Cruise vessels don’t get much smaller than these two, and their rugged construction makes them ideal for cruising Scotland’s beautiful and wildlife-filled Western Isles.
Snapshot: Hebrides Cruises is a small family-operated line that currently (2017) owns two small vessels taking just 10 and 12 passengers on cruises to Scotland’s Western Isles, lochs and the Caledonian Canal that stretches 60 miles across Scotland. The emphasis is on Scotland’s varied wildlife, in the sea, air and on land, particularly in the Western Isles; island hopping; visiting small isolated communities; and enjoying the rugged island and mountain scenery, plus Scottish lochs and the Caledonian Canal on certain itineraries. Both vessels are ideal for chartering to extended families and groups of friends. N.B. This line should not be confused with Hebridean Island Cruises.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: ELIZABETH G (stabilized) was rebuilt in 1995 from a Norwegian rescue vessel and takes 10 passengers; 12 on a charter. PROUD SEAHORSE was purchased in 2016 and began sailing on May 13, 2017 with 10 passengers, therefore, doubling the line’s capacity. N.B. For a short period, a review of the first cruise by the ship’s wildlife expert is on the cruise line’s website.
Passenger Decks: ELIZABETH G has 3 decks, and PROUD SEAHORSE 4 decks, and neither has elevators. This pair is not suitable for wheelchair passengers. Passengers with mobility issues are helped on and off the ships.
Passenger Profile: Age range is roughly 30-65. Children under 12 are not accepted unless it is a full ship charter; same for pets. Crew numbers 4 — captain, bosun, chef and wildlife guide.
Price: $$ to $$$ Expensive to Pricey. Full charter offers a 10% discount.
Included features: All meals, morning coffee, afternoon tea, snacks, bottled water and house wine with dinner; guided shore trips by wildlife experts.
Itineraries: 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-night cruises operate between the end of April through to mid-October covering variously the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Caledonian Canal across Scotland and several lochs. The shortest, 4 nights, visits Lochs Linnhe and Etive and the Isle of Lismore; 6 nights either the Caledonian Canal between Oban and Inverness or the Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna; while the 8-nighter adds the more remote Shiant Isles. The longest, 10 nights, includes Mingulay, Barra, South and North Uist, Harris and the most remote and dramatic of the Outer Hebrides: St. Kilda. The website has a space available chart. Dates that list “0” are available for charters.
Why Go? Scotland is a gorgeous sea, sky, and mountain country with lovely isles and lochs to visit that are home to hugely varied wildlife — birds, animals and sea creatures. The locals are friendly too.
When to Go? Scotland is a fickle weather sort of country, with sudden changes in very short periods of time, so you take your chances at any time of the April to October cruising season. June tends to sell out first.
Cabins: ELIZABETH G has six double cabins for 10 passengers, while up to 12 for a private charter. Three toilets and two shower rooms are shared, while every cabin has a sink. N.B. During the winter 2018/2019, a refit will see 8 passengers in four twins or doubles, all with private facilities; 10 accommodated on charters, PROUD SEAHORSE has 4 doubles or twin ensuite cabins and one cabin suite (separate bedroom and lounge) for a maximum of 10 passengers. The fittings and finishes show great attention to detail. Single passengers may ask to share a double cabin on a per person basis, or if the ship is not full, have the cabin to themselves. Otherwise singles pay the full cabin rate.
Public Rooms: The lounge is adjacent to the dining section, while the wheelhouse and outer decks are additional public spaces with lounge seating.
Dining: Everyone dines at the same time. Sample menus: Breakfast — porridge with fruit compote, smoked Scottish salmon and scrambled eggs, whole meal toast or biscuits. Lunch — two courses with soup, salad or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Dinner is a set meal by candlelight — locally caught langoustines and scallops, chicken breasts stuffed with haggis, with potatoes and vegetables. Dessert: roasted figs with heather honey, Greek yoghurt. Finish up with cheese and biscuits and coffee. If aboard, there’s a service of morning coffee, afternoon tea and homemade cakes or biscuits. Special diets catered to with advance notice.
Activities & Entertainment: Organized trips ashore are led by a qualified wildlife guide for spotting at sea and when ashore. Trips might involve two hours to visit local villages and their attractions or longer hikes. Also, some hikes may be self-guided. Wildlife often seen comprise whales, sharks, dolphins, many types of sea birds, white-tailed and golden eagles, and otters and red deer. On islands such as Hirta and far out St.Kilda, birding trips may last six hours and include a packed lunch. If feeling lazy, enjoy the ship and its observation deck.
Special Notes: Scotland’s weather is highly fickle and temperatures may be cool even in summer. It is best to wear breathable waterproof jacket and trousers, and think layers rather than a heavy coat. Walking boots are the best footwear, and a walking stick is a good steadying tool in rough and slippery terrain. Insect repellent for trips ashore.
Along the Same Lines: The Majestic Line, Magna Carta Steamship Company, Hebridean Island Cruises.
Contact: Hebrides Cruises, Craigard, Connel PA37 1 PT Scotland; +44 (0)1631 711 986; www.hebridescruises.co.uk