I recently sailed with Ambassador Cruise Line as a guest aboard their ship ‘Ambience’. My sailing took in some last of the year winter sun in the Canaries, Madeira, and Morocco, and I was really looking forward to experiencing what Ambassador had to offer. For me, this sailing was more about the ship and onboard experience, instead of the ports. Why? Because it is a line many had asked me about and were keen to find out if it would be a good fit for them and their next cruise holiday.
So, let me get right down to it…
Ambience Public Areas
First impressions of the ship were very good. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d seen images online of Ambience and read a few different things here and there, but nothing compares to your own experiences and a first-hand encounter. I’d been impressed with what I’d seen online, but in person, I was even more surprised.
Her interior spaces are just beautiful! Across the entire ship, the only thing I didn’t like was the main stairwell carpet, so I think I can give a 9.5 out of 10 on that side of things. My favourite areas were her main Lido Deck, The Botanical Lounge, Raffles Bar, The observatory (I loved the ram-headed tables in there) and Borough Market. I also liked the Purple Turtle Pub and was frequently dragged in there by my friend to watch the football. I’ll be honest, she’s an older ship so I had expected some of her spaces to look tired and run-down, but that really was not the case and I think that’s what surprised me. Everything looked relatively new and cared for and some of her lounges felt more glamorous than I’d expected.
The Palladium is the ships’ 2-deck theatre and although I’m not a huge lover of cruise ship entertainment – I prefer to sit and chat with people – I did pop my head in a few times and caught sections of the performances. The consensus onboard was that the show team were excellent. I’m not going to argue with that, as I didn’t watch enough of their shows to do so. Not once did I hear anyone say they hadn’t enjoyed their performance.
There were always plenty of things going on that people could join in with, including bingo, archery, craft classes, curling, bowling, lectures, gaming sessions, karaoke, deck laps, and much more.
Ambassador went above and beyond on the ships’ Christmas decorations. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen so many beautiful trees and decorations on a cruise ship – they were everywhere, much to my delight! A team came onboard in Tilbury and spent several days decorating every part of Ambience. There was even a card themed tree in the card room and I loved it! I stumbled across it at around 4am one morning when I couldn’t sleep.
Borough Market is the ships’ buffet area, and this is where my friend and I preferred to eat most of our meals. I’d completely forgot until the last second that I’d not selected a preferred dining time and thus we were put on second sitting. That was too late for both of us, but we were quite happy with Borough Market. It was easy, convenient and there was always a good selection of dishes available. It’s not the biggest space when sailing on a full ship and it was very busy at times, but the food selection in here could not be faulted. I frequently enjoyed the stir-fry and pasta options. The breakfast choice was also excellent. I loved the hash browns (Ambience now takes lead for the best hash browns at sea for me) and the scrambled egg was always nice and bouncy – never watery or sad looking. I think of some smaller ships I’ve sailed on; Ambience had a far better variety of dishes available. I never once went into Borough Market and said I don’t fancy anything. I can’t comment too much on Afternoon Tea, as I tried to stay away, but they did do a tasty ham, cheese, and tomato grilled sandwich.
The Al Fresco Grill was popular with many guests and I did try a few dishes here. The pizza, well, it wasn’t the best. I tried it once, and that was enough, but the hot dogs were good and my friend enjoyed the beef burgers. There was quite often a wait for food here – they really could have done with another chef on this station – but I didn’t mind, as I then knew my order was cooked fresh and hadn’t been sitting on a hot plate.
The menus for The Buckingham (the ships’ main dining room) were very similar to what was also served in Borough Market (although, I think Borough Market quite often had a few tasty extras) and these were available to view from mid-morning each day within the ships’ app, which was very easy to use, It detailed the daily entertainment, restaurant and bar opening times – just about everything, really. It was also convenient for accessing my onboard account. Like most, it only worked when connected to the ships Wi-Fi.
Ambience – Sea & Grass
We also dined in the ships’ 2 speciality restaurants – Saffron and Sea & Grass. I must be honest; I wasn’t expecting the portion sizes in Sea & Grass that were served. It’s a 7-course menu, so I thought they’d be tiny little mouthfuls, but I was SO wrong! This is an epic culinary journey and to really make the most of it, just completely forgo lunch that day. Each dish is served as per menu order, and you only select for your main course. I’ve included the menu so you can see everything that’s served and then the main course choice. The only thing I didn’t like was the goat’s cheese – I’m not a huge cheese lover to begin with but can now say goat’s cheese is definitely not the one for me. The cost at Sea & Grass is £24.99 per person and it’s worth it.
