Words by David Powell
Former British athlete and Olympian, Sally Gunnell OBE, was chosen as godmother for Ambassador Cruise Line’s first ship and she officially named Ambience at a gala event at Tilbury London. This marked the start of Ambience’s maiden season which will include visits to over 90 different ports.
There’s something rather special about Ambience. An elegant, stylish and intimate ship, easy to find your way around with an instantly welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff. My cruise onboard Ambience was the night-night Springtime in Fjordland. Norway takes your breath away, crystal-clear air, the thrill of gliding along mirror-smooth waters whilst experiencing the sheer scale of the fjords, pristine landscapes, majestic mountains crowned in snow and magnificent waterfalls. The fjords must be seen to be believed and there’s no better way than from this classic and spacious cruise ship.
Embarkation at Tilbury was a breeze. My wife and I arrived by taxi and were dropped off at the terminal entrance where our luggage was whisked away by the porters. Check in was quick and efficient, through security, passports and paperwork checked and we were onboard having lunch and enjoying a couple of glasses of wine in Borough Market located on deck 12 aft. Talking of drinks, although prices are very competitive, we did take advantage of the Expedition drinks package. Full details of the packages are on the website and my advice is to pre-book your package online.
After lunch, we made our way to our cabin, an outside on deck nine, where our cases had already arrived and we met our steward for the week. Our cabin was very comfortable, well decorated with a bathroom/shower, two super comfy beds which could be made into a double, UK three pin socket, small refrigerator, pool towels, safety deposit box, hairdryer, tea and coffee making facilities, TV, sitting area, air conditioning and plenty of wardrobe and drawer space.
We were soon to be sailing, so we quickly joined other excited fellow guests for the sail away deck party. Drinks in hand we slowly pulled away from our berth and started sailing down the Thames Estuary. With a casual dress code for the evening we made our way to the Botanical Lounge Bar on deck seven. This bar proved to be our favourite pre-dinner drinks spot for the cruise.
As we arrived at the lounge I glanced out to sea and saw we were sailing very close to four large structures looming above the waves like tripods from the film ‘War of the Worlds’. These were the Maunsell Sea Forts built during World War II as armed forts to help defend the UK from enemy aircraft. In the sixties they were subsequently occupied and used as pirate radio stations.
Rather co-incidentally this was a theme cruise called the ‘Voices of Radio’ with legendary pirate and Luxembourg DJ’s Mark Wesley, Tony Prince, Chris Beard and Mike Read giving various talks about their radio days and disco sessions in the Observatory Lounge. A number of theme cruises are planned on Ambience during her maiden season, and if the radio theme is anything to go by will prove to be very popular.
Ambience, at 70,285 tonnes, is designed to carry approximately 1,400 guests creating an inviting and social atmosphere and is fitted with emission reducing technology. There are 798 cabins (23% balcony) ranging from 18 to 52 sq. metres, a choice of five restaurants, two cafes, nine lounges, two swimming pools, two hot tubs, a spa and fitness centre.
There’s an excellent guest to space ratio onboard the ship and the crew to guest ratio works out as one crew member for every 2.15 guests. Evening dress code is listed every day in the ship’s programme and on seven-night cruises there are two gala nights where dressing up is encouraged, with men wearing dinner jackets or lounge suits and the ladies in evening or cocktail dresses.
Dining is an important aspect of any cruise and Ambience doesn’t disappoint, the food is exceptional. The main dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner (two sittings) is the Buckingham Restaurant, which is beautifully furnished, very comfortable and offers a great menu every night and first-class service. Borough Market on deck 12 offers a buffet style service for all meals again with a wide choice.
There’s an Al Fresco Grill and two speciality restaurants, Saffron the Indian and Asian inspired restaurant and Sea and Grass which offers an exclusive tasting menu. In addition there is the exclusive VIP dining experience – Chef’s Table, an outstanding nine-course menu combined with a pre-dinner galley tour, with wine pairing throughout the meal and hosted by executive chef Sidney Dias. We had this booked on one night of our cruise and the whole experience and food was amazing – if you’re celebrating a special occasion with family or friend then this is highly recommended, don’t miss it!
One of the many things I liked about this ship was the plentiful lounges and bars where you could sit and relax. SW19, Purple Turtle Pub, Botanical Lounge Bar, Raffles, Pool Bar, Centre Court (the atrium) and the Observatory Lounge at the top of the ship with great views. There’s a library and shopping galleria onboard too.
Showtime: Day and evening entertainment on Ambience was very good. In the evenings, aside from live music in the lounges, the Palladium is the focus for shows with the Ambience Theatre Show Company providing great entertainment. I always like to see a comedian on a cruise and Lloyd Hollet ‘The Comedy Wordsmith’ put on two different shows which were incredibly funny. After the show if you fancy a flutter there’s the Casino on deck six and perhaps disco dancing may appeal in the Observatory Lounge.
Ambience is already proving very popular. The future cruise desk manned by Harry, Katia and Sarah was busy with guests booking future cruises and picking up some great deals. Cruising allows you to travel to wonderful destinations taking home special memories. Ambassador offers a wide range of destinations from Tilbury to suit a wide range of tastes and budgets.
For our Fjordland trip we took advantage of the destinations experience organised by Ambassador Cruise Line. 32 experiences were available and my advice to avoid any disappointment is to pre book online, although a destination experience desk is onboard. Once my cruise was booked, I downloaded the brochure and sat down one evening going through the available tours for each stop. The comprehensive descriptions, times and details were easy to follow and then it was just a case of adding choices to ‘my ambassador sailing’ dashboard to book.
Our first port of call was Eidfjord and here we chose the Voringfloss tour, a three-hour trip by coach high up in the mountains to the plateau covered in snow and the Voringfloss waterfall.
Bergen on day four was a great destination to visit and whilst it’s very easy to walk from the ship into the city we chose a guided tour by coach and then a cable car ride to the top of Mount Ulriken. Bergen is regarded as the wettest city in all of Norway, but for us it was a beautiful sunny day with outstanding views from the top.
Popular Flam was our next port and here we chose to take one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys – the Flam Railway up into the magnificent mountains stopping enroute for coffee and waffles in a local hotel and a close-up view of Kjosfossen waterfall where water freefalls 93 metres (305 feet).
Our final port was Haugesund and here we decided to explore the town on our own via the shuttle bus laid on from the ship to the centre of town. Here we did a little shopping and enjoyed cake and coffee in a local café before returning to the ship for our booked spa treatment.
The GreenSea Spa and Wellness Centre is an oasis of calm located on deck two with an extensive beauty and therapy list at very reasonable prices. I had an excellent treatment from the Men’s World list whilst my wife chose a light touch massage technique that stimulates the lymphatic system which she said was one of the best treatments she has ever had.
In a nutshell
Ambassador Cruise Line gave us an incredible cruise experience on Ambience, not forgetting of course their signature ‘Baked Alaska’ parade. The elegant ship, the friendly, smiling staff, the destinations, what a fabulous way to travel, no fly from Tilbury. Ambassador has a fantastic cruise ship in Ambience – and there’s more! Another ship is on the way called Ambition. Exciting times for Ambassador Cruise Line and we can’t wait to sail with them again.
For more information on upcoming Fjordland cruises visit ambassadorcruiseline.com