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Pictured left to right outside the new store are: Paul Hardwick, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Director of Retail; Emma Bailey, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Tutti Taylor, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents; Councillor Candy Vaughan, Mayor of Eastbourne; Trevor Ridler, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents Business Development Manager; and Shirley Waters, Fred. Olsen Travel Agents..

Luxury and laughter on board the Hebridean Princess

I first met the team from Hebridean Island Cruises at Glasgow Airport, where our guide Pat greeted us for the included transfer to the start of our cruise at Oban. Other passengers had already been collected from Glasgow Central Railway Station, so there are two easy ways to join this cruise from anywhere in the country. The coach was luxurious for our three-hour journey – I have never been on a coach with so much space and legroom, and Pat gave a running commentary on places of interest we passed, with refreshments served and a comfort stop along the way.

Once at Oban, Jim the Purser came onto the coach to formally welcome us. He called us by name and we boarded the ship, to be welcomed with a glass of something nice and an escorted tour of our quarters. How very civilised!

Hebridean Princess is a delight and without doubt one the best ships I have ever sailed on. She is very traditional and elegant - warm and friendly with just the right amount of space.  As one of the smallest luxury cruise ships afloat, she can access places larger ships simply cannot reach and accommodating just 48 guests, she truly is a home-from home-experience.

Accommodation includes inside cabins, porthole, window or balcony options. All are traditionally furnished, many with both a bath and shower. My cabin was Kinloch which had two portholes, a full-sized bath and a separate shower. It was very comfortable and extremely quiet. Cabins come with tea & coffee facilities and a refrigerator which is stocked each day with a selection of soft drinks and water. A handy addition was an iron and ironing board! I should note that Hebridean Princess would not be suitable for guests with mobility issues as there is no lift between decks, though staff do assist with the stairs where needed.

All meals and drinks are included during the cruise, except for a few very high-end options. At time of booking, guests indicate their preference to dine together or at a larger table, and solo travellers usually opt to join a larger table. Mine was a great success and the conversation and laughter during all meals was extremely entertaining! We enjoyed table service at a level rarely seen these days and the sommelier’s sense of humour added greatly to the dining experience. The food was British, with local seafood and locally sourced meat. It was truly delicious, and the portions were more than enough - the haggis is to be recommended!

The Tiree Lounge is the main social hub of the ship, and the hosts had such amazing ways of making their guests feel so very welcome and at ease, with that rare ability of making every guest feel very special. There is no entertainment provided, so guests sit around and chat amongst themselves. Most had a story or two to tell and the atmosphere on the ship is relaxed and friendly, just like a house party with friends. Many guests had sailed with Hebridean Island Cruises a number of times before, which is a testament to the excellent service and welcoming atmosphere they receive onboard.

All activities on Hebridean Princess are included. Excursions from the ship can involve the use of small boats to transfer guests to land, or the ship docks for guests to walk ashore. I was fortunate to have enjoyed a mix of different types of excursions - I visited the Glenfinnan Monument for scenic viewpoints; Glencoe; a walk along Loch a Choire; Duart Castle; Resipole Art Gallery; Tobermory; Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum and a (rather muddy) walk on Colonsay. Use of the ship’s bicycles and fishing tackle are also included. Because there are usually two sightseeing trips each day, every day seems longer and this makes the cruise feel much more than 7 days - now that's value for money!

As the trip is all inclusive you get a feeling of freedom that everything has been paid for and that nothing needs to be worried about. To further enjoy that stress-free feeling I would recommend leaving plenty of time before meeting your guide at Glasgow airport – my flight had a few delays so I was grateful for allowing the time for any eventualities.

The highlight of the trip for me has to be the staff on board the ship and the way they make you feel.  The care and attention given to all guests by the crew, whether that is in the dining room, the Tiree lounge or on the excursions, is second to none. Hebridean Princess is a very special ship, and it is wonderful to be transported to a parallel universe where people spend their time conversing with each other and do not need to be entertained. I really enjoyed the company of the other guests and cannot remember a time away where I have laughed so much - this trip is absolutely perfect for solo travellers as well as couples. Anyone with an interest in natural history, or good food, or who just appreciates the finer things in life would have a wonderful time onboard.

Did I mention the glasses of champagne watching the sunset?!

You can find Nigel at Dorchester Travel