Swan Hellenic's SH Vega is small but mighty
Stepping onboard Swan Hellenic’s compact new expedition ship SH Vega, Dave Monk found a world of luxury and comfort.
Coming home to a crackling fire is not something you expect in a cruise ship cabin – even if the realistic glowing logs and flickering flames are reassuringly fake.
I was entranced as soon as I saw the centrepiece on entering my balcony stateroom on new Swan Hellenic ship SH Vega for its three-day christening voyage from Helsinki.
But it wasn’t the only thing that caught my breath. Around the fireplace were no fewer than 14 cupboards and drawers, adding to the two wardrobes, a desk, fridge and bedside cabinets.
Next to it, a coffee machine sat on a plinth while a cupboard above held a kettle and ice bucket. Thoughtfully, there was even a make-up mirror inside the desk – not that I need it – but impressive, none the less.
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Opening the bathroom door, I found a rainforest shower and shaving mirror. On the bed was a key to the door. Not a plastic card, medallion or bracelet but an actual metal key on a neck band. Retro? Maybe but pretty satisfying too.
This level of accommodation isn’t unusual either. Of the 76 staterooms on Vega, 54 have balconies. There is only one lower category of 16 ocean view rooms, which are basically the same without the veranda. The remaining six rooms are all suites.
-READ MORE: Swan Hellenic announce return to river cruising-
Cruise ship reviews are often about the big public areas – more of which, later – but to fall in love with your cabin as soon as you drop off your luggage is a big plus factor when you might spend several days on a voyage to the Arctic or Antarctic on a ship like SH Vega.
Staterooms on some cruise ships have barely enough storage for a weekend’s worth of clothes, let alone two or three weeks but the wardrobe in my cabin was very generous.
With its soft-coloured carpet, clever lighting and small objets d’arts, this room felt like a place where I could happily live, cuddling up with a book or nodding off to sleep while enjoying the comforting illusion of gently burning wood.
All decked out
Tearing myself away to explore, I walked along a chic corridor and experienced the pleasure of being on a relatively small ship – there’s only room on board for 152 passengers, fewer than on some small riverboats.
-READ MORE: What is cultural expedition cruising? -
With a total of nine decks – I was on Deck 6 – it only took a couple of flights of the central, glass-sided staircase either up or down to reach all the main areas without having to use lifts.
At the very top of the ship is a stargazing deck, which during the heatwave we experienced in Finland was more of a sunbathing area. But I admire the idea of dedicating the highest floor to admiring the night skies – a reminder that cruising in its purest form is all about the sights and sounds you can enjoy from the ship, not the ones on it.
However, when the weather turns cold, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the hot tub, relaxing in the heated pool or enjoying the sauna with a panoramic ocean view.
An unusual feature on Deck 6 is the Swan’s Nest – a small circular area jutting out at the front of the ship affording great views of any passing wildlife. Also ideal if you’re looking for bragging rights on instagram.
The Observation Lounge – the main meeting area, where I spent evenings chilling out with a drink, chatting to friends and listening to a pianist playing some familiar tunes – is on Deck 7, along with two dining venues, the Club Lounge and Pool Bar & Grill.
The overall style of the ship feels very ‘scandi chic’ with its muted colours, expensive soft furnishings and tasteful artwork. Collectively, they give the ship a very welcoming air.
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The ship’s main dining room is the Swan Restaurant on deck four, which offers flexible seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Alternatively, the Club Lounge on deck 7 offers 24-hour casual dining, while the Pool Bar & Grill is the place to enjoy an alfresco snack while the sun shines. All venues offer a wide choice of food and drinks, from healthy snacks and nutritious cuisine to local specialities, supported by a world-class cellar of classic vintages, new-wave natural wines, premium spirits and craft beers.
Also onboard you’ll find a Chef’s Table private dining experience with paired wines (this is available at an additional cost) and you can also enjoy 24-hour room service and a sumptuous afternoon tea.
Concealed within the lowest passenger level, Deck 3, is the Basecamp area for heading out on expeditions, as well as a lab for scientists to test polar waters. As I walked around the ship I saw a fleet of Zodiac boats at the stern ready to head off on explorations.
All that’s left on this small but perfectly formed vessel are the spa, which offers massages in two treatment rooms, as well as a library and a 24-hour gym.
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Vega – named after the first ship to cross the Arctic Northeast Passage - is identical to her sister ship, SH Minerva which launched in December 2021.
-READ MORE: 10 amazing cruises to Antarctica -
While at the Helsinki shipyard, I was also invited to see construction work on the third in the fleet, SH Diana, a slightly bigger 192-passenger sister ship that is due to be delivered in February 2023. New features will include an events room, private dining room and two specially designed tenders.
With crew numbers at 120 on Swan Hellenic’s smaller ships and 140 on Diana, personal service is a priority. Among the team are 12 expert expedition guides including geologists, photographers, polar meteorologists, historians, ornithologists, marine biologists or naturalists. Activity leaders supervise excursions such as kayaking, hiking, snorkelling or snowshoeing.
On the environmental front, Vega has a hybrid electric/diesel engine which means it can operate silently and emission-free on battery power in delicate areas and wildlife sanctuaries. Guests are also provided with a water bottle that they can refill at points around the ship and, to cut down on paper, daily itineraries are posted on the TV.
Crew uniforms avoid the use of fleece fabrics which shed high volumes of microplastics when washed.
-READ MORE: New expedition cruise ships 2022-
If you think you’ve heard of the name Swan Hellenic before, it has a long and distinguished history, dating back to 1954 when travel agents W F Swan and his young son Ken ran their first discovery cruise chartering a ship called Miaoulis to take 128 members of a university society to explore the sites of ancient Greece with three guest lecturers.
Swan Hellenic sadly closed in 2017 but was relaunched as a new company in Cyprus in July 2020, building on its British roots to offer a global cruising programme giving guests the opportunity to ‘see what others don’t’.
More like a phoenix than a swan, the company has risen from the ashes. May its fake fires keep burning strongly.
Get on board
A 20-night ‘Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia & South Atlantic Islands’ cruise aboard SH Vega, from Ushuaia to Cape Town, via the South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands, South Georgia, Gough Island and Tristan Da Cuncha, departs March 5, 2023, from £12,138 (swanhellenic.com).