I was recently a passenger on Windstar’s “Gaelic Explorer” cruise from Edinburgh to Dublin, with several other families. The sleek Star Pride doesn’t have the nonstop entertainment, ice-skating rinks, zip-lines and a kaleidoscope of activities that other ships do. And yes, the North Sea weather was chilly even in June. Yet the families on board were having a grand time for the entire eight days.
To be clear, there were not many families, and none with young children, but the teens, college students and young adults who were on board were raving about the experience. And as parents and grandparents know, that reaction is very hard to attain.
The Gaelic Explorer Itinerary
For sheer atmosphere, you can’t beat the Gaelic Explorer itinerary, as the Scottish coastal scenery is truly spectacular. We cruised to out-of-the-way destinations such as the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Skye and quickly understood why this country’s majestic beauty has inspired generations of artists, writers and poets. It captured our imagination and left an indelible impression.
If you’re considering gifting a cruise to your child or grandchild as a college graduation present, remember that Windstar’s specific Gaelic Explorer itinerary makes it easy for passengers to visit several whisky distilleries, sure to be a hit with many young adults.
The Star Pride, like your own yacht
The Star Pride accommodates 212 passengers so the environment is fairly intimate. The staterooms are all spacious outside suites with expansive ocean views and sizeable sitting areas. The bed was made with fine linens, there was a flat screen television, stocked fridge, high-quality bathrobes and many more perks.
One of the best treats was the onboard laundry service. You leave your dirty clothes in bag and they come back perfectly pressed, folded and looking brand new.
Despite the high level of service and elegant features, the vibe on board is anything but fancy. There are no formal nights in the dining room where men are required to wear jacket and tie, and women fancy dresses. It’s all very casual, which suits most teens just fine.
The crew was uniformly polite and went the extra mile to pamper us. We relished the extra touches like bedtime chocolates on our pillow, and fresh flowers and fruit in our stateroom.
The Food is a treat
We are a family of foodies, so what we eat is as important a component of our holiday as the sights we see. Lucky for us, the food is a treat on the Star Pride. For adventurous eaters, the Indian-born chef caters to your palate with a delectable selection of Indian dishes. We feasted on lamb biryani, butter chicken and shrimp curry, served with authentic naan bread, homemade chutney and cooling raita, a yogurt-based sauce.
Some meals leaned local with Scottish salmon and other products sourced from ports along the journey.
Each evening was an epicurean adventure but there were always healthy choices, including a hearty salad bar with dozens of vegetables.
Room service is available 24 hours per day, just in case your companions crave a midnight supper in your stateroom.
Activities aboard a Windstar Cruise
Although our yacht’s small size made it impossible to offer the range of onboard activities other cruises have, there were many advantages to the Star Pride’s manageable size. We exercised at the Fitness Center each day. In the early morning and late afternoon, Alex, the director of fitness, led guests in a 30-minute Pilates or yoga class. The class was never crowded so we got lots of personal attention from him.
Windstar also has an open bridge policy, very unusual in these days of heightened security. The Captain and his crew appeared to welcome our questions regarding navigation, ports of call and weather. Thanks to our daily visits, we felt as if the crew were our friends.
There were lectures each day on a range of topics that pertained to Celtic subjects, such as whisky and history. These conversations enhanced our understanding of the places we visited, enriching the experience.
Live music and dancing each evening drew a crowd. Some of the very oldest passengers danced late into the evening, putting the younger passengers to shame with their moves.
On the last night at sea, the crew put on a talent show. It was wonderful to see their hidden gifts. Who knew our favorite waiter could swivel his hips like Elvis or that our stateroom steward could sing like a bird?
Shore Excursions for a Gaelic Explorer
There are dozens of shore excursions to choose from on this itinerary that work well for families with adult children. Take a look at all the offerings, and book in advance, to ensure you get the tours you want.
During the Invergordon port call, a chance to glimpse the Loch Ness Monster is a family favorite. Book the four-hour tour and a bus will whisk you to the Loch where you may or may not see Nessie.
If everyone in your party is of drinking age –18 in Scotland — consider a distillery tour. Distillery tours are offered at several ports of call; plan ahead to avoid this becoming a seafaring booze crawl. While not every parent wants to engage in drinking with their children, whisky is a unique part of Scottish heritage, so consider indulgence in a wee dram… a cultural experience.
Like wine, we found that each whisky has its own distinct flavor profile. Flavor can be affected by everything from the water to the shape of the still to the cask where it is matured. Of course, location is a big influence. The distinct terroir imparts unique nuances as the whisky absorbs the spirit of the land. We could smell the salt and seaweed in malts matured on the coast, and taste a hefty hint of peat in inland varieties.
Oban, charming distiller town
Oban was our favorite port of call. We didn’t book an excursion and enjoyed our self-guided explorations. We liked the fact that the distillery was just steps from the port in the very heart of the charming town.
At the Oban Distillery, a guide took us through the whisky making process. The tour ends with a hefty taste of their top single malt whisky.
We couldn’t get enough of the chocolate at the Oban Chocolate Company. They make inventive handmade confections that are innovative and delicious. Try one enhanced with marmite for a locavore spin or the salted caramel truffle for a classic treat.
Continuing with our gourmand splurge, we headed to Oban Fish & Chips. They serve traditional cod and haddock with crispy chips in a simple setting.
Heritage Cruising works well for families
Many of our fellow passengers were of Scottish descent. This was evident in the evenings, when several male passengers dressed in kilts. These knee-length pleated skirts have a distinct tartan pattern. Particular patterns are associated with individual clans and families. Several passengers purchased kilts in their family’s pattern at ports along the way while others brought these heirlooms in their suitcase.
Those of us who didn’t own kilts enjoyed the spectacle, and found ample time at sea to contemplate our own clan’s traditions and heirlooms.
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