The most exciting part of the trip came on our last day
with a visit to Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano,
approximately 11,000 feet high. I had not realised that it has
four main craters plus another two hundred smaller ones.
Although the last eruption was in 2002, destroying a ski
resort, we were assured that we weren’t in any danger as
there is always sufficient warning of any serious eruption.
A cable car takes you some of the way up the mountain,
but then you need to walk to the top. That is, to about ten
thousand feet, where there is a defined walkway. Another
way is to be driven there in a four-wheel drive mini-coach
via what appeared to be a somewhat winding, steep and
Although when we started the weather was well into the
eighties, at the top there was snow on the ground. In fact, the
landscape looked surreal, with large patches of snow spread on
the black lava. Because of the height, we were accompanied
by the ship’s doctor, who had brought emergency supplies
of oxygen which, fortunately, weren’t needed. An interesting
phenomenon is that, despite the high altitude, the area
A bonus with the Hebridean, whose prices we worked
out to be around £600 a day, is that virtually everything is
included. This means that you don’t have to worry about
how much and who to tip; you can drink whatever you want
within reason – spirits, wine and even champagne – and
excursions which includes meals off the ship that are part
of the itinerary.
The majority of the passengers were English, with the
décor very much that of a country house hotel, with a cosy
atmosphere as it only takes a maximum of 96 passengers, and
60 crew. A big advantage is that because it is small, the ship
can access ports that larger vessels can’t.
Conversely, however, this means that if you are looking
for exciting night life, with lots of entertainment, you would
be better on a larger vessel. Because of its size, and particularly
during my cruise when it was not full, you get a chance to get
to know, or at least chat to, most of your fellow passengers.
Facilities are five-star with, on most occasions, long and
leisurely fine dining in the evening and, more importantly,
only one sitting.
On larger vessels, there can be several sittings. Cabins are
spacious with only those on the top deck having a balcony.
There is a choice of either a bath or a shower, although the
suite has both plus a jacuzzi, but no balcony. The ship is airconditioned,
which can’t be turned off, which, for some,
could be a problem.
The ship is built with walkways outside the cabin window.
This can be rather unnerving, particularly initially, as the glass
is one-way so that no-one can see inside from the outside
unless there is a light on. However, from the inside you can
see out normally. Meals are always served in the restaurant,
although as an added bonus, when the weather is fine you
can have both your breakfast and lunch on the outside
Here is located the plunge pool, more the size of an
outdoor hot tub, in which I never actually saw anyone during
the length of my stay. However, there is a small gym, and a
different movie is shown every night on your cabin television.
All the cruises have a guest speaker, in our case Graham
Archer, a former British diplomat and High Commissioner
of Malta, the latter being one of the destinations visited before
I joined. We were told by one of the guests that because
of his connections, they and the rest of the party had been
invited into a former colleague of Graham’s private home,
and offered refreshment – a nice personal touch which added
something special to the destination.
The company runs its own charter flights from Stansted,
who provide a business class service. An option is to stay on
at a particular destination, extend your holiday, and make
your own way home. Sicily promotes itself as a year-round
destination, with plans to extend the number of golf clubs,
including two championship courses, to ten by 2010.
The Hebridean Spirit, the sister ship of the Hebridean
Princess, which cruises around the western and northern
side of Scotland, was the venue for the Queen’s 80th
Mt. Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano
Web site created by Mark Griffin