This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver takes a look at the Queen of England's decision to spend her upcoming holiday at sea onboard an intimate cruise ship:
Buckingham Palace at Sea
To celebrate her recent 80th Birthday, the Queen of England has decided on a cruise around Scotland on the specialty cruise ship, Hebridean Princess. The Queen boarded the ship yesterday and will be traveling along the coast of Scotland for the next eight days. For those of you unfamiliar with this vessel, the Hebridean Princess, is a former MacBrayne ferry that has been refitted as a cruise ship. For the trip, which will be the Queen's first holiday at sea since the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, the entire vessel will be chartered for the exclusive use of the Queen and members of her family.
A while back I was lucky enough to be able to tour the ship and can report that 'Princess' 'is a very intimate vessel at just 2,112 gross tons. Externally she is no beauty queen, although the term 'cute' has been used on occasion. There are just 5 decks with a total of 30 cabins, which accommodate just 49 guests, and 38 staff. Internally she is very attractive, and has a 'country house' feel, complete with lots of tartan and flowered soft furnishings. All of the cabins have individual decor and names rather than numbers. The 'Isle of Aran' suite is the top accommodation on the vessel, so I suspect that the Queen was accommodated there.
The 'Isle of Aran' suite is comprised of a large, separate day room, a spacious bedroom and a luxuriously equipped, marble-tiled, Victorian-style bathroom, fitted with a bath and shower. The bedroom contains a large double bed - which can be rearranged as twins - generous wardrobes, drawers, dressing table and a second television set. The suite is located just a few steps from the elegant 'Columbia' Restaurant. Mind you everything is just a short walk away on this intimate vessel.
The 'Columbia Restaurant's menu typically includes such delicacies as; Haggis, Fresh Hand Dived Scallops, Isle of Mull Cheddar Cheese and Red Onion Tart, Guinea Fowl, Fresh Fillet of Sea Bream and Chocolate Nemesis with Crème Chantilly
Although there is little in the way of organized entertainment onboard this vessel, her Majesty, being a keen huntswoman may well partake in clay pigeon shooting often held at the ships stern. Her Majesty may well enjoy one of the many malt whiskeys offered onboard by the Inglenook fireplace in the Tiree Lounge. Alternatively she may well browse the well stocked library and relax in the Conservatory or the Look-Out Lounge, while watching the Scottish scenery pass by.
I have also toured the former Royal Yacht Britannia, which is now permanently moored at Leith, Scotland. Of course she was a very nice vessel, but I was surprised how 'understated' she was in terms of decor and accommodation. I was expecting a floating palace and that she is not. In many ways the 'Hebridean Princess' is more luxurious and has more accommodations, although obviously not dedicated to Royal usage. I would bet tat the Royal family probably had a great time on their recent trip.
Hebridean Cruises actually have two vessels. In addition to the 'Hebridean Princess' they also operate the 'Hebridean Spirit'. The 'Spirit' is the more adventuresome of the two and regularly explores a variety of destinations worldwide. The 'Princess' is mainly dedicated to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, far flung St Kilda, the Orkney and Shetland Islands and the remote lochs and peninsulas of mainland Scotland. In fact Hebridean Cruises claims that Scotland has some of the most attractive coastline in Europe. The normal clientele tend to be rich and elderly Brits, but minus the royal blood line. Unfortunately the fares are pretty steep and I doubt if this recent Royal endorsement will see the introduction of any deep discounts, either.