Hi Host Jazzbeau... I'll see what I can do to answer your questions.
First off, my name. From 1999-2002, I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. At that time, people referred to it as USC, even though there's a more famous (but less aged) USC in California. Recently, the university started to encourage alums to refer to it as U of SC to differentiate it from the California USC. The name "knothead" comes from being called that by my dad when I was growing up. Knothead was often taken on bulletin boards and the like, so I added "usc" to make it my name. I've been knotheadusc ever since.
2: Hebridean caters to elderly people and singles. We took our first cruise with them in 2012 and at age 40, I was the youngest onboard. That being said, most everyone on the ship is able to get around. Some itineraries are more physically challenging than others. I've been on cruises with people in their 90s who were still quite spry and fun to talk to. On our last cruise, my husband (a veteran) befriended a man in his early 90s who served in World War II and did 30 years with the British Army. Then he worked another 15 years in Germany with the Canadian Army. He was absolutely fascinating.
Every day, you get one or two excursions, which are included in the price of the cruise. It typically involves riding on a bus or tendering to wherever you're going, then possibly walking. There's a guide who gives you information about what you're seeing. On each cruise we've done, we've had a different guide. They've all been outstanding. As for how strenuous the excursions are, it really depends on what you're doing. I've been to Sanda Island twice and that involved walking on an uninhabited island for a couple of miles. On our last cruise, we visited The Giant's Causeway, which involved a short walk or bus ride and climbing the rocks. You set your own pace, though, and choose what you want to do. And if there's something you'd rather do, the staff will work with you to make it happen. So yes, in that sense, Hebridean is like a river cruise.
3: After the first night, you are expected to dress for dinner. They usually have one or two nights for "galas" in which people wear tuxes or kilts. My husband has worn his dress blues on our four previous cruises, but will wear a kilt next time. There's no dancing or anything... you dress up and they serve a fabulous meal and haggis, if you want it. On non gala nights, people dress like they're going to church. Jacket and tie for the men and dressy casual for the ladies. However, if you don't dress to the nines, I can't imagine they'd say anything to you.
4: As for whisky, no you don't have to drink it if you don't want to. They make wonderful gin and tonics on the ship, have a nice selection of British beers, and/or other spirits you might want to try, as well as wine and non alcoholic beverages. It's all included in the fare. If you like gin, you'll be able to try a nice array of it.
5: I think the food is fantastic! One thing they do that I love is the Sunday Roast on Sunday nights. It's very traditional, excellent beef. They offer extremely fresh seafood, including a "cold buffet" one day each week that is fabulous. Fresh salmon, crawfish, smoked trout, you get the picture. 23 and Me tells me I'm over 3/4s British, so it makes sense that I'd love their menu. It's very English. I also think the wines are fine, although you can purchase wine if you want to. In fact, wine is one of the few things you can purchase on board. One thing I love about Hebridean is that they don't even take a credit card when you get piped onboard. We have NEVER had a bill at the end of our cruise. Once you pay, you've paid, and they take care of everything, including entrance fees on excursions. On our first cruise, we did two five nights back to back. On turnaround day, they booked a cab for my husband, me, and another lady and we went to Glasgow and visited the Burrell Collection at a museum. They paid for the cab and even our lunch.
6. The ship is indeed old, but she's been recently refurbished. I've been to the engine room and the bridge. It's all in fine working order, although keep in mind that there are no elevators on the ship. Before I started doing Hebridean cruises, I was a SeaDream fan. I still really like SeaDream, but haven't been onboard in several years. As much as I loved SeaDream, I think I like Hebridean more. The only thing that would make it better for me is if they had a piano bar (I love to sing). The crew members are wonderful, kind, and sincere, and most of them gave me a big hug when we last disembarked. I look forward to seeing them again.
I've blogged about both of our most recent trips and you can find the links on this board, if you want to see some pictures. I tend to be kind of irreverent, though. Here's a link to part six of my posts about our most recent trip. I start at six because the previous five parts are about our couple of days in Glasgow before the cruise began. https://travelingovereducatedhousewife.blogspot.com/2017/09/scotland-and-northern-ireland-2017-part_85.html