Another World… Another Scotland
My feet scrape against the surface of 3-billion-year-old Lewisian gneiss as I scale the boulders that surround the glistening Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye. My steps are the only sound aside from distant bleating of sheep and the squawk of gulls as they fly high overhead. I feel as though I’m an intruder on this magnificent, sun-drenched landscape, a tiny dot enveloped within towering mountains and verdant fields.
This must be how Outlander’s Claire Randall felt when she was transported through time to another world, another Scotland. But I never touched the standing stones at Craigh na Dun. I am simply sailing Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebridean Islands … magical and largely undiscovered … just like Hebridean Princess, the cruise ship that has taken me here.
A WEE LASS
Hebridean Princess entered service in 1964 as RMS Columba, a no-frills vessel that transported up to 600 passengers and 50 cars through the Western Isles of Scotland. In 1988, a 1.5 million GBP transformation converted the ship into the miniature luxury liner she is today.
At a mere 2,112 grt and carrying only 48 passengers, it doesn’t take long to explore Hebridean Princess. Less a cruise ship and more a cozy, floating country home, there’s no casino, swimming pool, or lavish spa. The Columba Restaurant is her sole dining venue. Hebridean Princess offers, above all, a destination-focused experience, and one that will mesmerize those with a fascination for the flora and fauna, ancient geology, and often savage history of the remote Hebridean Islands, or those who simply wish to immerse themselves in the raw beauty of its dramatically differing landscapes.
For over 30 years, I have followed the all-inclusive Hebridean Princess (transfers from Glasgow to Oban, all beverages, meals, gratuities, and tours included in fares), nearly convinced I was the only American captivated by this tiny ship. It is far better known in the United Kingdom — in fact, Queen Elizabeth II chartered her in 2006 and did so again in 2010. But on my sailing, I discover that word is getting out — I am one of seven Americans who will board the ship that day. And a few of these countrymen are already repeat Hebridean Princess guests!
AYE, SHE’S BONNIE
Hebridean Princess’ lovely Tiree Lounge — with its tartan carpeting, carved wooden bar, and rustic inglenook fireplace — and the ship’s wood-paneled library — filled with volumes that chronicle the remote and beautiful isles of the Hebrides — are the main public spaces. Hallways, stair landings, and comfortable little nooks are adorned with fresh flowers while furnished observation areas allow guests to marvel al fresco at the spectacular scenery and midnight sunsets as Hebridean Princess navigates this remote part of the world.
Surprising for such a tiny ship, cabins (designated not by a number but the name of an isle or loch in the Hebrides) are generously sized, from the top-level Isle of Arran Suite to the most humble inside accommodations — and some cabins even feature balconies! Solo travelers will be delighted to learn that 10 of Hebridean Princess’ 30 cabins are specifically for them, with no single supplement imposed. And no matter which cabin you choose, expect a modern bathroom, lovely art that reflects the isle or loch after which your cabin is named, a charming decanter of whisky on the night table, and no pesky room key to misplace. That’s right! Residents of the sparsely-populated Hebridean Islands rarely lock their doors and the practice has been adopted by Hebridean Princess (though there’s a safe in every cabin and doors may be locked from inside).
GLAEP YUN DOWN
A wee dram? With the vast array of single-malt whiskies stocked at The Tiree Lounge, that’s the pre-dinner route most guests take. I, however, opt for Champagne — Taittinger is poured — and discover that the bartender seems to intuitively know when I need a refill.
Dinner menus aboard Hebridean Princess typically include two or three options per course and all dining requirements may be accommodated. Ayrshire pork, tender Scottish beef, and rosy .…
By Judi Cuervo
This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.