From Monday May 17, cruise ships will once again be permitted to sail in UK water. But the spotlight has shifted elsewhere this week by a surprising – and exciting – development for an industry knocked by the pandemic: the launch of a new British cruise operator.
Ambassador Cruise Line, based out of Tilbury, Essex, will set sail in April 2022, offering no-fly itineraries and describing itself as offering a “premium-value, authentic and friendly cruise experience”.
But according to chairman Gordon Wilson, speaking to The Telegraph before the news was made public, the raison d'être of Ambassador is simple: “There’s a certain style and cachet to cruising – and we want to bring that back.”
“It’s not about going down water chutes or surfing at the back of the ship – which there is a market for but it’s not the one we’re seeking to service.”
Instead, he added, it will be “a traditional maritime experience where it’s quite stylish” – though he stressed that this did not mean it would be “stuffy”.
It might seem an odd time to unfurl plans for a new cruise line. After all, ocean cruising, at least for Britons, has effectively been off the cards since March last year. Has coronavirus dampened people’s desire to get back on board? Not at all, believes Wilson. Yes, there were some unfortunate incidents in the early days of the pandemic, he said, but that was largely due to how port authorities dealt with outbreaks. “Cruise lines are pretty good on health and hygiene, pre-dating Covid […] we’re offering a safe environment for our customers.”
And as The Telegraph has reported over the recent weeks, there appears to be incredibly high demand, with round-Britain cruises and even world cruises selling out in record time.
Far from ushering in the end of holidays afloat, the pandemic has given cruise holidays a chance to “reestablish” itself, said Wilson.
“If you’ve been on a cruise you know about [how safe they are, about health protocols] but if you haven’t it’s easy to make misguided assumptions, so I think the industry has a whole has a great opportunity establish its credentials."
The fledgling fleet comprises one ship, the 1,400-passenger Ambience. Cruise watchers will know it better as Pacific Dawn, part of P&O Cruises Australia until 2020 (and saved by Ambassador from becoming floating apartments in Panama). There will be 798 cabins, and passengers can expect five restaurants, two cafés, nine bars and lounges, a swimming pool and spa.
The ship is currently in Montenegro, and ahead of any cruise holidays she will undergo a refurbishment costing tens of millions of pounds, said Mr Wilson. This will cover both the aesthetic elements that will be obvious to passengers – “considering it hasn’t had a lot of work done to it yet it’s in pretty good shape” – as well as a major ‘green’ overhaul.
This includes upgrading the ship to International Maritime Organisation tier 3 compliant, which aims to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by approximately 70 per cent compared to the standards applicable from January 2022. This change comes three years earlier than required.
Ambience will also be equipped with modern ballast and sewage water treatment systems, and single-use plastic will not be used onboard.
“We believe a key factor in consumer decision making will increasingly be how environmentally friendly a cruise ship is.”
Wilson has more than 30 years' experience in the travel industry, most recently as CEO and president of the global travel commerce platform, Travelport from 2011 until 2019. The management team will feature a quartet of former directors from the now defunct Cruise & Maritime Voyages, including former chief executive officer and chairman Christian Verhounig, who has been appointed Ambassador's CEO.
Ambience’s inaugural sailing on April 6 next year will be a four-night cruise to Hamburg ahead of a spring programme that includes Norwegian fjords and the British Isles. Much is yet to be revealed but the full programme from May 2023 will feature 33 sailings visiting 88 ports, reaching the Canaries, the Caribbean, Scandinavia, the Arctic and Russia, among other destinations.
Both passengers and crew members must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to sail.
Not since 2010 has a new British cruise brand made its debut. The last was Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which ceased trading in July 2020, blaming the pandemic.
But as we near the end of restrictions, as cruise-loving Britons return to the water this summer after more than a year of being forced to remain on dry land, Ambassador expects a future of expansion.
“Clearly our plan is not to be a one-ship operator”, said Mr Wilson, who confirmed that more vessels will be added as opportunities arise and they “aim to be a significant player in the UK market”.
It might be early days for Ambassador Cruise Line and Ambience but the founder is confident about the line’s potential: “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” he says.
Cruises on Ambience will go on sale in June, with indicative prices for a seven-night European cruise from £850pp, full board.