Cruising – The New Ambition
If the people you meet onboard ship, as much as the ports you visit, are a measure of a cruise line’s overall quality, then Ambassador has to sit alongside many of its more expensive counterparts.
Billing itself as the UK’s leading premium value, no-fly cruise line, the brand, which sails out of Newcastle, Liverpool, Dundee, Edinburgh Leith, Falmouth, Bristol and Belfast as well as the line’s home port of London Tilbury, has two ships: Ambition and Ambience.
So, having nicely returned from sampling two of Saga and P&O’s ladies of the sea, I was intrigued to see how ‘premium value’ translated into a practical offer.
Sailing out of Bristol on Ambassador’s ‘A22327 Canaries, Madeira & Morocco Winter Escape’ I had an open mind and, having watched the weather report, a pocket full of sea sickness tablets lest the Bay of Biscay threatened its worst!
“The Chef’s Table is one of our speciality dining options,” said the smiling man charged with attracting more cruise guests to the ship’s three speciality culinary experiences. We were grazing in the self-service Borough Market on Deck 11 and he was decked from head to toe in authentic Indian dress.
You pay extra for the Saffron Asian Restaurant but it's well worth it and relatively inexpensive. The food was stunning.
“This outfit is very expensive,” he informed us “and is normally used in formal settings like a traditional wedding.” He looked magnificent.
We’d been around the cruising block enough times to know that the early bird still catches the worm. Table seating in the speciality restaurants would rapidly be at a premium.
“We are already booked into Saffron,” went the reply, quickly followed by another volley: “and Lupino’s for the return sail home.” Asian and Mediterranean-style fare were still favourites!
We’d clocked earlier that there was an Indian head chef at the helm of Ambassador Ambition’s kitchens: always a promising omen for a Brit in need of a curry night! It was also an opportunity to celebrate my wife’s birthday by doing something a bit special.
Beautiful Lisbon where you can still get a great coffee for £1.50!
And therein lies the continuing attraction of cruising for so many Brits, largely in the 50+ age group, every ship is by default, its very own tasting menu, only it is countries not just courses that entertain the travelling palette.
Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon
Where else can you sample an ancient pastry first created by 18th century monks in Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery, observe an endangered species of blind crabs in their natural habitat, learn about an artist who almost single handedly shaped an island’s tourist strategy......
Lanzarote's Jameos del Agua, the inspiration of Cesar Manrique who almost single-handedly shaped the island's tourist strategy for generations to come
...experience a magnificent botanical garden seeded on a former landfill site and take a 2km ride on a snowless toboggan?
The simple answer is: ‘on a cruise ship’, not literally of course, but in those ports the liner visits, in our case: Lisbon in Portugal; Madeira; Santa Cruz: Tenerife; Las Palmas: Gran Canaria; Arrecife for Lanzarote; Agadir, Morocco and Vigo in Northern Spain: sadly, Casablanca was lost to bad weather and our planned stopover in Leixoes for Portugal’s Porto, to a strike by river pilots.
Nevertheless, that cannot be blamed on the cruise line and, depending on your outlook, every cloud has a silver lining: Spain’s Vigo – our 11th-hour ‘replacement’ port as storms raged - is gateway to one of the world’s greatest ‘must sees’: the magnificent Santiago de Compostela. Breathtaking.
“Is it frightening?” said my Filipino wife. “Thrilling more than frightening,” I said. It was her first time in Europe, let alone Madeira, and she just wanted to be sure that the pain of having acquired a Schengen visa would be worth it, as we stoically queued 90 minutes to board one of the island’s famous downhill, wooden toboggans: as temperatures soared there wasn’t a snowflake in sight!
However, with five coaches in front of us the queue was longer than expected, although our guide had the good sense to send everyone off to look at the nearby church of Our Lady of Monte whilst she held our place in the queue. I was intrigued to discover that it was the final resting place of Emperor Charles I of Austria who lived in exile on Madeira.
Soon after, my wife was delighted at her rapid toboggan descent through the island’s streets, investing in a £10 print to capture the moment for posterity, despite my protestations that we had better things to spend our money on. But, then again, I am a Yorkshireman!
Established in 2021, Ambassador Cruise Line targets the 50-plus market, providing adult-only experiences combined with a selection of multi-generational itineraries to multiple destinations from the Nordics, Greenland and Iceland through to Canada, the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Africa.
The Ambition – launched last May - is a small to mid-size vessel meaning she has the ability to access smaller ports. She is also in the top 10%-15% of environmentally sustainable ships, facilitating access to some of Europe’s most untouched corners.
