Farewell CMV, hello Ambassador – the gap left by the much-loved British line that fell victim to the Covid pandemic could be filled by another Essex-based company offering bargain breaks for the over-50s from London Tilbury on similar-sized ships.
Ambassador Cruise Line even shares many members of the management team who were with Cruise & Maritime Voyages, including CEO Christian Verhounig. Its first ship, called Ambience, will be the 1,400-passenger former Pacific Dawn, which was due to join the CMV fleet as Amy Johnson.
Despite the similarities, Gordon Wilson, chair of the board of directors, insists Ambassador is not ‘CMV Mark 2’ but ‘a totally new outfit’. He told me: ‘It’s a new company, with completely new owners, it has no debts – CMV, as you know, suffocated under its debt – and that in itself is pretty unique in the cruise industry.
‘We have the same maritime tradition that CMV had, but with better entertainment, better day-time education and talks, while still being differentiated from the “floating block of flats” newer ships.’
The 70,000GRT vessel, with 798 cabins, has plenty of deck space, a choice of five restaurants and two cafes, nine lounges, a pool and spa. It will offer fitness and leisure facilities, enrichment and lifestyle programmes as well as a full schedule of day and evening entertainment.
Mr Wilson, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the global travel industry, said Ambassador would be much more environmentally aware than CMV was, and is spending ‘tens of millions’ of pounds converting Ambience to meet emissions standards that won’t come into effect until 2025. It will do away with single-use plastics and make menus, shore plans and activity schedules digital rather than use paper.
He said: ‘Former CMV customers are more than welcome on Ambassador Cruise Line but it will be a different experience – not wholesale different, but subtle changes that I think will be better.
‘We hope this will be the first ship of many – we have big ambitions and if we can find the right ships at the right price and the right size then absolutely we’re in the market to buy more.’
Already, 35 jobs have been created by the new line, which is based in Purfleet and fully equity-financed through funds managed by Njord Partners of London. Another 65 roles are expected to be filled – plus crew – and suppliers will also benefit, said Mr Wilson.
Asked about customers who lost money when CMV stopped trading, he answered: ‘To those people who feel they were hard done by, obviously I’m sorry for them but it’s nothing to do with me or the current owners of the line. I would invite them to sail with us with confidence.’
Customers with Ambassador will be fully financially protected, with deposits kept in an independent trust account and only released when the cruise starts. Guests and crew joining the ship will have to be fully vaccinated.
Ambience began life in 1991 as Regal Princess, christened by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and for a short time recently was Satoshi, a residential ship intended for entrepreneurs and cryptocurrency traders.
Bookings go on sale next month for cruises starting on April 6, 2022, with a short break to Hamburg, followed by sailings to the Norwegian fjords and around the British Isles.
From May next year, the ship will begin a programme of 33 sailings to 88 ports, featuring the Baltics and St Petersburg, Greenland, the Arctic and Iceland. In winter it will offer a range of expedition-style voyages to the Canaries, Cuba, the Caribbean, Cape Verde and Scandinavia. Guide prices are £850 per person for a seven-night European cruise departing from Tilbury.
A full programme of itineraries and prices will be available for sale in June on the Ambassador Cruise Line website, supported by a 68-page brochure.
CMV was one of Britain’s most popular lines until it went into administration last year. Some of its assets – including booking systems and intellectual property, cars and office furniture – were bought by Mr Vehounig.
At the time, joint administrator Paul Williams said the sale ‘provides an opportunity for CVI, through its owner Christian Verhounig, to continue to pursue funding opportunities to potentially relaunch CMV’s unique cruise operations to its dedicated customers.’
Mr Verhounig added: ‘Together with my previous management team, we are working hard to plug the huge market gap vacated by CMV’s untimely insolvency.’
Of the company’s six ships, four – Astor, Columbus, Magellan and Marco Polo – have ended up as scrap in India.