This post is also appearing on my regular blog.I’m cross posting it here, because it’s about travel, and my travel blog can always use extra content during a pandemic and “lite lockdown”.
Yesterday on my travel blog, I posted an article about SeaDream Yacht Club’s unfortunate COVID-19 situation. SeaDream, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic all inclusive luxury cruise line. It has two identical “super yachts” and it’s known for being an awesome cruise experience for couples. Bill and I have sailed with them three times. Our last voyage with them was in May 2013, when we sailed from Rome to Athens with a trip through the Corinth Canal.
Bill and I love SeaDream, but circumstances have not lined up for us to sail with them again since Bill left the Army. I still follow their message board on Cruise Critic. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis hit, I’ve been anxiously wondering if this line will survive the pandemic. Things were looking hopeful over the summer, when SeaDream managed to complete several Norway centric cruises without anyone getting sick from the virus.
After their success in Europe, SeaDream came back across the Atlantic and, last Saturday, attempted their first round trip Barbados cruise. In order to pull this off, SeaDream had to change a lot of its standard operating procedures. Prospective passengers had to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test at their own expense 72 hours before flying to Barbados. They had to take another COVID-19 test before getting on the ship, as well as have an interview with the ship’s doctor. Their luggage and shoes were cleaned with ultrasonic technology. Halfway through the voyage, they would have had to have another routine COVID-19 test to satisfy the rules for returning to Barbados. And, while they were cruising, they visited empty beaches, took catamaran cruises, and engaged in activities that did not allow them to be in contact with any host country nationals.
Having been on a SeaDream cruise, I can tell you that I’m sure it was just fine even without the freedom to engage with locals, shop on the economy, or go exploring. I’m not sure if the piano bar was open, but that was my favorite part of a SeaDream cruise anyway, besides the many cocktails and endless champagne.
Unfortunately, someone DID get sick with COVID-19. As of Wednesday morning, the 53 passengers have been stuck in their staterooms, which I can attest to being really nice, but not very large. The windows don’t open and there are no balconies. It’s a nice cage, but it’s still a cage.
A video done by a couple of Geordie lads who have been blogging about SeaDream’s voyages. They are on the ship as I write this.
The person who got sent to a Bajan hospital with COVID-19 was part of a group of six who evidently decided to overnight in Miami on the way to Barbados. From what I’ve read, other passengers heard the afflicted one talking about partying in the south Florida city for a night. Four others in that group also had positive COVID-19 tests, but evidently aren’t showing symptoms. The fifth person’s test was inconclusive.
Now… in thinking about this, it occurs to me just how many people have been affected by this group’s decision to overnight in Miami…
47 people have had a very expensive and luxurious vacation ruined.
66 crew members have had their livelihoods directly threatened.
113 people have had their health threatened.
The entire cruising industry has had another blot on it regarding health and safety standards.
Hundreds of future passengers will be affected because SeaDream will be cancelling upcoming cruises.
All of the businesspeople depending on support revenue for the cancelled cruises will lose money– ie; pet boarding, taxi services, airlines, etc.
People watching SeaDream to see if cruising during a pandemic could be done safely will be affected.
A whole lot of people have been affected by this… I hope that night out in Miami was worth it.
It really is a shame that this happened. As I wrote in my travel blog, I won’t consider cruising again until there’s an effective vaccine against COVID-19. I don’t think cruising while fretting about a virus on a luxury ship is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get this virus under control before too long. On the other hand… I’m not holding my breath.
Hopefully, those who got sick won’t get too sick… and the passengers will be able to get off the ship and go home without too much trouble. We’ll see what happens. Actions have consequences. But, on the bright side, by undertaking this experiment, SeaDream has provided some valuable data for others. Perhaps that will help some smart people figure out the best way to get back to a life approaching normal at some point.
Some people are bound and determined to try to keep living life the usual, pre-COVID-19 way. As much as I would like to do that myself, I know, as someone who has an advanced degree in public health, as well as someone with plain old common sense, that it’s not a good idea. Cruising, right now, seems especially ill-advised, even as it remains a tempting diversion.
Bill and I enjoy cruises. We particularly like to sail on small vessels with all inclusive terms. So far, we’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean (one four night cruise), Hebridean Island Cruises (five cruises), and SeaDream Yacht Club (three cruises). Hebridean and SeaDream are both considered by many people to be “luxury” cruises, mainly because they offer a high standard of service and are all inclusive.
Until recently, I’d been wanting to sail on SeaDream again. Our last cruise with them was in May 2013. Over the course of an unforgettable week, we traveled from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Athens (Piraeus). It had been our habit to pre-book cruises on SeaDream. We’d pay $2500 for an “open booking” while still oboard, which would allow us to choose one at a later date that fit our schedule and logistics. But in 2013, Bill was staring down his retirement from the Army, and we weren’t sure what the future held in terms of his employment. We didn’t pre-book another cruise on our last voyage and, so far, things haven’t lined up for us to cruise on SeaDream again, although we are more able to afford it now than we ever have been.
Even though it’s been over seven years since our last magical SeaDream cruise, I’ve continued to follow them on Cruise Critic’s message boards. SeaDream has been in the news lately because it’s resumed cruises in the Caribbean. It recently had a three week transatlantic crossing for SeaDream I, which began in Oslo, Norway and arrived in Barbados. The resumption of cruising was met with many cheers. Indeed, right now, there are several representatives of the press and travel bloggers aboard the ship, including a representative from Cruise Critic. Everyone was hoping they could make cruising during a pandemic successful so that people might start having some fun again and people whose livelihoods come from cruising could get back to work.
One blogger in particular, Gene Sloan of “The Points Guy”, has been covering the voyage extensively and posting pictures on Twitter. A few days ago, he posted photos of staff members not wearing face masks. That led to a lot of angry comments from people who saw the post. But, Sloan reiterated, that before anyone was allowed to embark the ship, everyone had to have two negative COVID-19 tests– one prior to flying to the island and one by the ship’s doctor prior to embarking on the ship. Everyone in the group that has been cruising recently tested negative– and there are only 53 passengers onboard, as opposed to the 112 that SeaDream vessels can usually accommodate. Staffing is at 66 members, so service has probably been incredible. Aside from the testing, SeaDream invested in ultrasonic cleaning devices that supposedly made cleaning “hospital grade”.
