Hebridean Island Cruises

Tasting whisky at Ardnamurchan Distillery, hitting the wall at Tobermory, and wanting to hit a guide…

Monday morning, we visited Ardnamurch Distillery, Scotland’s westernmost distiller located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so like many of the others on this cruise, it’s very new. I have to admit that by the time we reached this distillery, I was a bit whiskyed out. I didn’t even drink a lot of it on the ship. However, I am glad I visited this distillery if only because it’s located in such a beautiful place. We took the tenders to a floating pier, where we were met by a man with a thick Scottish brogue who came up from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Can’t say I blame him.

Here are some pictures from Ardnamurch Distillery, whose parent company is Adelphi Distillery. I found it very interesting when the guide told us the casks from Jack Daniels in Tennessee were “rubbish”. This distillery gets them from Woodford Reserve instead. I noticed Jack Daniels casks at other distilleries. He told us that the focus was on perfection, since they are not able to produce as much whisky as the really big distillers.

After our tour, we went back to the ship for lunch, then sailed to Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Lunch on Sunday was the cold ham buffet, which also has always happened on every Hebridean cruise I’ve ever taken. It’s basically a buffet with the beautifully carved ham, oysters, smoked salmon, and lots of fresh vegetables.

I confess, although Tobermory looked like a very charming town and the Tobermory Distillery was very close to the ship, it was raining horizontally and I didn’t feel like going out in it. Bill visited Tobermory Distillery, which turned out to be just a tasting… the man doing the tasting was a former police officer turned whisky hawker. He was also a singer-songwriter and he performed a few songs. Dammit… I missed another musical experience. Oh well. I came home inspired to make my own music!

It was just as well that I missed the tasting, since I caught rainbows. I’d been waiting for them all week. Scotland and Ireland have never not delivered on rainbows. Here are a few photos.

Monday night was also the evening of our farewell gala. This is where, unfortunately, things went a little south. I apologize to anyone reading this and thinking I shouldn’t mention it. I like to be truthful as much as possible and, I have to admit, we were let down in a big way on the last night. We had a wonderful dinner after the last champagne reception. I wore a somewhat less matronly purple velvet dress… I know, weird in August, but it was chilly and beat the alternative. Bill wore his kilt again. Right before dinner, a passenger commented on Bill’s tendency to sit with his legs slightly apart. He’s a guy, after all, and doesn’t often wear skirts. But, bucking the tradition of not wearing underwear under the kilt, he did wear thigh length underwear. It was kind of embarrassing that someone commented on the way he was sitting, but he shrugged it off. Practice makes perfect.

We had our haggis, neeps, and tatties. I had turbot filet and Bill had lamb. After we ate, we visited the galley and thanked the kitchen staff. Some readers might remember that I didn’t visit them in 2017 because in 2016, I was a bit traumatized by a fellow passenger who barged in as I was talking to the staff. I had suddenly felt really intrusive, even though I knew I wasn’t being intrusive. I just happen to be very sensitive to certain things and I noticed annoyance on the faces of some of the staff, though it probably wasn’t necessarily because of me. In fact, one kitchen staffer in 2016 remembered me from 2012.

Anyway, this time, we did go in and thank the staff and the same dude who remembered me in 2016 said it was nice to see me aboard again. That really delighted me, so I was in a great mood when we went to the Tiree lounge. We were at the bar enjoying our last evening on the ship. Bill and I were in fine spirits. At that point, one of the guides came up to Bill and started talking about his kilt. I didn’t immediately notice it at the time, but the guide seemed like he might have been a wee bit drunk. Or, at least that’s how he appeared to me. It’s the only way I can explain his behavior.

