The Majestic Line became the first sea-going cruise company since the start of the pandemic to start sailing in British waters on Saturday when two of its boats departed for the Hebridean Isles.
Until then, only yachting companies had restarted operations, including Scotland-based Red Moon Cruises, with its four-berth vessel, and the classic yachts and historical tall ships of West Country-based company VentureSail.
Ken Grant, Majestic’s managing director and also an experienced epidemiologist, described Saturday’s departures as “absolutely seamless” when guests arrived in Oban to board its vessels Glen Shiel and Glen Etive for six-night cruises to the isles of Skye and Mull.
These were the first of 14 departures the Scottish line is offering between now and October 17, which are all fully-booked apart from three dates in October.
“People have been emailing us to say they are desperate to cruise, with some saying they’re not worried about Covid,” said Dr Grant.
The strength of customer response to Majestic’s reconvened cruises has encouraged the boutique line to put its smaller two boats – Glen Massan and Glen Tarsan – out for whole-boat charters.
Under Scottish government rules, up to three households can mix on overnight stays. With the crew accounting for one household, this means the 11-passenger boats can be chartered by “bubbles” of families or friends from up to two households.
Dr Grant said Majestic had followed guidelines for the hospitality sector with specific crew training, additional cleanliness protocols and risk assessment procedures. Other measures include reducing the number of passengers from 12 to 10 to aid social distancing (apart from whole-boat charters); pre-departure health questionnaires; weekly coronavirus tests for crew; and guest temperature checks upon boarding.
Another key change has been to drop the traditional pre-departure meet and greet at an Oban hotel. Instead, guests are asked to call the skipper’s mobile number and are met at the pontoons.
Dr Grant told Telegraph Travel that the new arrangements had worked well, with both vessels departing on time and life onboard continuing as normal.
“This is a brilliant time to cruise up here,” he added. “The colours are stunning with the purple heather in the hills and the bracken, which goes a fantastically russet colour.
“It’s good for wildlife too. We had a basking shark by Glen Etive; there are dolphins around, all the eagles are out and there are rutting deer.”
Majestic Line normally draws a third of its passengers from overseas, notably North America, Australasia and South Africa, but with international travel restrictions in place most guests on these autumnal sailings are English with a 50:50 split between returning customers and newcomers.
He said the boats had been welcomed by islands, adding: “We are such a small part of tourism on the West Coast, especially when you consider the hundreds of people that go ashore from the ferries.
“We have checked with local tourist associations, and they want visitors. The Highlands are really busy at the moment – everyone is trying to make the most of the last two months of the season.”