Apparently, passengers were assured that they would not have to wear face masks on the ship during the cruise. That was the main reason some people booked the voyage in the first place. They wanted a break from the COVID-19 nightmare and the oppressive face masks that have come with it. And– make no mistake– despite my public health background, I do hate the masks, even as I understand that they’re necessary for now. I totally understand why some people booked so they could escape having to wear the damned things. Since SeaDream did have a successful three week cruise from Oslo and required so much testing prior to embarkation, I’m sure plenty of people felt perfectly safe. I know I would have.
As it turns out, a passenger on the current voyage did start feeling poorly. Passengers would have been required to be tested again anyway, per Barbados’ requirements, but the passenger who felt ill requested a test prior to the one that was already planned. It came up positive. Prior to the positive test, SeaDream had reversed course on its no mask requirement, and passengers were asked to wear masks when they weren’t eating, drinking, or in the water. People were pissed off enough about that– but now they’ve been ordered to their staterooms until they’re all tested again. And who knows if they will be able to continue the cruise, thanks to the one person who tested positive.
I posted about this situation last night, since I have at least one friend who has had the magical SeaDream experience (in fact, that’s where we met). I wrote this:
Not good. They are getting bad press, too, because they weren’t making people wear masks. I wouldn’t want to be on a cruise in which I had spent $10,000 (for two people) and be forced to wear a mask, either. Seems like now isn’t the best time to be cruising. And now they have someone who is COVID positive. Yikes.
In response, I got this comment:
Would you want to spend $10,000 on a cruise and catch the virus because someone didn’t wear a mask?
I was actually a little surprised and disappointed that someone would assume my comment was simply an “anti-masker” statement. I do hate the masks and feel quite fine in saying so out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m non-compliant or in need of an intervention. I do understand why masks are required for now.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, my mantra has been that it’s more important to stay home as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. I have literally not left our neighborhood since October 4th, when we came back from Slovenia with Noyzi. During that trip, we didn’t even eat in a restaurant. This is the same thing I did for about three months last spring– I stayed home almost exclusively from March until June, going out only to walk the dog. That, to me, is much better protection against COVID-19 than a mask is. People will still get sick whether or not masks are worn; it’s just a question of the ease of virus transmission, which is somewhat less when people wear masks. So, to the person who made the above query, this was my response:
No, I would not consider spending that kind of money on a cruise until a vaccine is available. I don’t plan to cruise if people are going to be required to wear face masks, especially on a line like SeaDream, where alcohol is included. I have sailed with them three times and have seen firsthand how people can behave. Lots of money plus entitled attitudes plus booze equals trouble, particularly during a pandemic. People drink a lot on those cruises.
The blogger who was sharing pictures of the staff members not wearing masks got screamed at by a fellow passenger. Evidently, they were told that masks would not be required and they would not have booked the trip if they were told they had to wear them onboard.
The mask mandate came on Monday night after the pictures went live and people were posting angry comments about the irresponsibility of not masking, despite the many measures that were taken before people were allowed to embark. But, as this article reports, despite everyone being tested three times pre cruise, someone came up positive. I have gotten sick on cruises before and would definitely not want to risk it right now with COVID. It’s very easy to get sick on a cruise. But I also hate the masks and would not find cruising fun while wearing them, anyway.
To be clear– I think it’s crazy to spend five figures on a luxury cruise right now. Some people don’t mind wearing face masks everywhere. That’s good for them. I would definitely not enjoy being forced to wear a mask on a cruise, yet I understand that masks help stem the tide of COVID-19. I will wear them where I have to wear them, but no one needs to be on a luxury cruise during a pandemic. So, until an effective vaccine is available, I won’t be cruising at any price.
I will admit that I would be particularly pissed off if I’d spent $10,000 to be stuck in my stateroom and forced to wear a mask in a place like Barbados. I have been to Barbados, and it’s a very beautiful place akin to actual paradise! But I don’t need to go there so badly that I’d travel there from Europe during a pandemic. And now, it’s possible the people who are on that cruise will spend ten-fourteen days holed up in Barbados in quarantine, likely at their own expense! No, thank you.
As I mentioned before, I have sailed with SeaDream three times. It’s a beautiful experience. The staff is wonderful and kind and mostly genuine. The ship is small– a bit old, but pristine, and immaculately maintained. The itineraries are interesting, exciting, and unique. I have met several great people on that ship, to include a couple of famous folks (who were surprisingly normal). But as incredible as SeaDream or any other cruise experience is, I have experienced getting sick on at least three cruises– twice with nasty colds and once with the dreaded norovirus, which made me puke and gave me horrendous diarrhea for about 36 hours of sheer digestive hell as I was also enduring my menstrual period (fortunately, the sickness was coming on as we were disembarking).
It’s VERY EASY to get sick on a cruise, although with only 53 people onboard, there’s plenty of room for social distancing on SeaDream I right now. The fact remains that you’re in an enclosed environment and you eventually will be exposed to everyone. In fact, I remember on our last cruise on Hebridean Princess, one of the staffers told me that he was always having to battle sickness. It was passed around the ship. If someone came aboard who was sick, there was a very good chance everyone else eventually would be, too; and they’d still have to work, regardless, so that means they’d also be spreading their germs.
Alcohol is included in SeaDream’s fare, and they weren’t going to require masking while eating and drinking. I have seen firsthand that booze is freely offered on SeaDream. You could spend the whole time drinking champagne and eating warmed peanuts if you wanted to– and I have done just that. Ordinarily, that would be a selling point for me, but I have seen the way some people behave after a few drinks. On one SeaDream cruise, Bill and I witnessed a drunk man helping himself to booze, getting very angry at a group of passengers, and actually inviting one or two of them to “step outside”. Imagine how he would react to being required to “mask up” after paying so much to be onboard the ship!
