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Join the inaugural sailing season of the Ocean Explorer and uncover the beauty of the British Isles on this fascinating expedition. There are more than 6,000 islands comprising the British Isles, but only a handful of them are ever seen by curious travelers. Now, your nimble new luxury expedition ship, the Ocean Explorer, brings the best of them within easy reach.
There are the wild Hebrides, born of volcanoes and carved by glaciers. The Isle of Man, with its distinctive Manx culture. Lush Scilly and the misty Isle of Skye. See the massive horizontal slabs that form Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and the bizarre monoliths of Callanish, a circular ritual site older than Stonehenge. Walk around fortifications that were civilized by monks, and breached by Vikings. Contrast the medieval castles of Wales with the Victorian charm of Belfast. Plus, get in-depth insights into the cultures of your destinations with an onboard Resident Lecturer to guide talks and discussions. With exciting scenery, varied traditions, amazing wildlife and historic monuments, and 29 included excursions and Cultural Discoveries, every day is an adventure in diversity.
Best of all, even when you are cruising to distant shores, luxurious comfort is right at your fingertips. With a brand-new, state-of-the-art ship that boasts an onboard spa, infinity pool, gym facilities and many other luxury amenities, you can confidently add some remotely rugged destinations to your travel to-do list.
Add enriching optional pre- and post-trip extensions to Dublin and Edinburgh to round out this epic journey. What’s more, after a one year hiatus, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is planned for 2021 — head to Edinburgh on the August 5 post-trip extension or on the August 15 pre-trip extension to attend this vibrant celebration of Scottish history and culture!
Fly to London
Your British Isles expedition begins! Today you’ll fly overnight from the U.S. to London, England.
Land in London
If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, upon arrival in the United Kingdom, a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your centrally located hotel. Settle in and then join your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner and Briefing, where you'll be joined by pre-trip extension travelers.
See London’s landmarks
Today’s half-day, guided panoramic city tour takes you by coach and by foot to view some of London’s most notable landmarks — Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and more. You’ll also enjoy an illuminating visit to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground nerve center where Winston Churchill and his inner circle planned and executed Britain’s WWII strategy. Your afternoon is at leisure and lunch and dinner are on your own — do as the locals do and head to a nearby pub!
Windsor Castle, embarking the Ocean Explorer
After breakfast you’ll transfer through the English countryside to our ship in Poole. But along the way you’ll stop to explore historic Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest occupied castle. Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it has served as a royal residence since then, and the current royal family, the House of Windsor, took their dynastic name from this beloved site. If you see the royal standard flying from its ramparts, that means the Queen is in residence! You’ll have time for lunch on your own before we commence our tour.
From Windsor you’ll proceed to the sweeping Dorset coast and meet your ship in Poole. It was from here that many of the troopships involved in the D-Day landings set sail for Normandy to rendezvous with history. After embarking the Ocean Explorer later this afternoon, join the Captain and crew for an onboard Welcome Briefing, followed by your first dinner on board.
The Abbey Gardens of Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Scattered off the Cornwall coast like a handful of pearls lie the lovely Isles of Scilly. Today after breakfast you’ll visit the largest, Tresco, tendering ashore to a paradise of shell-strewn beaches, flower-filled heaths and dense forests.
Arriving at the Tresco Abbey Gardens you can hardly believe you are in England. For here, surrounded by protective stands of elm, sycamore, and oak, is a wonderland of exotic, subtropical flora from the Mediterranean and as far away as Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Walk with your guide among eye-popping bowers of bright orange bomarea, pink pincushion protea, spiny red and blue bromeliads, and more. Complementing the arboreal beauty are the maritime collections at the Valhalla Museum. Here you’ll admire items retrieved from shipwrecks dating back to the 17th century, including 30 figureheads, a bronze cannon, quarterboards, and more.
Back on board you’ll enjoy a leisurely lunch and an engrossing discussion on immigration in the United Kingdom.
Tonight, you're the guest of honor at the Captain's Welcome Dinner.
Fishguard and St. David’s, the spiritual heart of Wales
After breakfast, you’ll disembark in the tiny Welsh port of Fishguard, and travel to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This is the home of St. David's, the religious capital of Wales and the smallest city in the country. Enjoy your guided tour of the 12th-century Cathedral of St. David, which was built over a site where country’s patron saint, David, established a monastery in the 6th century. The cathedral has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries. Other highlights include the 14th-century Tower Gate, Celtic Old Cross and a number of surrounding art galleries and pubs.
This evening before dinner, learn from a local historian about Wales’ relationship with the British Empire over the centuries. Then, be enchanted by the sounds of a classical Welsh harp performance on board.
Step into medieval Wales at Holyhead and Caernarfon Castle
This morning you’ll arrive Holyhead, and enjoy a short drive to majestic Caernarfon Castle, built between 1283–1330 by King Edward I.
