Jennie Carr travelled with Swan Hellenic to Antarctica, on SH Minerva
We slipped silently, no fanfares, no engine noise, from the quay in Ushuaia, leaving the town’s lights behind, following the pilot boat into the total darkness of the Beagle Channel. The journey had begun, with a two day crossing of the famous Drake’s Passage ahead (choppy but not rough in this instance) before reaching the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
And we were glad of the time to enjoy the ship and also to mark the crossing from life as we know it to a very different world where perspectives shift and nature is most thoroughly in charge.
Why travel with Swan Hellenic
SH Minerva is a new ship, Polar Class 5, so not quite an ice breaker rather strengthened for ice. She’s a gorgeous vessel, thoroughly state-of-the-art technically running on electric engines with a unique ground-breaking water filtration system to ensure minimal, if any, pollution.
And the bridge is a place of navigational and meteorological beauty, presided over by Captain Tuomo Leskinen, a gentle Finnish giant, with his second in command, also from Finland, Jenny, a petite young woman who trained on ice breakers.
Travelling on SH Minerva was exactly like being in a boutique hotel which offers absolutely every convenience you may want and those you hadn’t thought of too. Minus pomp, ceremony and bling. Plus total comfort, exceptional service and tasteful décor all the way. With practical needs considered: a launderette for everyone’s use, very handy for those who’d already been travelling and for those venturing further after the cruise.
SH Minerva’s cabins and public spaces
We chose a balcony cabin, comprising bedroom, shower room, a sitting area separated from the bedroom by curtains, should you wish, and the glorious outside space. It was far more spacious than I had imagined, with oodles of storage, great lighting, a decent desk, fluffy dressing gowns, a fabulous long-handled shoehorn and a cheery fire, not real of course but a well-done electric replica. A king-size bed with fine linens, extra blankets, loads of towels and tasteful cushions were what I might have chosen for my own home, only Minerva’s were better quality. All in soft muted tones, as everywhere on board, so that nothing distracts from the Antarctic and its wildlife which are, after all, the stars of the show.
That said, this is a vessel which provides the best possible showcase for the destination. Huge windows in the open plan, yet intimate Observation Lounge and the snug Club Lounge, stylish seating on the deck of the Pool Bar and Grill, cosy, sheltered outdoor nooks and the Stargazing deck with nothing between you and the firmament at night.
What made the journey on SH Minerva so special
A beautiful ship in a unique setting is remarkable, however, what makes Swan Hellenic even more remarkable is the crew. From the admin of embarkation, through Covid tests to suitcases being collected for onward journeys, everything was made easy and painless.
Chats with Chef Jorge at superb five course dinners, wine choices with multi-lingual, charming restaurant staff and the helpful arm offered to older guests as the waves got up demonstrated a level of service that goes above and beyond.
And a word or two about the food: from hot & cold breakfast choices covering everything and anything you might wish for, through hearty, healthy lunches in the Swan restaurant or BBQs and grills on the Pool Deck to the silver service dinners, with classic favourites and a daily changing a la carte menu, meals were outstanding.
And should you still be a little peckish between lunch and dinner, afternoon tea was available too! Yes, it’s true, no one loses weight on a ship!
Swan Hellenic’s expedition team
This is an expedition, no doubt and everyone on board is unquestionably at the mercy of the elements. This means the team running those daily shore excursions, along with the exceptional bridge crew, have to be experts. And experts they are, whether naturalists, biologists, ornithologists, oceanographers, polar meteorologists or Zodiac drivers.
Our daily briefings with expedition leader, Sarah Scriver, were detailed and interesting, though often altered in a matter of hours due to fast-changing weather conditions. These guys think fast and then some, ‘this is Sarah from the Bridge, we have news’. And when Plan B was scuppered, Plan C emerged calmly and efficiently. We might never have known, except I kept asking.
We were entertained and informed by lectures and talks (how to tell the sex of the seal in your photos with Hanna, Seb’s fascinating insights in Shackleton’s voyage on Endurance, Sasha’s videos of life on an Antarctic research station and the intricacies of albatrosses’ dynamic soaring explained by Sue).
Loading and unloading 100 people mostly over 50, quite a few over 70, in and out of Zodiacs twice a day is no mean feat, especially onto icy beaches. From fitting jackets and muck boots to providing walking poles, helping the shorter amongst us up rocks, marking out safe paths in the snow and gently but firmly reminding us that the animals always come first, the expedition crew excelled.
On our last Zodiac cruise around the Melchior Islands, Champagne was produced from the cocktail Zodiac! A truly memorable toast to our trip amidst the icebergs and wildlife of this sublime wild continent.
Find out more by visiting Swan Hellenic or calling our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678
Jennie’s voyage was kindly supported by Swan Hellenic.