Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Wed April 08 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | April 8, 2015 2:00 PM ET

    4 Small-Ship Cruises Exploring the Untapped Jewel that is Scotland

    4 Small-Ship Cruises Exploring the Untapped Jewel that is Scotland

    Image courtesy of Thinkstock

    While a handful of cruise lines like Hebridean Island Cruises and Fred Olsen offer dedicated voyages to Scotland, many mainstream companies simply add a quick port stop in Scotland on cruises headed to Scandinavia. Overall, Scotland remains an untapped jewel in the cruise industry, and several new expedition lines are cropping up to explore its natural beauty, wildlife, and culture. Others are adding new ships, increasing itineraries, and offering first-time sailings to remote islands. These four small-ship cruise lines are bringing a new element to the cruise climate in Scotland, with an emphasis on conservation and culture.

    Majestic Line

    In 2005, the Majestic Line began offering overnight cruises to remote and unspoiled destinations along the Argyll coastline. The company currently operates two reconfigured fishing vessels, the MV Glen Massan and the MV Glen Tarsan on three- and six-night cruises. Each boat has six cabins with room for 11 guests, and in 2016, the Majestic Line will debut a third vessel, the 12-passenger, MV Glen Etive — a new build in the style of a 1930s motor yacht. Longer, 10-night cruises to new destinations will be offered — including a visit to the St. Kilda World Heritage Site and the Outer Hebrides. Two cabins on each cruise will be dedicated for solo travelers at no supplement.

    Argyll Cruising

    In April 2015, family-run Argyll Cruising will set sail for the first time with four cruise itineraries ranging from three- to six-night trips. Built in 1959, the wooden fishing vessel Splendour will embark from Holy Loch to explore scenery of the Kyles of Bute, Loch Fyne, the isle of Bute, the isle of Cumbrae, the Island of Arran, Ailsa Craig, and the Mull of Kintyre. The atmosphere is that of sailing on a friend’s boat; in the mornings they’ll put a kettle on for early risers seeking coffee or tea, homemade meals are enjoyed with the group, and excursions include nature walks and wildlife viewing. The ship also holds a sauna (hot room) for one to two people — a rarity for vessel of that size.

    Hebrides Cruises

    Launched in April 2014, Hebrides Cruises, an eco-focused expedition company, now has eight cruise itineraries on the West Coast of Scotland ranging from four-night to 10-night trips. An expert naturalist is onboard the Elizabath G (a former Norwegian rescue boat) to help point out various species of whales, sharks, dolphins, puffins, seals, and other unique wildlife. Data recorded during cruises will be shared with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for scientific analysis. The ship sets sail to the Treshnish Isles, Mingulay, the Shiants, the Monachs, and St Kilda. Although the company is still in its infancy, they are “seriously considering” adding a second vessel the fleet.

    National Trust of Scotland

    Each year, the National Trust of Scotland hosts two cultural cruises aboard the 400-passenger Pearl II, which serve as fundraisers for the charity and its conservation efforts. In May 2015, the organization is offering a special one-week cruise, celebrating the UNESCO World Heritage Site of St. Kilda that is maintained by the National Trust of Scotland. The cruise is being offered in addition to culinary sailings and will have onboard lecturers, artists, and visits to archeological ruins and castles.

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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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