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Article from TNU SEPTEMBER 2023


New ships debuting in 2024
A reader’s review of Ambassador Ambience
Stornoway cruise terminal for next year
The modern cruise ship - A floating hotel at sea  Click her for the full story.

Coming soon. The best cruise ship guide is nearly ready.

Douglas Ward’s Cruising and Cruise Ships 2024 is on its way with publication due 1 October.  Travel News Update should by then have a preview copy to hand and able to comment on a book first published in 1985 with just 120 ships.  

In all some 320 ships are reviewed and graded, but we do not know as yet which will win the coveted 5-star-plus top award.  Past winner Crystal Serenity will not make it this time around, only recently back into service.  

Choosing the best is always controversial.  Europa 2, the 2020 winner, lacked electric doors in many places for deck access, but hosted quality works of art by David Hockney and Damien Hirst.  The dining was outstanding too, including selections from German chef Michael Hoffmann’s celebrated vegetarian and vegan offerings.  

Plenty of new ships in the book, including Saga’s first newbuilds, Adventure and Discovery, and the controversial Virgin “Lady” class ships.  Swan Hellenic’s Hebridean Princess is the smallest ship (50 passengers).

Now published under the Insight Guides banner it is the world's most authoritative and longest-running guide to cruising and cruise ships. Fully updated post-Covid, this iconic, industry-leading bible for millions of cruise-goers and crew members now features larger font for greater readability, and more images, making for a fresher, more user-friendly experience we are told.  The 2020 book was a hefty manual of 754 pages.  Somehow, in the Insight style, this has been reduced to 474 pages according to Amazon.

Douglas Ward’s team are professionals and not misled by unrepresentative and dubious social media comment.  

If the accommodation has problems they say so. “In many a lower grade rooms closet access is awkward and most are dimensionally challenging – but just manageable for a week”.  A typical comment.

Order in advance.  You will not be disappointed.

New ships debuting in 2024

Explora II (900 passengers) − Explora Journeys evolves its fleet with this 6-star ship, cruising to off the beaten path destinations. Explora II offers private terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows in every suite. The vessel includes four swimming pools, a spa and a casino. Dining options embrace a European steakhouse, Pan-Asian cuisine or flavours of the Mediterranean. Debuts 12 August 2024.  

Icon of the Seas (7,514 berths) − This highly anticipated Royal Caribbean 5-star ship offers a first-of-its-kind Royal Caribbean adventure for the whole family. Icon of the Seas will be the largest cruise ship built to date and will house the largest waterpark at sea with six unique slides, including Pressure Drop, the first open freefall slide at sea. The ship will have 40 restaurants and bars, and seven swimming pools. This vessel boasts 28 stateroom categories, including expansive balconies and spacious rooms designed with family comfort in mind.  First cruise 27January 2024. A sister ship Utopia of the Seas debuts in summer 2024.

Ilma (448 passengers) − Bearing the name "water" in Maltese, Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection's second 6-star ship pays homage to the sea. Ilma offers a luxurious, all-suite yacht cruise experience featuring 224 suites with private balconies, a spa, fitness centre and a pool deck with a jacuzzi. Ilma boasts a variety of dining options, including contemporary cuisine, a sushi bar and an open-air poolside grill. The yacht includes a marina platform for easy access to water sports such as kayaking and snorkelling. Debuts 19 September 2024.

Queen Anne (2,996 passengers) − Cunard expands its fleet for the first time since 2010 with this 5-star newbuild. Queen Anne will offer upscale and innovative features, such as the Verandah Grill and The Pavillion, a space with a specially designed retractable glass dome roof spanning two decks. Cruisers can enjoy picturesque sea views at The Panorama Pool Club strategically located at the aft of the ship. Queen Anne will honour timeless White Star experiences with afternoon tea in The Queens Room. Debuts 10 May 2024.

Silver Ray (728 passengers) − Sister ship to Silver Nova, this 6-star Silversea vessel delivers a new way of luxury cruising. Silver Ray is the second ship in the Nova class and mirrors every aspect of her sister ship, including being a hybrid luxury ship. The vessel is one of the most spacious ships ever built, offering an exceptionally high space-to-guest ratio and will introduce a brand new selection of superb suites offering stunning sea to sky views. Debuts 3 June 2024.
Sun Princess (4,300 passengers) − Princess will introduce its first Sphere class ship and the largest vessel the brand has ever built. This 21-deck, 5-star ship features 29 restaurants and bars, over 1,500 staterooms with balconies and the Sea Breeze, the first rollglider at sea. The Dome, a multilevel, glass-enclosed deck offers a relaxing indoor/outdoor pool by day and a high-energy entertainment space by night, with state-of-the-art lighting effects. Debuts 8 February 2024.

A reader’s review of Ambassador Ambience

From time to time TNU publishes ship reviews from readers.  In truth the Editor-in-Chief, a cruise fan, usually manages four a year but any more is too much, even as a lecturer.

This report is from Glenn (and Vivienne) Vald, regular cruisers who thought they might try Ambassador, a brave and ambitious launching of a new line in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.

“As frequent cruisers and previously travelling with the major cruise lines but especially with one in particular we were shocked at the deterioration in standards of catering, entertainment and amenities on our last trip.  We decided a change was necessary.

Ambassador’s in-house reservations people were extremely helpful.