I am a writer myself, although not a famous one (at least in most circles). I can imagine innocently posting a photo from my travels, having it go viral due to someone noting that precautions aren’t being taken, and then being yelled at by another cruiser for spoiling his experience. That has happened to Gene Sloan from The Points Guy, who no doubt was doing his part to publicize SeaDream’s cruise and get the industry going again. Yes, you’d better believe that some people will pay for a maskless experience– same way some people will pay for a condomless prostitute. I can’t blame them at all for wanting to vacation without a mask, but doing so right now isn’t a very smart idea. And paying $10,000 to do it and expecting that nothing will go wrong is also not a very good idea, even though SeaDream cruises are forever tempting. The fact remains that COVID-19 is a real thing and it’s sneakily determined to fuck up everyone’s fun, no matter what.
So I’m going to stay on land for now. I don’t want to wear a mask on a cruise. That wouldn’t be fun for me. And I don’t want to pay $10,000 to be on a luxury cruise, having made the extreme efforts to be COVID-19 negative, only to be trapped on a boat and confined to my stateroom because someone comes up positive (and I don’t blame them– they probably have no clue where they got the virus). I really hope SeaDream and other cruise lines can stay afloat during this mess. I would love to sail with them again, but not until we’ve sorted out this pandemic. Norovirus was bad enough. I’d like to avoid respirators for as long as possible.
In October 2017, when I still had a lot of people reading my travel blog, I wrote a post entitled Whisky distilleries I have known. In that post, I wrote about the eight different distilleries Bill and I had visited on our multiple trips to Scotland since 2012. Prior to August of this year, we had only been to Lowland, Island, and Campbeltown distilleries. But then we took our second Scotch whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess and visited seven more distilleries, several of which were on the other side of Scotland.
Upon looking up the distilleries we visited, a couple of which still had whiskies in development, I’m not exactly sure what region some of them are considered to be from. We visited Old Pulteney, in Wick, Scotland, which is definitely a Highland whisky, but we also visited some smaller distilleries on islands. Thinking about it, I guess most of them would be considered Island whiskies, although they aren’t located in the same part of Scotland as are the distilleries we previously visited. And then there’s Glengoyne, which we visited in 2017, which is considered a Highland whisky, but has part of its operation in the area known as the Lowlands. In fact, the guide pointed out that we literally crossed into the Highlands when we crossed the street to go to the visitor’s center.
Anyway, I thought I’d make a sequel to my original post about whiskies, since writing in my blog prevents me from shopping on Black Friday. Just for the record, in my first post I included discussion on the following distilleries:
I have updated that post so that it’s much more readable. A lot of my older posts are harder to read since I transferred my old blog on Blogger to my new WordPress blog and the formatting was all messed up. It’s a tedious process to update the posts, especially since there are over a thousand of them, so I’m doing it as I have time and inclination. That one looks good again, so if you’re interested in any of the whiskies listed above, please have a look. This post will include a brief rundown on the distilleries we saw in August.
Old Pulteney Distillery is located in Wick, a town in northeastern Scotland. We happened to visit during its “silent season” in August, which is when the distillery’s production shuts down so that workers can have a break and equipment can be repaired. The silent season happens every year, so if you want to visit this distillery when whisky is being produced, be sure to look at the calendar first. Also, since tours are provided on a space available basis and at specific times, you’ll want to book ahead if you’re not with a group, as we were. A basic tour runs 10 GBP, while a tour with extra tastings is 25 GBP.
Old Pulteney’s whiskies are Highland single malts. They also offer a whisky based liqueur called Stroma that many of the ladies on our ship loved and quickly consumed. I didn’t find Wick to be a terribly beautiful or exciting place, but there is an interesting museum there that is worth a visit. Wick also has a lot of history to explore regarding World War II. If you’re a history buff, as well as a whisky drinker, it may be worth your time to visit Old Pulteney’s distillery.
Highland Park is located in Kirkwall, on the of Orkney Island Mainland in Scotland. Orkney has the distinction of once being part of Norway. Of the distilleries we visited on our last whisky cruise, I think Highland Park’s history was the most interesting. We had excellent guides to tell us all about how the distillery got its beginnings, all the way back in 1798. The buildings at the distillery show the signs of age– blackened by the centuries of angels’ shares wafting overhead.
Highland Park Distillery is one of Kirkwall’s most popular tourist attractions and has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost whisky distillery. Indeed, the morning of our visit, we were joined by a Silversea ship, as well as Oceania. The tour bus from Silversea arrived as we were leaving. Highland Park was also having its “silent season” during our visit, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a few drams and taking home some souvenirs from their very nice shop. As Highland Park is a pretty major distillery, they have several tours available ranging in price and intensity from 10 GBP to 250 GBP a person. Of course, if you spring for the most expensive tour, your group size will be limited to six people, you’ll get three hours to visit, and you’ll taste some amazing spirits from the 60s and 70s!
Like Highland Park, Scapa Distillery is located in Kirkwall, but it’s on the on the shore of Scapa Flow, giving it a beautiful natural setting right by the water. Scapa, located a half mile south of Highland Park, is Scotland’s second northernmost distillery. Scapa is currently owned by the Pernod Ricard, though it was founded in 1885 by Macfarlane & Townsend, and was later acquired by Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd (now part of Pernod Ricard). In 1994, Scapa was “mothballed” and it remained so until 2004, when there was talk of closing the distillery for good. The decision was instead made to resume production, so the first whisky since 1994 began production in November of 2004.
Scapa Distillery offers three different tours ranging in price from 12 GBP to 45 GBP and running between 45 minutes and one hour. Pre-booking is highly recommended.
Located on the Isle of Harris, Harris Distillery is currently making a name for itself by producing gin in beautifully designed etched bottles. Indeed, Bill and I were introduced to Harris Gin on our first Hebridean whisky cruise, the Spirit of Scotland, in March 2016. Harris is a new distillery and, by law, whisky cannot be called whisky until it’s been aged 3 years. Harris Distillery’s whisky is just at the point at which it can be legally considered whisky, so for now, the emphasis is more on the gin. Still, I think this distillery is worth visiting because it’s visitor center is so beautiful with its fireplace (around all that alcohol, no less!) and it’s right next door to the Harris Tweed store. Visits costs 10 GBP and include gin and whisky tastings. Children between the ages of five and 18 may take the tour for 5 GBP, without tastings. Children under five are not allowed on the tour.
