AdventureSmith’s Mary Montalbano writes this detailed Hebridean Sky ship review after being aboard an Antarctica cruise. Included are insights from AdventureSmith’s Leslie Camacho, who cruised from Ushuaia, Argentina, on a charter of Hebridean Sky by another operator. While Hebridean Sky 21 was capped at 73 guests for Mary’s air cruise with Antarctica21, the ship’s Hebridean Sky configuration can accommodate up to 114 guests, when she cruises from from Ushuaia, Argentina with Polar Latitudes. Use the AdventureSmith team’s small ship cruise reviews and insights to inform, inspire and book your next trip aboard a small cruise ship.
The Ship’s Feel: Luxury Meets Adventure
Hebridean Sky’s elegance and exploratory nature make her an ideal ship to explore the White Continent. Rough seas and snow storms are met with stabilizers and hot towels. Mahogany and brass blend with breathtaking photos of Antarctic wildlife and explorers. Baby grand pianos share space with flatscreen TVs, ready for a concert or a lecture. And marbled walkways gaze up at boards full of information on wildlife and landing sites. Guests mingle in sweaters and thermals while staff mindfully go about their duties in button-down, expedition garb. With the supreme comfort of traveling aboard Hebridean Sky, it’s easy to forget the harsh conditions outside.
Finding Your Sweet Spot on This All-Suite Ship
Hebridean Sky is one of the few all-suite ships cruising Antarctica. Having viewed every cabin, I can confirm there is not one undesirable room option on this Antarctica small ship. Every cabin offers ample closet space, plenty of drawers, a full vanity, a multi-port charger ready to simultaneously power all of your gadgets (from anywhere in the world), a comfortable couch, and plenty of hooks to hold your jacket, snowpants and more (which you’ll change into and out of multiple times each day).
My cabin was a Window Suite on Deck 3. Despite being a lower-cost cabin, I wouldn’t have changed it. Deck 3 is the lowest passenger deck on air cruises, meaning more stability. The picture windows let in lots of light, and the cabin feels gigantic because the floor pushes to the outer wall of the ship. Without moving a thing, I could have done yoga comfortably with all the unoccupied floorspace.
Deck 4’s Promenade Suites also have a large window, but it looks out onto the track that wraps around the ship, meaning the floorspace is smaller and guests may walk by your window at any time; that said, Leslie felt her cabin offered ample space for two. Deck 4’s Deluxe Suites #414 and #415 are slightly larger and face the bow, offering beautiful views that are difficult to withstand from the outside deck (unless weather is agreeable). Note that these cabins’ windows are boarded during Drake Passage crossings, however.
I recommend taking advantage of the open-air yet heated Observation Area of Deck 6.
Bonus: for round-trip Ushuaia cruises, all cabins on Decks 4, 5 and 6 come stocked with champagne and chocolates upon embarkation and feature a complimentary mini bar restocked daily with beer, wine and soft drinks, akin to a first-class hotel. The suites of Decks 5 and 6 each offer a private balcony, which reduces cabin floorspace but provides space for special moments to take in the views alone. Though a nice luxury, you don’t necessarily need a balcony on this ship. I recommend taking advantage of the Observation Area of Deck 6, which features a heated, open-air viewing platform with protective wind shield; it was always empty of fellow passengers on my expedition.
Food Tailored to Guests
On every departure, Hebridean Sky offers an elegant dining room with buffet lunches and breakfasts, and plated dinners ordered off a menu. Often a lighter lunch option of paninis and soup is also available in The Club. An outside BBQ area on Deck 5 is typically used once on each departure, although inclement weather may move the cookout inside to the dining room. And daily briefings and returns to the ship following an excursion are accompanied by hot drinks and appetizers–sometimes even cocktails or champagne.
The menu and buffet fare reflect the passenger complement on each unique departure. Among the travelers aboard with Leslie was an Indian group, and dinner one night featured all Indian foods; another night featured Filippino fare, cooked with care by the Philippines-based crew. I traveled aboard with a Chinese group, and every meal offered at least one Chinese dish.
Both Leslie and I noted the alternative options available for those who had a special diet or simply wanted something different. When the vegetarian dinner option one night included a food I was allergic to, I asked for a vegetable burger–minutes later I was served a patty of freshly fried vegetables, not simply a pre-made option taken out of the freezer. The tailored food offered aboard Hebridean Sky exemplifies how a small ship with an attentive staff can make your experience unique and customized.
