Sea views and coastal calls: a new way to explore closer to home

Alan Fairfax discovers the delights of the British Isles and Rotterdam on Ambassador Cruise Line’s Ambition, and finds that travelling solo doesn’t mean travelling alone.

The world is a beautiful place, but what many don’t realise, is that there’s so much of it on our doorstep and one of the best ways to see it is by cruise ship. And this is exactly what I chose to do on my recent solo adventure with Ambassador Cruise Line. As a fairly new member to the solo traveller club, I know all too well that travelling solo for the first time can be a daunting prospect. However, more and more people are doing so each year; some by choice, others having lost loved ones. Thousands of solos now choose a cruise as their preferred holiday and it’s easy to see why. What’s the experience like? Read on to find out.

First impressions

Arriving at the Port of Tilbury, Ambassador Ambition, my home for the next 12 days, stands resplendent in the early spring sunshine. From arrival at the port to entering my cabin it takes less than 25 minutes and my luggage arrives soon after. My cabin, a junior suite is on deck 10, is very spacious and furnished in light reflecting tones. It’s well-appointed with a large bed, settee, dressing table, lots of hanging and drawer space, television and much, much more. The bathroom comprises of the usual facilities with bath and shower.

Following the compulsory boat drill, we move away from the quayside and set sail to begin our transit of the River Thames, passing meadows, towns and villages as we head for the open sea and our first port of call, Rotterdam.

As the first evening falls it’s time for dinner and I head to the Holyrood Restaurant to meet my fellow table guests, also solo travellers, a table of six with a mix of first time and regular cruisers. The menu is extensive, and the quality of food and service is excellent. Following dinner some go to the show in the Palladium Theatre but for me its time to try out that large bed.

Time to explore onboard and on shore

Rotterdam Suspension Bridge
Rotterdam Suspension Bridge

Early morning finds us moored in Rotterdam. The sun is shining from a clear blue sky. Following breakfast in the Borough Market buffet restaurant, I decide to explore the ship whilst most passengers opt to go on a tour. Many go to a venue I previously visited, Keukenhof Gardens: thousands of tourists from all over the world visit what is the world’s largest display of bulbs, not just tulips but many other bulb varieties. Seven million bulbs are hand planted every September by a team of 40 gardeners. It’s a delightful experience.

Back in my cabin is an invitation to the Solos Welcome Cocktail Party the following day in Lupinos, one of the ship’s speciality restaurants. The invite also gives details of solo meet ups every day at 10am, 5.15pm and 7.45pm in The Cavern, one of the entertainment venues. Having these arrangements on hand is such a great benefit to solo travellers as it immediately makes you feel at ease and gives options to mingle with others.

Cavern Bar
Cavern Bar

Arriving at the Cocktail Party the venue is buzzing with so many people: 154 to be exact. There’s a mix of all different backgrounds, from first time cruisers to those who have cruised many times; some who have met on previous cruises and made lasting friendships; and small groups from widows and widowers, to others who met through solo Facebook groups. Waiters serve a choice of complimentary drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and the ship’s officers mingle and chat with attendees. Certainly, a good start to the cruise and one that continued throughout – at least it certainly did for me.

Highland charms

The next morning, I attend the solo meet up at The Cavern and reacquaint with many guests from the previous evening. Everyone agrees this has the making of an excellent cruise. We take part in the morning quiz, and some of us form a team which becomes a regular feature. Did you know that a strawberry is the only fruit to grow its seeds on the outside, or that a banana is the most popular fruit in the world? I didn’t, but do now.

The following day we arrive in the Scottish Islands. Our first stop is Kirkwall, capital city of the Orkneys, which boasts Britain’s most northerly cathedral, St Magnus, founded in 1137 by the Vikings. Next, we visit Lerwick, capital of the Shetlands, a delightful town overlooked by rolling green hills and blue sky. Two days later we arrive in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. On a coach tour with other solos, we discover the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris occupy the same island, the latter boasting some of the most beautiful silver sand beaches in the world.

The Emerald Isle awaits

From here we say farewell to Scotland as we sail southwest to Belfast, Northern Ireland. A tour of this magnificent city begins in the dock area with memories of Titanic, before continuing on through the city centre and areas where murals adorn the walls. We finish up in McHugh’s pub with a display of Irish dancing made famous by Riverdance, and of course a pint of Guinness.

Sailing south to Eire we dock in Cobh, an island with bridge links to Cork. Our coach takes us on a tour of Cork, a beautiful city, prior to visiting the seaside town of Kinsale marking the start of the famous Wild Atlantic Way. Unfortunately, Storm Kathleen is approaching and its heavy rain and strong winds have already arrived as we make our way back to the ship.

The next port of call should have been Falmouth but due to the strong winds and rough seas caused by Storm Kathleen the Captain takes the decision that it would be unsafe to dock so we have extra time at sea as we head for Tilbury.

A fond farewell

Sunset from deck
Sunset from deck

Ambition is a ship that will appeal to most people, unless you prefer large mega ships. That all-important item, food, is of a very high standard: good menu choice, always tasty, well presented and served by people who could not do enough for you. The entertainment was professional, and, as it should be, entertaining.

But it was the extra little touches and attention to solo guests which really impressed me. For example, one sea day fell on Easter Sunday, and a ‘Solos Lunch’ was arranged in the Buckingham Restaurant with Easter Eggs for all and complimentary wine.

There are many other good things to say about this ship. I would summarise to say, if you are travelling solo and want to try cruising, give this ship a try, you won’t be disappointed. Hopefully see you on board.

Next steps

Alan was a guest of Ambassador Cruise Line and sailed on the Easter British Isles Discovery. To plan and book your solo cruise, call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.

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Alan

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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