Raasay Distillery, like Harris Distillery, is a new business and is still developing its whisky. Gin is being produced for now, and there’s also a single malt available called While We Wait, which was made by blending two expressions from one distillery– one peated, and one unpeated. Raasay’s whisky will make its debut in 2020. Raasay Distillery also offers accommodations which overlook the beautiful grounds. Tours can be booked for 10 to 15 GBP and run for about an hour.
I think this may have been my second favorite stop on our whisky cruise. I enjoyed the staff at this distillery and the strong sense of community they shared as they spoke of revitalizing the economy in stunning Raasay. I also really enjoyed their gin. I wish I’d bought a bottle. Right next door to the distillery is Raasay House, a historic hotel which offers accommodations that may be somewhat less fancy than those at the distillery.
This was another interesting stop on our cruise. I enjoyed hearing about Torabhaig’s fascinating story– basically, it was a partnership between investors and whisky makers who spent four years turning a historic property into a new business venture. Our guide, Hans, was a great speaker. Originally from the Netherlands, Hans is fluent in several languages and conducted himself like a college professor. This tour edged out Raasay just slightly, in part because I ended up bonding with a really kind taxi driver during our visit. I forgot to collect my sweater after our tour and he was kind enough to take me back to the distillery to pick it up. We had an interesting talk about religion and politics.
This distillery, like Harris and Raasay, is also just now developing its spirits. However, while the spirits are being aged, Mossburn Whisky is available– these are whiskies that were made before the distillers had a home in Torabhaig Distillery. Because the brand’s whiskies were made at different locations, they have different types available, since as Islay and Speyside varieties. This distillery also has a gorgeous gift shop selling lots of Harris Tweed items. I bought a beautiful bag there.
Tours can be booked between 10am and 4pm Monday through Friday. The distillery doesn’t offer tours on weekends. Children under 12 are not allowed, and the tours run 45 minutes and cost 10 GBP.
Beautiful Ardnamurch Distillery is Scotland’s westernmost distillery, located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so its whiskies are still developing. Still, the distillery is located in a beautiful area, and I quite enjoyed our guide, who told us he’d moved from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Having looked around at Scotland’s stunning islands, I can’t blame him in the least! If I weren’t so old and crotchety, I might consider getting a job at a distillery myself, so I can enjoy the beautiful scenery and good nature of the Scots. Although this is a new distillery, it might be worth visiting just to stay in one of the many beautiful, historic hotels nearby.
Tours at Ardnamurchan Distillery can be booked in advance, range in price from 8 GBP to 40 GBP, and run from 45 to 90 minutes. I can attest the visitor center is rustic and charming, if you like looking at deer heads mounted on the walls.
I must confess that I wimped out on visiting this distillery, which was the last on our whisky cruise. Bill went on the tour while I hung out on the ship, mainly because there was horizontal rain that day and I was simply “whiskyed out” at that point. It turned out the tour was more of a tasting anyway. The guide was a retired police officer and singer-songwriter who took a job at the distillery and offered stories and songs over a wee dram or two. When Bill told me about his visit, I wished I had sucked it up and gone with him. Tobermory also looks like an adorable town and is probably even more so when there’s no rain. The distillery is open every day from 10am til 4pm. Call them for more information.
So… that makes a grand total of 16 distilleries we’ve seen courtesy of cruising on Hebridean Princess. Personally, I think whisky cruises are an ideal way to visit distilleries. You don’t have to worry about driving anywhere and a lot of times, the ship arranges more in depth tours than you might otherwise get. But I can also see the appeal of arranging these tours on your own, taking your time, and getting to know the delightful locals. And even though there are a bunch of new distilleries on this list, they’re still worth a look. A lot of them make wonderful gin and may soon make a whisky you can’t live without. Scotland is one of my favorite places on earth, even though I seem to have bad luck when I go there. But that’s a rant for another day.
Wednesday evening, Captain Kirkwood told us that we’d have a “long run” in the morning. This was the day we’d be crossing over the top of Scotland to the more familiar western isles. I remembered on a previous cruise, a lady who had been Hebridean’s guest on 26 cruises told me about going over the top of Scotland. She said it was tough going. I sort of expected that we’d have an uncomfortable ride as we crossed over Cape Wrath, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to arm myself with motion sickness pills.
Sure enough, Thursday morning, we awoke very early in the morning to rollicking seas. Since we were in the bowels of the ship, we had no windows to gaze out from, but I watched the picture nailed to the wall swing side to side as the room rocked with the sea. I was actually okay, as long as I stayed in bed. That would have been fine, if not for one thing… I got a visit from Aunt Flow. Please forgive the TMI, but I have a terrible habit of booking vacations during “that time of the month”. And Thursday happened to be right smack dab in the middle of that time of the month for August. So staying in bed wasn’t really the best option.
Bill actually had a worse time of it than I did, and he was the first one to puke. And then, as if in sympathy, I followed suit. That set of a cascade of vomiting that left me with bloody eyes and a bruised face. The sad thing is, all of this occurred in the last hour of so of the four hours of rough seas we experienced. I managed to get my clothes on and went to the reception area, where Doreen, the head housekeeper, had set out seasickness pills. I took one and was blessedly okay… and also knocked out cold. Those pills contain diphenhydramine, which is the same thing in Benadryl. It will stop motion related puking, but it will also put you to sleep.
I never made it to breakfast. I don’t think many people did. There were quite a few people who were green around the gills as we passed over that rough patch. I should mention that I don’t usually get seasick on Hebridean cruises, because they usually stay out of rough waters. This cruise was another matter.
We did manage to make lunch and afterwards, I put on some makeup so I wouldn’t scare people. Our cruise had whisky expert Jim Allan aboard, along with his wife, a nurse. She took one look at my petechiae covered face and clucked sympathetically. One week later, my eye is finally almost looking normal again. If I ever go over Cape Wrath again, I WILL take seasickness meds preemptively. Incidentally, Mr. Allan’s first whisky lecture took place on Thursday, but I heard not many were able to make it.
