Review: Classic cruising on board Ambassador Cruise Line's latest ship, Ambition
A traditional cruise ship rather than a vast floating holiday resort, Ambition, the second ship to join Ambassador Cruise Line, harks back to the cool, calm days of cruising but does so with a modern makeover. Nick Dalton takes a look.
Ambition first took to the seas in 1999 as Mistral for Festival Cruises, but underwent a mammoth revamp and rename by Ambassador Cruise Line in 2023, with new venues and a whole new look for the 1,200-capacity ship. It will now sail from eight UK ports, having set off earlier this month on its maiden voyage from Newcastle to France and Spain.
Design largely steers clear of the pale, often white decor so popular on today’s cruise ships in favour of a richer palette – Ambassador’s company purple, entwined in a variety of woody hues and finishes, along with reds and golds. The line prides itself on making cruising more affordable (and more sustainable and accessible, giving its no-fly departures). Here's what else you can expect.
Ambassador Cruise Line
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What is there to do on board?
It’s most definitely not a place for dodgems and water slides like some of the bigger new ships, but instead somewhere for a more relaxing time.
The main deck has a small pool which it’s possible to make a few strokes in and a smaller one that’s just for lolling in – particularly on the stainless steel sofa bed installation – plus there’s a couple of party-sized hot tubs. Around the edge is a lawn of artificial grass dotted with polished timber seating pods and rattan sofas. On the upper walkway level (which is also a jogging/walking track) there’s another small pool for wallowing in and watching people play the giant chess set.
The Green Sea Spa isn’t large but is still a pleasing retreat, all stone floors and woody walls interrupted by panels of ocean-tinged mosaics. There’s a sauna, steam room, glass-walled relaxation room with sun loungers and treatment rooms, plus a hair salon. Perhaps more impressive is the large gym, also glass-walled, with rows of running machines, exercise bikes and other equipment.
The main entertainment is in the Palladium theatre, mostly spirited song and dance shows from a lively troupe.
There’s A Night In Nashville, all Stetsons and country favourites, as well as My Destination, a jukebox musical set on a train and loosely inspired by songs written by Paul Simon, including Homeward Bound.
The Cavern features acts such as an Abba tribute which fills the dancefloor even before the late-night DJ appears, while The Clifton Lounge has quieter but impressive offerings such as Kazakh sisters Alina and Marina on violin. There’s also Pendennis, where I saw a solo accordionist pumping out Gaelic tunes and country-roots.
Those looking for something more low-key will love Grafton Street, a multifunctional space with large tables for art and craft classes as well as quizzes, game shows and gym classes.
Book lovers will find a home in Brontë’s Library, which has shelves lined with everything from thrillers to travel books, while the adjoining card room is an even quieter place to get away from it all.
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What are the rooms like?
Ambassador calls them cabins rather than the more widely used ‘staterooms’, reflecting the fact that beneath the smart decor the rooms are from a simpler time. The decor is cool and calm – think pale walls, simple wood and touches of Ambassador purple.
There are 680 cabins; 133 of which are balcony suites while 125 are cabins with balconies. The rest vary from inside, to porthole, to picture window. A number are assigned for solo use and all rooms (apart from the 19 purpose-built single bed cabins) have double beds that can be converted to two singles.
Mid-range is the junior suite with sofa and coffee table, and a sliding glass wall opening out onto a balcony with chairs and a small table. There’s a small walk-in wardrobe, safe, fridge, kettle with tea and coffee, plus a television with UK channels and movies. Suites come with fruit, mini-bar (extra charge), umbrella and binoculars. Upper-level suites have an espresso machine and a sofa bed.
Ambassador Cruise Line
A bonus is that rooms take UK three-pin plugs and there are USB ports. Bathrooms aren’t necessarily big or glamorous but do the job well enough, mostly having baths with a shower attachment (though some suites have a separate shower).
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What's to eat?
Plenty! There are two main restaurants, named after British palaces: Buckingham and Holyrood. The former is the larger of the two, while the latter is more traditional. Where they meet is the menu: the multi-course meal – starter, salad, soup, main and dessert – changes by the day but there are also the perennial favourites that stay on the menu throughout the sailing, such as steak and salmon. Wine starts at £21.50 ($26.75) a bottle.
Tucked away in Buckingham behind gauze curtains is the Chef’s Table, a sophisticated 12-seat spot with a special menu and wine tastings (£89/$111pp), where the executive chef will talk you through the dishes.
The buffet restaurant is Borough Market, with a rustic feel thanks to pastoral green flooring and a string of faux lemon trees holding up the ceiling – more playful than artificial. There’s a choice of Continental or cooked breakfast (think fry-ups, omelettes, cheese, smoked fish and pastries) while buffet lunches and dinners have a world of choice – curries, rice, fish goujons, fries, roasts and all sorts of snacks.
For those balmy days, there’s a lovely terrace area, right at the rear of the ship. Also outside is the Alfresco Grill, open from noon to early evening and catering to those who just can’t drag themselves away from the pool area, with casual fare such as pizza plus a relaxed vibe.
There are two restaurants with a one-off charge for the evening: Saffron, serving Indian food (£16.95pp/$21) and Lupino’s for Mediterranean dishes (£14.95pp/$18.50, pictured below).
Ambassador Cruise Line
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What's the best bit?
Ambition is classic cruising – at a classic price. The ship might not be brand new but the mammoth makeover gives her a striking personality… rich colours, plenty of bars, pleasing restaurants and lots of entertainment. There's plenty of adventure too, with cruises to places such as Iceland and the Norwegian fjords, as well as the Canaries and into the Med. There's even a 45-night Cuba and Treasures of the West Indies adventure.
Like Ambassador’s other ship, Ambience, sailing from home flight-free – from London Tilbury, Belfast, Bristol, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Liverpool and Newcastle – is a plus point, saving both time and money, with many cruises below £1,000 and lots of short breaks priced at much less than that.
Other than a few multi-generational cruises during school holidays, this is a ship for adults, so the atmosphere feels calm and unhurried. Also, a number of cruises are available from at least two ports, meaning that if you start from one, say Liverpool, you can visit Belfast for the day as new passengers board.
This is cruising for people who appreciate the wonders of the sea and the beauty of the destination without the need to be on a ship designed to resemble a holiday resort.
Ambition’s cruises include Iceland’s Land of Ice and Fire, an 11-night near-circumnavigation of the island including calls at Belfast and Stornoway, departing Liverpool July 4, 2024, from £859pp with up to £165 per cabin onboard credit.
For more information, visit Ambassador's website.
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Lead image: Ambassador Cruise Line
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