I began my trip with a day exploring Glasgow, then took the local Scotrail train the next day up to Oban. As we travelled out of Glasgow the beauty of the Highlands became quickly apparent, and I spent the train journey just relaxing and taking it all in.
Oban is a pretty little fishing town on the west coast, and I would highly recommend including some time here either pre- or post-cruise. Weather permitting (it is Scotland after all!) you can enjoy long coastal walks and plenty of options for al fresco dining while you watch the world go by.
After a night's stay in Oban it was time to board the Hebridean Princess. Carrying only 50 guests, she is so much smaller than any other ships I have sailed on, so I was not really sure what to expect. It was immediately obvious that I was going to be waited on for my every need, with nothing being too much trouble. Absolutely everything you could want is included in the price, including all meals, an open bar, guides and guest speakers, shore visits, transfers and gratuities. Even a cup of tea while ashore in a local restaurant or hotel if you wish!
I settled into my cabin, Duart Castle, which had three portholes, two of which could be opened for a bit of fresh air. Other accommodation options include some with picture windows, and even a handful with small balconies, all depending on your personal preference. I must also mention how well Hebridean cater for solo travellers, with lovely smaller cabins which feature a large single bed and have no extra supplements to pay.
The ship sailed completely full that evening from Oban, and the first night was all about getting to know each other and settling in to our home for the next week. The captain and our onboard tour guide welcomed us in the Tiree Lounge, with Champagne and canapés before our first evening meal.
The Columba restaurant accommodates all guests in one sitting, with the majority of tables set for two guests. If you travel with friends then larger tables can be set, and there is always a table for 8 to 10 guests for those who want to dine with others, a great option for solo travellers. You can also dine with a member of the ship's crew every night. Each evening you are presented with a menu with choices including vegetarian options, and if you have any further dietary requirements these are easily accommodated.
The first morning was perfect, as I had time aboard while sailing to Ballachulish for a visit to the Glencoe visitors' centre, learning about the region and the geography of the area before a scenic drive to visit waterfalls and lochs. Then our first of two gala evenings gave us a chance to get dressed up and relax with new friends. How nice it was for the cocktail dress to finally make an appearance after being locked away for almost two years!
The following morning we took a trip to Arduaine Gardens and enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our legs and have a nice long walk. Other guests found it more appealing to stay and relax on board, which is of course quite acceptable too! A jump back on board using the ship's small tender and a lunchtime sail took us to the beautiful island of Colonsay. As I had my walking boots to hand I took advantage of some drier weather and went off to explore independently. Others went off in a group tour on the bikes provided by Hebridean, some did a walking group tour; the choice is yours.
After anchoring overnight in a sheltered bay we had breakfast and then set sail cruising the Sound of Mull and on to the Isle of Canna. Here there were more options for walking, cycling and exploring, with a welcome break at the only café on the island for a piece of cake and cup of tea, the tab all picked up by Hebridean Cruises.
Our next morning sail was spent up on the Skye Deck looking out for dolphins that had been spotted earlier, as we sailed under the Skye Bridge towards Loch Ewe. The gardens here were beautiful, a little limited in colour as it was September but large enough for a couple of hours to explore. Back on board for afternoon tea in the Tiree lounge with a glass of Champagne, and then back to the dolphin spotting! I got lucky with a small pod playing to the aft as we sailed.
After dinner we spent a relaxing evening in the lounge talking over our day and hearing plans for the next day from our onboard guide. This short evening brief was great, letting you plan what you want to do the next day and hear where you are going. Sometimes bad weather means the crew have to make minor amendments to the planned itinerary, so it's always worth listening to what's coming up.
On our last day we visited the beautiful island of Iona. We approached on a local boat so we could all visit together, and we enjoyed a relaxed visit to the Benedictine Abbey followed by a tea and coffee picnic at the beach. The sun even made a welcome appearance, which made the visit even more special. Who would have thought it - a Scottish beach in September, in the sunshine!
The final evening was the second gala night with all dressed in their finery, and we all sat for dinner together to witness the captain address the haggis and recite Robert Burns' famous poem. We enjoyed a spectacular gala meal starting with a taster of haggis, neeps and tatties, followed by lobster. Then a farewell drink with new friends before we disembarked back in Oban the following morning.
Hebridean offer a true small ship experience with very personal and attentive friendly service. Travelling in Covid times, this certainly appeals, and the domestic travel makes things very easy indeed. After two years of planning, this very special cruise was certainly worth the wait.