Posted by: tireecottage | January 18, 2010

Hebridean Cruise for Queen

The Queen must be regretting the day she ever agreed to relinquish the Royal Yacht Britannia. When she wanted to celebrate her 80th birthday in style she chartered the tiny cruise ship Hebridean Princess for a voyage through the western isles. And she must have enjoyed the experience in 2006, because she is taking over the ship again for two weeks this summer.

Passengers who had booked cruises departing on July 22 and 29 aboard the 49-passenger ship have been offered alternative sailings – and generous compensation – to accommodate the royal party. If you’re in Oban going your holidays then, look out for the ship! Owners All Leisure Group will not confirm the identity of the “special guest”, but a spokesman told me: “Details of all charters are private. That said, Hebridean Princess has been chartered by an important guest, as Hebridean Island Cruises would not cancel cruises without a very good reason.”

The ship, originally built in 1964 as a car ferry to Mull, Coll and Tiree, provides luxurious accommodation in the style of a grand country house hotel. Originally MV Columba, it’s now refitted and the Tiree Lounge even has a brick-built inglenook fireplace. Cruise expert Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz Guide to Cruising, describes the vessel as “a little gem.”

He also says the food in the Columba Restaurant is a particular highlight, but it may not be good enough for Her Majesty – for her birthday cruise, she took her own chef on board. Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and is now moored in Leith, near Edinburgh, where it is open to the public. The ship was the honeymoon retreat for Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and finally the Duke and Duchess of York. Ironically, Fergie named Hebridean Princess at its christening in 1989.

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