Sail from London Tilbury onboard Ambience. Credit: Ambassador

Ambience review: Ambassador's new ship makes a splash

Author: Vicky Mayer

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On a preview cruise aboard new Ambassador Cruise Line’s first ship, Vicky Mayer discovers why ‘the purple line’ looks set to be a hit.

When it comes to cruise ships, size really does matter. And my first impression of Ambience, the 1,400-guest debut ship from British newcomer Ambassador Cruise Line, is overwhelmingly one of space, thanks to roomy corridors, generous cabins with masses of storage, and wide public areas where there’s always a seat for everyone.

Pleasingly – in fact essentially in these post-Covid times – there’s no jostling as you make your way around the ship.

You can easily order a drink and there’s plenty of elbow room at the Borough Market buffet on deck 12 and the welcoming, well-designed Buckingham Restaurant on deck seven.

The launch of this eagerly awaited ship had to be put back by two weeks because of fuel shortages (‘Some you win, some you lose,’ said the line’s engagingly philosophical CEO, Christian Verhounig).

But crew and guests took this in their stride, and there’s a real sense of excitement as her maiden mini-voyage to Hamburg gets underway and the passengers – including your correspondent – get their first look at the ship.

- READ MORE: Ambassador Cruise Line unveils new itinerary and ship -

Originally launched in 1991 as Regal Princess (her godmother was former prime minister Margaret Thatcher), she then joined the P&O Australia fleet, sailing as Pacific Dawn.

Her new incarnation as Ambience, sailing out of London Tilbury, will be her third – but if she shows her age at all, it’s entirely in a good way.

Ambience is the debut cruise ship from Ambassador. Credit: Ambassador

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Wooden decks, the enormous Observatory bar at the front of the ship on deck 14, and an old-school funnel give her an iconic feel, while the generous size of her cabins is almost unheard of for a budget-friendly line such as this.

And if you’re assuming that Ambassador has just given an old ship a lick of paint and set her on her way, think again.

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The public spaces – including the three-deck Centre Court atrium, beautifully designed Botanical Lounge on deck 7, fun British pub The Purple Turtle and the buzzy Buckingham main dining room – feel fresh and new.

You can see how much attention has been lavished on these areas, and by mid-afternoon on day one they’re all proving highly popular.

Guests can expect to have an enjoyable stay in a surprisingly roomy cabin onboard. Credit: Ambassador Cruise Line

The Borough Market buffet baron deck 12 is also a revelation – designed so you don’t feel like you’re sitting in a school hall and offering some great lunch choices including the Asian-inspired Points East counter and British favourite chip stall ‘Salt & Vinegar’.

The cabins aren’t as modern as the public areas of the ship but what they lack in fancy decor, they make up for in sheer size, with generous balconies too.

- READ MORE: Inside cabin guide: All you need to know about inside cabins -

Even better for us fussy Brits, the plugs in all the cabins are British, so you can make your own tea and coffee.

The night before the ship sets sail, we’re treated to a deluxe seven-course celebratory meal in the Buckingham restaurant.

Sate your appetite at the classy Buckingham restaurant, which offers many delicious courses. Credit: Ambassador Cruise Line

The food – including a feather-light cheese soufflé, scallop amuse bouche and perfectly cooked sea bass – is delicious, with perfect portion sizes so we can enjoy all the courses.

But the pièce de resistance is surely the sparkler-lit baked alaska dessert that is paraded through the restaurant before being brought to the table by the smiling staff. Who doesn’t love a bit of classic cruise fun?

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If you’re planning a longer cruise, there are three speciality restaurants onboard – Saffron, an Indian curry house; Sea & Grass, a surf-and-turf restaurant noted for its prime cut steaks; and Chef’s Table, a VIP multi-course dining experience, specially created and hosted by the executive chef.

Charges apply for these, starting from a very modest £14.95 per person at Saffron, through to £24.95 at Sea & Grass.

From delicious steaks to spicy curries, all your dining whims are catered for on Ambience. Credit: Shutterstock

You can also buy a drinks package for your trip, with prices starting at £79 per person for a three-night cruise.

Though whether you need to do this is debatable, as the onboard prices are very reasonable, with a pint of beer at £4, a small glass of house wine at £3 and cocktails at £5.

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In keeping with the British heritage of the new line, Essex-born Olympic champion Sally Gunnell is on board to rename the ship.

She tells me that cruising is a passion with the Gunnell family, and that she’s super-chuffed to be Ambassador’s first godmother.

Enjoy a drink in Raffles Bar. Credit: Ambassador

With dinner finished, the first night onboard feels like a party, with plenty of dancing to 70s and 80s classics at the Centre Court atrium and up in the Observatory bar.

Can this new British cruise line make it in an increasingly crowded market? Judging by what we’ve seen so far, I’d say a definite yes.

- READ MORE: Traditional cruising with style: What Ambassador has to offer -

Ambassador is aimed at a core demographic of over-50 British holidaymakers who love no-fly cruises.

Many of its staff, including CEO Verhounig, are veterans of the popular but now defunct line CMV, and if the comments I hear on this first cruise are anything to go by, they’re doing all the right things.

Ambition entered Ambassador's fleet in May 2022. Credit: Ambassador Cruise Line

Everywhere you look, you’ll see the company’s signature purple colour, and everywhere you go, there are happy customers discovering the joys of a friendly, well-run line whose fares, in these cash-strapped times, won’t break the bank.

- READ MORE: What to expect from Ambassador's new ship Ambition -

Ambassador deserves a pat on the bat for launching its first ship at a tough time, and we look forward to its second – the aptly named Ambition – which is due for debut in 2023, with sailings planned from a range of ports around the UK.

If she’s as good as Ambience, she’ll be an instant success too.

Get onboard
A 34-night ‘Grand Canada, Greenland & Iceland’ cruise aboard Ambience, roundtrip from London Tilbury via Torshavn, Narsarsuaq, Qaqortoq, St John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown, Montreal, Quebec, Capaux Meules and Reykjavik, departs September 12, 2022, from £2,699.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.