I’m glad we did make lunch, since it was the day Hebridean offered its famous cold seafood buffet. Every time we’ve been aboard, one day during the cruise, they have two whole salmons beautifully decorated among langoustines, smoked salmon, shrimp, fresh oysters, and smoked trout.
That afternoon after lunch, we visited lovely Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. The weather had turned sunny and we took a coach to visit the Callanish Stones and The Gearrannan Black House Village. The Callanish Stones are arrangement of stones arranged in a crucifix pattern. They were erected in the Neolithic Age and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. I thought they were really cool looking… I have not yet been to Stonehenge, but I’d compare this attraction to Stonehenge.
I also enjoyed our visit to the Gearrannan Black House Village, which has a museum and offers holiday accommodations. It’s basically an example of a village of the last century, where people lived in hardscrabble thatched “black” cottages. We listened to a lecture by the curator who explained the history behind the cottages and offered a loom demonstration. This is the land where Harris Tweed comes from, even though the Isle of Harris is next door to the Isle of Lewis. Here are some photos from our excursion.
Thursday night after dinner, there was also live entertainment by Patrona, a three man band playing Celtic tunes. I would have loved to have attended. I heard there was singing and dancing. Unfortunately, I was left so depleted by the morning’s vomiting fest that Bill and I decided to turn in early. I was sad to do it, though. I love live music, particularly of the Celtic variety. It would have been fun to watch the dancing, too. Quite a few fellow passengers were octogenarians who were surprisingly spry.
Friday was a less intense day, sea wise. More on that in the next post.
On Tuesday, August 6th 2019, we arrived in Wick, Scotland for our very first port of call. Wick does not appear to be the most exciting place to the uninitiated. I noticed the waters around the port were brown and kind of sludgy looking. But we stopped there, not because it’s a beautiful town, but because the Old Pulteney distillery is there.
This cruise was called Westering Home and Whisky Galore. It focused mostly on whisky distilleries, but there were alternatives for those who didn’t want to try whisky. I had not heard of Old Pulteney before we visited the distillery. Truth be told, Bill is more of a whisky fan than I am. I’d rather drink beer and wine. And thanks to our Spirit of Scotland cruise in 2016, I know very well how whisky is made. Still, it’s interesting to visit the distilleries because each one seems to have slightly different methods to their madness.
Our visit to Old Pulteney’s distillery required a brief ride on the tender and a short walk. I was really happy to see that this year Hebridean Princess has new life jackets. On previous cruises, we were forced to wear these huge, uncomfortable monstrosities that were kind of suffocating. This year, they had devices that were much smaller and easier to wear. Basically, they were like little inflatable stoles rather than jackets. The only thing I didn’t like about them was the crotch strap, which was kind of awkward. However, it was much easier to get in and out of them and they’re way more comfortable.
The area where the distillery is in Wick appears to be solidly working class. I didn’t see a lot of industry there, save for a casino and bar and the distillery. There’s also a museum, which Bill visited on his own while I took a nap. Here are a few photos from the distillery tour. It didn’t amount to much, since August is part of the “silent season” for Old Pulteney. This is the time of year when the distillery takes a six week break for maintenance and staff vacations. This year, Old Pultaney’s silent season ends on August 19th.
In every distillery tour I’ve ever been on, we’ve heard about the “Angel’s Share”, which is the 2% of alcohol that evaporates per year. Near every distillery, a black fungus grows on trees and buildings. It’s due to the evaporating alcohol. Old Pulteney is no exception. Looking around the distillery, I could see the blackness from the whisky production. I have to admit, though, the whisky is good… and they were generous with their pours. A lot of the ladies on the cruise particularly enjoyed Stroma, a sweet whisky based liqueur made by Old Pulteney. One passenger liked it so much that one of the guides went back to the distillery to purchase a couple of bottles for the bar. They were quickly consumed before the cruise ended!
After the tour ended, Bill and I walked back to the ship. I took a moment to take a few photos of the area. Again… Wick isn’t necessarily a city I’d visit on my own, but I’m glad we got to visit the distillery. I missed the museum, but Bill said it was very interesting, as Wick played a very important role in Britain’s defense during World War II. In 1940, it came under fire after the defeat of the Netherlands and Denmark and the occupation of Norway by German forces. Supposedly, 222 high intensity explosives were dropped on Caithness during that period. On July 1, 1940, the most serious bombing occurred during daylight hours. Children were outside playing. Fifteen people were killed; eight were children. Bill said that while he was in the museum, there was a lady there who was actually present when the bomb fell.
I kind of wish I’d made the effort to visit Wick’s museum, but after lunch, I was really needing a nap. I also didn’t feel like riding the tender again. I probably needed to rest up for the first “gala”, in which the captain welcomes everyone. While guests are encouraged to “come as they are” to dinner on the first night of each Hebridean cruise, the second night is for dressing up in your glad rags. On previous cruises, Bill has worn his dress blues. This time, he wore the beautiful kilt he had custom made in Glasgow in 2017. Bill always looks prettier on the cruises than I do…
Although guests are encouraged to dress up for the gala, and most do just that, officially it’s just the crew that absolutely must dress up. I’ve seen some guests dress as if they’re going to church, though most people choose formal wear. One man wore jeans and made a hasty retreat to change into a suit when he saw all of the ladies in their finery. I myself chose my trusty black dress, crystal statement necklace and earrings, and a bright red cashmere and wool wrap.
I think the kilt came off very well, although Bill needs a few more lessons on sitting properly while wearing a skirt. I have to admit to missing seeing him in his dress blues, although I think the kilt was more comfortable for him. Maybe it’s time to get a pair of matching trousers.
Here are some photos of the food from the first gala… which did not involve any dancing, just lots of food and after dinner cocktails.
I mentioned before that Hebridean Island Cruises is an all inclusive experience, which means that virtually everything is included… including all the booze you want, excursions, Internet access, and entry fees. You don’t even have to present a credit card when you board, nor do they make you an ID card. Instead, you have a brass tag that you take with you when you’re off the ship. Slip it on the lanyard you’ll receive when you board. It’s refreshingly low tech.
