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Georgia Lewis has written about travel for years, but never set foot on a cruise ship, until she got the chance to spend the night on Ambition in Newcastle
I’m wary of becoming a cliché, but it happens all too easily. I didn’t think getting married was for me, and then I met the right person. I turned 40-something and suddenly I got into gardening. When I speak to children, I sound like my mother. But would I become the tiresome travel writer who pens the perky yet tired “I didn’t think I would enjoy a cruise, but then I went on a cruise and really enjoyed it!” article?
The short answer is not quite yet, but after spending the night in Newcastle on ‘Ambition’, the second ship launched by young cruise company Ambassador, I am definitely cruise-curious.
Sustainable, stylish cruising?
Ambassador has launched a cruise ship about as sustainably as possible by refurbishing an existing ship and giving it a new name, rather than building a new vessel from scratch. “Premium value” is Ambition’s mantra. It’s not about aggressively chasing the younger Ibiza-on-the-high-seas market, Celebrity X- or Virgin Voyages-style. But the vibe isn’t God’s Waiting Room either. For starters, the decor is subdued and elegant, rather than the extremes of bling or care home chic.
There is not a wood-panelled wall, Queen Anne side-table, ludicrous chandelier, or floral sofa in sight.
The furniture and colour palette are contemporary and fresh, starting with the purple and green accents on the white hull and continuing inside with calming neutrals. The occasional pop of colour and photography where terrible paintings might once have hung. There is not a wood-panelled wall, Queen Anne side-table, ludicrous chandelier, or floral sofa in sight.
Capacity is a maximum of 1,200 passengers, which is surprisingly intimate for a cruise ship. As a bonus, boarding a cruise ship is far less of a palaver than dealing with airport idiocy.
I went to see the new Ambassador
Newcastle turned on a bright, sunny day for the Ambition launch, which made pre-lunch drinks on a deck very pleasant. Over lunch, we go our first real taste of the cuisine with a creative three-course set menu, complete with imaginative meat-free options. Despite being a committed carnivore, my main course of stuffed aubergine was fantastic, reminding me of meals in my beloved Greece. And did not leave me with food envy for the fleshy alternatives.
My cabin for the night was a junior suite with a generous balcony, more wardrobe space than I have at home, velvety bathrobes, and comfy twin beds with cloud-like pillows. The bathroom was perhaps a little basic – I would have liked hand soap by the sink, the shower fittings and bath were not new, and the toilet brush handle was on double duty as the loo roll holder ‒ but you’re not going to get a palatial bathroom in a reasonably priced cabin. And who would spend an entire cruise in the bathroom anyway?
Ambition is not the biggest cruise ship out there, but it still has three pools, a fitness centre, jogging and walking track, shops that actually sell the kind of things you might need on board, six bars, five restaurants, a chilled-out spa, a charming library named after the Brontë sisters and long corridors. It’s easy to forget you’re on a ship (not a boat, I was berated for calling Ambition a boat…) because it feels like a good hotel, the occasional buzz or vibration notwithstanding. It is reminiscent of modern hotels in which I’ve had very pleasant stays in Menorca, Mallorca, Seville, Abu Dhabi, and Crete.
Ambassador’s realistic eco goals
Cruising is a travel industry sector that is not often associated with eco-friendly credentials, Ambassador has been very careful to avoid a greenwashing approach to its sustainability strategies. Instead of making grand promises of zero emissions by some far-off date, by which time the world will have changed and changed again, or claiming to have planted a copse of trees somewhere, Ambition is focused on the real steps it is taking right now.
Making big declarations is good PR, but CEO Christian Verhounig told us over pre-lunch drinks (you will never go thirsty on board Ambition…), that it is important to do practical things. Such as using cleaner-burning LNG instead of heavy fuel oil; researching alternative maritime fuels, such as hydrogen and biofuels; installing emission-reduction technologies, including scrubbers and catalytic reduction systems; recycling waste water; and optimising routes to use less fuel and reduce emissions. Ambassador’s other ship, Ambience, has already reduced NOx emissions by 95% since April 2022, with 70% reduction being the latest requirement.
