Swan Hellenic made their first circumnavigation of Ireland in May and June 2023 with SH Vega travelling to the south coast at Bantry, Co. Cork; Dingle and Galway on the west coast; Portrush and the Causeway Coast on the north; and Dublin on the east coast.
The ice class vessel is rated to Polar Class 5 meaning she can operate year round in icy conditions, breaking ice to 1.2m. Still she is not a stranger to warm water expeditions, having just finished the west coast of Africa before making visits around Britain and Ireland.
As I write SH Vega is in the Faroe Islands, headed for Iceland.
When you first step aboard, you can feel that is no ordinary cruise ship, indeed in the words of Mario Bounas, head of Swan Hellenic’s UK and Ireland team “This is more of a luxury expedition ship than a cruise ship.”
One of a fleet of three made up of SH Vega and SH Minerva, both capable of carrying a maximum of 152 passengers, and the largest, SH Diana which carries 192 passengers operated by the newly relaunched Swan Hellenic. All three ships are less than two years in service.
Attention to detail throughout SH Vega is second to none, even the staircase looks like something from a top Scandinavian hotel.
Each stateroom has at least full size windows, most have large balconies and some suites are adjoining with other rooms to allow families a more relaxed journey.
A crackling electric log fire provides a sense of home comfort in each stateroom.
A gym, sauna, heated outdoor pool, library, on board doctor and nurses makes SH Vega feel more like a community with the small number of passengers and scientific collaborations adds to the experience that this is more like an expedition.
Swan Hellenic’s fleet of small ships can go much further, landing in places big cruises can’t. In an entire season there may only be three or so days when landfall can’t be made in the ships RIBs, maximising time exploring on land.
In Bootcamp, the expedition room, each stateroom has its own locker for passengers to keep wet and cold weather gear, to get suited and booted for a day exploring places as varied as Svalbard, Ireland, Antarctica, Chile and Sao Tome – so not just cold weather expeditions.
Service is top level, as you would expect with a staff of 120 including expedition leaders and scientists.
We had a chance to talk with and listen to Antony Jinman, the polar explorer who Swan Hellenic rescued from Antarctica when his ship, due to collect him after six weeks, cancelled during Covid.
Antony, along with other knowledgeable experts, offers valuable insights into polar exploration, as well as a genuine willingness to listen and engage with passengers’ stories and experiences.
I had the opportunity to visit SH Vega as it made its first visit to the Irish capital, docked at Cruise Berth 18 a short walk from Dublin city centre, allowing passengers to ‘see what others don’t.‘
I wrote about that visit here.
This is the first time that Swan Hellenic have visited Irish shores and with such a fine ship it will be a pleasure to see SH Vega back again.
For more information on SH Vega, Swan Hellenic and their unique expedition cruises visit swanhellenic.com.