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Issue 2 - The lap of luxury

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002

 

This article is 15 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The lap of luxury

Explore Scotland in a different way - from the luxurious surroundings of a cruise ship

The interior of Scotland is rich with culture and breathtaking scenery – a natural habitat for holiday-makers. But sometimes getting from accommodation to excursion by road or rail can be wearying and time-consuming. Driving for hours down narrow twisty roads can turn a holiday into a gruelling motoring marathon, fraying the most benign of tempers and significantly reducing the enjoyment factor when you eventually arrive at your destination.

So why not do as our ancestors did and go by sea? Travelling by ship allows you to squeeze in a lot of sightseeing in a short time without having to change hotels or repack your case. And instead of sitting for hours in a car or tour-bus, you can relax and pass the time between destinations comfortably at sea, reading, learning to play bridge, having lunch or working out in the onboard gym.

There has never been a better time to take a cruise out of Scotland – following the events of 11 September last year, many British holidaymakers are looking for ideas that don’t involve flying, and many Americans, traditionally the core of the cruise market, although still keen to travel, want to avoid the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, both of which are perceived as potential trouble spots.

Cruising is the ideal stress-free holiday because once the passenger has made the initial choice of which route to take and which ship to travel on, the burden of any further decision-making is removed, and you can be as lazy or as active as you feel, not having to worry about where to go or what to do, because a complete programme of daytrips has been meticulously planned, so guests get to combine the comfort of the ship with the distractions of the excursions.
On board, it’s not just a question of Captain’s dinners and quoits. And because of the northerly latitude, the emphasis cannot be on topping up the tan (although in the seas around Scotland the sun can be scorchingly fierce), so many itineraries have an exploratory emphasis, and prove to be as informative as they are relaxing. While at sea, you can attend cookery demonstrations, learn to play bridge, or learn about your next destination from an on-board guest lecturer. But don’t expect to be corralled from pillar to post by a relentless rep. You can set your own pace and if you would prefer to stay on board and read a book borrowed from the ship’s library, so be it. But the itineraries are planned to predict just how much R&R a person can take before developing cabin fever and craving terra firma underfoot.

True, on certain routes the majority of cruise passengers are ‘empty-nesters’ – 50 somethings with a bit of money to spend celebrating their freedom from the kids. But that’s not to say that the ships are packed bow to stern with rickety grey-beards wrapped in tartan travelling blankets. On the contrary. Most cruise ships cater for people in the prime of life, and have jogging decks, fully equipped gyms, health spas with complete beauty facilities, pools, Jacuzzis, cinemas, nightclubs and casinos. Some companies offer activity cruises that involve fishing, hiking and mountain biking in the Western Isles.

As a rule, the ships that sail out of the Scottish ports are smaller than the huge cities at sea that lumber around the Caribbean and Mediterranean, more like a private members’ club than Club 18-30, with a clientele to match. The décor on the smaller ships leans toward traditional dark wood and subtle, subdued colours, and the emphasis is on total luxury and comfort rather than organised deck sports and throbbing discos.

But just because the atmosphere is more low-key and relaxed than many of the ritzy round-the-world affairs, do not expect for one minute that standards are allowed to drop. Although comfort is paramount, passengers will still need to pack a formal dinner jacket or smart frock for evenings, although generally less is considered more during the day.

All of the cruise companies strive to create original itineraries, regularly changing their routes because they elicit an enviable level of loyalty from their passengers who return year after year, having formed friendships with fellow cruise enthusiasts. Once bitten by the bug, seasoned cruisers can’t get enough, and seek out increasingly esoteric destinations that they can explore by day, while being able to return to their plush cabins to wash off the dust or rest their feet.
Because of the growing popularity of ex-UK cruises, many of the routes are already fully booked for this summer. But here’s an idea of the sort of thing on offer to bear in mind for next year.

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
Tel: +44 (0) 238 068 2280
Web: www.rssc.com
Ship: Song of Flower
Length of cruise: 10 days
Itinerary: Leith – Rouen including Orkney, Western Isles, Dublin, Fowey, St Malo & Rouen (overland transport to Paris, if required, is also available)
Departs: 25 June 2002
Prices from: £3075 per person including flights from Paris to Edinburgh, where required. All meals and drinks are included. Any excursions are extra.

The Song of Flower is the smallest of the five Radisson ships, with room for only 180 passengers – it is hugely popular because of its size. With crew numbering 144, service on board is excellent, and passengers are waited on hand and foot. The ship is popular for its comfortable, homely atmosphere, but make no mistake, that would be quite a sophisticated home. Dinner is a single sitting, which is to many seasoned cruisers the benchmark of luxury, the antithesis of the pack ’em and rack ’em practice of the huge floating resorts.

