We'd always wanted to visit the Inner Hebrides & this seemed the most civilised way to do it, especially as the ship came with HM the Queen's recommendation. From the moment we first made contact with Reservations to ... Read More
We'd always wanted to visit the Inner Hebrides & this seemed the most civilised way to do it, especially as the ship came with HM the Queen's recommendation. From the moment we first made contact with Reservations to disembarkation day at the end of our chosen cruise, every member of staff we dealt with was courteous, helpful, friendly, thoughtful & consummately professional. We felt cossetted & secure throughout our dealings with them all.
So many superlatives have been written about this wonderful experience (everything in the brochures is absolutely true), that I thought I'd write about the bits you don't discover until you arrive for your first cruise...
The ships embarkation procedures were very civilised. We had driven ourselves to Oban &, on our early arrival at the Lighthouse Pier our luggage was checked by Security & put straight on board the ship, while we were directed to the delightful nearby Manor House Hotel & greeted by Hebridean representative Joe. After a brief spell of form-filling, Joe took our car keys & organised tea, coffee, scones, jam & clotted cream for us, while we relaxed, enjoyed the harbour view & awaited the arrival of those fellow passengers who were also making their way independently to Oban. By 4.30pm we were all assembled & David, the Chief Purser, arrived to introduce himself & lead us back down the hill to the ship. As we left the hotel, we noticed that our cars had already been collected by the garage who would be responsible for their storage & safety during the cruise.
At the shipside, a random selection of us were body-checked through Security before we all trooped up the gangway to the skirl of bagpipes, apparently played by a crew member high up on the Boat Deck. The gangway led to the Reception Foyer on Princess Deck, where David introduced us each to the crew member assigned to show us to our cabin.
Our cabin, Isle of Benbecula, is more fully described below, but it made a wonderful first impression on us. Non-slip leather 'sheets' had been laid onto our bed & our luggage placed on top to make unpacking easier while keeping the bed-cover clean. We were given full instructions on where to find everything & what time we must assemble in the Tiree Lounge for the safety demonstration & drill, then left to unpack at our leisure.
Our first dinner on board was a wonderful precursor of the culinary delights ahead of us. At least two choices per course (3 for the main course: meat, fish or vegetarian), with coffee & petits fours served upstairs in the Tiree Lounge afterwards. We had chosen to have a table to ourselves: this proved to be by a large window on the port side & would be ours for the duration of our cruise. Our table steward, Sven, would also be serving us for the cruise & within 24 hours he had memorised our various likes & dislikes so we never had to ask for anything. One of the bar stewards from the Lounge circulated continually around the Restaurant tables, topping up wine glasses with a good quality wine appropriate for each diner's chosen meal.
Breakfast was almost as sumptuous as dinner, with a gloriously displayed centrepiece of fresh fruit on the buffet table to choose from, plus the largest selection of marmalades we have ever been privileged to try. Not one item in the cooked breakfast selection could be faulted, either.
What with all the inspired excursions ashore on most days, we only got a few chances to enjoy lunch on board, but these too were impressive, centred around something vast (fresh salmon or a ham) served by the multi-talented David, & a buffet selection of different salads & dressings to choose from. Official meal times were: breakfast 8 - 9,30am, lunch 1pm, dinner 7.30pm. However, these times were occasionally amended for operational reasons.
We were very interested to see how smoothly the various shore excursions were run, whether we were moored up at a dock or being ferried ashore by the ship's delightful tenders or its semi-rigid inflatable speedboat (tremendous fun, that one!). We had all been issued with individual plastic ID pouches attached to lanyards on embarkation day. These were not only designed to identify us in case of emergency, but when going on a shore excursion, we added a large brass tag bearing our cabin's name to the visible contents of our ID pouch. These brass cabin tags were taken from a big display board close to our exit from the ship. Which meant that the crew could see at a glance who was still on board the ship & who had gone ashore. The tags had the additional bonus of helping staff at the various properties we visited ashore to identify those from the Hebridean Princess group - so our ID tags also became our entrance tickets in many cases. On our return aboard, we returned the brass tags to the appropriate hooks on the display board. The ship wouldn't depart until all the brass tags were accounted for.
The icing on the cake, as far as good security was concerned, was the alternative use of our life-jackets when being ferried ashore by tender. As soon as we arrived ashore, our escort (the guide, or a member of the Purser's Office, always armed with radios connected to the ship & each other) would deposit a large blue canvas bag at the landward end of the pier, into which we deposited our life-jackets. On our return to the ship we collected our life-jackets again (not always the one we'd arrived in!) before boarding the tenders. Any life-jackets still unclaimed in the blue bag would precipitate a search for those passengers still wandering ashore, who could, if necessary, be identified by the absence of their brass cabin tag back on board.
Although daily newspapers could not be routinely provided for every passenger for obvious reasons, whenever we moored anywhere near a shop which sold them, a member of the Purser's Office would dash ashore to collect armfuls of assorted papers, most of which were left in the Tiree Lounge for us to enjoy. The Daily Telegraph always seemed to be the first copies to disappear, however, so at my husband's suggestion the Purser's Office kindly arranged to leave several photocopies of its crosswords in the Lounge for the cruciverbalists among us to enjoy.
It took us a day or so to get used to the routine of Kasia, our meticulously efficient cabin stewardess. She changed our bedding & towels while we were at breakfast, returned later in the morning to do the more serious cleaning & came back while we were at dinner to turn down our bed, close the blinds & curtains, empty the rubbish bins & change any towels we'd used since her last visit. Only when Doreen the Housekeeper came looking for us on our second evening, did we realise how helpful it would be if we signalled our absence from the cabin by placing the 'Please Service Cabin' sign on the outside of our door whenever we departed for meals or morning trips ashore.
Nothing was too much trouble for the crew. My 'tipple' of choice (non-alcoholic fresh tomato juice with a dash of celery salt), once explained to the bar stewards, was produced daily for the rest of our cruise. My husband's request for a visit to the Bridge was granted twice, to his delight, as was a visit to the Engine Room & Generator Room.
We're already planning next year's cruise on board this delightfully luxurious little ship! Read Less