A couple of years ago it saw a new lease of life as a First World War-style dazzle ship, but its artistic stint over, it’s been reborn after a £5 million makeover, courtesy of the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust. Following a top to bottom revamp it’s been reimagined as a boutique hotel. The 237ft ship boasts a grand double-height ballroom, sophisticated drinks and dining area, 23 cabins and five-star facilities throughout. It’s already gained the Windsor seal of approval, with the Princess Royal, in her role as Patron to the Northern Lighthouse Board, having stayed over.
The first thing you notice after wandering up the gentle Alexandra Dock gangplank is the Art Deco reception area, with a set of world clocks behind the desk and a rather incredible circular glass elevator based on a lighthouse lantern room, one of two on the ship and only around six worldwide. You could imagine Fred and Ginger dancing on its decorative floor as they ascended to their suite – or they might saunter up the stairs, holding onto the thematically perfect maritime rope that serves as a banister. Not that any steadying is needed, there’s no rocking on the Fingal – the ship isn’t going anywhere.
Each cabin is named after a Stevenson lighthouse. Depending on preference – and budget – the accommodation ranges from the generously proportioned classic suite to the massive presidential Skerryvore penthouse via duplex options. We were in the classic North Ronaldsay cabin, and while it doesn’t come with the top-of-the-range private deck, it does open onto a section of deck from where Leith’s waterfront looks totally magical.
If you prefer to stay indoors, cute portholes offer a window on the world. The cabin itself is designed to recall the Fingal’s proud history, without succumbing to an OTT thematic tweeness. The skipper-style swivel chair, king-size bed with headboard showing the position of ‘your’ lighthouse on the seascape, Davy lamps and heavy brass taps, diamond details nodding towards lighthouse panels, elegantly tiled bathroom with handheld and rain showers... Mod cons include smart TV, WiFi, underfloor heating and more. Even the bed throw and cushions are something else, with a specially commissioned Fingal weave courtesy of local artist Araminta Campbell. The Fingal logo, incorporating the ship, waves and Neptune’s trident, pops up around the hotel, from the leather chair backs to the menus.
Public areas include the original bridge, where the desk is loaded with original log books whose entries make for fascinating reading. Would-be Captain Haddocks can even get their hands on the wheel – just don’t expect to get the old girl moving towards the nearby Ocean Terminal shopping centre.
A couple of decks down, expect to be stunned by the sumptuous ballroom, which has room for 60 guests to dine, two curving, sweeping staircases, a removable skylight and a raised gallery for music and entertainment. If the ridiculously romantic Fingal doesn’t become one of the most popular places in Scotland for weddings I’ll eat my... well, anything from the Lighthouse Bar menu, please.
The Lighthouse Bar, behind the bridge, is a classy, classic space for drinking and dining. The booth dividers feature lighthouse-style ‘lenses’, the roof is shimmering dappled brass and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views as the light changes. While the supper menu isn’t vast, it’s varied and the dishes we chose – including a starter of salmon that’s been smoked on board, a broccoli and mushroom cannelloni main and apple tarte tatin afters – were glorious. Several of the crew members are shared with the Britannia and the service really is fit for a queen – always friendly, never brash.
In a hotel where the wow factor is everywhere, the engine room really is something else, with glass-panelled floors providing a peek at the original ship’s workings, and reflective walls conjuring an infinity effect – stretch your arms across the tight corridor and become a human paper doll.
This unique floating hotel is perfectly placed for a short break in the capital, with great transport links to the world-class city centre attractions – but don’t be surprised if you find yourself deciding to stay on board the five-star Fingal... it’s lighthouse fantastic. ■
The Fingal, Alexandra Dock, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 7DX. Cabins start at £300, with the Skerryvore priced at £1,500 per night. Call 0131-357 5000, or visit www.fingal.co.uk