At least a jacket and tie is required for dinner although a DJ will be necessary once or twice during a 10-day cruise for formal dinners. Otherwise the dress code is pretty informal during the day. Nights are quiet on the Song of Flower, with no glitzy entertainment on board, and the nightclub is more of a piano bar where people can listen to the pianist, quintet or band. Because the Song of Flower attracts quite a mature passenger, the emphasis is more about relaxation than enrichment, so there is no guest lecturer on board, although full information on shore visits is provided.

Although there is no availability for this year’s cruise the company is already fielding enquiries about 2003 itineraries.

Fred Olsen
Tel: +44 (0) 1473 742 424
Web: www.fredolsencruises.co.uk
Ship: Black Prince three-star
Length of cruise: ‘Mediterranean Intermezzo’ 14 nights
Itinerary: Greenock to Mediterranean (returning to Greenock) calling at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Barcelona, Tangier, La Coruna & Dublin
Departs: 10 June 2002
Prices from: £1855 per person based on two sharing. Full board, excursions extra.

This is the first cruise to the Med for family-owned Fred Olsen from a Scottish port, but the popularity of the Black Prince guarantees an enthusiastic uptake. Though the firm is Norwegian, no effort is spared to create a ‘British’ atmosphere – only English is spoken, the currency is Sterling not dollars (or Euros) and ‘entertainment is more West End than Broadway’. Of the Black Prince’s 442 passengers, many return year after year to lap up the excellent service and take advantage of all the facilities, including the unique Marina Outdoor Leisure Centre, equipped with speedboats, inflatables, and dinghies stored in the stern in a purpose-built pontoon for use when the ship is at anchor. Waterskiers and windsurfers are also catered for.

Fred Olsen
Tel: +44(0) 1473 742 424
Web: www.fredolsencruises.co.uk Ship: Black Prince three-star
Length of cruise: ‘In Fabled Fjords’ 10 nights
Itinerary: Leith – Norway (returning to Greenock) calling at Bergen, Kristiansund, Gradval, Balestrand and Lerwick
Departs: 31 May.
Prices from: £1275 per person based on two sharing. Full-board. Excursions extra.

As a testament to the popularity of sailings to the Norwegian fjords, this cruise is already fully booked. Although the itinerary changes annually, those keen to experience the comfort and friendliness of the Olsen experience can simply use this information as a guideline for next year. Just remember, book early.


National Trust for Scotland
Tel: +44 (0) 131 243 9334
Web: www.nts.org.uk
Ship: Black Prince (chartered from Fred Olsen)
Length of cruise: Seven nights ‘Glorious Gardens’
Itinerary: Greenock to Leith, calling at Arran, Oban, Iona, St Kilda, Canna, Poolewe and Aberdeen, with visits to the gardens at Brodick Castle, Arduaine, Inverewe, Pitmedden, and the castles at Fyvie, Craigievar and Crathes.
Departs: 10 May 2002
Prices from: £900 per person, based on two sharing. Full board. Excursions extra.

Thanks to the course of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Scotland has many fabulous gardens packed with unexpectedly exotic plants tucked away up and down the west coast. This itinerary is heaven for horticulturalists, who will visit many of the country’s best gardens and castles in the company of historian and prolific author on garden design, Sir Roy Strong and Scotland’s favourite TV gardener, Jim McColl.

National Trust for Scotland
Tel: +44 (0) 131 243 9334
Web: www.nts.org.uk
Ship: Black Prince (chartered from Fred Olsen)
Length of cruise: 14 nights ‘Land of Myths and Legends’
Itinerary: Leith, Fair Isle, Shetland, Iceland, Orkney, Peterhead, Leith
Departs: 17 May 2002
Prices from: £1700, based on two sharing. Full board. Shore excursions extra.

This two-week cruise has been devised in response to the huge popularity of the National Trust’s previous cruises to the northern isles and Iceland. This year, the Trust has decided to ‘do Iceland properly’, sailing right the way round the island and visiting the glaciers, geysers, mountains and fjords that are usually only accessible by sea. Experts will be on hand to lecture on the geology, history, wildlife and sagas thereby providing a full picture of this fascinating area. There will be lots of opportunity to explore on foot, but you will also sail through some truly breathtaking scenery. Pack your walking boots and thermal undies alongside your dinner smarts, and don’t forget your binoculars. This cruise promises to be something really special – a trip you’ll never forget!


