It’s the death knell for British cruise lines, Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery as their parent company, All Leisure Holidays Limited went into administration which has left thousands of future passengers bookings being cancelled and the majority of the employees being made redundant.
Swan Hellenic have been very popular with the British market for many years and with a smaller ship. they offered itineraries that were more unusual than that of their larger rivals. Swan Hellenic catered more for an older, discerning clientele where itineraries to areas of the world where there was historical importance was a big attracting factor.
Swan Hellenic initially was established by father and son, W.F Swan and R.K Swan in the 1950s after being asked to undertake tours to Greece to learn about the antiquities with British archaeologist Sir William Mortimer as a guest lecturer. They were taken over by Trust House Forte in 1968 and they chartered a Turkish ship, Ankara before they chartered In 1974, Orpheus from Epirotiki Lines. Orpheus proved a very popular ship with Swan passengers before her lease expired in 1996.
1983 saw Swan Hellenic become incorporated into P&O to continue offering cruises to historically important areas of the world and to educate the passengers on board. In 1996, in conjunction with V Ships, Swan Hellenic’s parent company, P&O, managed to convert the hull of a Soviet research ship into a cruise ship for Swan Hellenic, the birth of Minerva.
Minerva enjoyed a loyal following of passengers and cruised to destinations such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Israel, the cradle of civilisation. With the ship only carrying around 350 passengers and only just above 12,800grt, she was small enough to access the ports where larger cruise ships couldn’t fit.
Such was the popularity of Swan Hellenic, in 2003, with P&O now part of Carnival Corporation, it was decided that the company would be getting a larger ship in the guise of the Renaissance Eight (R8) from the defunct Renaissance Cruises. She would then be renamed Minerva II. Instantly, that doubled the capacity of passengers accomodated on board and also the tonnage increased by almost 20,000grt!
The move to replace Minerva with a bigger ship proved to be a mistake as the ship struggled to gain the same loyalty as the previous Minerva had, She was far too big and thus the decision was made for Carnival Corporation to wind the company up in 2007 and transferred Minerva II to Princess Cruises where she was renamed Royal Princess.
However, Lord Sterling, former Chairman of P&O decided that it would be a loss to the cruising world if Swan Hellenic was to fold so therefore bought the company and leased back the original Minerva into the fleet. Swan Hellenic restarted opperations with Minerva in 2008 under the ownership of All Leisure Holidays Limited and in 2012 underwent a multi-million pound refit which saw more balcony cabins added and a brand new new lounge above the bridge.
Since Minerva initially left Swan Hellenic in 2003, she sailed with Saga Cruises as Saga Pearl in 2003, Abercrombie and Kent as Explorer II from 2003-2005 and then with Phoenix Reisen as Alexander von Humboldt from 2005-2008.
Our editor, Anthony, enjoyed a 14 night cruise on Minerva in April 2002 to the Middle East and Egypt. He said:
“Swan Hellenic then had a plan of action of what to offer the passenger. It was the right product and right itinerary that most interested them. There was no fancy evening entertainment on board, only educational talks and port enhancement lectures with also the odd local entertainment brought on board. However, it worked. The country house style atmopshere made the whole experience comfortable and the ship sailed very smoothly. It was a friendly little ship, with a happy crew who were more than happy to help. She certainly was a wonderful little ship and will be a big miss to her loyal Swans.”
Swan Hellenic offered a product that was interesting and mainly unique. Sailing to some of the most historical destinations allowed a greater sense of education for the passenger. Many of the destinations on the itineraries would be on the bucket lists of the majority of the passengers that sailed with Swan. It was quintessentially British and the majority of the passengers were British. Guests and lecturers would be from the diplomatic and political world along with relgious Canons, Ministers and Priests, who would be there to educate on the religious aspects of the ports that they were visiting. Other cruise lines have tried to follow this footprint but have failed miserably. Sadly, with the death of Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, there is only a handful of cruise lines offering a similar product as what Swan Hellenic and Minerva were offering. Voyages of Antiquity will most probably be the most high profile cruise line that offers such cruises.
For Minerva, the question has to be asked, what now? She has had pretty much a nomadic existence since 2003 and with her still being owned by Artica Adventure and Cruise Shipping, part of V Ships, he future is somewhat unclear. She is a cruise ship which has been modernised in 2012 and is capable of cruising well into the 2020s. However, where will her next home be and will it be either a charter or a permanent deal? Who know’s but what is for sure, she is too good to just be sitting in lay up, she needs to do what she is good at and that is cruising and transporting excited passengers who enjoy the historial and cultural aspects of what the world has to offer.
Is there hope for Minerva? Surely. However, time will tell…..