It’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was still aboard Hebridean Princess enjoying the last precious moments of coddling that keeps Bill and me coming back to Scotland again and again. We just spent eight glorious nights aboard the tiny luxury ship. The cruise, which originated in Invergordon and ended in Oban, was fully booked. That means there were 47 other passengers sharing this experience with Bill and me. I like to think of the Princess as the anti-mega ship. I’ve got no use for huge floating cities so popular these days. Give me a little vessel with lots of good food, flowing champagne, superb service, beautiful scenery, and like-minded guests.
Bill and I decided to book our cruise in April of this year. Because Hebridean Princess is an all inclusive luxury experience with matching luxury prices, we usually plan much further in advance. Because we booked just four months out, I got us a “cheap” room on the Hebridean deck, in the “bowels” of the ship. Each stateroom on Hebridean Princess is named after a special place in Scotland. I knew what to expect, since we always book the “cheap” rooms. To date, we’ve stayed in all three of the double sized “cheap” rooms: Loch Torridon (three cruises), Loch Crinan (one cruise), and Loch Harport (one cruise). I’m hoping to upgrade us to a higher deck the next time we cruise, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the “cheap” rooms. They are very comfortable, even though they lack windows or portholes and require a steep climb up and down stairs. At age 47, I was still among the youngest of the passengers and, at least for now, my knees can take the abuse.
We began our trip on the second of August, flying from Frankfurt to Edinburgh. This was the first time I’ve ever managed to score direct flights to and from Scotland. Although Frankfurt is an incredibly obnoxious airport, living close to it does have its advantages. We could have flown to Inverness, but that would have required a layover. I had never been to Inverness before this trip, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that exciting. I also wanted a “do-over” of Edinburgh, which we last visited in 2012 after our first Hebridean experience– two back to back five night cruises in November, during which we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.
We loved Edinburgh when we visited for four nights in 2012, but our time there was shrouded in sadness. On our last night of the second cruise, we learned that our sweet dog, MacGregor, had collapsed at the dog hotel. Unbeknownst to us, he had a highly aggressive malignant tumor invading his spinal column. Before we left for Scotland, we had been led to believe that he’d had a much less serious condition. We’d had him on prednisone and he was being weaned off, when the tumor suddenly got worse.
The hotel staff took MacGregor to see his vet, who suspected he had a malignant tumor and had recommended euthanasia. We were thousands of miles away and there was nothing we could do but worry. However, the situation was not so dire that we needed to rush back to North Carolina, where we lived at the time. The vet loaded MacGregor up with painkillers and the dog hotel staff took excellent care of him. We finished our vacation, came home, and took MacGregor to North Carolina State University, where he eventually had a MRI that confirmed the vet’s diagnosis. We said goodbye to him on December 18, 2012.
Anyway, because our first visit to Edinburgh was marred by personal tragedy, we decided to go back this year. I’ll go more into detail in the next post, but let me just comment that next time, I’m going to check the calendar more closely before I decide on pre-cruise cities. Edinburgh was teeming with people who had come to to the annual Fringe Festival. It started on the day of our arrival and made the city even crazier than usual! I’m surprised we managed to get a hotel room! I’m glad we were able to experience the festival, but I think I prefer Edinburgh in November, when the city is not so crowded.
We took ScotRail to Inverness on August 4th and spent one night at the lovely Rocpool Reserve Hotel. In retrospect, I wish we’d come directly to Inverness. It’s a very charming city and I would have liked to have spent more time there. If we ever do another cruise out of Invergordon, we’ll suffer the layover required to get to Inverness. It deserves to be explored.
Our cruise began on August fifth and ended yesterday morning. As I finish this post, I realize that it’s still been less than 24 hours! How am I going to get used to life without my daily dose of champagne? Writing helps me prolong the joy. I hope you’ll join me as I digest our latest spectacular trip to Scotland!
Well, we finally did it. We booked another proper vacation, the first one we’ve had since September 2017, when we visited Scotland the last time and cruised to Northern Ireland. A lot has happened since that cruise occurred, although there have been a few things that are still the same. For instance, we now live in Wiesbaden instead of Unterjettingen… but lingering issues that actually occurred right around the last time we were on the Hebridean Princess conspire to keep us connected to our old stomping grounds near Stuttgart. That, and we kept our dentist down there.
Anyway, lately I’ve been feeling a bit crabby about life in general. I will be the first to admit that everything that troubles me is, for the most part, a first world problem. I still need a break sometimes. So does Bill. So in the past few days, we decided to book our vacation for 2019. We gave some thought to going on a French barge cruise, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages. But when we called about the specific one we were considering, we were told it was fully booked for when Bill had time off work.
I also want to go to Armenia… but Armenia in August is not the best idea, even though it looks like they are now embracing air conditioning. It’s really hot there in the summer. I’d rather go in late September or October.
So that led us to Hebridean Island Cruises again. Although I’ve had a mishap every time we’ve been on that ship, it still remains my favorite of the ships I’ve tried so far. It costs a mint to get onboard, but once you’ve paid, you’ve paid. On four previous cruises, we’ve never had a bill at the end of the voyage. And the voyage we booked is one that will take us to parts of Scotland we haven’t yet seen. It will start in Inverness, when the coach picks us up and takes us to Invergordon. Then, we’ll sail to Wick, through the Orkney Islands, and over the top of Scotland back to Oban eight nights later.
The cruise departs on August 5, 2019, so we had to pay for the whole thing yesterday. It was a bit of an oucher… but they gave us a good discount. We’ll be visiting eight distilleries. Hopefully, this time, I won’t get norovirus like I did at the end of our first Scottish whisky cruise in 2016 (which, by the way, I think I picked up at a tasting off the ship).
This may be our last Scottish cruise for awhile, because I am really wanting to see some other parts of Europe. We’ve been here for several years now, but the first time we lived in Germany, we made an effort to see more of the continent. This time, we’ve stayed pretty close to Germany, with trips to Italy, France, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands. I’d like to visit Spain, Scandinavia, and more parts of eastern Europe. I’ve been trying to do a real trip to Croatia for years.
Here’s a video about this awesome ship that started out as a car ferry in 1964, and for the past 30 years, has been the ultimate luxury experience. Queen Elizabeth II and her family have sailed twice!