Today, massive Caernarfon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it will take your breath away. Here you can walk along its interconnected walls, punctuated by impressive towers that loom above a central green studded with (now abandoned) villages. Caernarfon dominates the shoreline and you can imagine its importance in controlling coastal supply routes, and providing access to the agricultural resources of neighboring lands.
En route to a traditional pub lunch, your local guides will tell you more about the castle’s fascinating history. Then, visit the National Slate Museum, nestled into a mountainside, to witness a demonstration of the vanishing Victorian-era trade of slate splitting. After tonight's dinner, unwind with a musical performance. In contrast to yesterday's classical performance, this evening our Welsh harpist will perform lively and lilting Welsh folk music, complemented by folktales and local lore that enhance the music.
Peel back layers of history on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is a protectorate of Great Britain, and therefore not technically a legal part of the United Kingdom. As such, it has its own independent parliament which has governed since 979 AD. Rich in flora and fauna, the island is also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, but your focus today will be the Isle of Man’s unique culture, called Manx.
You’ll arrive in the port of Douglas, the island’s capital, for a morning sightseeing tour that takes us throughout Douglas, Tynwald, and Cregneash Village, where the old ways of life are preserved with thatched-roof cottages, and villagers happy to share the ways and the days of yore with you. Make your way back admiring the stunning landscape, with a stop in Castletown. Its most famous eponymous structure, Castle Rushen, was built for a Viking king. Learn about its history as a mint and as a prison before heading back to your ship for lunch.
The Isle of Man’s unique ecological conditions collectively form a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biosphere. This afternoon, you’re free to discover more of it. Explore Peel Castle, and the House of Manannan, a museum dedicated to the island’s mythological sea god and its rich Celtic, Viking, and maritime history.
After dinner tonight, enjoy local entertainment on board.
Belfast, Antrim and the Giant’s Causeway
Enjoy a panoramic tour of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland. The city that launched the Titanic is often remembered today for the Troubles — but as you’ll discover on your tour, with those days well behind it, Belfast bubbles with activity, centered on a revitalized Victoria Square.
From Belfast, travel to Giant’s Causeway, with lunch in a local restaurant en route. Locals will tell you that the Giant’s Causeway was formed when the giant Finn McCool tossed massive boulders in the water in order to battle another giant across the way in Scotland. Scientists will tell you that this amazing natural phenomenon (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was created when basaltic lava from an ancient eruption solidified into thousands of hexagonal columns. Your eyes will tell you that you are witnessing something quite otherworldly. Also breathtaking is the power and beauty of the Antrim coast, which you’ll travel along, too.
Tonight, we’ve invited some local entertainers on board for Irish music, storytelling, and dance!
Discover the Isle of Mull in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides
This morning you’ll anchor at Tobermory, an idyllic port whose waterfront is lined with multicolored houses, cozy pubs, crafts shops and inviting restaurants. You'll have some time at leisure to explore, perhaps visiting the An Tobar Arts Centre, or the Mull Aquarium. It is Europe’s first catch-and-release aquarium and who knows? You might spot whales, dolphins, sharks, or rare seabirds should you walk along the shore.
Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous today, head off on a scenic drive to Duart Castle, with commentary on the natural and cultural heritage of the area by experts from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trist. At Duart Castle, enjoy a self-guided visit before our experts give us binoculars for a dolphin and whale watching experience!
We’ll return to the ship for a lecture, followed by dinner and overnight sailing to our next destination.
The magical Isle of Skye, the “cloud island”
In a country of scenic superlatives, Scotland’s Isle of Skye will stand out in your memories as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We’ll tender to the capital and port of Portree, where you’ll embark on a morning sightseeing tour that reveals medieval castles, and villages, and vistas of the mist-enshrouded Cuillin Hills; crystal-clear lochs; and fairy pools fed by tiny cascades and streams. After, enjoy some time at leisure in Portree before a late lunch on board.
If Brigadoon really exists, you might just find it today as the Ocean Explorer takes you for a scenic sail around Skye, the Summer Isles, or the Shiant Isles archipelagos. This is when you’ll be grateful for the nimbleness of your expedition vessel, as we hug the rugged coastline and discover waterfalls that plummet off high cliff-tops right into the sea and romantic moors that sweep to the rocky shore. Watch out for shorebirds and local marine life, and keep your camera at the ready!
This afternoon, put your discoveries into perspective today with another lecture preluding dinner.
Isle of Lewis and the mystical Callanish Stones
Enchanting thatched-roof cottages await you today when you arrive at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, first settled as a trade port by the Vikings. You’ll have free time to explore independently here, then your group will visit the prehistoric Callanish Stones — a hilltop, cross-shaped arrangement of standing stones with a circular ring and central monolith. Dating back some 5,000 years to Neolithic times, they are even older than Stonehenge and have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next, visit the nine thatched-roof cottages of Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Here, at the Carloway Mills, you’ll see a demonstration of the region’s most time-honored craft — tweed-weaving. Lunch is back on board, and you'll be entertained by a troupe of Scottish dancers! Tonight, hear another eye-opening lecture before dinner.
