Amy was recently lucky enough to experience three nights onboard the unique Hebridean Princess, the world's smallest luxury ship, sailing from Greenock to Campbeltown - here's her review...

When we’re talking about travel we often talk about having ‘must-see’ or ‘bucket-list’ countries. For me, Hebridean Princess has been a ‘bucket-list’ ship for the last ten years or so. A former MacBrayne car ferry and Royal Mail Ship, Hebridean Princess has since been transformed into an all-inclusive luxury ship boasting a country club atmosphere, with a wonderful reputation for being utterly unique. Her reputation is so well-respected, she's been chartered by the Queen twice for a private family holiday.

We were met at Glasgow airport for the transfer to Greenock to meet the ship where, upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by the ship’s Chief Purser, Bobby, and a kilt-wearing bagpipe player. I was soon shown to my cabin, The Sound of Sleat, one of the ship’s ten single cabins, situated on the starboard side of the Waterfront Deck. Hebridean Princess has capacity for fifty guests, or ten singles and twenty couples, attentively looked after by 38 members of the crew.

The exceptionally small guest numbers, the attentive and friendly crew, and the ship’s charmingly quaint and country-house-hotel-like décor all combined perfectly to create the most incredible friendly and intimate atmosphere. I was completely blown away by it all, and could not get over it. I must admit I wondered what the guests onboard would be like, and made assumptions which were turned completely on their head by my actual experience. The night before my trip started, I was so excited I could barely sleep, but I was apprehensive that I might have put Hebridean Princess on too high a pedestal, and that perhaps the guests may be a little snooty or else, being generally older, falling asleep in the lounge chairs. However, I need not have feared any of this – Hebridean completely and utterly exceeded my high expectations, and the guests were a complete delight. They were friendly, inclusive, not at all snobbish, and in many cases were a great deal fitter and more active than I am! There was a sense of camaraderie, and I felt that this had developed organically from the intimate size of the ship and guest numbers, from the fact that the cabins don’t have keys creating a natural sense of trust, and because the guests were discerning travellers, with many interested in whisky, which was the prevailing theme of the Spirit of Scotland cruise!

The cruise took us from Greenock across the water to Rhu, from where guests had a choice of a tour of Hill House in Helensburgh or a visit to Glengoyne Distillery. Built between 1902 and 1904 for the publisher Walter Blackie, Hill House is considered to be one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s famous works. I – like many of the other guests – opted to go for the distillery tour, where I learnt about the process of making whisky and enjoyed blending my own whisky from a range of five different cask-strength samples. Later that afternoon, we enjoyed some gloriously scenic cruising across Loch Striven, whilst the guest lecturer, Charles McLean, gave a talk on whisky appreciation. The ship doesn’t sail at night, but sails at times during the day, perhaps in the morning and/or the afternoon, and sometimes during the early evening, but usually for only about two or three hours. Other destinations we visited included Rothesay, where guests enjoyed a tour of the remarkable Mount Stuart House, the ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute, a family descended from such illustrious Scots as Robert the Bruce and John Stewart, the illegitimate son of King Robert II of Scotland, the first Stuart king, by his mistress, Moira Leitch. Designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in the late 1870s for the 3rd Marquess of Bute to replace an earlier house, Mount Stuart House is a notable example of Gothic Revival architecture. However, some guests preferred to take a stroll around the town of Rothesay, or even go for a bicycle ride. We later headed for the Isle of Arran, where some guests toured the Isle of Arran distillery, while others enjoyed a brief excursion to the small town of Brodick, making a stop at the local cheese factory where our onboard guide, John Harbour, bought locally-produced cheese for the ship’s cheese course that night, and regaled us with a story of murder and intrigue from the late 19th century. Our final stop was the remote and deserted island of Sanda, now owned by a Swedish billionaire, which was quite fascinating – a derelict former pub and hotel run by the former owners for passing yachts, and the rundown ruins of the 14th century St Ninian’s chapel and a tiny cemetery, in which St Ninian is said to have been buried. On the other side of Sanda, a ruggedly beautiful island, there’s a lighthouse and a popular hub with seals, with a group basking on the rocks, and some playing in the sea. No other ship would be able to call at this tranquil island, as it’s too small and remote, so it was quite a special experience. Our next stop, Campbeltown, was sadly my last as it was from here that I would be transferring to the airport as I was only doing part of the cruise. I can honestly say I have never felt so sad to leave a ship!

