Exploring Scotland: Is the Hebridean Princess the Ultimate Choice for American Travelers?

Hebridean Island CruisesHebridean Princess sails exclusively around the highlands and islands of Scotland, visiting a number of out-of-the-way places on 10- and 11-night cruises.

The 48-passenger ship is arguably the most exclusive – and expensive – way to Scotland, by sea (in fact, it’s so exclusive it was chartered by the late Queen Elizabeth II not once, but twice.)

The ship (a former ferry, but don’t let that put you off), has been lavishly restored and offers a very traditional, almost throwback way to cruise, with set dining times and formal attire required every evening.

The vibe is more akin to a small country house hotel at sea, rather than a cruise ship.

We got onboard to find out if Hebridean Island Cruises’ Hebridean Princess is the best way to see Scotland for an American.

The Passenger Make up is Almost Exclusively British

The sailing we were on consisted of 42 Brits and three couples from North America, around 10% – a pretty typical number, according to the ship’s Hotel Manager.

So the question you have to ask yourself (as an American), is: Am I happy to sail with Brits, or would I prefer a more mixed crowd?

Maybe you have British relatives or roots or are an Anglophile, or just enjoy the trappings of a very traditional way of cruising?

If the answer is yes to any of those questions, then Hebridean Princess could be for you. If not, you may wish to opt for one of the major U.S. cruise lines that offer round-Britain sailings.

Hebridean Princess is Very Small So You’ll Likely Know Everyone by the End of the Cruise

With just 48 passengers onboard, plus a printed guest list in your cabin at the start of the cruise (which is great fun at the start, trying to guess who the Lord and Lady are, or indeed, who are the non-Brits), you will likely get to know everyone onboard by the end of the voyage.

Hebridean Princess boasts just one lounge (The Tiree) where everyone congregates for pre-dinner drinks, and one dining room, so it’s not too long before you start to make friends.

Note that Brits can be somewhat reticent when they first meet new people, which doesn’t mean they are being rude – just reserved.

However, most passengers who sail on Hebridean Princess are welcoming and friendly, so you should fit in just fine if you also enjoy meeting new people and discussing world travel.

Note: Most guests you will encounter are repeats (64% according to the line), so sailing onboard Hebridean Princess can feel a bit like entering a very exclusive club.

Hebridean Princess is Very Traditional

Hebridean Princess is like a throwback to many people’s perceptions of traditional cruising: set dining times, set tables in the dining room and a rigidly-enforced dress code.

For some, this is charming, for others, off-putting. If you are happy to adhere to these codes and have enough space in your hold luggage for a tux, jacket (or two), ties and shirts – as well as sturdy boots during the day – then Hebridean Princess could well suit you.

If however, you are not, then there is no alternative to the Columba Restaurant, and you will be asked to don a jacket and tie or an elegant dress by the crew (as well as side-eyes from the guests).

Hebridean Princess Offers an Immersive Scottish Experience

The crew onboard are largely local, as is the Captain (on our sailing Captain Hamish joked about popping home to mow his garden and pick up the post while we were docked in Orkney) and most of the officers.

Our guide, hailed from these parts, and wore a kilt every day.

The outstanding food is all sourced from Scotland, from local bakers, butchers and fishmongers – so if you don’t like haggis, kippers for breakfast, lots of fresh fish and game, then you may struggle (having said that, the line will cater for any allergy and pretty well any food craving, so you won’t go hungry.)

And at the end of the cruise, you’ll get the address to the haggis and many of the crew wearing local dress.

Hebridean Princess Attracts a Senior Crowd

The average age on this ship is some way north of 65-years-old, which will inform you about the demographic. So it’s not just a matter of where you’re from, it’s also your life stage (we met a couple whose son had just retired, which gives you an idea of the ages we are talking about).

There is no nightlife as such (occasionally a local musician may well be invited onboard), with entertainment such as it is consisting of a post-dinner lecture.

Hebridean Princess Visits Out of the Way Places

Many cruise lines offer sailings which call in at Shetland and Orkney during the season (we saw two large cruise ships when we were in Shetland; and learned they were expecting almost 250 calls this season), as well as big mainland ports such as Greenock (for Glasgow) and South Queensferry (for Edinburgh).

If you are looking for more out-of-way spots such as Handa, the Kyle of Lochalsh (for Skye), Rum and Fair Isle (between Orkney and Shetland), then you are better off sailing with Hebridean Princess.

Also, if you have an interest in the history of Scotland, archaeology, nature (particularly birdlife) or local food and drink (particularly whisky), then Hebridean Princess will be the ideal choice.

Hebridean Princess is Very Expensive

The starting fare on this ship is around $6,000 per person, so is only open to a select few. This may also inform your decision as to whether you want to mix with peers of the realm, captains of industry, ex-CEOs and the like. If you’re looking for more earthier clientele, then Hebridean Princess may not be the right fit for you.

Bottom Line

Hebridean Princess is probably the most authentic way to see Scotland: the itineraries allow for a deep dive into Scottish culture, cuisine and history; many of the crew are Scottish – even the ship is Scottish. In fact it’s hard to imagine a more immersive Scottish experience – and probably the best way to see Scotland for an American.

And as cruises go, it’s one of the most unique experiences at sea – and one of our favorite strange and unusual cruise ships.

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