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 largely in Scotland, with frequent base ports being Oban and Greenock, for the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and in 2018, several summertime cruises to the Isles of Scilly, South of England and through the Channel as far as London. Return trips cruise the French coastal ports and the Channel Islands. N.B. This line should not be confused with the pair of 10-passenger yachts operated by Hebrides Cruises.
Addendum: European river cruises, chartering the intimate 90-passenger ROYAL CROWN, ply the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers and the Belgian and Dutch waterways 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, yet lots of included features.
Itineraries: March to November including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man, South of England, the Channel Islands and French coastal ports. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of itineraries:
- Secret Gardens of the Western Seaboard (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Plockton, Loch Ewe, Ullapool, Skye, Mull, and Ft. William.
- St. Kilda and Islands on the Edge (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Colonsay, Tiree, St. Kilda (the most western isle), Lewis (Callanish Stones), Shiant Islands, Eigg, and return to Oban.
- Pearls of the Irish Sea (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Islay, Bangor, Isle of Man, Cockermouth, Larne, Jura, and return to Oban.
- Sea Lochs of the Lower Clyde (6 nights) from Greenock ( near the mouth of the Clyde) to Rothesay, Troon, Port Ryan, Holy Isle, Holy Loch and a return to Greenock.
- Two cruises, marked as Spring Surprise and Autumn Surprise, are seven-night Hebridean itineraries decided upon by the captain. They leave from and arrive back at Oban and are popular with repeat passengers who like the ship so much that they don’t mind where she goes.
- For 2018, the ship’s 30th season, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS will venture south during the height of summer on varied itineraries to Dublin, Isles of Scilly, Channel Islands, Bretagne and Normandie (France), Belgium and a cruise up the Thames to London’s Tower Bridge.
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: All drinks; tips; shore excursions; bicycles; speed boat rides; fishing trips; 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 and obscure locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Additional cruises head south to Ireland, Wales, Channel Islands, South of England, Channel Islands and French coastal ports. 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. You won’t find a cozier ship to retreat into on a foul day.
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.
Along the Same Lines: Equally small and less pricey ships of Hebridean Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, and The Majestic Line.
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