Swan Hellenic’s Hidden Waterways of Norway

Having been thoroughly impressed on a brief three day inaugural cruise from Nova Scotia to Boston with Swan Hellenic’s newly launched SH Vega last fall, I was anxious to see if a longer cruise would measure up. Slotting in a 12 day summer cruise of discovery from Tromso, Norway to Amsterdam aboard the sister ship SH Diana proved those three days weren’t a fluke.

Swan Hellenic, a legendary pioneer in expedition style cruising has re-emerged into this burgeoning sector of cruising with three brand new ships. The SH Vega, SH Minerva and the SH Diana pay homage to an iconic style of travel lost in modern times. These smaller intimate vessels offer classic luxury spiced with a casual mindset focused on intrepid destinations. No fuss or formality, it’s simply an experience that enhances the elements of refined cruising by adding enrichment into the wonders of nature by visiting mesmerizing destinations while being coddled by touch points of elegance.

With a capacity of only 192 guests our lady SH Diana is slightly larger than her two twin sisters but is still a small ship with big ship concepts that include a beauty shop, library, gym, spa, jacuzzi, heated infinity pool and a sauna with a view of the passing scenery. 

Land of the Northern Sights

In spite of the visual attractions onboard, it was the Diana’s unique itinerary of undiscovered ports that grabbed my attention. Norway doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the expeditionary style encountered in the Arctic or Antarctica, but the understated grandeur of its fjords and coastal beauty position this cruise as an adventure in a unique class of its own. The intimate size of the 5 star rated Diana allows navigation through secluded fjords and waterways inaccessible to larger vessels validating the company’s mantra of see what others don’t. 

After an overnight pre-cruise stay in the northernmost port of Tromso, Norway a morning stroll across the city’s main bridge reveals the unique architecture of the city’s famed landmark, the Arctic Cathedral. As Diana slips out of port under the never ending daylight of an Arctic summer, we head for the secluded fjords that await on our journey. 

Lofeten Islands

Squeezing our way through the majestic mountain walls that line the fjord of Trollfjorden we make our way to the remote Lofeten Islands and the charming village of Svolvaer. Like many quaint towns buried deep in the fjords, this village traces its roots back to the days when fishing ruled supreme. Complimentary excursions here and in each port delve into local history, culture and endemic Norwegian lifestyles. 

Svartisen Glacier

Never far from being swaddled in nature’s beauty, we find ourselves the next morning coming  face to face with the Svartisen Glacier with our excursion du jour venturing into the forested wilderness of  Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park. These first hand encounters with nature’s splendor are enhanced by daily onboard enrichment presentations by a guest naturalist.

As the ship sails through the scenic waterways in late afternoons it’s only natural to gain an inimitable appreciation of the ship’s features. Never miss a sight as you take a short workout in the gym, a relaxing detox in the sauna and a warm soak in the hot tub, all with expansive views of nature’s bounty and for true indulgence there is nothing like a specialized Balinese massage in the ship’s spa. 

Outdoor adventures wind down in the evenings but adventures of the culinary kind spring alive with Swan Hellenic’s Culinary Ambassador initiative in the casual and contemporary Swan Restaurant. A trio of top chefs with acclaimed expertise have come together and designed world class gastronomy in menus that are perfectly paired with complimentary red and white wines. After dinner enjoy cocktails in the Observation Lounge with music by a talented entertainer with an amazing repertoire of songs.

Snuggle up for a restful sleep in your spacious suite with a faux fireplace crackling at the foot of your bed because tomorrow morning begins viewing the pastoral scenes of scattered farm houses perched on the slopes of the towering mountains. Room service breakfast served on our balcony, the mesmerizing cinema  of nature and coffee in hand quickly becomes a morning ritual.  

Every port brings new experiences, each one different than the one before. On Froya Island we drive through a massive wind farm before an exclusive tour of the Salmar salmon processing facility. Watch from an elevated and enclosed viewing platform as workers and automated robots process over 8,000 North Atlantic Salmon per hour. 

Urnes Stav Wooden Church

Visit abandoned WWII fortifications one day and the UNESCO designated Urnes Stave wooden church the next. Travel elevated roads high above isolated rivers and lakes, fly by cable car to lofty mountain tops, stroll the streets of characteristic villages or jet boat through fjords too small for ships. I’d cruised Norway previously but never explored it like this. 

Realizing that you can experience adventure without sacrificing a premium cruise product, I’m ready for more. I can imagine walking amidst penguin colonies in Antarctica, stalking giant whales at sea or filling Instagram quotas with polar bears or walruses in the Arctic. Integrating with the exotic cultures of the South Pacific or photographing the sights of Japan would be fascinating but the atolls of the Indian Ocean and Madagascar rank at the top of my Swan Hellenic bucket list. Stay tuned as I make my plans to see what others don’t

As a former Cruise Director, Steve has been cruising the world for the past forty years. Bringing a new dimension to cruise journalism, he continues to spin the globe searching for off the grid cruise adventures and unplugged destinations to share with Porthole Cruise Magazine readers.