Noble Caledonia's cruises are very much destination-led and most passengers spend most of the day away from the ship. As such, there isn't any entertainment onboard when an excursion is operating and the ship is very quiet should you decide to skip the tour. When passengers are onboard, there are well-attended talks and quizzes (including a very high-brow but entertaining classical music quiz on our cruise). Sudoku and crosswords are available at reception and there's a bridge table in the library for card games. The library, in fact, is a real feature of the ship, flooded with natural light and featuring cosy armchairs, tables, shelves housing an enormous collection of reference and fiction books and cupboards packed with board games.
Hebridean Sky has an open bridge and passengers can visit pretty well any time, except during manouevres.
Daily activities and times are listed in the ship's Aboard & Ashore newsletter.
Entertainment is low-key, deliberately so. Hebridean Sky passengers prefer to chat after dinner, unless they've chosen one of the opera-themed cruises, like we did. There's piano music in the Club before dinner and, in the event of a cocktail party, in the Lounge. Later, the pianist plays again but in reality, most people go to bed. This is not a ship for night owls. Films are sometimes shown, relevant to the region in which the ship is cruising, and talks are held before dinner by the onboard guest speaker (in our case, the leader of the London Festival Opera). There are several cruises a year in collaboration with the LFO and ours included two magnificent concerts in beautiful palaces ashore, as well as a more light-hearted evening onboard. The four singers and pianist travelled with us and mixed with the guests throughout the cruise; many guests, in fact, had booked purely because of the opera theme.
The Lounge (Byrd Deck) The Lounge, connected by a staircase direct from the Club that is one deck above, is used for talks and cocktail parties; there's another baby grand in here as well as TV screens for presentations. Small occasional tables line each side of the room but the centre is crammed with chairs, ready for talks and recitals, and also features six pillars, so just feels too cluttered. As such, this not a place people generally sit and relax during the day.
The Club (Mawson Deck) There's just one bar, the Club, open from breakfast time until late, with comfortable chairs and tables, sofas and at the corner bar, high stools. This room is the focal point of social life when passengers are indoors, and it leads to the gorgeous library, separated by a glass wall, so has light from three sides. Bar prices here are pretty reasonable; £3.25 for a gin and tonic, £2.95 for a beer, £4.95 for a Macallan whisky. Cocktails start at £3.75 and there's always a daily special. Note that on APT charters, bar drinks are included in the cruise fare.
There's really very little in the way of outside recreation, mainly because most time is spent off the ship. Deck 5 has a tiny sunbathing area with four faux-rattan loungers and decent padded cushions. A plunge pool or even a hot tub would really add something but apparently a hot tub was tried on Island Sky and was barely used. Nonetheless, this little space feels like an afterthought and is underused. For polar cruising, there's an observation area up from Deck 5 with 360 degree views.
Aft on Deck 4, there's a big, circular lounger along with tables and chairs. Here, as well as the Lido, is a popular place for reading, gossiping, sundowners and gazing down at the wake.
Free Internet access is available in the library on two PCs, but you have to pay for Wi-Fi for personal devices -- £12 for 120 minutes -- and it was very slow (on APT charters, Wi-Fi is included).
The reception desk is manned from 6a.m. to 11p.m. and carries a supply of minor first aid items, such as motion sickness tablets and plasters. There's no shore excursion desk as there is not usually a choice of excursions and they're included in the price anyway, but the tour leaders and cruise director are always around and available to answer questions.
An interdenominational religious service is conducted on Sundays when the ship is at sea, with the time shown in the daily programme.
Logowear such as fleeces, hats and T-shirts are for sale and displayed on a table in reception. There's no shop. The ship does not have a photographer.
Laundry is available, although there is no passenger launderette. Expect to pay £2.50 per shirt and £3.75 for a jacket. Generally, items are back within 24 hours.
The ship has one lift but is not really suitable for wheelchair users; there are no specially adapted cabins and the gangway is steep and narrow. Often, the Zodiacs are used as tenders.
Smoking is allowed aft on Mawson Deck, where ash trays are provided.
The ship does not have a spa, or a gym, although two impromptu Pilates classes were held during my cruise, at no cost. A tiny salon offers hair and massage appointments and a few passengers used the wraparound promenade deck for working off some cream tea calories. One circuit equals 186 yards. But a degree of fitness helps on these cruises. Wherever possible, the fleet of Zodiac inflatables is used for landing (if the ship is at anchor) or exploring and getting in and out of these requires a bit of sure-footedness. Several of the tours include significant amounts of walking, or scrambling over ruins.
Noble Caledonia doesn't carry children; they're simply not catered for and there are no facilities or activities.
* May require additional fees