Hebridean Princess Entertainment
Our knowledgeable cruise guide, Marilyn, and former purser Andrew (back on selected cruises by popular demand as an ersatz Master of Ceremonies) offered entertaining "bedtime story" sessions while passengers enjoyed post-dinner coffees, petit fours and nightcaps in the Tiree Lounge.
Marilyn talked of the islands' history, myths and legends, and gave us some fascinating information. In our case, this being a Scottish itinerary, she told us that Jura, a port of call, is believed to be the Tir Nan Og (or Land of the Young) of Gaelic mythology, and its greatest claim to fame is the gravestone of its longest-lived inhabitant, Gillour MacCrane of Kilearnadil, who was said to be 180 at his death in 1671.
As well as ageless inhabitants, Jura has Stone Age sites. Neighboring Islay boasts Iron Age burial cairns alongside Bronze Age standing stones, and is a haven for rare birds, including the chough, golden eagle, corncrake and hen carrier.
While Marilyn whetted our appetite for adventures ashore, Andrew provided comic relief with shaggy dog stories and amusing poems. Occasionally, passengers chipped in with poems and tales of their own, while private conversation was also lively.
Other than that, the only other entertainment consisted of nightly TV-run films (including, on my cruise, the fairly recent releases "Mrs. Henderson Presents" and "Nanny McPhee").
By day, the main entertainment on this ship is to be found ashore; twice-daily motorboat excursions took passengers onto the islands for guided cycle trip and walks -- and you're welcome to wander off on your own if you prefer. For instance, we preceded our inflatable craft's landing on mystical Iona with a breathtaking James Bond-style zoom around the bay, while on Skye we drank coffee with a dram on a deserted outcrop, then took a boat trip to view seals and red-billed oystercatchers.
And where there was a local tearoom available, afternoon tea (often with a spread of fabulous home-baked cakes and scones) was offered free of charge to Hebridean Princess passengers.
Hebridean Princess Public Rooms
The large Tiree Lounge on Promenade Deck is the social heart of the ship. A life-sized wooden seal snoozes in front of its vast brick (electric fired) fireplace, and the deep pink and green decor is cozy and welcoming. Large brass-trimmed picture windows also make this lounge an excellent place for watching the world go by.
Flanking the Tiree Lounge and looking outwards from the port and starboard side of the ship are two lounges, which, together with the four Promenade Deck cabins, were added on when the ship's car deck was removed. On the starboard side is the cozy Conservatory with deep cushioned green cane furniture, a "help yourself" fruit bowl, and a good-quality tea and coffee machine (though staff in the Tiree will serve you if preferred).
On the opposite side is the Lookout Lounge, a smoking area with nautical-style brass ashtrays on solid oak tables, deep armchairs and an honesty bar.
While most drinks are included, £2 a shot premium brands of fine malt whisky include Glenmorangie, Isle of Jura, Laphroaig, Talisker, Johnny Walker Black Label, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. All are 12 to 15 years old. Oban 14 year old whisky and Old Hennessy XO cognac also cost extra -- £3 and £4 respectively.
Also on the port side of Promenade Deck is an oak paneled library, which like the rest of the ship, has a country house feel, with deep leather armchairs and sofa, a solid table and desk, watercolors and a rather sinister glass cabinet full of stuffed birds set into one wall.
The library has a fairly extensive set of videos -- including several Jane Austen adaptations and classics like "Shadowlands", Cate Blanchett's "Elizabeth" and "The Madness of King George," alongside books ranging from biographies and travel guides to works by Ruth Rendell, Beryl Bainbridge, Patricia Cornwell and Ian McEwan.
Shopaholics in need of a fix will find good quality goods for sale in the ship's shop. These include limited edition prints for £45 ($85.50 U.S.); pewter picture frames from £10.50 ($19.95) to £15.50 ($33.45); a brass ship's clock for £35 ($66.50); a wooden games compendium for £30 ($57) and a pewter lighthouse salt and pepper set for £26 ($49). They're all useful options for present-hunters (though there are also some good shops, of course, at cruise ports of call).
Internet access is limited to a rather incongruous laptop set on the period writing desk in the library; access costs £5 ($9.50) for 15 minutes, but it's very hard to link up when the ship's out around the islands. The same problem applies to mobile phones -- so be prepared for a few days of being gloriously incommunicado.
To the rear of Promenade Deck is a large, attractive outdoor eating/bar area with a wooden-fronted Skye Bar, white globe lamps, solid teak tables and chairs, and woolen rugs for chilly days.
One deck up (Boat Deck) is an astro turfed sunbathing area with deep-cushioned steamer chairs (and more rugs!). There are also two areas of open deck at the side of the ship, between the Lookout and Conservatory lounges and the Promenade Deck cabins.
All are kept in fine trim, as are the interior parts of the ship; walls are adorned with watercolors of island scenes, boats, dogs or wildlife, while odd pockets of space around corridors have been turned into seating areas with pretty silk-cushioned chairs, solid oak sideboards bearing flower arrangements and china-filled display cabinets.
All of this adds to the impression of being in a tranquil, well-run country house (and indeed, Hebridean is a member of the up-market Pride of Britain Hotels and Connoisseurs Scotland consortia).
Hebridean Princess Spa & Fitness
While onboard fitness facilities are limited to three machines -- a treadmill, a cycle and a Stairmaster -- on Waterfront Deck (where passengers board tenders to go ashore), Hebridean Princess' passengers get plenty of exercise on shoreside walks, guided hikes and cycling trips (mountain bikes are provided free of charge).
Clay pigeon shooting can be arranged from the open stern of ship on Promenade Deck; fishing trips, high-velocity speedboat rides for thrill seekers and more gently paced wildlife watching boat trips can also be arranged free of charge on request (during my trip, inflatables were deployed to conduct a search for a basking shark and watch seals at play on a rock).
Hebridean Princess carries five small boats -- the 12-seat motor launches Shona and Scarpa; the Kiloran and Calgary inflatable landing craft (also 12 seater) and a nine-seat semi rigid inflatable called Ulva. Zip-up flotation jackets are provided and must always be worn when tendering ashore (not a hardship, as they provide protection from the wind -- a good idea even on a sunny day).