Ambience – Saffron
Saffron was just as enjoyable and very tasty! Not quite as much food this time, but still more than enough for 2 people. We were served the entire selection of starters to share, and these were very nice. The chicken was my favourite. For my main course I ordered the Thali, and I was glad I did – it was VERY good. My friend ordered the prawns. Everything was full of flavour. I couldn’t fault anything. A large portion of rice was served for us to share, this too was flavoursome, and the naan bread was light and delicious. Again, I’ve included the menu. The cost at Saffron is a mere £14.95 per person. I actually wish we’d dined here more than once, if I’m honest.
Madeira, Canaries & Morocco
As I said, this cruise was more about the ship than ports, but let me just touch on a few things. We visited Vigo, Madeira, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Casablanca, and Cadiz. We were supposed to visit Leixoes, but pilot strikes changed our itinerary and Cadiz was added – much to my delight as it’s a beautiful place! I didn’t do any tours on this cruise. My first tour which was supposed to be in Vigo I cancelled. I’d watched the weather for the few days leading up to embarkation and it looked miserable. As it was an open-sided road train tour, I decided to cancel and I’m glad I did because it poured all day. My other tour was in Leixoes, but we never got there. So, I ventured ashore under my own 2-foot steam and just wandered. My friend made a GREAT find for us in Tenerife. It was the African Market, and it was lovely to have a walk around and see and smell all the local meats, fruits, veggies, and spices. It’s not far from the port and worth seeking out. I was quite happy just taking my days as they came. It really was more about the onboard offerings this time for me.
I did, of course, look through all the tours and there was a vast selection in every port. You certainly couldn’t say there was no variety. The Destinations team were very helpful, they couldn’t be faulted. Although I only briefly spoke with them, I did sit in Dickens one day and casually eavesdropped on a conversation one of the team was having with 2 older ladies. They wanted to do a tour in Madeira, but they didn’t know what they wanted to do. The team member spent a long time with them, explaining what was on offer and what he would recommend based on their level of ability. He was very patient and both ladies left with a booked tour and very happy faces.
Ambience Info and Solo Cruisers
I would highly recommend Ambassador for solo cruisers. On my sailing, there were roughly 150 solo guests and they frequently attended solo meetings, lunches, and dinners. I became friends with several of these passengers and they all commented on how well the solo get-togethers had been arranged. I frequently cruise solo myself and although my friend was with me for this trip, I’d have no issue cruising solo with Ambassador. In fact, I look forward to doing just that, hopefully in the not too distant future.
To touch on a few other things, I had the Expedition package, which basically meant I could have anything on the drinks menu at no extra cost. It was massively good value for money. There are 3 Ambassador Moments package options, Expedition is the highest one and the only one that includes the more speciality focussed teas and coffees. The other 2 levels are Experience and Explorer, but Experience doesn’t include any drinks. I drank a lot of the loose leaf tea during this cruise and I loved it! Presentation was so good and the flavours were nice – rooibos chai was my favourite. I’ve included some info on the packages available, but please always check directly with your travel agent or Ambassador for the latest pricing info – this is just a rough guide. Tea and coffee from the self-service machines is available 24/7 in the Borough Market.