He leaned over and whispered to Bill about his tendency to sit with his legs apart. That was embarrassing enough, but would have been easy to shrug off. But then the guide seemed more emboldened, and suddenly went off on a strange tirade about how he didn’t want to see anyone’s “knickers” or “balls”. He wasn’t whispering, and I could tell that Bill was humiliated by his comments, especially since he’d already gotten the point and Bill was wearing knit boxers that reached to his mid thighs. I can assure everyone that no one saw anything private. Bill is a sensitive man, and he’s easily embarrassed, yet much too polite to tell anyone who deserves it to go take a flying leap. Besides, the guide’s very nice wife was sitting nearby and Bill would never swear in front of a lady. I’m no lady; I’m his wife, so he does swear in front of me.

I told the guide that he was doing his best to ensure that Bill never wore his kilt again, which would be a real shame. I worked hard to get him in that kilt, and he looks gorgeous in it. Or, at least I think so… and my opinion is the only one, besides Bill’s, that really matters. In retrospect, maybe I should have snarled at the guy… but then, too many people already seem to think I’m a bitch when I stand up for myself.

Bill was visibly upset when the guide finally went away. I was also a bit pissed… both in terms of annoyance and drunkenness, since my bartender friend Louis had kept me in Armagnac and Calvados. I was trying to talk Bill down, reminding him that the guy had seemed pretty intoxicated to me (which he may not have been). I have a feeling one of the staffers heard me and clued in the excellent purser, who did ask Bill if he was alright the next morning. There wasn’t time to really address the issue. I’m wondering if maybe they should get one of my trademark letters… but maybe it’s best to just let the incident go.

We did end the night on a good note, though. The Danish guy came to the bar and we had a nice chat. At the Danish guy’s suggestion, I ended up singing to Bill, which may not have been as beautiful as it could have been, since I’d been drinking. He does love it when I sing to him, though.

Last post is up next.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Off the ship and on to Frankfurt…

We woke up bright and early on Tuesday, the day of disembarkation. Bill and I did most of our packing the day before. We also filled out the survey and turned it in before the previous night’s embarrassing incident. I wish I had waited, because the second disappointment came that morning. We had our final breakfast. I went with porridge without a whisky dram, a side of streaky bacon, and some fried bread. I should have skipped the bread, given the long coach ride from Oban.

As we cruised toward the charming town where we’d be ending our cruise, Bill and I spoke to one of the more reticent passengers, a guy who had revealed to me earlier in the cruise that he and his wife live in Oban. When they got off the ship, it was an easy trip for them to go home. I liked his wife, who looked a lot like my friend, Melody, especially in the face. The guy, who told me he was 80 but looked about twenty years younger, said it was his first and last Hebridean cruise, due to the expense. Then he told us how he’d made his living. It had been his job to maintain Scotland’s many lighthouses. Talk about an unusual and interesting career! And he looked so fit. I never would have guessed he was 80. He was also the guy who showed up in jeans to the first gala. While some people appeared to be a little appalled by it, frankly, I thought it was kind of bad ass. He looked great in his jeans, and I was sorry when he changed.

So anyway, I got a few last photos, although we’ve seen Oban a few times. It’s the place where the bulk of Hebridean cruises embark and disembark. Then, when we were called off the ship, I didn’t see our luggage. It seems our young and apparently rather inexperienced cabin steward wasn’t clued in on the fact that he was supposed to bring our bags out of the ship. Remember, we had FIVE of them, and they were heavy. We had to get them up a long flight of stairs. Bill went down to the stateroom to see if we’d left anything, and there our bags were. The cabin steward was in the room, reading something. He claimed he “didn’t know” what we wanted him to do with them. On every other cruise we’ve taken with Hebridean, our bags have been taken out for us and left near the coach.

The day prior, this same guy, who had been very nice, but seemed immature and inexperienced, had specifically requested that I give him nice comments on the final survey, since he was on probation and the staff was “watching him closely”. It didn’t occur to me to say it at the time, but it seems to me that asking for positive comments is kind of counterproductive. Those who do a noticeably good job are going to be recognized and rightfully praised. I can think of at least ten crew members who will never need to ask me for praise. I will give it to them freely, because they are so good at their jobs.