Please note: If traveling on the August 25 departure, you will visit Ullapool today:
After breakfast, we arrive in Ullapool, a small village of about 1,500 in the Scottish Highlands. Enjoy a morning at leisure here to walk around the port, snapping photos of the churches and quaint houses lining the harbor, which hearken back to the town’s fishing heritage.
Head back to the ship for an onboard lecture and lunch, then get ready: Your excursion this afternoon features some of the region’s loveliest vistas. You’ll head to Inverewe Garden for a guided walking tour of the rare tropical species that thrive thanks to the effects of the Gulf Stream meeting the Highlands. Rainbows of colors and bouquets of scents drift throughout this historic heritage garden, which was built by a father and daughter. Today, everything from prehistoric trees from China to Tasmanian eucalyptus thrive here in the Highlands.
World War II heritage of the Orkneys
Named for the strong tides that rip past the Point of Ness, it’s no surprise that Stromness was once a vital whaling port. It was later used by the British for shipping in times of war in lieu of the English Channel. At the Stromness Museum, you’ll discover the Orkney Islands’ natural history. Then, learn about the Churchill Barriers, a series of four causeways linking the Orkney Islands that were built as naval defenses in WWII. Today, they serve as vital roads. World War II left a spiritual mark as well, and you and your fellow travelers will visit the ornate Catholic chapel built here by Italian POWs.
This afternoon, enjoy leisure time on board. Before dinner, hear a lecture that delves into the culture of the region.
Wind through the Scottish Highlands to Edinburgh
The cruise portion of your journey ends this morning in Invergordon, your gateway to the gorgeous Scottish Highlands. This land of high mountain valleys, rushing trout streams, sparkling lochs, and sheep-dotted pastures was once the stronghold of Gaelic-speaking Scottish clans. Following the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, small farmers were largely driven from the land, so today this remote region is one of the least-populated areas in Europe.
Our route today takes us through wildly scenic Cairngorms National Park, the largest in the U.K. We’ll stop for an included lunch in the town of Pitlochry, which blossomed as a tourist destination after Queen Victoria visited in 1842. Soon thereafter you’ll arrive in Edinburgh and check into your hotel. Tonight, dinner is on your own — ask your Cruise Director for recommendations!
Discover Edinburgh, and come aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia
The unforgettable city of Edinburgh unfolds before you as we ride and walk on a half-day city tour. Highlights of the Old Town include Edinburgh Castle, set high above the city on Castle Rock, and St. Margaret’s Chapel. Built around 1130, it is the oldest surviving building in town. Fast-forward to 18th-century as you explore the New Town, with its elegant neoclassical and Georgian architecture. Both districts are together listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip set sail to visit their far-flung dominion, they did it on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. You'll come aboard to inspect this elegant vessel, which often a hosted a retinue of more than 45 guests. It still features the furnishings and décor favored by the Queen when the ship was launched in 1953. The balance of your day is free. Your Cruise Director will be happy to assist with tips, directions, and making reservations.
Your Farewell Dinner tonight will feature musical entertainment from a traditional bagpiper. You'll also learn the history of this instrument, as well as a bit about Scottish clans, and more!
After breakfast you’ll transfer to the airport for your return flight home. Or, if you’re joining the post-trip extension right here in Edinburgh, you’ll stay on for three more nights!
Edinburgh’s imposing profile of black rock hills and rugged medieval fortifications stands in stark contrast to its cultured, quirky, and playful spirit. Why not add extra time to delve deeper into the U.K.’s second-most popular destination after London? Revisit Scotland’s dramatic history at Edinburgh Castle. Wander the tangle of medieval Old Town, and the neoclassical district of New Town, which together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dart into the quaint shops, inviting pubs, and fascinating museums that line the Royal Mile. A highlight will be your included excursion to the fabled fairways of St. Andrew’s, the home of golf. Our perfect mix of included touring and leisure time allows you to discover the best Edinburgh has to offer.
On our August 5, 2021 departure, enjoy an unforgettable Cultural Connection when you are our guest at the historic Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an artistic extravaganza set against the backdrop of imposing Edinburgh Castle. It’s a pageant like none other featuring parades, fireworks, dancing, military bands, and opera and classical music performances—all part of your exclusive ticket specially arranged by Vantage.
Please note: Ocean cruising is not the same experience as river cruising; as such, you may experience fluctuating tides and weather patterns that may involve some rocking of your vessel. Itineraries will include all activities as planned except in extreme cases that can’t be controlled by your shipboard crew.
Important: Day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert.