The UK domestic cruise market is booming and no wonder as the British Isles have manifest attractions. Consider the sheer diversity: Scotland alone boasts over 10 per cent of Europe’s coastline and over 800 islands.
The rugged littoral is awash with wildlife, from bountiful bird species through to marine mammals, such as dolphins and killer whales. Add on land attractions, from castles to stone circles, to the mix and it’s a compelling cruise cocktail.
Domestic cruising is also seeking to satisfy increasing discerning passengers. There are new ships, such as Majestic Line’s fourth ship (it only had two as recently as 2016), which joins the fleet in 2019, existing vessels and itineraries have been given revamps and on board extras such as wildlife guides have also been added. The rise of the small cruise ship has also been striking as guests are drawn to a more intimate experience.
Rule Britannia (Hebridean Princess, Hebridean Island Cruises)
The Hebridean Princess stepped in ably for Britannia when chartered by the Queen. Mere mortals can enjoy her exclusive luxury too on cruises with a maximum of 50 passengers. Her winter refit has concluded a three year programme of cabin upgrades. Interior design by John Dick and Sons of Glasgow is just the right side of tartan twee.
The Columba Restaurant’s makeover brings new seating and the cruise itinerary has been revamped with a maiden call at the Isle of Carna in 2019 and a welcome return to Orkney and Shetland. Book ahead for the popular journeys to ultra remote St Kilda. There are forays beyond Scotland to Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man too.
The seven night Secrets of St Kilda sails from Oban. From £5,020pp, departs June 25, 2019 (01756 704704; hebridean.co.uk).
Keep it in the family (Splendour, Argyll Cruising)
Ships don’t come with a more genuine family feel than Argyll Cruising, who launched in 2015. Ex-Majestic Line skipper Iain Duncan is the old sea dog at the helm of the wee Splendour, with son Jamie Duncan managing ashore. There are three crew to look after a maximum of eight passengers. All cabins have just been refurbished over winter and handily there are no single supplements.
You’re always welcome to join Iain on the bridge spotting sea eagles and minke whales. A new adventure for 2020 focuses on the waters around the Isle of Mull. Mull is also renowned today as a foodie isle, with legendary Scottish cruise veteran chef ‘Irish’ Mike ensuring plenty of fresh local produce.
Highlights include white sand beaches, the pilgrimage isle of Iona and the famous basalt columns of Fingal’s Cave that inspired Mendelssohn to pen his overture.
The six night Magnificent Island of Mull sails from Oban. From £1,930pp, departs August 1, 2020 (07917 858545; argyllcruising.com).
Wildlife wonders (Seahorse II, St Hilda Sea Adventures)
St Hilda Sea Adventure’s new Seahorse II is celebrating its first full season in 2019 with two new double or twin ensuites and a new dining area. The operator is also bringing guest photography tutors and wildlife guides aboard for selected cruises at no extra cost.
A guide really opens up Skye – the popular tourist ‘Isle of Mist’ can be hard to penetrate otherwise. Also new for 2019 is a Skye cruise that visits the little explored Shiants and remote Summer Isles, with a photographer on board.
The 10-night Skye, Shiant and the Summer Isles sails from Oban. From £1,399pp, departs August 17, 2019 (07745550988; sthildaseaadventures.co.uk).
All change (Le Champlain, Tauck)
American operator, Tauck, sold out most non-suite accommodation quickly for their all-inclusive inaugural “Legendary Scottish Isles” cruise in May 2019, with bookings already solid for 2020. Passengers spend seven nights aboard the brand new Le Champlain (who only made her maiden voyage in October 2018) with her 92 staterooms and suites, with hotel stays in Scotland, too.
Stops en route include Orkney and Shetland, Skye and the third largest island in the British Isles, Lewis.
The 11-night Legendary Scottish Isles cruise sails from Dover. From £5,290pp, departs May 8, 2020 (0808 2748279; tauck.co.uk).
Beyond Bonnie Dundee (Magellan, Cruise and Maritime Voyages)
Essex based British Isles specialist Cruise and Maritime Voyages has just announced a new cruise with DC Thomson Travel, adding to its impressive range of regional departures from Poole, Bristol, Portsmouth, Hull, Liverpool and London Tilbury.
The 1,250 passenger Magellan explores the Scottish isles of Skye and Mull, plus the Shetland and Orkney archipelagos, after four days cruising the Norwegian fjords on their Best of Norway and Scottish Islands tour in June 2020. It includes the rare chance to sail from Dundee. Early bookers can snare a two for one offer.
The nine night Best of Norway and Scottish Islands sails from Dundee. From £1,479pp, departs June 14, 2020 (01224 338000; dcthomsontravel.co.uk/cruise2020).
British Isles expansion (Black Watch, Balmoral and the Boudicca, Fred Olsen)
In recent years Fred Olsen Cruise Line has been expanding its British Isles options. Its relatively small ships – Black Watch, Balmoral and the Boudicca – offer a range of itineraries from Liverpool to Scotland, Ireland and further afield.
If you want to spend more time cruising in Scottish waters, Fred Olsen now has departures from Rosyth, allowing a scenic sailaway from Edinburgh and the Forth Bridges. The free drinks and no tipping policy go down well with British passengers.
The seven-night Sailing Around Iconic Ireland voyage sails from Liverpool. From £1,049pp, departs September 3, 2019 (0800 2761242; fredolsencruises.com).
Best of British (Queen Victoria, Cunard)
Cunard are now operating the Vista-class Queen Victoria, the smallest vessel in the Cunard fleet, on their annual British Isles cruise. Since 2017’s major refit she takes 2,081 passengers, up from 1,988. Stops now include Greenock (for Glasgow), Oban and Orkney in Scotland, plus Liverpool, Guernsey and forays across the Irish Sea to Dublin and Cork (Cobh).
The 12-night British Isles cruise sails from Southampton. From £1,319pp, departs August 11, 2019 (0344-3388650; cunard.co.uk).
End of the Saga (Saga Sapphire, Saga Cruises)
Book soon if you want to wave goodbye to Dover’s white cliffs from the Saga Sapphire as she will be making her last circumnavigation of Britain in 2020. The voyage sails up the east coast to Orkney via Newcastle and Edinburgh, before returning south via Belfast, Guernsey and her maiden call at Poole.
Highlights include a Highland feast while moored at Fort William and a Beatles sailaway party leaving Liverpool.
The 15-night Coast to Coast cruise sails from Dover. From £3,435pp, departs April 21, 2020 (0808-2748279; travel.saga.co.uk).