Snapshot: Based in Great Britain, the independently-owned British cruise line operates a single ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, a lovely floating country house hotel that has had no equal for almost three decades in atmosphere or price. She is based almost entirely in Scotland, including the Western Isles, along with trips to the Norwegian fjords, and occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
Addendum: European river cruises, chartering the intimate 90-passenger ROYAL CROWN, ply the Rhine, Moselle, Saar and Danube May-July. See the website for details.
Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers: HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (Built 1964 as COLUMBIA and rebuilt into a cruise ship in 1989 & 50 passengers)
Passenger Profile: Mainly British aged 50+ with many repeat passengers and occasionally Americans and other Europeans
Passenger Decks: 5, no elevator
Price: $$$ Very Pricey
Itineraries: March to November including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Norway. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of partial itineraries:
- West Coast Gardens (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Arduaine Gardens – Isle of Colonsay; Lip na Cloiche Gardens – Isle of Muck; Armadale Castle Gardens – Isle of Skye; Inverewe Gardens – near Gairloch.
- Kilda and the Outer Isles (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland visiting Bishop’s Isles, St. Kilda, South and North Uist, Butt of Lewis from Stornoway, and Kinlock Castle on Isle of Rim.
- Gaelic Tapestry (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Northern Ireland, visiting Belfast, Antrim Coast, Giant’s Causeway, Londonderry, Peel on Isle of Man.
- Foot Loose in the Far North (9 nights) from Invergordon, Scotland, visiting Wick, Kirkwall, Fair Isle, Unst, Lerwick, Westray, Lyness and Scrabster.
- N.B. for 2017, three July/August 10-night cruises explore Norway’s coast and fjords with the first sailing from Invergordon, Scotland across the North Sea to Norway and the third returns to Invergordon. If passengers do not want to make the North Sea crossing, then the cruise is reduced by 2 days and joined in Norway.
Special interest cruises include: hiking, golf, gardens, classical music and Scottish food and drink; bicycles available.
Generally, the vessel either docks or anchors at night and travels during breakfast or lunch to the next location. Occasional overnight sails take place when the itinerary stretches south to and from English Channel ports.
Included features: Meals and drinks; shore excursions; tips; Internet; transfers between airports and railway stations; free parking.
Why Go? If you crave an authentic upscale Scottish country hotel atmosphere and would like it to move about seeking the most wondrous locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Most amazingly, the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS was created from a hard-working, well-engineered ferry that plied the Western Isles for a quarter century before being transformed into something quite different, yet retaining much of its traditional profile. Ted slept aboard her in one of the tiny below deck cabins as a ferry and returned for two wonderful voyages in island-studded Scotland and coastal Ireland.
When to Go? The weather in the British Isles is notoriously fickle, so you take your chances.
Cabins: All accommodations are individually decorated in beautiful colors and fabrics and are named after Scottish isles, castles, lochs and sounds, with wildly varying layouts. Many are roomy for a small ship, and those without windows have portholes, while six are inside without natural light. Beds may be king-size or twins, double or single. Two cabins have private balconies and ten are singles.
Amenities include a dressing table, ample storage space, fridge stocked with soft drinks, milk, coffee/tea making facilities, TV, personal safe, hairdryer, trouser press, iron and ironing board, bathrobes and slippers.
Public Rooms: In the forward-facing Tiree Lounge, the ship excels in that special small country hotel feeling with a brick and timber fireplace, comfy sofas and chairs and a cozy bar in one corner. The snug library draws readers to its tartan upholstered and leather seating, and two sides lounges — the Look-Out and wicker-furnished Conservatory are venues for morning coffee and afternoon tea. In fine weather, passengers gather on the open afterdeck for pre-dinner cocktail receptions with hot hors d’oeuvres. On the topmost Boat Deck, windbreaks protect partitioned sections furnished with sun loungers and chairs.
Dining: The restaurant operates like a hotel dining room with tables for two or up to eight for those traveling together. Single passengers sit at an officer’s table. Presentation and service from a European staff are tops with the menu thoroughly British such as a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and sliced duckling , while Scottish specialties may be highland game, sautéed and smoked salmon, and fresh oysters. You might wish to, or not, sample haggis, a concoction of calf or lamb hearts, lungs and liver with onion, suet and seasonings and kedgeree made from rice and smoked fish. Dinner sees men in jackets and ties with women in equivalent attire; some are formal nights.
Activities & Entertainment: Shore trips (included) visit near and remote islands, castles, stately homes, and gardens, fishing villages and for walks of varying difficulty on rugged islands. The ship is also equipped bicycles for touring and fishing tackle, so you can try your luck. In Scotland and Ireland, be prepared for Scottish mists and uncertain weather. Entertainment aboard is geared toward individual musicians.
Special Notes: Children under the age of nine not accepted. With a high rate of British repeaters, Anglophilia helps.
Contact: Hebridean Island Cruises, Kintail House, Carleton New Road, Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 2DE, www.hebridean.co.uk; from the US 011 44 (0)756 704 704, UK 01756 704 704