I mostly thought our steward did a good job. When I asked him for an extra blanket, he offered to give us a duvet, which turned out to be a much better choice for us and made the bed more comfortable. However, he was a bit slow in getting the room clean. More than once, I came down at lunch to find it still wasn’t quite done. On previous cruises, the room was always made up much sooner than that. One time, he left us without toilet paper. A couple of times, I found my nightgown cutely laid out on my pillow, which seemed a little weird. He had so neatly arranged my toiletries, yet didn’t know to get the bags off the ship on the last day. Still, I try to be fairly easy going about most things when it comes to service. I’ve done that work and I have empathy for people who do it now.

We spent well over $12,000 on this cruise and it was mostly worth it, despite the seasickness. We really did have a great time. But between the dressing down Bill got the night before and the steward’s lack of a clue, I was left a little deflated as we left the Hebridean Princess. Bill actually hauled three of our bags off the ship himself, which he definitely should not have felt like he had to do. However, when we boarded the coach to Glasgow, Captain David Kirkwood was there to say goodbye and he was very sincere as he thanked us for sailing… and even kissed me European style (on both cheeks). So, although I wasn’t happy about a couple of lapses in decorum at the end of the cruise, I would still happily cruise with Hebridean again (if they’ll still let me back on the ship 😉 ).

The ride between Glasgow and Oban takes about two and a half hours, so we had a quick break in Inverary. I was grateful for that, since the fried bread was making me feel kind of queasy. I was able to get ahold of my bottle of Tums, which saved the rest of the ride for me. Fried food and coach rides don’t mix for me.

Glasgow Airport is another thing altogether. It gets a lot of traffic that it can’t seem to handle. Our flight wasn’t until 4:15, but we had arrived at about noon. We had to hang onto the luggage or pay to stow it until 2:15. We paid to stow it, then had lunch in one of the airport’s rather crappy restaurants. As we were leaving, we ran into one of the new stewardesses, Sonia, who is from Portugal and on her way home for two weeks. I think she will do fine on the Princess. She’s very smart, sweet, hard working and service oriented. I enjoyed getting to know her, although I didn’t initially recognize her without her uniform.

As we were leaving the bar, I noticed a group of ladies with Hebridean luggage tags on their bags. They no doubt noticed mine and probably wondered if we were coming or going. We were going, since it was time to check our bags. Glasgow doesn’t have a lounge for Lufthansa, so we used their “Upper Deck” lounge, which business class passengers can access for free. Bad pop played very loudly put me in a mood, although it was worse in the terminal itself. Luckily, our flight was on time and we had a seamless flight back to Germany. I even got a few cool photos of another Lufthansa plane flying next to us.

Once we got to Frankfurt, it was back through passport control, where Bill got the third degree about our status here. Then we collected our bags and, thank God, a luggage cart. Frankfurt is a huge airport and you have to walk your ass off to get anywhere. Doing it with five bags is a nightmare. Then, we had to get to another level to access the parking garage and half of the elevators seemed to be broken. But we did find a couple of them that functioned, managed to find our Volvo, and now we’re home, chilling…

I’ve already hung up our new art, welcomed our dogs home, and done some housework. The laundry is done and my blog is now complete. I’ll probably write one more post to summarize our trip… strictly for those who don’t want to wade through the whole series. I left out some things, like the lovely Scottish gentleman who was a British Army public health officer and musician, and had lived in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for twenty years. And the two British/American couples we met, who were charming in their own ways. And the beautiful lady who was always dressed to the nines, no matter what… and the pistol of an 88 year old who managed to keep up with everyone and everything, and told us of her plans to visit the Chilean Fjords soon.

