Hotels and Resorts
Vegas’ Fan District Is the Perfect Destination for All Fankind
On the River with Kristin Karst
All Aboard AmaWaterways: A River Cruise for Every Generation
Windstar Cruises Blog
Explore Tahiti Beyond the Ordinary
Greater Miami & Miami Beach Specialist
Travel Suppliers With the Best Commissions for Travel Advisors
Partner With Palladium and Sell as a Specialist
Expedition cruising to the cold destination of Antarctica is becoming hotter than ever before. More brands are entering this segment offering travelers options to check off a visit to the “White Continent” from their bucket list.
I recently had the opportunity to experience Antarctica on Swan Hellenic’s SH Vega and below I’ve included some key takeaway points.
The SH Vega (named after the first ship to cross the Arctic Northeast Passage) is Swan Hellenic’s second-newest ship and made her maiden voyage in July 2022. The vessel’s equipment and hardware is quite advanced when compared to other expedition ships that sail to Antarctica.
Andrei Kohut, a 3rd Officer, met with me to share details on the technical specifications of the ship. Kohut noted that the SH Vega boasts a unique PC5 ice-strengthened hull, which is rare because only five passenger ships have this rating. The PC5 hull allows the vessel to operate year-round in first year ice of up to 5’11 thickness. This allows guests to experience traveling further into icy waters and exploring more of the Antarctic Peninsula up close.
Additionally, the vessel has extra-large stabilizers to make the guest sailing experience as smooth as possible. Kohut explained that the SH Vega far exceeds standard requirements with 12 stand-alone Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems used for navigation (industry standard is at least one backup).
There are two different types of radars and an ice radar that is capable of detecting various ice formations in conditions with no visibility. The vessel also has a sonar, and a dynamic positioning system. All of these features collectively help to ensure the safety and comfort of the guests and also aid in protecting the environment and wildlife.
SH Vega Bridge. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
Sustainability efforts are made through their use of ultra-low sulfur fuel (as opposed to diesel), a specialized anti-fouling hull paint, and their no ballast exchange policy.
Onboard there are no plastic bottles and there is no incinerator. The ship’s engines are run at maximum efficiency with the lowest emissions possible while not compromising on the comfort of the guests. Kohut affirmed that the SH Vega is not considered to be a cruise ship by the crew, but rather an exploration ship based on all of the technology and safety features.
Staterooms: There are 76 total staterooms on the SH Vega with 80 percent of those rooms being balcony rooms. Each room includes a desk area as well as a seating area along with the bed. There are neutral tones and wooden notes throughout the room and the staterooms feature a unique fireplace which is electric and adds to the cozy ambiance of the room.
One of the standout features in the staterooms is the abundance of closet and storage space. There is a minibar which is stocked daily with water and soft drinks as well as an Illy machine for coffee. The bathrooms are compact in size but are modern and include a number of sustainable products for guests to enjoy. Guests receive two visits (at minimum) from their cabin attendant daily with one being for turndown service.
Balcony stateroom aboard Swan Hellenic’s SH Vega. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
Benefits for Guests: Swan Hellenic has a number of inclusions for guests both before and during the sailing. Prior to starting the sailing, guests receive a one-night stay at a hotel in Buenos Aires. The hotel stay includes a food and beverage credit, cocktail party, and breakfast buffet.
The flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (where embarkation takes place) is also included. Once onboard, guests will find a parka, dry bag, and water bottle in their room. Swan Hellenic provides boots, kayaking dry suits, and binoculars for guests to use during their sailing.
Guests have two dining venue options throughout the day and beverages (including wine, beer, cocktails, and spirits) are included. There are lectures throughout the day held by the expedition team that guests can partake in. Tours and expeditions are also included (with the exception of kayaking). Each tour is capped at a minimum number to adhere to guidelines and to ensure that the experience is personalized.
Culinary Diversity: The culinary team is led by seasoned Chilean Executive Chef Paulo Herrera. Chef Herrera shared that the culinary team places high importance on freshly prepared foods. Prior to each sailing the guest list is reviewed and the menus are prepared to align with the nationalities of the guests and the crew.
During the sailing guests can experience Asian, Caribbean, Mediterranean, European, and Indian cuisines to name a few. Chef Herrera explained that his goal is to create a connection between the food and the guests.
Cherry Arcellana is the Sommelier onboard that provides guests with multiple red and white wine options to choose from. During my sailing there was a wide variety of complimentary wines that changed daily. The wine offerings included 32 white and 33 red wines to choose from in addition to rose wines, sparkling wines and dessert wines.
In addition to the complimentary wines, there was also a diverse list of reserve wine options available for purchase. Arcellana noted that the wine options for guests are from wine regions around the world and she works with Chef Herrera to create her wine schedule that pairs with each of the entrees.
