A historic name in cruise, Swan Hellenic, sailed into the future last week with the naming of SH Diana, the third and biggest ship of the reborn company.
Swan Hellenic was founded in 1950 and is gearing up for the 70th anniversary of its first voyage in 1954. It has always been the go-to name for those with a love of the past, exploring the ancient world in a considered manner, rather like touring the world in a cosy clubroom.
The new-look company takes that British history and combines the tradition with a comfy, contemporary feel, each ship newly built. And these are expedition ships, built to explore.
A guest at the ceremony was Elizabeth, daughter of Kenneth Swan. Kenneth was the son of founder WF Swan (himself formerly private secretary of Sir Henry Lunn, who founded the Hellenic Travellers Club with Lord Byron in 1906), joining the family firm in the 1930s while still in his teens and being central to the cruise company’s earliest days.
About Swan Hellenic Diana
SH Diana, as with sisters SH Minerva (the third ship to bear the name) and SH Vega, looks very much the part, strikingly solid as befits an icebreaker-class vessel that will sail from pole to pole and part of a maritime tradition in tern-blue livery.
While being the biggest Swan Hellenic ship, SH Diana still only carries 192 guests (against 152 on the others), making her small enough to visit the globe’s hidden delights, whether slipping amongst glaciers and ice floes or docking in colourful ports up and down both the east and west coasts of Africa, a Swan Hellenic speciality.
The pale décor of the large lounge is dotted with busts of fossils and Mediterranean-inspired objects. Again very fitting as Swan Hellenic started when British travel agent Swan’s Tours, a father-and-son business, was asked to arrange a trip taking in Greece’s antiquities and chartered a ship. That evolved into a programme of ‘cultural cruising’, expeditions in style, concentrating on Greece and Turkey as well as other spots in the Aegean and eastern Med, straying as far as Egypt.
That continued 30 years until the business was bought out and various ownerships saw it finally disappear in 2017. The name was bought by Italian cruise executive Andrea Zito and three ships were commissioned from a Helsinki shipyard with cruises starting in 2022.
SH Diana combines the feel of a boutique hotel and a smart cruise ship with a small infinity pool at the rear, a spa with a sea-view sauna and gym and outdoor hot tub, a library and a lounge that extends from side to side of the ship.
Most drinks are free, leading to a chatty atmosphere with everybody on board happily in the same boat.
Adventures involve Zodiac inflatable excursions to see polar bears and deserted bays, sun-drenched villages and abandoned Antarctic camps, all led by a top team of guides.
One is Brit Anthony Jinman who has skied to both ends of the earth, his 2013 solo South Pole adventure taking in 730 miles across 46 days. He came on board in 2022 when his expedition to the Antarctic interior became stranded and he and his team were rescued by HM Minerva – and he’s barely been home since.
There’s an excursion included in every port and can include kayaking and hiking but most are for those who don’t feel the need to exert themselves. A string of lecturers includes experts on nature and science from California’s SETI Institute.
Gastronomy on SH Diana
Food has also been designated an adventure involving a new team-up with JRE-Jeunes Restaurateurs, a pan-European grouping of 375 restaurants and feted young chefs, including Michelin-starred Kenneth Culhane, head chef of the Dysart Petersham, near the Thames in Richmond.
The Maris programme not only brings a different chef on board each cruise, it also means cookery demonstrations, lectures and excursions taking in everything from fishing to foraging plus many culinary traditions.
*SH Diana (swanhellenic.com) is spending summer 2023 in the Arctic and the fjords before heading down through the Med, along Africa and into Antarctica for the winter.
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