They were said to be among the happiest of royal holidays, lazy days spent cruising the west coast of Scotland on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, stopping off at remote beaches and touring island communities.

The distinctive floating palace was a familiar sight in Scottish waters over countless summers until its last Western Isles cruise in 1997. 

The Queen’s final farewell as Britannia – with more than a million miles under her belt – steamed off to be decommissioned was tearful. 

Now, however, the well-off are following in the Royal Yacht’s wake, and spending eye-watering sums to charter vessels to cruise the same west coast waters that enchanted the Queen and prompted her to describe her time on board her yacht as the “the one place I can truly relax”. 

Specialist cruise companies have seized on increasing demand from rich tourists eager to savour the rugged west coast scenery and have boosted the range of cruises following similar routes around favourite royal islands. 

Most also offer the option of a private charter for a truly exclusive experience. However, holidaymakers will need deep pockets: taking over the recently-built 12-passenger ship Glen Shiel for three nights will cost£14,520 and £48,390 for 10. 

Launched this year, at first glance the Majestic Line’s 85ft Scottish-built steel-hulled vessel echoes Britannia’s colours and sleek lines with her traditional hardwood and gleaming brass features. Built by Ardmaleish Boat Building Company on Bute, she is said to “complement the appeal and luxury of a 1930s gentleman’s yacht”.

Along with sister ship Glen Etive, the new vessel ploughs routes that would have been familiar to Britannia, taking in Skye, the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda, and a new North West Coast route. 

While Majestic Lines’ other vessels may be a little less salubrious in background – both started life as fishing boats – the now converted luxury vessels can be hired for six nights for just over £22,000 each. 

Despite being out of reach of most Scots, such is the excitement surrounding the prospect of bringing more tourists to Scotland’s waters, the Majestic Line was recently crowned winner of the Innovation In Tourism title at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.  Judges praised the business for achieving “real growth… after identification of a gap in the market.”

Demand appears to be high: many dates are already fully booked for next year, and in some cases further ahead, for 2021. 

Indeed, according to Majestic Line, some guests return as often as 15 times to cruise the stunning west coast waters, their needs tended to by their vessel’s four crew and with the best of food and drink on board. 

Andy Thoms, of Majestic Line, said: “The Glen Shiel has been designed specifically to cruise to St Kilda and incorporates all we have learned from operating a fleet of small cruise ships over the last 15 years.

“The vision is to introduce people to the fabulous scenery and food of Argyll, with our crew providing genuine, warm Scottish hospitality.

“The atmosphere on board is informal and fun; the majority of our guests have never been to Scotland before and many are overwhelmed by the experience.  Some return as often as 15 times to cruise with us again.

Demand is being driven by high-spenders seeking unique experiences, he added. “People are looking for unique experiences off the beaten track in breathtaking surroundings, they want amazing Scottish hospitality and delicious locally sourced food and they want to experience the hidden gems.  

“The demand is certainly there for boutique small ship cruising, as is evident with more and more operators in the west coast of Scotland.” 

There is indeed a growing number of cruise operators in Scottish waters. The Royal Scottish Shipping Line’s 108ft tri-deck gleaming white yacht The Spirit Of Fortitude, with her panoramic Whisky Room, six staterooms and – perhaps a little optimistically – a sun deck with sunbeds, has swapped the sun-kissed charters in the Greek Islands for the west coast. A 10-night private charter complete with crew and dining, is £54,000.

Chartering the Emma Jane, one of two vessels run by Hebrides Cruises and which features a hot tub on the deck, will cost almost £34,000 for 10 nights. 

As interest soars, new vessels – many of which had former lives as workhorses of the seas – are appearing. St Hilda Sea Adventures is set to introduce a third cruise vessel, a converted Clyde class cruising lifeboat to a fleet that includes a Fife-built former tall ship used for sail training, and an ex-Norwegian ferry. 

Demand is also expected to soar next year as national tourism organisation VisitScotland gears up for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, a series of events focused on boats, watersports, coastline and islands.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “For those visitors who fall into an elite, luxury market such as the luxury cruise market, our country offers high quality along with a warm welcome and an authenticity enjoyed by everyone who visits our shores.

“The high-end visitor market may be limited in size but it is very lucrative. We know that high net worth individuals are more likely to use their money on travel over possessions, with spending by millennials in this category rising around 20 per cent every year as they get older.

“Whilst this luxury cruise market increases, it is important that the local communities have the infrastructure in place to welcome this growing market.”

Cruising Scottish waters in a private chartered ship is not entirely new: the Queen took over the 50-passenger former car ferry turned cruise ship MV Hebridean Princess in 2006 for a family holiday to mark her 80th birthday.

The eight-day charter from operators Hebridean Island Cruises cost £125,000, and during her island hopping she received langoustines from two Skye fishermen and was given a tour of Gigha by a shopkeeper.

It obviously went down well: four years later she chartered it again, for 14 days, to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Princess Royal.  

Next summer holidaymakers can opt for a cruise on board the same ship, taking in Stornoway, Stromness and Kirkwall, for around £10,000 each. 

The global luxury tourism market is currently in the grip of a boom, with rising demand from a well-off retired baby boom generation who account for around 45% of global luxury expenditure, increasing numbers of high-income earners from Asia, and well-off millennials who prize travel experiences. 

Recent research suggests the luxury travel market will hit $1,614 billion by 2026, and will expand at a rate of 8% per year.