It was good to know that Orca helps guests see the amazing wildlife, without sailing roughshod through natural habitats.
At lunch and the gala dinner, I got talking to Steve Jones and Kate Weston from Orca, the marine conservation charity. Orca has formed a partnership with Ambassador to provide leaders for cruise activities, such as responsible whale-watching and marine conservation talks and workshops. I didn’t realise that if you see a whale flapping its fins, it’s not the cetacean equivalent of an excited round of applause. It’s agitated and would kindly prefer it if you left it in peace. It was good to know that Orca helps guests see the amazing wildlife, without sailing roughshod through natural habitats. During these conversations, I had my cruising epiphany.
Good grief, am I a cruise convert?
While I can see the appeal of cruising around the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, wiling away days on a poolside sun-lounger with a good book in one hand and a G&T in the other, the prospect of going on a cruise to check out wildlife in places I’ve never seen piqued my interest.
I suspect I might get a bit frustrated while cruising around my favourite European holiday spots, because I would want to stay on shore, hire a car and go on a quest for a hidden gem taverna or ancient ruins. But sailing around Norwegian fjords and Icelandic spectacles, spotting wildlife and getting to know that part of the world better is something worth spending my hard-earned on. Especially if I could combine the bucket list natural wonders with a spa afternoon, an indoor swim on a chilly day, good food, and fun entertainment. If you are not seeking obscure no-wave jazz improv or death metal for your holiday soundtrack, you, like me, can happily lean into the cheese.
And yes, there was entertainment
On my night in Newcastle, we were treated to a sample of the entertainment team’s Night in Nashville show, followed by an Abba tribute at the Cavern bar and a DJ with an Absolute Radio 80s and 90s playlist until the early hours. That’s a win, as far as I’m concerned.
As a country and western music geek, I had no hesitation in clapping along to Cotton Eye Joe, getting a lump in my throat at Jolene, and demonstrating my knowledge of all the lyrics to Take Me Home, Country Roads. There was a moment in the show where I spotted the opportunity for a seamless segue into Shania Twain’s classic Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? – I’ll let the entertainment team have that tip for free.
Despite accidentally serving myself a disturbingly vegan sausage at the breakfast buffet, I disembarked from the ship with a hankering for a longer stay onboard Ambition. If the only culinary low point was a debacle entirely of my own creation, that is a big tick for the food on offer. With room service available, as well as a good choice of restaurants, Ambition caters well to buffet sceptics.
Getting on board
One of the big selling points – with additional sustainability brownie points – is the seven regional ports of departure for Ambition’s sailings. Southampton is not one of them, which is fair enough. Unless you live in Southampton, it can be a pain to get to. Instead, you can board from Belfast, Bristol, Falmouth, Dundee, Liverpool, London Tilbury and Newcastle.
This means most UK passengers won’t have to fly anywhere, which generally works out cheaper and shrinks your holiday carbon footprint. London Tilbury would suit me well, although Newcastle, with my in-laws living here, would be another possibility. The inter-generational cruises on offer would be less hassle with multiple regional port options, as well as two disability-friendly suites, so wheelchair users and people with mobility issues can set sail too.
Contemporary cruises that allow flexible dining options, autonomy when it comes to how you spend your time onboard and onshore, and offer more than bingo and a buffet will be the ones that do well post-pandemic. At the time of writing, my aunt and uncle were cruising Iceland and the Norwegian fjords – their brief but happy Facebook messages from the ship, along with my little taste of the cruise experience on Ambition, have given me a new perspective.
With a cruise, you are paying for comfort and convenience, as well as the opportunity to balance the fine art of doing nothing with trying out new activities, learning about wildlife, getting a taste of new places or revisiting old favourites. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
For further information check out the Ambassador Cruiseline website
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing… When she’s not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.
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