We saw an advert for Ambassador Cruises as we particularly wanted to see the gardens at Tresco and Monets gardens at Giverny.   Our ten-night cruise took the now traditional East Coast route, a sea day followed by Kirkwall, Stornoway (tender this year – see elsewhere in this month’s TNU), Tobermory (a tender once more), Belfast, Cobh, Isles of Scilly with local boats, Guernsey with tenders again and finally Le Harve.  For ourselves one more sea day would have been ideal.

We arrived at Tilbury early. Just off the M25 from North London it was very easy and greeted by the baggage handlers in a very friendly manner.  We were quickly ushered into the embarkation hall and in next to no time after the appropriate formalities were complete we boarded the ship. No long quayside walkway!

Their advert says they are the friendliest cruise line and this is certainly true. Everybody was most helpful and cheerful.  All the crew said how happy they were working with Ambassador.

Ambience is not a new ship, first named by Princess Diana as Regal Princess in 1991 and now has a capacity 1,400 guests, generous for a 70,000-ton ship, and childless except for a couple of summer school holiday cruises.

All of the public rooms have been updated and are of a high standard including the theatre.  The cabins other than the suites could do with some improvement but are perfectly adequate and are larger than most other ships of similar ilk. There is more than sufficient hanging space and drawers.  A light is automatically activated when using the more than adequate bathroom at night.  Tea and coffee trays were in the cabin but no biscuits. Breakfast in the suite is provided, but there is a charge if we wanted something later in the day.  There is a £6 per day service fee, which of course you can opt out of. We also gave our steward a little something as he was excellent.

The main Buckingham Restaurant is run on two sittings with as many courses as you like.  And the mainly Filipino and Indian staff could not be more helpful. Ambassador has been working on the crew’s English. As an alternative Saffron offered exceptional Indian fusion cuisine and also available is a premium grill with the title Sea & Grass.  

The self-service dining, called Borough Market, on the same deck as the swimming pools, does offer waiter help for those less capable.  A separate vegetarian menu was also available.  Diabetic and gluten free passengers were well looked after. The wine prices were reasonable with a fair choice.  However, the coffee served at meal times is diabolical.  My suggestion is you take your own instant coffee and ask for hot water.

The cabins were kept spotless with service twice a day.  But no chocolates left on the bed at night. (is that something that should be dropped by all cruise lines? Editor) Instead the towels were made up into animal shapes.  Ours was a junior suite, with a large sitting area, about 50% larger than a standard balcony cabin. The TV was limited and showed no films.  The cruise card worked the doors and screens around the ship giving all sorts of information.  

The excursions were well organised if a little costly. Unfortunately there were no port talks (could have been fitted in on the first day) or information left in the cabin about the ports.  Your best plan of action is to visit the tourist information office at the ports.

The “Entertainment and Enrichment Programme” offered something to do if not relaxing about the ship.  A keen young troupe provided song and dance. Sadly, no live orchestra. This could be easily accommodated in the lovely, tiered Palladium playhouse but what we did get was real theatre with Abagail’s Party. Very funny.  Our trip featured a fine comedian whose routine really suited our fellow travellers, who came mainly from East Anglia.

Other voyages, we were told, include personality appearances by entertainers and high-profile sports people.  Live music and vocals were provided around the ship to a high standard. The entertainment team were lively and worked very hard.  Plenty of quizzes and craft opportunities.

There is a small casino on board, and a well-equipped gym and spa.

Disembarkation was very smooth with plenty of trolleys and baggage handlers if you needed help.  There was even a lollipop lady to assist you to cross the road to the car park.

We never cruised on CMV but the name was constantly raised by the friends we made on the ship.  An “improved version” was the general view.

Overall it was a most enjoyable holiday at a sensible price.  I must add the guest speaker was excellent.  We’ve booked Ambassador for the Christmas cruise to the Canaries.  Perhaps it is too late for engineering to sort out the swimming pool heating.  It’s needed.  Others told us that the wi-fi was excellent.  But at £10 per day?  Perhaps by the time we return to Tilbury some of our suggestions would have been taken up!”

Stornoway cruise terminal for next year

Stornoway, the tiny (6,000 population) capital of Lewis and Harris, the Western Isles, is setting itself up for a larger influx of cruise ship tourists when a new berth opens next year.  Currently large ships use tenders, popular with passengers, less so with crew having the responsibility of boarding holidaymakers often in seas less perfectly calm.  

The positive news is that this will establish Stornoway as the only port in the north-west of Scotland where large ships can get alongside. It fits as a perfect location for UK itineraries, an overnight sail to and from Greenock, Invergordon, Kirkwall and Belfast.

The new facility will accommodate vessels up to over 1,100ft in length, supporting Cunard’s QM2 and P&O Arvia and the like.  

Almost 100 vessel calls are expected at the port during the 2023 cruise season, which started in April and is due to finish at the end of September.

Whilst providing much-needed spring to autumn revenue for the local economy it will also raise questions regarding the sudden influx of passengers and crew, doubling the population for a day.  The pier, in the Gallows Hill area, will require transport to the centre of the town, much like the slightly larger municipality of Kirkwall in the Orkneys, with which it can be compared.  

Travel to Stornoway can made on the twice daily ferry service to Ullapool on the Scottish mainland, and by Loganair flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

The Western Isles provides awe-inspiring heritage and in some respects does not consider itself part of Scotland.  A local version of Gaelic is the first language of locally born residents. The last outpost of the Gulf Stream, Stornoway never gets too cold, or too hot either.

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