Ambassador, Carnival, Saga & Viking.
This month’s cruising section is more newsy than usual, with the maiden voyage of a British cruise ship, the arrival of Carnival at Dover and a Saga visit for the first time to Plymouth. Looking ahead we also feature Viking and its expedition programme.
This report is brought to you by Malcolm Ginsberg, TNU’s Editor-in-Chief, and an experienced cruiser.
Ambassador Cruise Lines finally unveiled Ambition on 11 May, joining Ambience, its first ship, named 19 April 2022 during the pandemic by Sally Gunnell OBE, the 1992 Barcelona 400-metre women’s hurdle champion. This time another Olympic Gold Medallist is the ship’s Godmother, sailing supremo Shirley Robertson OBE.
Ambition can carry up to 1,200 passengers across 714 cabins, 125 of which have balconies and 113 are suites. As with her sister ship, Ambition meets the highest industry emission standards, and can therefore access some of the world’s best-kept secrets in the most environmentally friendly (and affordable) way possible, such as the UNESCO-protected Norwegian World Heritage fjords.
Following Ambassador’s successful inaugural season working in collaboration with Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), ocean conservationists will be joining guests onboard Ambition for seven itineraries in 2023/24. During these sailings, ORCA’s marine team will deliver enhanced onboard experiences inviting guests to learn more about their work, while also collecting important scientific data in key areas aimed at protecting sea life including whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Specialising in no-fly itineraries, sailings are adult-focussed and primarily aimed at the 50-plus market, but with multi-generational sailings in school holidays for the whole family to enjoy together.
The launch of Ambition will see Ambassador welcome guests onboard from eight UK departure ports for the first time, enabling passengers to enjoy the convenience of a no-fly cruise holiday. In addition to the cruise line’s home port of London Tilbury, joining ports are Belfast, Bristol, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falmouth, Liverpool and Newcastle.
For the balance of this year Ambition will offer a series of cruises generally from seven to 14 nights, culminating with a 38-day round-trip including Christmas and New Year to the West Indies Dutch Antilles. Belfast and Bristol feature in September with short two-night trips, ideal for those who have not cruised before.
Carnival is the world’s largest cruise line, some 25 ships all home-ported in the United States. Taking a holiday on one of the so-called ‘fun ships’ ships is different from what most Brits are used to, an unusual experience.
If you are considering crossing ‘The Pond’ it might be worthwhile trying out Carnival Pride, which is now operating a series of cruises out of Dover. We cruised on her last year and were sufficiently impressed to make a return booking, this time with our 14-strong family. www.btnews.co.uk/article/19117 Everything extra is priced in dollars, plus 15%, so be warned. Built in Helsinki 85,000 tons, she joined the fleet in 2001 and has 1,062 cabins.
Carnival Pride has been docked and returned to service with enhancements that include bow-to-stern upgrades to enhance accessibility on the ship for guests with disabilities. Other improvements include a new Heroes Tribute Bar, Chef’s Table, Dreams Studio, and Carnival Adventures Shop.
In addition, the ship’s steakhouse has been refreshed and re-named Fahrenheit 555, the casino expanded and the spa rebranded to the Cloud 9 Spa and Fitness Centre.
Christine Duffy, President, and Emeril Lagasse, Chief Culinary Officer, Carnival Cruise Line, visited the ship in Barcelona, before she set sail. “I’m so proud of our team. They have done amazing work refreshing and enhancing Carnival Pride just in time for her Europe sailings,” Duffy said. “We welcome everyone on Carnival ships, so we are happy we’ve completed the work to make the ship accessible to those with disabilities.”
Carnival Pride is sailing a series of European cruises through the summer, which include various itineraries with departures from Dover, Barcelona and Civitavecchia (Rome). The ship concludes its European season with a 15-day transatlantic voyage back to the US departing 28 October for Tampa, Florida.
Cunard and its flagship Queen Mary 2 (QM2) nearly had mud on its face just prior and during the Coronation, but were saved by some very quick thinking.