Despite my minor grumbles, we had a very good time. And yes, Bill will continue to wear his kilt. If I have to wear a seatbelt, he has to wear his kilt sometimes… and the idiots who either can’t avert their eyes to avoid being offended by his shorts length knit boxer shorts or are rude enough to comment on it can simply go jump in a lake. I do love Scotland. I love Bill. And anyone who shames him for looking gorgeous in his kilt can answer to me.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Whisky at Torabhaig Distillery… then church and dolphins!

Sunday morning found us in lovely Armadale on the Isle of Skye. This was a very attractive area, not quite as remote as some of the previous stops we made on this cruise. Because Isle of Skye is a bit more populated, Princess guests had a couple of options on shore. We were offered a chance to visit the brand new Torabhaig Distillery or Armadale Castle. Or, as always, we could take walks. Naturally, Bill and I opted to visit Torabhaig Distillery. This distillery, like the two before it, is new. Investors bought a beautiful old farmstead called Torabhaig and spent four years restoring it to its present glory.

I think this distillery might have been my favorite. The architecture of the building is so beautiful. Also, I enjoyed hearing the story of how this new distillery came to fruition. Torabhaig is the second licensed distillery on the Isle of Skye. Owned by Mossburn Distillers, which previously had no official distillery of its own and had to use other facilities to make its whiskys, Torabhaig is not quite ready to roll out its own label yet. But visitors can try Mossburn whiskys, which are available in a variety of types.

Our tour guide, Hans, was a very charming Dutch man who speaks French, German, English, and, of course, Dutch. He presided over our tour like a college professor might. Of all of the tour guides, he was my favorite because he was genuinely interested in the product. I wore my new blue Isle of Raasay Distillery sweatshirt to the distillery, mainly because it was cold and rainy. I also wore my Isle of Aran sweater, which I hung up on a coathook because it was warm in the distillery.

After we walked through the distillery and learned its story, we sat down to taste a couple of drams of Mossburn’s whiskys. We had a Speyside and an Islay whisky. They came from different parts of Scotland because they were no doubt made at different distilleries. Now that Torbhaig exists, Mossburn can be made on its own site. The Danish guy, once again, was amused by my expression when I tasted the Speyside whisky. It kind of blew my brains out.

In fact, I was so distracted by the whisky and the new Harris Tweed purse and keyring I bought in the gift shop, I forgot to retrieve my sweater. We got all the way back to the pier before I remembered it. Fortunately, the minivan driver was a kindly sort of man and he willingly drove me back to get my sweater. His name was Kenny, and he was really nice to talk to. We ended up talking about Mormonism, of all things. I was explaining that Bill was a teetotaler when I met him, because he and his ex wife had converted to the LDS church. But when we started dating, Bill was happy to lose the Mormon church.

Kenny told me he had a friend who had been recruited into the church via the “baseball baptism” program the church used to run in the 70s. The church formed baseball teams and, oftentimes, people on the teams would wind up joining the church. Sadly, Kenny told me that his friend, the LDS convert, ended up committing suicide. I’m not sure the church had anything to do with the man’s suicide… but it sounds like it wasn’t much of a help, either. I ran into the distillery and got my sweater. On the way back to the pier, we commiserated about the strange state of U.S. and British politics these days.

Here are some photos of our trip to Torbhaig Distillery. It’s well worth a visit!

My ever faithful husband was waiting at the pier for me to return. He really looks after me, which is kind of a strange thing. I grew up with “underprotective” parents who pretty much let me do whatever I wanted and didn’t dote on me at all. Bill is, by contrast, living up to the meaning of his name, which is “determined protector”. That, he is.

After our distillery tour, it was time for the weekly church service offered by Hebridean Princess. Bill and I usually skip them because we’re not particularly religious as much as we are spiritual. However, this time we decided to attend, because one of the guests was a British Navy Chaplain and he struck up several conversations with Bill, whom he immediately recognized as a fellow Brother in Arms.