Cunard Lines
Tel: +44 (0) 845 601 4208
Ship: Caronia five-star cruiser
Length of cruise: 13 nights ‘Midnight Sun’
Itinerary: Rosyth to Southampton, calling at Trondheim and Spitzbergen
Departs: 17th June 2002
Prices from: £1699 per person based on two sharing. Price includes a coach service from Southampton to Edinburgh.

This Cunard line cruise actually starts in Southampton, but the Scottish travel agency Bell Travel has reserved space for a limited number of guests who wish to board at Rosyth near Edinburgh on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. The Caronia is a sister ship to the QE2, with all the comforts and facilities that this entails (including health spa, casino, cinema and nightclub), yet smaller, accommodating only 668 passengers. Guests should definitely pack black tie because this is a formal, conservative ship. Dinner takes place in the very grand Franconia dining room (single sitting, de rigueur) with senior officers hosting tables every night. The food on board is sensational (not only in the Franconia but also in Tivoli, the a la carte Italian dining room), yet if you are suddenly taken by a whim, it is possible to order off-menu. Children are not welcome in this haven of elegance, and there are no facilities for them – sailing on the Caronia is a truly grown-up affair.


Hebridean Island Cruises
Tel: +44 (0) 1756 704704
Web: www.hebridean.co.uk
Ship: Hebridean Princess
Length of cruise: Cruises range from four to 12 nights
Itinerary: There are 17 itineraries, eight of which are new this year.
Departs: Between 3 March and 31 October
Price from: £1400 per person based on a seven-night cruise

The Hebridean Princess is a rare gem. The ship started life as an Oban to Mull car ferry and, after a considerable refit, now boasts a five-star rating, and gongs for the Best Deluxe Ship. To be honest it all sounds a bit bonkers – for just as the current trend is for ever larger vessels, the Hebridean Princess can accommodate only 49 passengers. Given that there is a crew of 38, truly first-class service is guaranteed. Dinner is a smart affair and features top-class Scottish cuisine prepared by five chefs using locally sourced ingredients. The evening’s entertainment is as likely to be a Scrabble tournament in the library as a local singer or ceilidh band that has come aboard. There’s no nightclub, no cabaret, no deck sports, and nobody requests a key to their cabin. Itineraries take the HP the length of the west coast and around the western isles, and the ship is as likely to weigh anchor in an utterly deserted bay as in a commercial port. Activities include fishing trips and clay-pigeon shooting from the deck, as well as hiking and biking on certain routes, as well as the more usual excursions to visit the wealth of castles and gardens liberally sprinkled up and down the coast. There’s even a loyalty programme which awards points on the basis of cruises taken, which can be redeemed against future sailings.

Abercrombie &_Kent offer a new cruise from Edinburgh to Reykjavik that takes in Dundee, Orkney and the Shetland Islands en route: visit www.abercrombiekent.com for details. For information on the enormous diversity of cruises available from Scottish ports, call Jim Wilson at Cruise Scotland on +44 (0) 1309 676 737 or check the website at www.cruisescotland.co.uk.

For information about short day-trips and cruises from east- and west-coast ports, call Visit Scotland on +44 (0) 131 332 2433 or check their website at www.visitscotland.co.uk

THINGS TO DO BEFORE
YOU BOOK YOUR CRUISE

• Canvas opinion of friends who enjoy cruising, consult a specialist travel agent, or use the internet to browse the various cruise companies’ websites.

• Buy a guide book (there are some mentioned at the end of this piece). Douglas Ward’s masterful tome The Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships will tell you everything you could ever wish to know (and more) about every ship on the sea and Fodor’s Plan and Enjoy Your Cruise is full of words of wisdom for first-timers.

• Deploy a little self-knowledge before booking a cruise: will you like the ship? If you don’t like the ship, you won’t like the cruise. Some of the issues you should seriously consider are: old ship or new ship? Big ship or little ship? Enrichment or relaxation? Kids or no kids?

• Plan your wardrobe carefully – your cabin will probably have limited wardrobe space. Daytime is easy, but make sure you get a straight answer from your travel agent or cruise company about evening-wear requirements – you will need to dress for dinner at least once during a week-long cruise.

RECOMMENDED READING

Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2002 by Douglas Ward (Berlitz, £16.95/$21)

Cruise Guide by Sandra Bow
(Globetrotter, £9.99/$14.95)

Plan and Enjoy Your Cruise (Fodor’s FYI, £8.99/$9.95)

All these books and more are available by mail order from Stanfords Travel Bookshop on +44 (0) 20 7836 1321, or visit http://www.stanfords.co.uk. Also check out maritime book specialist Kelvin Hughes at http://www.bookharbour.com. Other cruise books can be found at http://www.thomascookpublishing.com