Windstar’s Scotland and Ireland: Not Your Typical Warm-Weather Cruise

A visit to the Port of Oban offered the chance to taste some whisky.

Wild and windswept, a Scotland and Ireland sailing onboard Windstar’s Star Pride is not your typical warm-weather cruise, but for travelers with an adventurous spirit and a flexible approach to their itinerary, it can be a treat. 

The Star Pride is a small ship with a capacity of only 212 passengers, lending the sailing a relaxed feel. (You can even pop in to the bridge and check out the ship’s operations, as long as the ship isn’t in port and conditions are safe.) Despite the small size, the ship never felt cramped, and we always felt like we had plenty of space to spread out in the various lounges and public areas. And while the North Sea sent us some rough weather that forced us to miss a port or two, feeling the spray on your face as the rugged Scottish Highlands loom in the distance is an experience not to be missed. 

Life On Board: One of our favorite spots on the ship was the Yacht Club, an indoor lounge all the way forward on Deck Eight with panoramic windows and a number of cozy nooks to tuck up with a book and watch the breathtaking Highlands scenery go by — perfect for whiling away a sea day. The Club is particularly quiet during the early morning (when a light breakfast is served) and while lectures and demonstrations are taking place in the ship’s Lounge, although it gets a little livelier in the evening when it plays host to live music. 

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A stop in Loch Ness included a tour of Urquhart Castle.

The Yacht Club is also right next door to the outdoor Star Bar, which came in handy when dealing with the changeable weather. Often shifting from sun to rain and back again, sometimes over the course of a single hour, being able to sit in the sunshine when it was available — and seek shelter when it was not — was quite useful. 

History buffs won’t want to miss the lineup of programming in the ship’s Lounge, where local experts offer insights on the history and culture of the destination. On a less academic note, guests here can also take in fun demonstrations on topics like cocktail making and cooking. 

For a vibrant experience, check out the ship’s Compass Rose bar and lounge, aft on Deck Six. This bar is the second of the ship’s two live music venues, and it tends to have a buzzier scene in the evening. (The night before we disembarked, we were even pulled onto the floor by one passenger for an impromptu dance party!)

Good to know: If you’re prone to seasickness and Dramamine isn’t cutting it, the Compass Rose is also the best spot to ride out bad weather during the day. During one particularly rough sea day, our traveling companion, after some experimentation, found this to be the most stable spot on the ship. 

The walk from Kirkwall to the Scapa Flow winds through beautiful farmland, but beware — there are no sidewalks! 

Dining: By far the standout among the Star Pride’s culinary offerings is the Candles restaurant. Reservations are required, and it’s best to book right during check-in to secure a spot. While on warm-weather itineraries Candles’ guests can dine al fresco in the ship’s courtyard behind the pool and whirlpool; on this itinerary, Candles was set up on the Verandah, which still offered sunset views through a bank of windows on the ship’s stern. 

Similarly, the sailing’s “Deck Barbecue” event — which incorporates dishes ranging from paella to suckling pig — was set up in AmphorA, the ship’s open-seating restaurant that also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Hint: On the Star Pride, the chef in AmphorA, who hails from India, makes a delicious biryani, rich with layered flavors and a spice level that creeps up on you without being overwhelming. Check it out!)

AmphorA is also your best bet for breakfast, particularly the made-to-order egg stations. While you can order a continental breakfast that will be delivered directly to your room, it was a bit small to sustain a big day out in port. 

When the weather was nice, the Star Bar provided the best views on the ship.

Technology: Internet access was available in the ship’s Library, which was next to the casino and Compass Rose on Deck Six. Though small, it never seemed crowded. Wi-Fi was also available in all suites for guests who had purchased an Internet package for their device. The Internet speed was a bit slow; while checking e-mail proved no problem, attempting to post an Instagram video of the dramatic sail-away ceremony (another voyage highlight) proved beyond the network’s capabilities. 

Accommodations: We stayed in one of the ship’s Oceanview Suites, which had a spacious seating area, walk-in closet and bathroom. For entertainment, in addition to a movie channel that would show films at set times, the flat-screen TV was hooked up to various cameras throughout the ship’s public areas and lounge, so that guests can check in on onboard life while still in their room. 

Our Oceanview Suite had a spacious seating area.

Sailing: We sailed on a Gaelic Explorers eight-day itinerary between Edinburgh and Dublin in late June visiting ports throughout the Scottish Highlands and Northern Ireland. Be Forewarned: Even in summer, the weather in the North Sea was definitely a factor, especially as the ship was calling at smaller ports that required a tender to shore. In addition to the aforementioned rough sea day, high wind and heavy swell prevented us from making port in Portree in the Isle of Skye and in Portrush (Belfast) in Northern Ireland. 

When Mother Nature cooperated, though, there was plenty of time to explore the Highlands, with the standout being a private event at Fort George in Invergordon (Inverness). After a tour of the fort, including The Highlanders’ Museum (another big hit with history buffs), we were treated to a private performance of the “Beating of Retreat,” which included a pipe and drum show, as well as a Highland Dance performance. Guests we spoke with seemed particularly impressed by this event — particularly the free-flowing Scotch!

Amphora is the ship’s open-seating restaurant that serves as a popular choice for breakfast.  

Speaking of Scotch, while it’s a good idea to save some time to explore the ports on your own or book a private guide, booking ahead for whiskey tastings and distillery tours is essential. The famous Highland Park Distillery in Kirkwall was particularly crowded. The Scapa Distillery, perched on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Scapa Flow, was more off-the-beaten-path, but hosted tours infrequently, making pre-planning important if you want to make it back to the ship. Oban also had a distillery quite close to where the ship docked, where we were able to book a tour and tasting as a walk-in with no trouble. 

Unfortunately, we had to hop off the ship in Portrush, although the itinerary continued to the Isle of Man and Dublin. All the more reason for another trip!  

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