The chaplain also had his twin brother with him. They were clearly fraternal twins, though you could easily see a resemblance. The chaplain’s brother was decidedly un-military, but a nice enough fellow, just the same. The service only lasted about ten minutes, but it was pleasant and kind of interesting. I gave thought to taking communion afterwards, but decided not to when I saw that everyone was drinking out of the same cup. I might have been braver had I not gotten sick with norovirus after our first whisky cruise in 2016. That’s an experience I never want to repeat!

After lunch, guests were allowed to go for walks on the beach and/or visit the Old Forge, which is said to be Scotland’s most remote pub. I had every intention of at least visiting the pub, but it was raining and, you guessed it, a nap was calling. I started reading my latest trashy celebrity tell all and, before I knew it, was fast asleep. I don’t usually sleep this much on Hebridean Cruises, but it was rather wet and rainy and that kind of weather does make me want to hibernate. Bill did visit the pub. He said it wasn’t really “special” in terms of anything more than being in a remote area. It sounded like missing it wasn’t such a bad thing. If it had been sunny, I would have been up for a walk there.

All week, we looked for dolphins, puffins, orcas, and other wildlife. I did manage to catch a glimpse of several orcas playing in the mist early in the cruise. I didn’t have a camera ready at the time. Even if I had, it was foggy and I was sitting by a window that wasn’t very conducive to picture taking. However, on Sunday night, I got lucky. I was sitting near the front windows of the Princess when two dolphins suddenly started leaping right next to the ship. I had my iPad ready and managed to score these pictures!

It was a little sad to realize, Sunday night, that Monday would be our last full day on the Princess. On one hand, I was a bit ready to come home, do laundry, and see my dogs again. As much as I need breaks from the beagles, I do miss them after a couple of days. A week is almost torturous, especially as they get older and I read tragic stories about people who lose their dogs unexpectedly, such as those whose dogs were exposed to blue-green algae and died hours later. On the other hand, this time, our cruise was full of a great group of folks and a mostly fantastic staff. I mean, Hebridean’s staff is almost always perfect anyway, but some people mesh better with me than others do. We really had a good time on our trip.

Read about the last full day onboard in the next post.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The Raasay Distillery… and my new sweatshirt!

Saturday morning, we arrived in the misty port on the Isle of Raasay. We took a tour of yet another distillery… another brand new one designed to bring business to one of Scotland’s beautiful, remote islands. The Isle of Raasay Distillery doesn’t have a whisky ready yet, but is selling gin and Raasay While We Wait, a single malt made of two expressions from one distillery. One is peated, and the other is unpeated.

We reached the distillery by foot, as it was just up the hill from the rugged pier where the ship docked. The weather was chilly and kind of wet. When we entered the very attractive foyer of the welcome center, my eyes immediately landed on a big blue sweatshirt. Remembering that I had made more room for warm weather clothes than cold, I decided to buy it after our tour.

We did get a proper tour, by the way. A young man named Alistair showed our group the distillery’s one warehouse. Two more will soon be built, and all of the liquor will eventually be moved to make room for a bottling facility. Like the Isle of Harris Distillers, the Isle of Raasay Distillery hopes to create local jobs for young people to keep the island’s economy alive. The Isle of Raasay Distillery, which is also a boutique hotel with reportedly gorgeous rooms, is mostly run by family. But they did seem open to getting some new blood into the tight-knit community. I have to admit, they made the Isle of Raasay sound like a lovely place to live. If I were about twenty years younger, I’d give some thought into moving there and finding a job.

We also saw the very modern Italian machinery that fuels the distillery’s efforts, and we got to taste a couple of the whiskys and the gin. I found While We Wait to be very strong. In fact, I made the lone Danish guy on our cruise laugh because of my surprised expression. He later told me that I shouldn’t play poker. Good thing I’m not a gambler.