Our onboard guide during the cruise was John Harbour, ex-Royal Navy who had got his Blue Badge after retirement and runs his own private touring company around Scotland. Although he had promised never to return to the seas, when he was invited onboard by Hebridean Island Cruises he found that he couldn’t resist the charms of Hebridean Princess, and so works as a guide several weeks each year. He was a very knowledgeable and sociable guide, mingling with the guests, answering questions, and was particularly interested in the fascinating history of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Onboard, you’re incredibly well looked after by the crew – just short of being tucked up in bed and sung to sleep! For Bobby, the Chief Purser onboard, this is exactly what makes Hebridean so special; ‘everybody, everybody, onboard looks after every guest that’s onboard, including even the able seamen. It’s a case of everybody just thoroughly enjoys being onboard and working for Hebridean, and just working with all the guests that come onboard, who are just so delightful.’ The attention to detail is wonderful, and there’s a real sense of team work with the crew onboard. There’s a real sense of pride in the crew’s work, and the fact that they are so happy in their work really comes across. For Bobby, who has been working on and off since 2008 with Hebridean Princess, ‘it’s just a lovely place to work, all the guests and all the staff onboard ship are just so pleasant to work with, and just so professional in their outlook, and it’s a just a pleasure dealing with all guests onboard ship, because they really are genuinely very, very, very nice people.’

While Robert Burns had his ‘Poem to a Pudding’, I could happily devote an epic saga to the food onboard Hebridean Princess, it was so delicious. My favourite was probably the crab salad with avocado ice cream starter I enjoyed on the first night, or the pan roasted wild sea bass with ragout of mussels and champagne pomme dauphine which I chose for my main course on the gala night. I also loved the fact that the breakfast menu offered porridge…with a wee dram!

Hebridean Princess may not have all the bells and whistles that other cruise ships may have, there’s certainly no waterparks (there’s not even a pool), or a smorgasbord of restaurants and bars, no onboard spa, and certainly no Broadway productions onboard. Instead, you’ll discover an abundance of old-world charm from an exceptionally warm and welcoming Tiree Lounge – complete with an inviting fireplace – to a charming conservatory where you can enjoy teas and coffees, and fragrant flowers. She makes for an interesting comparison to more ‘glamourous’ and swanky, modern ships, particularly externally. Hebridean Princess’ décor is warm and inviting, and replete with subtle touches of Scottish themes, with subdued tartan and Harris tweeds. For me, Hebridean Princess goes back to the basics of a truly exceptional and enjoyable cruising experience: attentive and friendly staff providing excellent service, exquisite food, and wonderful destinations, which she is purpose-built to explore. As far as I’m concerned, these are the cornerstones of a great cruise experience, and Hebridean Princess has them in spades! It’s no wonder that she has such a high repeat rate, with many guests coming back again and again.

The only negative point about my experience onboard Hebridean Princess was that it ended. Otherwise, I simply cannot find fault with what was a flawless and very special experience. There are just not enough superlatives to describe this wonderful ship and her crew and guests, and I would probably give my right hand or first born child (or anything) to go back on the ship.

If you're interested in a cruise onboard Hebridean Princess, why not contact our Hebridean cruise specialists?

01234 819 699

  • Welcome onboard!

    Welcome onboard!

  • Sound of Sleat

    Sound of Sleat

  • slide
  • slide
  • Crab Salad with avocado ice cream

    Crab Salad with avocado ice cream

  • Dessert on first night

    Dessert on first night

  • The Conservatory

    The Conservatory

  • Tiree Lounge

    Tiree Lounge

  • Library

    Library

  • Glengoyne Distillery

    Glengoyne Distillery

  • Blending whisky

    Blending whisky

  • Cruising Loch Striven

    Cruising Loch Striven

  • Pan fried wild sea bass

    Pan fried wild sea bass

  • Lochranza, Isle of Arran

    Lochranza, Isle of Arran

  • Fresh salmon buffet lunch

    Fresh salmon buffet lunch

  • Lochanza, Isle of Arran

    Lochanza, Isle of Arran

  • John Harbour with Bedford Bear, Sanda Island

    John Harbour with Bedford Bear, Sanda Island

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