Ambassador Cruise Line FAQ’s – Ambience Answers
Room service is available 24/7 but there is a small charge per each item
There is a self-service laundry on Deck 10 and it is HUGE! The biggest self-service guest laundry I have ever seen. I believe it was approx. £3 for a wash load and around the same for the dryer
There is a vegan/vegetarian section within Borough Market – I’m sure this would also be available in The Buckingham. The ship can also cater for guests in need of a lactose free diet, Kosher and more. You just need to let them know in advance of your sailing
The Buckingham menu changes every evening for dinner, but like many other lines, things such as grilled chicken, steak and salmon are always available
In my opinion, the ships’ best kept secret is the Consulate Bar and the section of deck it is on – I’ll let you find it for yourself
Seasickness tablets are available free of charge from Reception
Cabins have UK 3-pin sockets, some with USB ports. We only had 1 socket in our cabin but my friend packed a travel cube – extension cables are NOT allowed
The Wi-Fi was pretty good – no qualms on that side of things from me
The website states that the ship offers a small bureau de change service by way of Reception, however, on my sailing Reception did not hold any foreign currencies – bear this in mind before sailing. I’d suggest you exchange your money pre-cruise
Cabins do have fridges – I think they were only added to the ship just before my cruise as ours wasn’t actually switched on until 5 or 6 days into the sailing
Bookings for Saffron and Sea & Grass are to be made at The Buckingham during the main evening dinner service – I’d suggest arriving just before first-sitting to ensure you can find someone to make the booking for you
First sitting dinner is at 18:00 and second sitting is at 20:30
There are 3 dress codes: Formal, Smart and Casual. Personally, I think Formal and Casual would suffice, Smart felt redundant, to a degree.
There were a few shops onboard, but they didn’t always seem to open as per the daily paper timings. There’s a duty free section which offers spirits, tobacco, perfume, clothes and then bits and bobs such as toothpaste and sweets. There’s a small Pandora store and then another shop offering jewellery and watches
The casino onboard is small but does the job. There’s no Roulette wheel (which I was disappointed about) but there are slot machines and 2 gaming tables, one of which I think was Black Jack
The Chef’s Table dining experience received rave reviews from those who tried it. I believe this is charged at £89 per person
The onboard library is quite small but it has a surprisingly large and very varied selection of books – I was impressed
Ambience – The Bit That Needs Resolved
There were several aspects of the cruise that could have been better, and I’d like to think in time they will be improved. Most didn’t impact on my overall cruise experience – they were annoying little things that either worked themselves out or were addressed once briefly mentioned – but one that did impact the cruise and on a daily basis was the service from bar staff. This was something that the vast majority of people onboard were constantly complaining about. The wait time for drinks was quite often painful. Upwards of 25 minutes some mornings just for 2 coffees and that was when there was only half a dozen or so people on the deck. It became an expectation in many areas that when you ordered, you’d not get your order for quite some time. There just wasn’t enough crew to manage demand from the number of guests that were onboard. This also had an impact when it came to how you were treated by the crew members that were taking orders. I was served more than once without having a single word uttered to me, quite literally. I know we all have off days, but I don’t expect literal silence between ordering, the drink being served and then signing for it. Several times, I bypassed crew that were taking orders and went to the bar/counter to order, but I was then met with a hostile bar tender or barista – I felt like I couldn’t win. For me, this was the main thing that needed to be addressed and it needs to be done relatively quickly.
Would I Sail With Ambassador Again?
I can’t say that the issues with service have put me off because It’s something that can be resolved. The overall cruise was very good, and I was pleasantly surprised with many aspects of it. Public areas and the food far exceeded my expectations, my cabin (superior twin on deck 9) was comfortable and there was more than enough storage space for 2 people. It was nothing flash, but it did the job, it was clean and it was in line with what I’d expect on a ship of Ambience’s age. Reception staff were always helpful, smiling and friendly, even when clearly up against it from some passengers that needed to take the tone down a little bit. Our cabin steward couldn’t be faulted, he was wonderful. A large majority of crew were excellent, very friendly and couldn’t do enough for you.
The morning we arrived in Cadiz it was raining heavily and I mean heavily! We suddenly sprang a small leak in the cabin so off I went to reception to report it. I’d been back in the cabin less than 5-minutes when there was a knock on the door – it was our cabin steward and his supervisor. They immediately started making arrangements for the issue to be fixed, the carpet to also be cleaned and dried. I have no idea what was done or when, but after our quick whizz around Cadiz in a tropical downpour, we arrived back to the ship to find everything resolved. We couldn’t have asked for more.
I’d absolutely cruise with Ambassador again and if things I’ve noted are resolved, it will prove to be a popular and long-lived cruise line among many UK cruisers. I know there have been some issues recently and sadly Ambience’s festive cruise was cancelled, but please, don’t knock this line down just yet – give Ambassador a chance to rectify the issues and then give them a try. I’d like to think you would be pleasantly surprised…