I did like the gin a lot, and later that afternoon, I had Louis make me a gin and tonic with Isle of Raasay gin. Those who finished the tour in time were invited to visit Raasay House, a hotel where I’m sure refreshments and a tour were available. Bill and I skipped the house and went back to the ship. It was ridiculously chilly. I know it’s Scotland and Scotland is way up in the north, but I’m a southerner and being chilly in August is still kind of weird. Supposedly, on a clear day, Isle of Raasay Distillery has the best view on the island. I can believe it.

At about 1:00pm, we left Raasay and cruised under the Skye Bridge, through Kyle Rhea, and the Sound of Sleat. Once again, I found myself wanting to read a book and nap. Bill went to listen to Jim Allan’s talk “Wind, Water and Wood”.

Next up, the Isle of Skye

Hebridean Island Cruises

Harris Gin, Harris Tweed, and the promise of a new economy…

Although I had mostly recovered from Thursday morning’s seasickness, I woke up Friday with terrible back pain again. I’m not exactly sure what causes this pain, which strikes occasionally and makes standing in one place torture. I just know it hurts. It helps when Bill steps on my back, but as we were in a tiny cabin, it wasn’t really possible for him to do that. Consequently, I started the morning with ibuprofen before breakfast. It helped somewhat before we visited Harris Distillery, a new player in Scotland’s whisky market. Harris Distillery currently sells gin, and we first tried it during our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016. At that time, we were told that they were making whisky, but it would not be ready for three years. In Scotland, whisky must be aged for at least three years before it can legally be called whisky. Harris Distillery’s earliest whisky is now barely old enough to be marketed as whisky and they are focusing on quality. So, for now, there’s still just gin. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to have breakfast.

Incidentally, our steward, Sergej, from Latvia, was outstanding. He joined our cruise a couple of days in. Prior to his arrival, his Latvian colleague, Piotjr took care of us. I had seen Piotjr before. He’s hard to miss, because he’s probably about 6’5″ and he’s a total pro at what he does. Actually, almost everyone on the ship is a total pro… with only a couple of exceptions, which I’ll get to later. For now, I want to focus on the positive as much as possible.

Sergej and Piotjr quickly learned our likes and dislikes. For instance, I don’t remember ever specifically telling Sergej how much I hate mushrooms, but somehow he knew. He also knew I prefer sparkling water and, at breakfast, I drink hot tea instead of coffee. Actually, I rarely drink hot tea off the ship, unless I’m in the United Kingdom. I really only drink tea on the ship because they use French presses and sometimes grounds escape into the cup. I have a very sensitive gag reflex and coffee grounds accidentally swallowed have a habit of making me vomit. Since I’m already drinking booze on occasionally rough seas, I figure it’s better to avoid coffee grounds. Also, the Brits just do an excellent job with their teas. I can have good coffee anywhere, but it’s a treat to have tea in Britain.

We docked in Tarbert, very close to Harris Distillery and Harris Tweed, which allowed us to walk to our destinations. Harris Distillery had a very inviting interior, with a fireplace as its centerpiece. The fireplace is an unusual sight at a distillery, since alcohol is so highly flammable. But the founder of the distillery wanted it that way… just as he wanted to create jobs for people on the Isle of Harris. This was not the only new distillery we encountered during our tour. It seems a lot of people want to bring more business to Scotland’s majestic islands so more young people might stay and keep the population going.

Our guide, Kate, was a trained chef who, I think, came from South Africa. She liked the Isle of Harris and stayed, where she pitches Harris Gin. When the whisky is available, I suspect she’ll pitch that, too. I thought her presentation was very professional. After a few distillery tours, you start to compare guides. Kate was one of the best, if only because I could easily hear and understand her. She was confident, friendly, and competent. She sold us a bottle of gin, along with sea kelp botanicals, hand soap, balm, and hand cream.

Harris Gin has limited availability at this time. I can get it in Germany, but I have to order it from one of the few distributors in Germany. It’s not something one can find in just any liquor store at this point. Kate was quick to tell us that Queen Elizabeth II regularly orders Harris Gin for her private collection. She likes her gin and tonics.

