The all-suite, 100-passenger Caledonian Sky brings elegant wood-paneled class and a "country house" feel to expedition cruising, with a 2016 refurbishment bringing all soft furnishings and styling up to speed to adequately satisfy the upper-tier pricing and expectations of Zegrahm Expeditions cruises.
Originally one of eight 1980s-built luxury Renaissance Cruises ships, it passed through various hands under the name of Hebridean Spirit until it came under the ownership of Noble Caledonia, which merged with Australian tour company APT, and is regularly chartered by Zegrahm. A December 2016 refurbishment saw all carpets, cabin furnishings and even some wall paneling and outdoor deck coverings on the top deck replaced. This refurb gives the ship a freshly fitted-out and refreshed, but still classically decorated feel that stands up pretty well against newer, glitzier ships in the expedition cruising game.
Caledonian Sky is not a ship with multiple entertainment diversions or activities. The vessel is small enough that dining happens at single, set times, and activities are organized for passengers as a group with only minor deviations such as a choice between snorkeling and diving. However, the intimate ambience also allows the friendly crew to really personalize their service, enhancing the ship's charming "low-key luxury" feel. Expect for most of the staff to know your name within days – it's that kind of ship. Although the cabins are certainly comfortable enough to spend quality time in them, the social vibe encouraged especially during briefings and mealtimes means that your cruise mates do not remain strangers for long. This is a real highlight, especially for single travelers and social butterflies, although cruisers wishing for a more anonymous experience are bound to feel a touch uncomfortable in this environment. The ship may be stylishly appointed, but the mood is anything but standoffish.
Passengers are invited and perhaps even expected to make the most of all opportunities presented to them; being an expedition ship, additions and changes to the itinerary can happen in a somewhat off-the-cuff fashion, and adaptability and a sense of adventure are important -- for example, spending an afternoon taking some sun on a deserted island can turn into a turtle hatchery site discovery, while a village chief's invitation to share in a dance or a sports day can transform a half-day visit into a full-day party, necessarily changing the next day's sailing schedule. Zegrahm crew work hard to create an easygoing, inclusive atmosphere that does well to mesh passengers together into a cohesive travel group, with much in common to talk about over afternoon drinks.
Zegrahm Expeditions' upper-range pricing generally necessitates an older clientele, but its adventurous offerings mean those passengers are also fit and well-traveled, with many stories of past expeditions to tell; Zegrahm's repeat customer rate sits around the 75 to 85 percent mark. Interest in nature and conservation (birding, animal photography, etc.), history or anthropology is common with this crowd, depending on the itinerary. The great majority of Zegrahm passengers tend to come from the United States, no matter where in the world the ship is touring.
Expedition casual is the order of the day onboard. With such a strong emphasis on exploring via shore excursions and Zodiac trips, suitability to the weather and destinations along the way is more important than dressing for shipboard life. An occasional cocktail party, Captain's welcome or social function means that one or two dressier options are worth including in your suitcase, but there are few hard and fast rules. Footwear of some kind is required at all times, including while riding in the Zodiacs, and rain gear is a good idea if you want to explore in all weather conditions. For warm-weather itineraries, snorkeling outfits that cover arms and legs are popular to avoid excessive sun exposure. Divers are asked to bring their certification and gear, apart from tanks, weights and weight belts which are all provided onboard. Itineraries that include island visits will often mean wet landings via Zodiac, so shoes that are OK to get wet are a must.
For those who love all-inclusive cruises, Zegrahm trips aboard Caledonian Sky fit the bill, so to speak. Gratuities are included, as are shore excursions and ad hoc activities; hotel stays and ground transport (as per each itinerary); wine, beer and soft drinks with meals; special afternoon teas or dessert nights; and even Wi-Fi (albeit slow, and subject to the specific itinerary). Extra funds are needed for cocktails or spirits, treatments in the salon, laundry services, any visits to the ship's doctor's office and, of course, shopping stops ashore. The British pound is the official currency on the ship, but the American bent of Zegrahm passengers means U.S. dollars are often recommended and facilitated by your guides as "shopping currency" when ashore.