For such a tiny cruise line, Hebridean Island Cruises attracts more than its share of attention, not least because Her Majesty The Queen has chartered its only ship, the 50-passenger Hebridean Princess, twice in recent years for her own personal use. This petite vessel was originally built as a ferry to sail the Western Isles, but had a complete refit and launched as a luxury cruise vessel in 1989.
Hebridean Princess is the ultimate floating country house hotel and the line operates house party-style voyages around the Western Isles, mainly out of Oban, for groups of like-minded souls, all of whom enjoy fine food, good company, the culture and history of Scotland, and often, a wee dram or two from the fine selection of single malts in the TireeLounge.
The ship occasionally leaves Scotland for forays around Britain, to the Channel Islands and even across to France, but it's for Scotland that Hebridean is best-known. The line operates an all-inclusive policy, so all meals, most drinks (apart from the most expensive whiskies and premium wines), all tours and gratuities are included in the price.
The tours are superb; guides so good they attract their own following travel with each cruise and guests choose different activities each day, with varying themes and on the 'Footloose' walking cruises, according to fitness and ability. Other themes include music, maritime discovery, the Normandy beaches and, once a year, a mystery cruise from Oban, where the captain chooses the itinerary. The company has also recently branched out into river cruising, chartering an elegant, classic ship, the Royal Crown, on the Rhine and Danube.