Really, though Harris will eventually have its own whisky, this was a gin tasting… Here are some photos.

My back was really hurting during our Harris Distillery tour, so I decided to walk back to the ship. Bill attended the Harris Tweed weaving demonstration, and did a little shopping. He picked up some Harris Tweed cufflinks and little booties for his new granddaughter, Clara, who was born July 4th.

For lunch, we opted for sandwiches, which are offered every day for those who don’t want three courses.

As we left Tarbert, the seas got a bit rough again. I was glad to have food in my stomach this time, as I took more seasickness pills. We cruised the Minch, but I was napping the whole time. Bill opted to listen to whisky expert Jim Allan give his talk called “Islay– Queen of the Hebrides”. Bill said it was a very good talk, even as he fought off drowsiness from the meds.

Jim Allan was a last minute addition to the cruise. We were supposed to have Charles MacLean aboard. He was on our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016 and is considered one of the world’s foremost whisky experts. To be honest, though, I wasn’t all that impressed with Charles MacLean. I found him pompous and snooty. I wasn’t at all sad that he wasn’t on our cruise this time, even though I know at least one other passenger who had also been on our first whisky cruise was sad that Mr. MacLean hadn’t joined us.

I didn’t actually attend any of Mr. Allan’s talks, since they were given in the afternoons instead of during cocktail time as MacLean’s talks were. The fact that Allan gave his talks during the afternoon immediately made me like him a lot more. That, and he and his wife just seemed like much nicer and more approachable people. They were down to earth and relatable, rather than cliquish. I managed to get some pretty photos during our cruise through the Minch.

After dinner, we hung out in the Tiree Lounge, where I got rather friendly with the bartenders, John and Louis. They had very different styles, but both were equally charming. John hails from Glasgow and has a thick Glaswegian accent. He has sort of a cuddly quality to him, like a big teddy bear. He’s very friendly and kind and I really enjoyed getting to know him.

Louis is also friendly, but has his own unique charm. He’s originally from southwestern France, but was raised in Scotland. If I hadn’t noticed his lapel pin that had the French and Scottish flags on it, I wouldn’t have known. He has a Scottish accent, but is yet very, very French. Like the rest of the staff, he quickly learned my likes and dislikes and he surprised me by knowing my name almost immediately after we boarded. I must admit, it was a thrill having a dashing young Frenchman with a Scottish brogue bringing me my favorite champagne on demand. He also introduced me to the wonders of Janneau Armagnac. Just what I need! Another brandy to add to my favorites!

If you like to try different alcohols, Hebridean Island Cruises is a great place for taste testing. I sampled several different gins, as well as brandy and Calvados. I’ve had Calvados before, but Louis kind of reacquainted me with it.

Next up, Isle of Raasay.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Highland Park Distillery and Scapa Distillery…

On Wednesday, August 7th, we landed in Kirkwall, Orkney, with visits planned for two distilleries. Alternatively, guests could choose to visit the Italian Chapel and the Churchill Barriers. I would have liked to have seen the Italian Chapel, which was a Catholic church built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. However, since we booked the cruise for whisky and Bill wanted to visit Scapa Distillery, I opted to go with him. Besides the fact that there was whisky being offered, the visit to the distillery also involved a shorter bus ride, which I preferred. I don’t really like riding in coaches, even when they are attached to luxury cruise ships.

Highland Park Distillery was first on the itinerary. Those who didn’t want to go to the distillery could explore Kirkwall independently. Kirkwall appeared to be a pretty cool little town. It even has a Wireless Museum, which didn’t interest me, but intrigued at least one person on the ship. Actually, reading up on it today, I think I might have found it interesting if we’d stopped in.