Prayers that this time, nothing bad will happen… I will come home healthy. Bill will be healthy. The dogs will be healthy. And we won’t be too broke or inconvenienced!
Recently, SeaDream Yacht Club has been teasing its prior passengers with promises of “big news”. Even though our last SeaDream cruise was in May 2013, I still really like this cruise line and would love to sail them again… soon, if possible. Although I haven’t signed up for an upcoming cruise yet, I did sign up to get the big news. Just a little while ago, I got the email with the latest scoop.
Ever since its inception, SeaDream has had two ships– SeaDream I and SeaDream II. They are identical, except SeaDream I was built in 1984 and SeaDream II was built in 1985. They used to be called Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II. For years, there have been rumors swirling about a new vessel. In fact, in 2013, during our last cruise, the cruise director had dinner with Bill and me and told us about plans for a new ship. But then, that guy ended up quitting his job just a few weeks later.
Well, as of today, we know SeaDream will have a new vessel called Innovation which will allow SeaDream to add over 200 ports around the world, to include polar regions. The new ship will have three marinas, a seaplane, and its own helicopter. The staterooms will also all have balconies. At this point, they’re saying the ship will be ready by September 2021. I hope to do another SeaDream cruise before then, if time and finances allow.
Since Bill left the Army and has been establishing his new career as a contractor, the opportunity to take a SeaDream cruise has eluded us. We have been fortunate enough to take Hebridean cruises in Scotland and, in fact, I actually prefer Hebridean in some ways. However, SeaDream was our introduction to small ship cruising and they go to places Hebridean can’t. SeaDream has things Hebridean Princess doesn’t have, like a piano bar and a marina… and a pool and Thai spa. Plus, the clientele is a bit different, although not necessarily better or worse. I’ve met a few celebrities on SeaDream, while on Hebridean, it’s more likely to meet very wealthy British people.
So this is exciting news, although I highly doubt any voyages on the Innovation will be in our price range. SeaDream cruises are very expensive and they annoyingly add port taxes after the already high fare. I like the way Hebridean does things. You pay a huge fare, but it’s truly all inclusive. Once you pay, you don’t have to worry about anything else, except whatever you might buy in their tiny gift shop.
So far, we’ve done three SeaDream cruises. Our first, in April 2010, was San Juan, Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, USVI. It was just five nights and cheap, especially for SeaDream. I think I booked a guaranty fare for $1599 a person. The second was in November 2011, St. John, Antigua to Bridgetown, Barbados. And the third was in May 2013, Rome, Italy to Athens, Greece, with a passage through the Corinth Canal.
I had my eye on a voyage happening this summer, but Bill didn’t want me to book it. Now I realize I probably should have gone ahead and booked it. Especially now… because I really, REALLY need a real vacation.
I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Innovation’s fares. I might just laugh at them for awhile as I dream.
A few days ago, I was hanging out on Cruise Critic’s message forums when I decided to check the luxury cruising board. Bill and I don’t cruise a lot yet. To date, we’ve taken a grand total of seven cruises with one planned for September. Our first cruise was in June 2009. We took a four night Baltics cruise on Royal Caribbean. We liked that experience fine, but all the nickel and diming and crowded buffets made us decide that we’d prefer smaller ships that are all inclusive.
In April 2010, we booked our very first “luxury” cruise on SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I. Although it was a five night cruise that wasn’t that expensive relatively speaking, it was a bit of a stretch for us financially. But we took the cruise and really enjoyed it. With no more than 112 people on board, most of them adults, stellar food, all inclusive booze, and the chance to swim off the side of the boat, it seemed like a totally different animal than Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. It wasn’t hard for the sales guy to talk us into booking another cruise for the following year.
Bill and I were celebrating our 9th anniversary on SeaDream I back in November 2011.
In November 2011, we sailed on SeaDream I for the second time. It was time for our wedding anniversary and we journeyed to the southern Caribbean to commemorate our nine years of relative bliss. That trip was also very magical. I actually spent three hours in the spa and it was a bit too much. We were blown away again, though, and it was no problem convincing me to book again for a third cruise.
Meanwhile, in November 2012, we decided to try Hebridean Island Cruises, a small British line I discovered by reading an article on Cruise Critic. Like SeaDream’s two mega yachts I and II, Hebridean Princess is a small ship that carries fewer than 50 passengers. Like SeaDream, Hebridean cruises are all inclusive and expensive. Unlike SeaDream, when Hebridean says they are all inclusive, they really mean it. We did a back to back cruise with them and they took marvelous care of us. I realized in some ways, I liked Hebridean even more than SeaDream, even though Bill and I are a bit younger (and much more American) than the typical passenger.
Bill and I celebrating anniversary #10… after haggis and whisky.
In May 2013, we took our third and latest SeaDream cruise to Italy and Greece. Although the European cruise was probably my favorite of the three, I didn’t feel moved to pre-book another cruise. Consequently, we have not been back on SeaDream since May 2013.
A shot taken from SeaDream I in Amalfi.
We have been on Hebridean again, though, having sailed in March 2016. We will be sailing Hebridean again in September 2017… or, at least, I will be sailing. Bill is supposed to join me, but may have to work.
On our last cruise in March 2016.
It’s true that I haven’t been on any of the big, well-known luxury cruise lines yet. I have not tried Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal, or Regent. I haven’t even tried any of the so-called premium lines yet. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both SeaDream and Hebridean are luxury cruises. Both offer outstanding personalized service. Both lines focus on pampering their guests. I was perplexed when I saw Cruise Critic’s top ten list of luxury cruise ships and Hebridean was not mentioned, but SeaDream was. I posted a comment to that effect. I know Queen Elizabeth II is not known for being overly concerned with luxury, but she’s chartered Hebridean Princess twice.
Very soon, I found myself in a discussion with a couple of other posters. One lady, a Brit who knew about Hebridean, agreed with me that Hebridean is a luxury ship. Another poster, I’m guessing an American who had never heard of Hebridean, did not. She seemed much more concerned with the size of the stateroom and toiletries than anything else. And, you know, that’s fine… Because, as another poster eventually put it before also putting down Hebridean Princess as an “old ship”, luxury is personal. We all have our own ideas of what luxury means. It’s subjective.
