Eleanor Kirk sets sail for the Scottish islands on a Hebridean Princess fam trip.
As I step onto my balcony, a rush of icy air hits my face. Wrapping my robe tighter, I drink in the view of the gorgeous Isle of Arran. Rising into the clear, blue sky is the imposing figure of Goatfell mountain, brimming with lush heather. With a cup of tea in hand, I could stay here all morning, enjoying the scenery and breathing in the fresh, misty air.
I’m onboard Hebridean Princess, a slice of quintessentially Scottish beauty, for an agent mini-cruise. This charming ship, self-styled as a floating country house hotel, is bursting with as much personality as it is luxury.
It sleeps just 50 guests, which makes for a cosy and friendly atmosphere on board. So friendly, in fact, that none of the cabins have locks on the doors – a touch that makes you feel as if you’re staying with a wealthy relative, rather than on a cruise ship.
The ship certainly lives up to its country house description. The lounge bar houses an eclectic mix of wing-backed armchairs and tartan sofas, some facing the large windows, so passengers can enjoy the stunning views of the lochs, some huddled around the huge brick fireplace.
Guests come together each evening in the lounge bar as chief pursers David Indge and Iain Gibson, microphones in hand, tell their infamous ‘stories’ – think tall tales of the Pope being caught speeding and you’ve got the idea. It’s wonderfully silly fun that breaks the ice and soon has everyone giggling and chatting.
“Our drinks are regularly replenished by the crew as the group gets to know each other; the friendly vibe is perfect for solo travellers.”
As we settle in for our first evening on board, there’s no need to waste time queuing at the bar. Our drinks are regularly replenished by the crew as the group gets to know each other, and the friendly vibe is perfect for solo travellers staying in one of the ship’s 10 single-occupancy cabins.
Food and drink
Cruises are ultra-all-inclusive, so guests can relax on board and on excursions. Hebridean has relationships with coffee shops and tea rooms at the vessel’s ports of call, so guests need only show their brass room number when placing an order and they can forget about the hassle of paying the bill.
Each cruise boasts two black-tie gala dinners, at which the captain performs the traditional Burns Night poem Address to a Haggis and dishes are served with a flourish under silver cloches. Once again, solo travellers are well catered for and are hosted by the captain, chief purser or senior engineer.
“Juicy roast beef, creamy dauphinoise potatoes and a rich crème brûlée with a perfectly crisp top were just some of the standout options.”
From locally caught seafood delivered daily to the ship, to traditional haggis, neeps and tatties, and beautifully presented desserts, guests won’t be disappointed with the fare on offer. Juicy roast beef, creamy dauphinoise potatoes and a rich crème brûlée with a perfectly crisp top were just some of the standout options on our sailing.
Each cabin is also furnished with a carafe of Hebridean-branded whisky, replenished not once, but twice a day. This is in addition to the endless selection in the lounge bar, where staff are on hand with recommendations for every palate. Fancy something smoky? No problem. A sweet tipple? Easy. A spicy Scotch? They’ve got it.
The country house feel continues in the cabins, which are richly furnished with spacious double beds or singles with sumptuously thick duvets – we were cruising around Scotland, after all. Bathrooms are kitted out with either gold-tapped bathtubs or sizeable, walk-in showers, and luxurious Molton Brown toiletries.
Other amenities include a proper hairdryer, tea and coffee, the all-important carafe of whisky and a minibar filled with soft drinks that is also replenished twice daily.
“Cabins are richly furnished with spacious double beds or singles with sumptuously thick duvets – we were cruising around Scotland, after all.”
Four of the double cabins have spacious private balconies, and most have large picture windows, so guests can enjoy the views from the comfort of their bedroom. Cabins on the lower decks feature porthole windows, adding a touch of romance that feels like stepping back in time. On the lowest deck, a few single-occupancy cabins are windowless, but still feel just as cosy as the others.
Most cruises offer twice-daily excursions, ranging from hiking trips and whisky distillery tours to one of Hebridean’s ‘legendary’ picnics, when guests and crew pitch up at a remote shore for a spot of lunch (weather depending). Those who prefer not to leave the ship can meet other guests for a game of bridge in the lounge bar.
“Several of our group bought a bottle or two to take home, returning to Hebridean Princess laden down with bags full of clinking bottles.”
We were lucky enough to visit the Isle of Arran whisky distillery for an hour-long tour. We were taught how to taste Scotch whisky properly – “think of your tongue as a sponge and let it soak up all the flavours” – before being whisked around the distillery to see how much work goes into creating a barrel of single malt.
We were also treated to a taste of the distillery’s gorgeous whisky liqueur, a creamy tipple laced with single-malt whisky. Several of our group bought a bottle or two to take home, returning to Hebridean Princess laden down with bags full of clinking bottles, already looking forward to the stories David and Iain would tell us that evening.
Ask the agents
“Having spent three nights on Royal Crown last year, I have seen both sides of the Hebridean family. It’s easy to understand why some clients return time and again for the comfortable cabins, great food and hospitality. It’s a truly special experience.”
Pam Furness, travel consultant, Spa Travel
“What a little gem. The experience is like a house party in a cosy, Scottish, boutique hotel, but it’s on the water in the most glorious scenery. Our two-day cruise was a real treat – I’m a whisky convert now! The highlight of this beautiful little vessel is the care and warmth extended to us by the team onboard.”
Kit Williams, co-founder, Silver Compass
“I love the sense of history and the ship’s traditional quirks. Although there might not be all the bells and whistles that modern cruising boasts, Hebridean offers exactly what I want from a cruise: fantastic food and service, comfortable beds, different destinations – and Tattinger on tap!”
Amy Wright, Select Travel Holidays