I recently disembarked what may be the shortest and weirdest cruise in history, on a ship that was planned to have been scrapped in 2020.
She was saved from the scrapyard by the new British cruise line Ambassador and I had booked a 3-night mini break onboard the ship.
Our cruise was cancelled 4 hours after we boarded and, in total, we were onboard this ship for about 8 hours. During that time we had more problems than we would usually have on a full two-week cruise!
We boarded the ship in London Tilbury and were planning on heading to Bruges to the Christmas markets. Embarkation was pretty easy and, despite the bad weather, we were really excited to get on board.
I picked up my cruise card which I needed to get into my room, buy drinks, and pretty much everything else onboard – it’s very important.
My friends, Justin and Tristan, were told that they’d have to get theirs onboard as they weren’t ready yet. No big deal we thought, it isn’t uncommon on a cruise for things to be a bit delayed.
The problem was much bigger than that but at this point, we didn’t realise how widespread the problems were!
As soon as we embarked the ship, we were in the middle of a beautiful Atrium. The ship was decorated for Christmas and looked amazing.
Despite the ship being from 1991, everything here looked very new and this area definitely surpassed my expectations. I hoped that the rest of the ship would be as nice as this area.
I didn’t have particularly high expectations after reading review after review online about broken toilets and broken air conditioning
One of my favourite things about cruising is the feeling when you first get onboard a cruise ship and you run around exploring as fast as you can!
Looking back I’m so glad that I did because I wouldn’t have had a chance to do that later.
We found a big pub area called “The Purple Turtle” which I’ve since found out used to be a casino.
In the UK we don’t gamble as much as in other places, so if a British cruise line buys an American or Australian ship, they normally replace the big casino with one that’s much smaller.
The Ship’s History and Recent Renovation
The ship was originally launched in 1991 for Princess cruises as Regal Princess and spent most of her life as Pacific Dawn for P&O Australia.
As I was wandering around the main public areas I thought that Ambassador had done a great job renovating these spaces.
I’ve since had a look at P&O Dawn ship reviews and I think I should be giving a lot of the credit to P&O instead of Ambassador, as most of the inside spaces haven’t changed.
Even the picture frames are the same in the big lounges – not that that’s a bad thing, they didn’t need to be changed.
P&O did a great job with these public areas when they refitted the ship back in 2017.
Ambassador did make a few major changes like taking down the waterslides, removing the rock climbing walls from the top deck – and adding the skull of a whale!
(They actually did add a couple of skulls but my friends never found these and looked a bit confused when I told them what I’d found….)
Delayed Departure Announced!
Very soon there was an announcement saying that we would be delayed leaving Tilbury, because of an annual safety check happening onboard.
We didn’t really think anything of it, it was already dark so didn’t really matter to us when we set sail.
There wasn’t going to be any big sail-away party like you might have in the Caribbean, it was raining outside and the weather was miserable.
I was glad I braved the rain to have a quick look around the top deck early on, as this turned out to be the only chance I got!
I didn’t know it at the time but I only had about two hours until my cruise would be cancelled!
Problems Soon Arise Onboard
I met my friends in the buffet, we were getting pretty hungry by that point.
The buffet design was lovely – more like a food court than a buffet, and everything was served to you.
We ordered a drink which took a while to come.
Slow service is quite common on embarkation day, as many people rush to the buffet soon after boarding – so we didn’t really think that was a problem. We didn’t have anywhere to go and thought we had 3 days to enjoy the ship.
Next up was our safety drill, which everybody has to do on a cruise by law. It was the old-style safety drill where you have to stand around in a lounge but it didn’t take very long and was fine.
There definitely seemed to be a problem with the toilets, and well over half the people onboard either didn’t have a cruise card, or they had one that didn’t work.
Throughout the evening they would be making announcements asking people to go and pick up their cruise cards – again not the end of the world but not a great start to the cruise.
As it turned out some people would never get their cruise cards before they left the ship…..
We then went to our cabin and things did get a little weird here. The cabin was much bigger than I expected and the layout was similar to that on a lot of Princess cruise ships – which makes sense as she was built for Princess Cruises.
The first thing I did was have a look behind the cabin curtain as it looked like there would be a window there. I had an inside cabin though – so there was nothing but the wall behind it.
Usually you don’t have a curtain to nowhere on a cruise, but fair enough!
Overall I thought that the design of the cabin was nice but there were definitely bits around the room which were grubby and damaged.
