Another Royal Charter for Hebridean Princess?

January 15, 2010
Despite the royal family's best efforts to appear frugal during these cash-strapped times, stories this week in the Daily Mail and U.K. trade newspaper Travel Weekly indicate that the Queen was unable to resist planning a wee jolly in Scotland this summer on her favourite ship, the 49-passenger Hebridean Princess.

Nothing has been officially announced yet, but Hebridean Island Cruises has suddenly taken two cruises -- Footloose to the Northern Isles on July 22 and Home From the Far North on July 29 -- off sale. According to Travel Weekly, the duration of the charter, the timing and the late booking all indicate a royal event.

This wouldn't be the first time the car-ferry-turned-floating-country-house has caught the royal eye. The Queen chartered the ship in 2006 for her 80th birthday celebrations, reminiscent of the happy days the family would spend pottering around Scotland's Western Isles on the Royal Yacht Britannia before the vessel was decommissioned in 1997.

Passengers who were booked on the two cancelled voyages have quickly been informed, compensated and rebooked on other cruises, according to Roger Allard, chairman of All Leisure Group, which owns Hebridean, Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. “We don't disclose who charters our ships,” Allard told Cruise Critic today. “But put it this way, we wouldn't normally cancel a cruise for a charter unless it was for someone very special.”

Buckingham Palace, unsurprisingly, is not giving anything away either, but a spokesman told Travel Weekly: “The Queen hosts garden parties in late July [although no confirmed dates have been published], she then goes to Balmoral for August and September."

A royal charter of an entire fortnight is unlikely due to the volume of engagements and the July garden party schedule -- but a few days during that fortnight would fit in nicely between the London season and the annual retreat to Balmoral.

The cost of a week's charter of Hebridean Princess is around £150,000, although in 2006, the Palace was quick to point out that Her Majesty had paid for the holiday out of her own personal funds. The royals also supplied their own food; in 2006, a chef was brought onboard and, according to the U.K.'s tabloid press at the time, was briefed to avoid spicy food, foreign mineral water and sloppy pasta dishes -- all believed to be royal no-no's.

How things will shake out this time remain to be seen -- once news of the Queen's charter becomes "official," of course.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor