A cruise ship fit for a Queen
When thinking about what a luxury cruise ship looks like, perhaps the image of a converted Cal Mac car ferry is not what springs to mind.
But looks deceive, and I’m reminded of the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Twice chartered by Her Majesty the Queen following the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia, Hebridean Princess knocks the socks off its competitors when it comes to delivering a top-of-the-range luxury cruise experience.
Once you negotiate the gangway and board the ship, you begin to realise just why the Queen chose it. Hebridean Princess provides a luxurious yet relaxed and intimate atmosphere for just fifty passengers and thirty-eight crew. Eleven cabins are appointed for single guests, and this must surely be the most sociable cruise ship there is. Someone described it as a country house party at sea and this seems an accurate description, not just of the size and ambience but also the accommodation, catering and service; top class certainly, but definitely not formal, stuffy or intimidating.
The first thing we noticed on reaching our stateroom was the size of the bathroom. On most cruise ships, you might have only a shower; any baths tend to be modest in size. We, on the other hand, had a full-size bath in a vast bathroom gleaming with polished brass and big enough to accommodate a cocktail party.
The bedroom too gave an atmosphere of a top class hotel, furnished in luxurious Scottish style.
Soon it was time for pre-dinner drinks and guests began arriving in the Tiree lounge. The public rooms continue the country house feel. The chairs and tables in the lounge are just like ones you might find in someone’s comfortably-furnished home. Binoculars for passenger use were dotted about on various window ledges. This must be the only cruise ship afloat with a hearth and fireplace, not that the crew are allowed to light a fire of course, but retaining it simply underlines just how different this ship is.
As we entered the lounge, a waitress appeared with two glasses of champagne on a silver tray, and we remembered that it is an all-inclusive cruise ship; tipping is actively discouraged. There is no compromise on quality or quantity, even the nibbles and hors d’oeuvres were remarkable. We chatted amiably to the other guests, the flow of conversation aided by the flow of drinks, our glasses regularly topped up by discrete but attentive staff.
It seemed a shame to move on, but dinner was ready, and we all trooped off to the elegant dining room for a five-course meal with a different wine available for each course. The food was top class and beautifully served.
Being a Scottish ship, it was hardly surprising that one course was dedicated to haggis. It was led in by a piper, and the ship’s Master made the time-honoured formal address to the haggis before stabbing it in the traditional manner. Although most of the guests were not familiar with this Scottish dish, they gave it a try and were instant converts; it was certainly the best haggis I have tasted. I think a few English hearts and minds were won over that night. After dinner, we returned to the lounge for coffee, liqueurs and to continue the many conversations that had been started earlier.
It was rumoured that the piper was on deck. Now I admit I was a keen musician in my younger days and had always wanted to try playing the bagpipes, so I grabbed the opportunity to give it a go. Apparently, I did well for a first-timer, not only getting the drones going but also some notes from the chanter. However, out or respect for those within earshot who were perhaps trying to get some sleep, I called it a day after this one attempt.
So, food drink and accommodation are great, but are there restrictions to being on a small ship rather than a large cruiser? Well there is no spa, but there is gym equipment and with so few people on board there is unlikely to be a queue to use it. However, if there are any drawbacks, the benefits of this luxurious and highly sociable ship far outweigh them.
The ship’s itinerary covers the west of Scotland and its stunning islands. Walking guides are provided where appropriate, and there are plenty of bicycles aboard for those who want to explore further afield on the ports of call. If you want to walk or cycle across an island, Hebridean Princess will sail round and meet you at your journey’s end. Wherever you go you know that you have a welcoming and comfortable base to go back to and yet another glorious meal to enjoy.
Of course, luxury and personal service at this level do not come cheap but you need to bear in mind that everything is included in the price, except the bagpipe lessons. But then I’ll not argue about that.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hebridean Island Cruises.