It wouldn’t have taken a lot to change small things – like the weird handles on the doors that reminded me of dirty rat tails.
The cabins definitely didn’t feel as though they had been refurbished to the same standard as the rest of the ship.
It was quite a stark difference even in the public areas, you’d see the new carpets and the old carpets side-by-side.
It was like somebody ran out of money – Or energy – It was all very odd!
I made a big mistake – I UNPACKED MY SUITCASE! I didn’t put anything into the drawers with the weird handles because I didn’t want to touch them, but we had this big wardrobe area and a lot more hanging space than you usually find on cruise ships.
In hindsight, unpacking my suitcase was a mistake – but there was no way for me to know that I wouldn’t actually spend a night in that cabin.
I loved the fact that there was a kettle with tea and coffee-making facilities in our cabin. Ambassador are aimed primarily at the British market so the kettle is much appreciated by tea-drinking Brits!
We met our cabin steward and asked to have our bed as a double bed instead of twins. If you ever find that you have a double bed and want twins or vice versa – just ask!
Usually, if you ask a cabin steward they’ll come back later to move the beds and remake them, but our cabin steward just pushed the beds together and rearranged all of the furniture while we watched.
He was the loveliest guy and we were just chatting about it, but it was bizarre and I definitely felt awkward. If I knew that’s what he was going to do I would have just done it myself – or at least helped!
It turned out to all be a waste of time anyway, but I didn’t know I was about an hour from having my cruise cancelled.
I’m happy to say that the shower was really big but I didn’t get a chance to measure it with my usual toothpaste tube measurements.
I’m actually so happy I filmed anything at all in the cabin because usually I wait until the end of the cruise to film my cabin tours.
Maybe something in me knew that it was all going to go very wrong……
I got changed for dinner and met my friends at the Buckingham restaurant. We’d been given early dining – which I love, and we were seated at a table together which was great.
The main dining room was huge and we were seated right at the back by the windows. At this point, we were just chatting about what we would do in Bruges and how we had found the ship so far.
The menu didn’t have a lot of vegetarian choices but it did have really good allergen markings and on a few of the dishes it said that there were vegan versions available
I chose a cheese tart to start, followed by the bean enchiladas and the After Eight dessert.
It was between our starter and main that our cruise was cancelled!
My dinner was nice, the portions were quite small but overall it was a good dinner.
The restaurant was huge and I could definitely imagine having some lovely meals here if the cruise had been longer than 8 hours in total!
The Cruise Was Cancelled!
My friends Tristan, Justin and Lizzy also have YouTube channels and they had been in touch with the PR team before the cruise.
I usually don’t talk about my cruises in advance online and don’t tell the cruise line because I want to be as undercover as possible.
Because of that, I wasn’t on the PR list and that meant that Justin and Lizzy both received an email that I didn’t get!
….and to be honest, I just thought it was a joke!
I thought what? We’re already here! they must mean the next cruise – or maybe we’re just not going to Bruges? The fact that the cruise could be completely cancelled didn’t cross my mind at all.
We were all there looking at each other very confused when the overhead announcement came on, I didn’t capture the part where he said it was cancelled, but here is the reaction of the main dining room…
Everybody was shocked and a lot of people laughed a lot, we laughed and just kind of thought what on earth is going on?
The announcement said that we had to be off the ship by 9.30am the next day. I didn’t hear much more of the announcement as everybody in the restaurant started talking, nobody could quite believe it!
They told us that it was to do with the annual inspection and that they had found a problem with one of the lifeboat stations, so the ship was unable to sail.
As far as I can tell, these are inspections that cruise lines know about well in advance so I’m really not sure what went wrong here.
Doing a bit of research I’ve since found out that this isn’t even the first time this year the ship has failed an inspection. Back in May, she was detained in the UK for failing a PSC inspection (This stands for Port State Control Inspection.)
We had so many questions at this point, my main one was why couldn’t we just stay on the ship for the next few days and treat the ship like a floating hotel?
I think it would have been best if they offered everybody a refund if they wanted to leave – but let those who wanted to stay onboard. After all, they already had all of the food, the guest entertainers and the space.
I did learn more as time went on about what was really happening but at this point, I was so confused!
I was lucky because I was only a few hours from home, but some people had travelled a long way to get there and were faced with being left in Tilbury.
Tilbury port is actually the main port for the importation of paper into the UK but that’s not really a reason to spend 3 days there!
After this, I found out that the announcement had only been made to the public areas on the ship – or maybe the tannoy was broken in a few of the cabins.