The Crew: A Polished Polar Voyage
The kitchen and waitstaff, as well as the rest of the Hebridean Sky crew, is polished in every way. When they’re not attending to all the details of your multi-course meal, they’re literally polishing brass throughout the ship. The bartender always offers your preferred drink, your cabin attendant never stops smiling and remains accessible, the maître d’ ensures you never eat alone (unless you want to) and steers you away from foods he knows don’t jive with your special diet, and the head chef makes regular appearances in the dining room. A white tablecloth and fresh flowers greet you at every meal, and coffee/tea, beer, wine and soft drinks flow without a beat. Nowhere else have I experienced such high-class service while in my base layers.
Many Ways to Cruise Hebridean Sky
The experience aboard Hebridean Sky may differ slightly depending on which operator is chartering your departure. Deck plan and suite options differ. Cruises via Ushuaia offer Porthole Suites on Deck 2, for increased stability and a lower price point, while still maintaining elevator access to all upper decks. Also on Ushuaia departures are complimentary in-cabin luxuries (champagne upon arrival, minibar restocked daily and Nespresso machine by request) for all cabins starting on Deck 4. On air cruise departures, Hebridean Sky offers two dedicated Single Suites, avoiding a single supplement.
When Hebridean Sky crosses the Drake Passage, her programming involves citizen science.
When Hebridean Sky crosses the Drake Passage, heading to or from Ushuaia, her programming involves citizen science. This was Leslie’s most fulfilling and inspiring activity during her Antarctica cruise: collecting and documenting data on weather, wildlife and water temperature patterns, to be sent to Antarctic researchers. For those interested in becoming true ambassadors of the White Continent, seek out Hebridean Sky’s non-air-cruise departures. Another benefit to crossing the Drake Passage aboard Hebridean Sky is the extra onboard activities enabled by four days at sea: trivia games, auctions benefiting worthwhile groups and causes, photo contests and additional time to connect with fellow travelers.
Experienced, Excited Guides
Hebridean Sky attracts highly qualified guides with years of experience in Antarctica. For example, one of my guides was a polar explorer, who treated us to a lecture on skiing to both poles; one of Leslie’s guides had been featured in a National Geographic documentary. An international mix of energetic guides made for a well-rounded experience. Each day’s briefing featured a rotating cast of characters treating us to a mix of short lectures and skits on a range of topics including ornithology, meteorology, marine mammals, polar history and more. The best guides seek out the best ships (and employers), and our guides were happy to enjoy a luxury ship built for 114 at only 73 guests. This sentiment is apparent while enjoying meals or after-dinner drinks with your guides, or even exchanging contact information to keep in touch. Even in challenging conditions, our guides got us off the ship at least once every day, which also speaks to their knowledge, adaptability and eagerness to explore.
Elegance Over Activeness
Hebridean Sky’s refined feel contrasts remarkably with the untamed wilds through which she sails. The level of comfort and finely attuned attention to detail aboard this ship is amazing. But while she impresses with ambiance and service, she lacks in active options both on board and off.
During Hebridean Sky’s charter by either operator, kayaking is the primary activity. On Leslie’s departure, the kayakers had excursions separate of the rest of the guests, missing out on what the majority of people were experiencing during landings and Zodiac cruises. On my departure, the kayakers had separate excursions but also got to explore every landing site with the rest of us, after paddling, so they never missed out. Also on my air cruise, energetic guests like me could sign up for added-cost hiking and snowshoeing when the weather and landing sites permit, but the conditions weren’t in our favor.
While activities are always weather-dependent (even the paddlers on my trip weren’t always able to launch their kayaks and instead joined us in the Zodiacs), fitness-minded Antarctica travelers should choose a ship that offers additional opportunities to be active, like skiing, mountaineering, one-time paddling and stand-up paddleboarding. Additionally, if you want to maintain an exercise routine, then a ship that offers a gym will be a better option. Nine laps around Hebridean Sky’s Deck 4 exterior track equals one mile, but that’s one very long and trying mile when there’s inclement weather.
My Hebridean Sky Ship Review Takeaways
The Hebridean Sky offers a classy and captivating Antarctica experience. Her spacious suites, polished crew, sophisticated service and engaging guides make for an unforgettable experience. Cruise aboard this Antarctica expedition ship for her upscale feel and adventurous attitude. Enjoy the extra space in your suite to stretch out. Appreciate the access, both formal and informal, to your passionate guides. And savor the many moments of camaraderie encouraged by a small ship with an even smaller guest count, as I do mine: closing down the restaurant due to a long, exciting conversation with newfound friends; singing along to my favorite songs played live by crew member Randy in The Club; looking for the mysterious and fleeting albatross with my birder guide; and enjoying a meal with a modern-day polar explorer. After an incredible voyage aboard Hebridean Sky, the only hard part will be saying goodbye.