The five-star luxury ship Hebridean Princess begins her 2013 season this week, cruising among the islands of Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides.
Truly fit for a queen – HRH Elizabeth II chooses it for her own cruises now that the royal yacht Britannia has been retired – the 50-passenger ship is a floating boutique hotel, with spacious staterooms, fine dining and all shore excursions included.
Drinks, tips and guided tours included
The ship’s all-inclusive policy extends to on-board wines and spirits (think fine single-malt Scotch) and all tips, as well as tea and cakes at stops during shore excursions. These island explorations are guided by local experts, whose lively accounts of local history, wildlife and culture bring passengers into the life of the islands they visit.
Itineraries vary, some exploring as far as the remote archipelago of St. Kilda and Fair Isle, others venturing into Northern Ireland. Popular stops are in Stornaway, on the Isle of Lewis, where passengers shop for Harris tweeds and travel to the mysterious standing stones of Callanish and to climb to the lonely Carloway Broch – an enigmatic stone tower build at least 2000 years ago.
Castles, gardens and natural wonders
A stop in Ullapool means a chance to cross the dramatic Corrieshalloch Gorge on a swing bridge, and usually includes a half day to explore Inverewe Gardens, where tropical plants grow far north of their usual habitat in the nurturing warmth of the Gulf Stream.
The island of Iona features on several cruises, with guided tours of the stone abbey founded by early Irish monks who spread Christianity to Scotland. Nearly every itinerary includes at least one castle or garden.
Most cruises begin and end in Oban, a lively port town not far from Glasgow and known as the Seafood capital of Scotland. Hebridean Princess picks up passengers at Glasgow airport for the scenic ride along the lochs to the ship.
Cruises for walkers and nature lovers
Each week through mid-November brings a different itinerary, some with a theme – perhaps history or Scottish country houses – and some featuring daily walks through island scenery. Cruise prices on the Hebridean Princess begin at below $3000, which is the entire cost, with no bill to settle at the end of the voyage and no tipping allowed.
Getting to Glasgow
Glasgow and the Hebridean Princess are easily accessible from Boston via flights on American Airlines/British Airways from Logan International Airport routed through Heathrow to Glasgow.