CRUISE LIKE A ROYAL on the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS
Follow in The Queen’s footsteps…
CRUISE LIKE A ROYAL ON THE HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS
It’s the poshest CalMac ferry you’ll ever sail on. The Hebridean Princess has even played host to the Queen, who chartered it twice after the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned and made it the venue for her 80th birthday celebrations — the
only time the vessel relaxed its no-pets policy, to allow the corgis on board.
The ship began life as a car ferry, but was transformed into a cruise ship in 1989. This floating country house hotel offers luxurious trips in UK, Irish and Norwegian waters. It has an elderly, 95% British, clientele and it’s not just the Queen who returns to the ship — 65% of passengers come back for more.
The 30 boutique hotel-style cabins are named after west coast Scottish islands, castles, sounds, lochs and bays, and are comfortable, spacious and well furnished. From the moment you’re piped aboard, you are treated like royalty. When the attentive crew aren’t stocking up your bathroom with Molton Brown goodies, they’re filling your cabin’s whisky
decanter with their own-label malt.
This sort of luxury doesn’t come cheap – prices start at £2,260 for four nights in November on the Highlights of the Firth of
Clyde trip — but everything is included. If you want to drink champagne all day, you can fill your boots. All excursions are also part of the package, and tips are not expected at the end of the cruise.
The food is excellent, too, as I found when I joined the Hidden Gardens of the Highlands and Islands cruise, for which our guest lecturer was the horticulturalist and broadcaster Stefan Buczacki.
It offered the chance to see some of the finest gardens in Scotland, ranging from small, privately owned ones, such as the enchanting five-acre An Cala, on the Isle of Seil, to the 20,000-acre Armadale Castle estate on Skye, with its 40 acres of gardens and woodland. My favourite was the lovely Attadale, in Wester Ross, where there are 20 acres of stunning conifers, rhododendrons and sculptures in gardens designed to show off the outstanding views of Skye.
Gardeners are a sociable lot, and the on-board events encourage guests to mingle, so by the end of the week several friendships had been made. A week’s cruise includes two formal evenings on which the kilt or DJ get an airing, and you can choose to sit with others at dinner or have a table à deux.
Cruises of between four and nine nights depart from Oban and Greenock. They concentrate on destinations that are inaccessible to larger vessels, and most of the Hebridean islands are covered. Some cruises have themes such as castles, gardens, walking or cycling, but the
common denominator is spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife and remote locations. Most nights, the ship anchors in sea lochs or bays far from habitation and
well protected from bad weather.
On the Hebridean Princess you’ll meet peers of the realm, retired company directors, doctors and lawyers. Famous past passengers include the retired racing driver Jackie Stewart, who hired the ship for his 75th birthday party in 2014 — an event that included a performance by Chris de Burgh. Other famous voyagers include Princess Anne and Sean Connery, who, legend has it, disembarked after two days because “James Bond got seasick”.
As a Scot — there were only three of us on board — there were times when, during the daily briefings, the staff’s mispronunciation of such words as “loch” grated, and they could make more play of Scottish culture and history but, overall, the attention to detail and quality of the
service, accommodation and excursions were all impressive.
Meanwhile, as a backdrop, the Hebrides — even in the rain — are still as breathtaking as ever.
Costs from £4,770 per person (sharing a double) on the ‘Glorious Gardens of the West Coast’ itinerary, starting May 4th 2021
for seven nights.