Minerva II makes an impression

Jan 18, 2005
Author: Terry Hutson

Swan Hellenic’s sleek Minerva II concluded her inaugural southern Africa cruise in December with a second visit to Durban, having visited at East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. The 30,277-gt ship, the former R-8 of Renaissance Cruises, was almost fully booked for this her first visit to southern Africa, which hopefully augurs well for regular return visits by the company.

Minerva II arrives off Durban on her first visit on 13 December 2004, and returned ten days later on she made her way back along the South African coast – pictures by Terry Hutson

From South Africa Minerva II headed for fascinating Zanzibar, that ancient Arab trading centre off the coast of Tanzania, after which she headed out to Mahe and the Seychelles and then further east for more tropical adventures in Sri Lanka, Port Blair, the Malay peninsular and Singapore.

What impressed this observer, apart from the general attractiveness of the ship itself, was the additional attention that is given to tours at each port. Discovery travel, Swan Hellenic calls it, which has introduced new destinations and tailor-made excursions. Among cruise operators these have in many cases become run of the mill type tours, duplicated by many operators (and very often organised locally by the same operator) and while each may be unique to passengers traveling these parts for the first time, locals are aware there are better and more interesting places to visit.

Swan Hellenic offers a number of unique tours on each voyage, introducing new destinations not normally explored by other cruise operators. Take Minerva II’s visit to Richards Bay as one example. Passengers would normally disembark onto waiting buses and then head off to the Hluhluwe Game Park and/or the St Lucia Wetland Park, a declared World Heritage Site – both world famous and great places for tourists. But Minerva II’s organisers added more by not only offering these, but also included day-long visits to the Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift – famous in British and South African history and in comfortable driving distance. With so many of the passengers on board Minerva II being of British origin this proved to be a masterpiece of choice that apparently went down well with those that took part.

After all, few passengers can fail to be impressed and awestruck by the poignant and evocative beauty of these two battlefields.

The Durban call featured no less than eight tour choices, compared with three or four on many other ships. If this is indicative of how Swan Hellenic operates then count me in as a new fan. Such attention to detail and concern for passengers experience is the sort of thing to bring repeat business. According to the brochure these tours are included in the price.

As with many other cruise operators Minerva II has several experts on board covering each segment of the voyage – people well qualified to describe the history and significance of each country or place being visited, adding value to each tour.

But what of the ship itself? Comments here must be confined to the impressions gained from a short afternoon visit and not from any experience of having traveled with the either the ship or Swan Hellenic. A snatched conversation with a passenger seemed to confirm initial impressions, that this is a relaxing and comfortable ship (not all are) with tasteful design and décor and sans such distractions as a casino or disco. The public rooms are spacious and elegant and the two or three compartments viewed seemed spacious and more than adequate for a sea voyage lasting up to two weeks or more. More than 90% of cabins have either balconies/verandahs or large picture windows and passengers have the choice of either twin or double beds or single occupancy.

Swan Hellenic prides their ship as a travelling English country house. The ambience of the various lounges, dining rooms and library provides credence to this but if you think this also presents a stuffy feel about the ship then you’ll be mistaken.

Restaurants (there are four) offer open eating and keep generous hours while out on deck one can find all that is expected from a cruise ship, including a sun and pool deck.

Destinations this year and next

From South Africa Minerva II headed north for Zanzibar and the Seychelles, followed by a leisurely cruise across the Indian Ocean to Male (Maldives), Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Port Blair before sailing through the Malacca Strait to Penang and Singapore. Currently the ship should be cruising somewhere in the South China Sea on a series of cruises in South East Asia before returning to the Indian Ocean with a passage around India (February-March) followed by the Red Sea, Jordan and then the Mediterranean for several extended cruises.

In May the ship heads into the Atlantic past Gibraltar and north to the Baltic for the Northern summer and later in the year, from October onwards the ship will cruise in both South and North American waters.

Full details of these and subsequent cruises can be obtained from your travel agent or from the Swan Hellenic agent in South Africa, Cruise Solutions at email cruisesolutions@telkomsa.net

Minerva II

Minerva II was built for Renaissance Cruises at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard, St Nazaire in 2001 as the R Eight. The ship was subsequently acquired by Carnival and is operated by its subsidiary Swan Hellenic. Minerva II is 182m in length, has a gross tonnage of 30,277 and a passenger carrying capacity for 600 passengers who are accommodated in 363 passenger cabins or suites. Cabins vary from 49 to 65 square metres – most have either large view windows or verandahs. The ‘Owners Suite’ measures 268 sq m and the ‘Master’s Suite’ is 196 sq m – each has a spacious dressing room, guest bathroom and private bathroom with jacuzzi and floor to ceiling patio doors leading to a private balcony.

Minerva II has a total of 11 decks, has four dining rooms and four cocktail lounges. One of these houses the Internet café and another a well stocked library, magnificently set among dark-paneled walls and a beautiful ceiling. The ship cruises at 18.5 knots. The crew consists of British and European officers, Eastern European cabin stewards and Filipino bar and restaurant service staff.

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