Bill and I aren’t especially hard to please, particularly on cruise lines that are all inclusive. We like really good food, good booze, and personalized service. We have gotten that on both SeaDream and Hebridean, even though the ships aren’t the newest or the largest. Frankly, I like them both for being small and being able to go to locations that are off limits to larger vessels. I like the fact that there’s no pressure to tip. I don’t actually have a problem with tipping, as long as I know what the protocol is and what to expect, but I would prefer not to have to worry about it. I like it better when the crew members are paid well and do their jobs because they have pride in their work, not because they’re expecting me to supplement their income with a monetary gift. Feeling like I have to tip takes away from the guest experience for me and adds a level of stress. So we pay big fares on small luxury lines to take away that stressor and others, like having to sign chits.
The lady on Cruise Critic who was responding to me seemed to think my ideas of what luxury is are all wrong. It was as if it didn’t occur to her that people can have differences in opinion. She says she wouldn’t want to be on an all British ship, even though she is married to a Brit. Personally, I like sailing with Brits. I actually prefer them to some of the other groups of people I have encountered while cruising– and those people don’t necessarily come from a specific country but are more of a “type” of personality. I try not to judge a person by where they’re from; my focus is more on how they behave. Assholes come in all nationalities.
I would say my favorite group from a specific country so far are Norwegians, who are friendly and fun loving, from what I can tell. Some of the Brits I sailed with on SeaDream would beg to differ on that. They thought the Norwegians on our cruise were extremely annoying.
I was feeling kind of frustrated by the Cruise Critic forum when another commenter wrote this…
I really think all these discussions become repetitive and boring. Let’s just be grateful that there are cruise line out there which suit different people and we can choose what we like best. No need to tear down one line just because we prefer a different one.
I must admit, I like the way she thinks…
One drawback to cruising on small ships is that sometimes you run into people with whom you don’t mesh. That has certainly happened to Bill and me. Based on her comments on Cruise Critic, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the commenter who was so focused on her stateroom and where the fellow cruisers come from. So the fact that she doesn’t like sailing with Brits and thinks Hebridean is beneath her is fine with me. I’d just as soon not have to see her on my next cruise.
Anyway… I have a feeling our next cruise will be on a barge in France. That’s what I’m hoping for… And since there are even fewer people on those vessels than on SeaDream or Hebridean, I pray that we all get along and enjoy the luxury… and the fact that we are able to take a vacation at all on ANY ship. Many people are not that lucky.
And now I’m not so sure I’ll ever get on the ship again.
The fire happened at about 2:00am on September 1st in Italy, off the coast of Calabria in the southern part of the country. It was in the engine room. 105 passengers and 61 crew members were aboard and they weren’t evacuated until the afternoon of the 2nd, perhaps twelve hours after the fire was extinguished.
I’ve been on SeaDream I three times. The first time was in the Caribbean in April 2010 and it was my very first taste of luxury cruising. I fell in love hard and fast, even though I got pretty seasick. The second time was in the southern Caribbean in November 2011, in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary. That cruise was also magical, though maybe not quite as much so as the first had been. The third time was in Greece and Italy in 2013. I would say that was the best of the three SeaDream cruises we’ve done, but we were not moved to pre-book another one. With that, we lost momentum and haven’t yet been back, though I have been shopping for possibilities. I haven’t been on SeaDream II yet, but it’s pretty much an identical ship.
We took a Hebridean cruise this year because we live in Germany and it’s somewhat convenient to get to Scotland from here. They had a whisky themed cruise that I found easy to convince Bill to book. They also gave us discounts that amounted to 15% off the fare. We’re doing another Hebridean cruise next year, because it’s going to Northern Ireland, a place neither of us has ever been and, again, it was something we could afford. Hopefully, we will still be in Germany at the time it sails, just under a year from now.
In any case, SeaDream I’s fire has really messed things up for a number of people. Because SeaDream I is currently out of commission, there’s only one ship operating. A decision was made to replace one of SeaDream II’s upcoming cruises with an itinerary from SeaDream I’s. That means that people who were booked on SeaDream II are being bumped, mainly due to a large charter.
Now… while I totally understand why SeaDream made the decision it did– purely for business– I can’t help but think I’d be pretty devastated if I were planning to be on SeaDream II’s cruise and got bumped at the last minute. This situation is one reason why I ALWAYS get travel insurance when I book a cruise. It generally costs at least five figures to sail on SeaDream. A last minute change like this, even though it’s due to a fire, can really result in the loss of a lot of money. It’s also kind of heartbreaking. I always look forward to my cruises with SeaDream and I would be crushed by a sudden cancellation.
As for the hapless passengers who were on the ship when it caught fire, it sounds like they went through quite a scary ordeal. They were on the disabled ship for about twelve hours before they were removed. Given that it was an emergency situation, I doubt the prosecco was flowing… but who knows?
I will admit that another reason why I hesitate to book SeaDream again is that I’ve been overdosing on Below Deck, Bravo TV’s show about crews on luxury charter yachts. It’s kind of spoiled the mystique for me, because it’s very clear that what they do is all about getting a big tip. SeaDream has a loosely enforced no tipping policy, but Hebridean’s policy is very strict. They explain that tipping can lead to embarrassment, so it’s not allowed at all. I have no problem with tipping, as long as I know what to expect ahead of time and can be prepared. On SeaDream, it’s not expected or required, but people do it anyway– or they contribute to the “crew fund”. I prefer to just pay a lot ahead of time and not have to worry about it.
So… anyway, I think if we try a different cruise line, it may be time to give Seabourn a chance. Or maybe we’ll try Azamara, where apparently a lot of former SeaDream crew members have gone. I have a friend I met on a SeaDream cruise who has defected to Azamara. On the other hand, both of those options mean bigger crowds on the ship. But they also mean nicer staterooms and, perhaps, more to do than drinking and sunbathing! We also really want to try barge cruising or maybe even a river cruise, although river cruises might be a little too geriatric for us at this point.
We’ll see. There are so many great cruises to choose from, we really can’t go wrong…
Captured on SeaDream I… Amalfi coast of Italy.
And an enchanting shot off of Hebridean… leaving Tarbert Castle.