zodiac cruises or helicopter tours.
According to Thomas, Swan Hellenic’s brand values are reflected within its itinerary decisions.
“Each itinerary focuses on the cultural aspect of a place,” he says. “They’re also about giving back to the communities that we visit, either through tourism training, job opportunities to the locals or financial reimbursement. Sometimes, I think that the locals that we meet don’t realise how amazing their destinations are. So, we help to train them up so that they’re equipped to deal with tourism.”
Whilst SH Minerva and SH Vega will continue to offer adventurous itineraries, the brand will offer slightly different excursions onboard SH Diana, which will debut during the first quarter of 2023. With tender boats held onboard rather than Zodiacs, SH Diana will explore the Mediterranean, focusing more on cultural excursions rather than the wild scenery that is on offer from the line’s preceding vessels.
This article was first published in the 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.