Summer in the South with Hebridean Princess

“There should be a health warning that comes with this trip” my sister-in-law muttered as she took another sip of champagne, staring out at the open sea and blue skies – I looked at her aghast until I realised she meant she was addicted. Addicted to the wonderful staff and service aboard Hebridean Princess. 

Hebridean PrincessThe bar is set high for my cruise standards as a lover of small, boutique, ultra-luxury ships, I was intrigued to see how the ship compared. However, the ship doesn’t compete with other cruise lines, it doesn’t need to. We’re often told travel products and brands are ‘unique’, well in the case of Hebridean Princess it’s true, it is simply incomparable, and I fell a little bit in love on my week onboard.

The voyage ‘Summer in the South’ of England was a late addition and a change in direction to the Company’s usual itineraries around Scotland. Like so many cruise lines, they pivoted in order to set sail safely, navigating the many changes and protocols due to the Covid pandemic. In true British summer style the weather for the week was forecast to be ‘changeable’, however, the itinerary with 2 included excursions each day would be more than enough to keep us entertained if the weather took a turn for the worse – which rather predictably it did.

Osborne House, Isle of WightAs we set sail from Portland having spent our first day exploring the area we had the unexpected pleasure of two dolphins bidding us farewell, it was so good to be back cruising!

The relaxed atmosphere throughout the week both on shore and onboard meant we could choose to do as little or as much on offer, without feeling any pressure to join in, it’s easy to see why the ship has a loyal following with solo travellers. Our first day presented us with the opportunity to visit Osborne House, the estate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert called home on the Isle of Wight. Queen's private beach, Osborne HouseThis Royal Palace by the sea offers an intimate glimpse of Royal family life, with access to state rooms and the stunning terrace gardens, the Queen is understood to have said ‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’. And as I drank in the view which stretches down to the Solent from the Terrace Gardens, I imagined myself in a bygone era with children aplenty running down to the Queen’s private beach, fully appreciating why the Palace was considered Queen Victoria’s favourite place. The Durbar room, designed by Rudyard Kipling’s father, Lockwood Kipling, and master carver Bhai Ram Singh, a particular highlight with its stunning display of Indian gifts and a banqueting table, it’s easy to imagine raucous 19th century ceremonial dinners. For film buffs, the room featured in the 2017 film ‘Victoria and Abdul’ starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.

Back on ship and luncheon each day was served in the Columba Restaurant, the only restaurant onboard. Food is a ‘thing’ onboard Hebridean Princess, every meal we were offered a wonderful menu and consistently treated to the most exquisite food I’ve had at sea. All dietary requests are accommodated, the biggest challenge is to not fill oneself up on freshly baked breads offered to start, and it would be remiss of me to not mention the puddings. Columbia Restaurant, Hebridean PrincessMy halo slipped most lunchtimes and evenings as I insisted ‘I’m not having dessert’, then the menu appeared again and my willpower quickly disintegrated.

And whilst Osborn House was fit for Royal purpose so is our little ship, HM Queen Elizabeth charted the vessel in 2006 for her 80th birthday and again in 2010. As we were docked one day in Poole with pleasure boats taking visitors on harbour tours we could hear the guides point out the Hebridean Princess stating that “this is the ship on which the Queen spends her holidays”, I have to admit every now, and again we gave a little Royal wave as passer-by’s took out their phones to take pictures of 2 middle-aged women drinking champagne on the top deck, after all we were made to feel like royalty onboard it was so easy to slip in to character – I fear we became spoilt very quickly!

The ship has been likened to a ‘Boutique Country Hotel at Sea’, it’s a description that suits, the only ship at sea with a brick fireplace, there are cosy hiding places, comfortable chairs and a tiny bar with a host of whiskies, along with numerous craft gins with the bar staff keen that I try a different one each time, and keener still to talk me through the different Scottish distilleries. Sky Bar, Hebridean PrincessThere’s an evident passion for all things Scottish onboard. Plenty of other drinks were available, and we settled in to our easy routine of pre-dinner champagne each evening, knowing we were about to be surprised and delighted by whatever meal would be served up. But little had prepared us for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner on our last evening. Captain Heaton who had kept us informed and entertained all week with his approachable manner and engaging storytelling stepped into character with an ‘address to the haggis’ after which, a tasting of haggis, neeps and tatties with a whisky cream reduction, chicken liver parfait, red onion and fig chutney was served. But all this was simply a warm-up to the main act of sautéed loin of venison with fondant potatoes accompanied by a redcurrant and rosemary jus. Followed by rhubarb crème brulée, homemade short bread and selection of cheeses which of course we felt the need to pair with fine wines.

The standard of cabins matches the standards found elsewhere on the ship, our cabin the Isle of Colonsay on Deck 3 offered views of the front of the ship and with a marble bathroom including a full size bath along with Molton Brown amenities it had every comfort we needed for a week.

HMS VictoryOur week passed by so quickly, having berthed in Portsmouth we visited the superb museum of the Mary Rose and a took a tour of HMS Victory. Sailing to Dover, we were the first visitors to arrive at Dover Castle, a place I’ve driven past many times as I’ve hopped on to a cross channel ferry but never taken time to explore – it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area. But one of my favourite days was simply cruising the south coast, past The Needles and Old Harry Rocks on passage towards Poole. The sun was shining, the south coast looked beautiful from out at sea, and I was reminded why I love to cruise.

Hebridean Princess I can only imagine is spectacular in her home territory sailing around Scotland, and judging by those on board who were trying to recall not just how many times they had sailed on her each year but also for how many years the loyalty this ship engenders is tangible. The crew from Captain, Chief Officer, Chief Purser, to the ship’s engineer remember guest names, their likes and dislikes, with a crew to passenger ratio so high the service levels make this cruise line very special. And not forgetting those who work in their HQ; we had to cancel a voyage with short notice previously, and the speed at which they responded and their hand-holding throughout the process of rebooking continue the feeling of everyone matters.

If you’re looking to be spoilt or spoil someone a little, something close to home, then Hebridean Princess fits the bill. It’s the little things that can have a big impact, and this little ship certainly had a big impact on us.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hebridean Island Cruises

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Lisa McAuley

Owner & managing director of Silver Travel Advisor

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