Highland Park Distillery has an interesting history that dates back over 200 years. We had two guides, Harry and William– no relation to the princes– who gave us the scoop on how the distillery came to be, back when Orkney was still part of Norway. Naturally, the tour included a few drams of Highland Park’s whiskys, as well as souvenir glasses. They have a nice shop, where I picked up a t-shirt and a book about whisky. They packed my goodies in a cotton bag, which was a nice touch. It will make a handy shopping tote. Here are some photos from our tour. Silversea was also in port, as was Oceania, and we ran into Silversea cruisers on our way back to the bus. Silversea is also a luxury cruise line, but has much bigger ships. Like Old Pulteney, Highland Park was also having its “silent season”, which means no whisky was produced during our visit.

After we visited Highland Park, we visited St. Magnus Cathedral, which is a magnificent church in the center of town. It was founded in 1137 and is considered a fine example of Romanesque architecture. Today, it’s part of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and is, therefore, technically no longer a cathedral.

We went back to the ship for lunch, had a brief rest, then made our way to Scapa Distillery. This was the first place we got a look at actual equipment used to make whisky. That wasn’t a huge deal to me, since I’ve seen a lot of it before, and truth be told, I’m less interested in the whisky making process than the end result. Still, Scapa Distillery has an interesting history. For eleven years, it was owned by Highland Park and was effectively shuttered. It’s now owned by Chivas Regal. Our guide, Ilona, did a good job teaching us all about how Scapa is made… and where it got its name. Believe it or not, the name Scapa originates from Cockney folks, who had come to Orkney for military service.

We left Kirkwall at 5:30pm. Little did I know, the next morning would be hellish… More on that in the next post.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Cape Wrath lives up to its name…

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 off 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.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Old Pulteney whisky in Wick and the first “gala”.

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.

Next post.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Welcome home… Hebridean Princess sure feels like it!

Awesome purser David Indge came on the bus to welcome us all to Hebridean Princess. It was raining, and we were informed that some of us had to have a bag randomly searched. Naturally, Bill and I were selected. It appeared that anyone not from the U.K. was required to go into a little guardhouse and have a bag searched. Two adorable little Scottish ladies dealt with me. I had to open one of my bags for them and answer security questions. They were very sweet and apologetic, which I have to say was a nice change of pace after the Frankfurt Airport.

“Dirty underwear.” I helpfully explained when one of them looked in a side pocket. She laughed; they wanded me and I came up clean, so they sent me on my way.

Every Hebridean Princess cruise begins with being piped on board by a real live Scottish piper. Years ago, Hebridean owned another ship called Spirit, which sailed all over the place. We spoke to one couple that took several cruises on Hebridean Spirit and they said they were piped on even when they boarded the ship in Oman! Sadly, Hebridean was forced to sell Spirit and all the wild adventures that could be had on her in lands beyond Scotland, Norway, Ireland and northern France. I’m sorry we missed out on that.

I never manage to get great photos of the piper.

As we walked on the ship, someone told me that they’d show me where my room was. I laughed and said, “Unless you upgraded us, I know exactly where to go!”

She laughed, too, and assured me no changes had been made. Back to the bowels of the ship we went. But if you have to be in the bowels of anywhere, Hebridean Princess is not a bad place to be! We were escorted to Loch Torridon and our bags were brought aboard for us. Then we went to the Tiree Lounge, the living room of the ship. I spend a lot of time there, since it’s where the bar is. I was handed a glass of my favorite champagne, Taittinger, which Hebridean started pouring last year, according to Egita, my favorite Food and Beverage Supervisor. On our last cruise, she handled pouring wines, but she got promoted. It was a well-deserved promotion, too.

Wioletta was there, too, and she remembered me and gave me a big hug. So did Egita. In fact, I was amazed by just how many people remembered us from last time. One gentleman in the kitchen even remembered me from our 2012 cruises. I don’t think he was faking it, either, since he told me he remembered me in 2016, too. It’s my laugh, I tell you!