Either way, there were plenty of people onboard who didn’t know that the cruise had been cancelled!
Some guests found out from other guests – and that isn’t ever a good situation at all.
Lounges and Theatre Entertainment
We decided that we wanted to make the most out of our time onboard, we’d come all this way we might as well have a look at a couple of the bars and go to a show in the theatre.
There are 11 different lounges and bars onboard.
The ones that we saw were full of people making the most out of their first and last evening onboard.
The bars were beautifully decorated and looking at these areas you’d never know that the ship was as old as she was.
The theatre onboard has this amazing stage that comes out quite a long way so wherever you’re sat you’re pretty close to the dancers and singers.
The show that we watched was a musicals-related show and I loved it, it was only about 35 minutes long and I’m glad we went to see it.
I also loved the seating, you have little tables between you, but you still have the space to get in and out if you need to.
I did try to get a drink before this but was told that they didn’t do bar service and I’d have to go and sit down in the theatre to get a drink.
This meant that throughout the entire show, there were people with their cruise cards in the air trying to get the attention of the waiters!
It was annoying being sat behind people with their hands in the air the whole time, but to be honest I think they were just fed up and really wanted a drink!
I wanted a drink too – but not enough to annoy the people behind me for the whole of the show.
I had bought a soda package when I booked the cruise – but I know my soda and it was definitely a weird kinda fountain soda. Sometimes fountain soda can be amazing but on this ship, it was really not good!
The British cruise line Marella is the same – they’re probably the worst for soda quality.
P&O are probably the best, because they give you a pint of Pepsi Max, it’s amazing!
We encountered the problem with no bar service again later when we went to get one last drink.
We went to the bar and were told quite abruptly we would have to sit down!
We sat down near the bar, looking right at the bar area for ages – but nobody ever came over to us.
We watched lots of other people walk up to the bar and get served, so we decided to go and try that again. When we did, they told us to sit down again but this time took our order.
The staff were definitely blunter than they would usually be on a cruise ship – whether this is normal for an Ambassador cruise or if they’d just had to deal with lots of angry people whose cruise had been cancelled I don’t know…
The mood wasn’t depressing though, it was more of an ‘I’d better make the most of this’ kind of atmosphere with people dancing and enjoying themselves.
There were two ladies who requested the band to play “Sailing” by Rod Stewart which was hilarious! We of course changed the words to…
Leaving the Ship
We made the decision to come home that evening instead of staying onboard overnight and then getting off early to drive through rush hour traffic.
We still had so many questions but wouldn’t get answers until a little later, we still didn’t know at this point if we would get a refund or any form of compensation, I really hoped that we would or there would be riots!
I didn’t know what would happen to the people who were booked onto the next cruise, and I didn’t even know if the next cruise would go ahead. Would we get refunds for our drinks package? Only time would tell…
It seemed like the problem was pretty serious but I assumed that they’d be able to fix it in Tilbury – I was wrong on that one!
We found a letter in our cabin that said that we would be able to get a refund, or we could take future cruise credit with an extra discount on a future cruise.
I’m definitely not saying never to another Ambassador cruise but I’m not going to rush back anytime soon so I decided to take the refund.
Luckily our room keys were working so we could go and pack ready to leave.
I did meet people in the corridors who were trying to find crew members to let them into their rooms because their cruise cards still didn’t work – and that was around 10pm.
Not so much of a problem if you can walk to find a crew member – but some guests couldn’t walk very well or stand for long periods of time. I’m sure they found it very annoying.
I also felt a bit bad for my cabin neighbours who had put up all of these lovely Christmas decorations only to have to take them down after a couple of hours!
On the plus side, this was perhaps the easiest disembarkation I’d ever had on a cruise, we just walked right off.
Later, the next cruise was also cancelled, which is a shame because that one was 15 nights long, not cheap, and was sailing over Christmas. Lots of people’s Christmas plans ruined!
The ship had to go to the shipyard for repairs, it did seem a little odd to me that they had to go all the way back to the shipyard to fix a lifeboat station.
I really don’t know much about repairing cruise ships, and I’m sure Ambassador didn’t take that decision lightly.
Watch this video to find out more about my cancelled Ambassador cruise
Safety always comes first!
It’s always better that a cruise line puts safety first, and cruise lines have to follow a lot of rules to make sure they do.
Some of those rules were added after the accident that happened onboard the Star Princess – where 23% of its cabins were destroyed by fire.
To find out what happened, and how this changed the industry, watch this video next…
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