Culinary experience aboard SH Vega. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
For guests with dietary needs the culinary team goes above and beyond to make sure that their food is prepared perfectly. Each day the menu includes items for gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Exceptions can also be made for guests with kosher dietary needs. For families traveling with kids, the culinary team can also prepare freshly made kid favorites such as chicken nuggets, pizza, and more.
Service in the restaurants is personalized and guests are addressed by name. The seating configuration in the dining areas is set up in an inviting manner encouraging guests to mingle and dine together. No one is a stranger in the restaurant as the size is cozy but sufficient for adequate spacing.
In addition to the restaurant, there is a club lounge and a pool bar that serves casual fare and drinks throughout the day. In-room dining is also available throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each day, there is an afternoon tea that provides tea, light bites, and incredible cookies that were perfect after a busy day of exploration.
SH Vega Observation Lounge. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
I found the food onboard to be exceptional. In my past cruising experiences, I have found that there may be a few meals that are notably better than others. However, during my sailing, I found that the food was consistently fresh and flavorful throughout the sailing. Chef Herrera and his team are raising the bar with their culinary offerings and truly giving guests an outstanding dining experience onboard the SH Vega.
During the Antarctica Peninsula sailing the plan was to have two expeditions per day at different locations. As with expeditions, our plans changed several times, but the crew did their best to give the guests the best experience possible despite the unpredictable weather conditions. One example of this was a last minute rare evening zodiac cruise that was quickly organized for guests in Wilhelmina Bay.
In addition to the evening zodiac cruise our expeditions included Cuverville, Port Lockroy (where we were the first visitors to touch land of the new season), Damoy Point, and Lindblad Cove. Throughout our expeditions we saw orca whales, humpback whales, leopard seals, weddell seals, fur seals, and a multitude of seabirds. In total, we traveled a total of 1663 nautical miles.
Expert Expedition Team: During my sailing there were 14 members on the Expedition Team. I had the opportunity to spend time and learn something new from each expedition team member. During my conversations with the expedition team members, there were three recurring characteristics: knowledge, skills, and experience.
Their passion for expeditions, complex skill sets, and cravings for adventure were evident in their years of expert guide experience which totaled to over 200 years and over 2,000 expeditions collectively.
Antarctica expedition outing. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
Each day various expedition team members conducted lectures on their topic of expertise. Throughout the lectures they would also incorporate interesting facts or funny stories to make the lectures more engaging. Guests were also invited to have lunch and dinner with expedition team members which I thought helped to make the expedition cruising experience more personal.
I appreciated that the expedition team including both women and men and the team collectively was diverse with nationalities from around the world. In addition to being knowledgeable on various subjects, most of the expedition team has also embarked on adventurous expeditions that they shared with the guests during the lectures.
I spoke with Antony who has gone to both the North and South Poles throughout his time as an expert guide. He explained that one key difference of the expedition team is that they value the opportunities to not only teach the guests, but also to learn from the guests as well.The equipment used for expeditions were high quality including the personal flotation devices, dry suits, kayaks, and zodiacs.
Hotel Director Mauricio Dos Santos is a veteran in the hospitality industry and it is evident in his leadership on the SH Vega. According to Dos Santos, the most important asset is the crew. He explained that with 27 different nationalities on the ship ranging in age, respect is a priority not only among crew members but also with the guests.
Each day there is a daily briefing in each department and an additional briefing with Dos Santos and the department managers. These briefings are critical to the operations onboard as well as to the guest experience. Dos Santos noted that one thing that sets Swan Hellenic apart is that they understand the value in having seasoned employees as they can serve as informal mentors to younger members of the crew and it makes the teams stronger collectively.
Iceberg in Antarctica. (Photo Credit: Terika Haynes)
As Hotel Director, Dos Santos is constantly encouraging continuous learning with the crew and exemplifies this himself as well through taking extra courses and job shadowing during his time off. Dos Santos’ passion for hospitality and service excellence shines throughout the SH Vega.
He shared his motto with me which is “If you want to be in the game, you have to be on top of the game”. His motto and hospitality leadership by example is exhibited by the service that the crew provides to SH Vega guests.
Since the early 1950s Swan Hellenic has been committed to excellence in cultural expedition cruising. Their new vessel, the SH Vega reaffirms their commitment by offering a blend of comfort and luxury to its guests. The seasoned expedition team adds knowledge and personalization to the guest experience and the intentional service from the entire crew helps to ensure that guests will align with their motto and see and experience what others don’t.
For the latest travel news, updates and deals, subscribe to the daily TravelPulse newsletter.
Dr. Terika L. Haynes is the CEO and Founder of Dynamite Travel, a five-star rated luxury travel agency that has been providing...
the latest travel news, advice, updates, upcoming exclusive deals and more.
CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC
11 Essential Road Trip Routes
Surround yourself in luxury at Sensira Resort & Spa Riviera Maya