Essentially the QM2 suffered some technical problems at the end of April and the company had to cancel a North Atlantic crossing to New York. Clients were disgruntled and inconvenienced, although the company did its best to provide support and make alternative travel arrangements where needed, and offered attractive future cruise compensation.
The problem was sorted quicker than first thought, with Cunard ready to sail a fully crewed and replenished ship out of Southampton on Tuesday 2 May.
“Let’s offer a five-night trip to Liverpool at silly prices, include the Coronation, and pick up the scheduled programme at the end of the cruise.” The ship sold out in less than 24 hours, with priority booking for those who planned to go to New York.
One problem for our correspondent, that of passports. Nobody had said they were needed for a British cruise. Driving licences sufficed in the end, but some were not so lucky and had to abandon the trip, whilst one lady went home, collected the necessary document and picked up the ship in Liverpool.
TNU secured a cabin, paying a little more than a single day’s sailing under normal circumstances.
Allocated a balcony cabin on the fourth deck a few steps from the stairs and lifts proved to be ideal. Little walking to the restaurant. By the time they reached the cabin the luggage was waiting. The cabin itself was comfortable with a queen-sized bed, a sofa, desk and chair, a fridge containing a bottle of champagne. It was a five-night cruise with a lavish welcome at Liverpool, once Cunard’s home port.
As a surprise on departure they were delighted to listen to music from the dockside together with a wonderful firework display. The transatlantic lecture programme became an Irish sea series of talks, all very good. As the ship departed on the Friday passengers were treated to a large street party and 'fayre'. At sea for the Coronation itself QM2 was perfect. You could watch in the theatre, bars or quietly in your own cabin.
Well done Cunard’s Angus Struthers and his team. What could have been a disaster was turned into a trip to remember.
BTN reviewed QM2 back in 2011. www.btnews.co.uk/article/4324 We need to do it again, but after a refit due in the autumn. For more about the passport problems read www.travelnewsupdate.co.uk/article/222.
Saga Discovery made a maiden visit to Plymouth to just prior to the Coronation, on the Friday. Mooring in The Sound, the ship’s tenders using a new landing jetty, close by The Barbican and the Mayflower Museum. Plymouth was featured in ON TOUR last month and just after leaving Falmouth the evening before TNU’s Editor-in-Chief delivered a talk on the city, with suggestions of where to visit. It went down well.
Welcomed on board for the traditional plaque ceremony were Lord Mayor Sue Dann, her consort Chris Mavin and Richard Allan, Plymouth Harbour Master. Allan said that the port will host a record 18 ships next year and expects many more in future years. Unlike airline route changes, which can happen overnight, with ships the schedules are worked out at least two years ahead. Werner Povoden, Ship Hotel Manager, said that the short five-night Channel cruises were proving popular with 25% of passengers trying out Saga for the first time. Most will return.
And not quite on the same scale as Luton Town (see AND FINALLY) the City of Plymouth was all agog with Argyles winning League One and its promotion to The Championship.
Viking has announced three new summer season expedition voyages in the Arctic. Debuting in July 2025, the new itineraries, which range from 13 to 27 days, explore the polar north in Canada and Greenland, with two of the three voyages visiting the Canadian High Arctic.
The 13-day Into the Northwest Passage itinerary sails roundtrip from Nuuk (Greenland) and features destinations including the pristine waters of the Ilulissat Icefjord and the eastern entrance of the famed Northwest Passage in Pond Inlet (Canada). Guests can also discover stunning natural beauty and dramatic landscapes during the 15-day Canada & Greenland Explorer itinerary, which sails between Toronto and Nuuk. Those interested in more in-depth exploration can choose a combination of the two itineraries, the new 27-day Canada & the Northwest Passage voyage.
“Our guests are curious travellers who are eager to explore new and different regions of the world, in Viking comfort,” said Torstein Hagen, Chairman of Viking. “From the time of Leif Eriksson and the original Vikings, Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic have fascinated intrepid explorers. Today, there is no better way to experience this pristine area of the world than from the comfort of our purpose-built expedition ships."
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