It had been a good move to drive to Bristol the night before our sail out, staying in an Airbnb property in Portishead: 35 minutes from our front door and we were standing at the check in desk at Bristol Royal Portbury. Seven days later and we had already had a flying visit to Lisbon’s Belem district, where we had sampled one of the area’s famous Pastel de Natas….
Lisbon's Belem District, home to the famous Pastel de Nata
….and an equally ‘quick’ visit through Madeira courtesy of one of its swift-moving toboggans!
Next was Santa Cruz de Tenerife which was rubbish….literally! Its Paradise of Palms – The Palmetum, is a botanical garden built on top of an old landfill site that was closed in 1984.
However, since 1996, continuing work has seen what was an inhospitable artificial hill, turned into a paradise for nature lovers. Amazing and just a short walk from the ship.
Cruises allow you to ‘taste’ the places you visit and invariably, you are berthed from approximately 9am to 5pm at best. However, you will feel as though you have been away forever because of the number of places you see and the things you experience in such a short time span.
There is also something joyously pleasurable about returning to the ship each day knowing that you may well be at another port the following morning or, at worst, free to enjoy a raft of entertainments from ‘water colours with Louise’ (painting!); ‘Adam’s acting class’; ‘Mind, Body & Soul Afternoon Stretch’ or even a game of bingo or some pumpkin carving on Halloween!
The ship's talented chefs come into their own on Halloween!
There’s evening musical entertainment in most of the lounges – the Pendennis Bar, Clifton Lounge or The Cavern, and, invariably, some form of live show in The Palladium, Ambition’s main horse shoe theatre. Throw caution to the wind, partake in what’s on offer and you will have a great time.
The ship’s theatre company staged a hugely popular farce and, on another evening, we enjoyed the tones of a vocalist with a four-octave range!
Theatre at Sea with Ambition's team of actors
But, in and amongst all of this there were the people, the wonderful people we met: the retired Army Major who’d helped keep the peace during Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, the itinerant pig farmer who, prior to retirement, travelled from farm to farm offering his services, the lady who made an overland crossing to Islamabad in the 1960’s because she couldn’t afford the air fare, the West Ham fan who was terminally ill but determined to fulfil a lifetime ambition ‘to ‘av a cruise mate’……and, and, and……I LOVED THEM ALL.
No meal time was ever the same and we have been texting a number of ‘new friends’ since getting home….including the Indian head waiter who invited us to his son’s wedding! We’ll probably go!
Ambition is a lower cost offer than, say, Saga or P&O but it is ‘no worse’, just positioned in the marketplace differently. Its offshore trips are well priced and, whilst the food is very good, it isn’t gourmet: you will get more of that on Saga, for instance, but you will probably pay double.
You can buy three types of drink packages; you can add on internet (£160 a fortnight) or not: your choice. So, if there are some things you don’t want you can mix and match and, ultimately, the final bill will be driven by you.
I REALLY enjoyed my trip on the Ambassador Ambition because I entered into the spirit of the trivia quizzes, I chatted with Rick, the retired New York trial attorney, proud of the fact that he only had one $5 jacket with him, played table soccer on the outdoor deck, dined in the silver service Buckingham Restaurant and its sister The Holyrood, partook of the self-service Borough Market eatery…
Borough Market - self service at its best
…..had a massage in the stunning Green Sea Spa....
Time to relax in the spa
.... and, in general, had a high old time on the high seas, even when the waves were a bit choppy!
Ambition, with its 1200 passenger capacity and 714 cabins, 125 of which have balconies (113 are suites) is a less ostentatious fit out than some of the ships I have been on, but it has great bars, eateries, shops, a fitness centre and all the usual accoutrements you would expect from a ship of this size from a card room to a library.
But, more than that, it has heart, a wonderful service ethic – driven by the brilliant largely Asian crew – and is a ship that I would happily return to and that is always the best feeling to be left with.
Phil Hopkins visited the Canaries, Madeira and North Africa on Ambassador Cruise Line’s second lady of the sea, Ambition. Forthcoming sailings of a similar nature:
MULTI-GENERATIONAL IBERIAN TREASURES & NORTH AFRICA
Sailing on 10 August 2024 from London Tilbury for 12 nights, onboard Ambience. Prices start at £1619pp based on two people sharing an ocean view standard twin cabin.
CANARIES, CAPE VERDE & MOROCCO
Sailing on 15 November 2024 from London Tilbury for 23 nights, onboard Ambience. Prices start at £1999pp based on two people sharing an inside standard twin cabin.