On the surface, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and Ambassador Cruise Line appear to have much in common -- both sail from British ports, both operate classic, mid-sized ships and both are designed to appeal primarily to a mature British audience.
There are, however, significant differences between the two that will affect your cruising choice.
Ambassador Cruise Line -- the first new British line to launch in a decade -- ships include Ambience, which debuted in April 2022. Ambassador will bolster its fleet when it adds a second ship, Ambition, in 2023.
The line is positioning itself as offering "premium value" for the more budget-conscious and offering superb value for anybody who doesn't mind sailing an older ship. It is also filling the void of the now defunct Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV).
Fred. Olsen is arguably posher with a long-standing history and a bigger fleet -- and post-pandemic has added two newer ships to its line-up -- sister ships Bolette and Borealis (previously Holland America Line's Amsterdam and Rotterdam), joining Balmoral and Braemar. Thus, giving Fred. Olsen cruisers a choice of more modern and spacious vessels to sail on.
Read on as we put Ambassador Cruise Line and Fred. Olsen Cruise LInes head-to-head.
Elderly Brits, with an average age of 67
Some multigenerational groups in school holidays
Many repeaters, Fred. Olsen has a loyal following
Single travellers; the line encourages solos, with get-togethers and dance hosts for the evening ballroom sessions.
Mature Brits; Ambassador is geared to the over 50s
Solo travellers, attracted by the enticing fares
Curious first-timers; its mini-breaks are attractively priced for inquisitive travellers
Ex-CMV passengers; they're a loyal crowd and with many CMV crew now working with Ambassador they will be greeted by familiar faces.
The new-look Fred. Olsen fleet is based out of a number of regional UK departure ports: Balmoral in Edinburgh (Rosyth), Newcastle, Dover and Southampton, Borealis in Liverpool and Southampton, Bolette in a variety of ports but largely Southampton, Dover, Tilbury and Newcastle, and Braemar in Dover (from 2023).
Itineraries are many and varied, with ships travelling to 277 destinations in 90 countries, covering 104 areas of scenic cruising, including up rivers (Amazon, Guadalquivir), to the Baltic, Canary Islands and the Caribbean, and even the occasional "Mystery Cruise".
There's also a range of short-break cruises, and winter cruises to Norway in search of the Northern Lights.
Currently Ambience sails from Tilbury and second ship Ambition will also sail from the Essex-based port, but will add regional departures from Newcastle, Dundee, Belfast, Liverpool, Bristol and Falmouth.
Ambassador's two ships will span six continents visiting 165 destinations in 58 countries, including a round-the-world-cruise taking in 24 countries with 34 ports of call across the 120-night sailing.
There's a wide range of short break cruises and taster overnight cruises.
All four ships are more than 20 years old (Bolette is the newest launching in 2000 with HAL), thus cabins tend to vary slightly in measurement and layout.
Rooms tend to have a "classic" feel, with dark woods and thick carpets.
The line attracts a lot of single travellers and has a variety of solo cabins -- both Bolette and Borealis have 50 cabins dedicated to sole occupancy.
There are a total of 20 cabin category types onboard Ambience, and during the ship's refurbishment the 14 deluxe suites and 36 junior suites were given a fresh and contemporary look.
Aside from the suites, the remainder of the cabins while spacious and with ample storage, look a little tired décor wise.
For solos, 89 of the 798 cabins allocated for single occupancy.
Fixed-time dining in the evenings, but also the flexible option to dine in the Palms café on Braemar and Balmoral and The View Restaurant on Bolette and Borealis.
All four ships have various for-fee dining options which start at £10 per person. Bolette and Borealis have two each; Colours & Tastes and Vasco, while Braemar and Balmoral have one each.
Traditional afternoon tea is a feature, with an enhanced offering, Premium Afternoon Tea, available at £11.99 per person.
Ambience's main restaurant, Buckingham, works on a two-seating fixed dining in the evenings, with the more casual Borough Market offering a more casual option for breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea (included in cruise fare).
For speciality dining Ambience offers three choices; Indian-inspired, Saffron; surf & turf venue, Sea & Grass, and the Chef’s Table, which is a three-hour culinary feast and galley tour.
Ambition will include two main restaurants (Buckingham and Holyrood), the Borough Market buffet and speciality dining venues, Saffron and Olympic Taverna.
Onboard pastimes include bridge, shuffleboard and quoits.
Onboard enrichment program including such activities as participating in a radio broadcast, gardening, wine appreciation, history classes, wildlife-watching, painting classes and expert lecturers.
All ships have two pools and spa facilities. Borealis and Bolette also feature tennis and basketball courts.
The line also offers RIBs allowing for soft adventure pursuits.
Traditional deck games galore as well as pub quizzes and bingo in the Purple Turtle.
Aces & Eights for card games, and craft classes in Kapoor’s (for cruises of six nights or more)
Regular guest speaker programme called "In Conversation with" and themed cruises with radio, tv and sporting legends.
Ambience features a main pool, splash pool, fitness centre and spa facilities. Ambition is expected to mirror these facilities.
Daily entertainment in the theatre from the ship’s singers and dancers, mainly of the traditional 'sequins and feathers' variety.
Stand-up on selected cruises, billed ‘A laugh on the ocean waves’.
Pub quizzes and karaoke are regular features.
Dress code is either casual, informal or formal; on formal nights, a couple of times per week, black tie or a dark suit are encouraged for men and cocktail dresses for women.
Theatre entertainment in the Palladium include twice-nightly cabaret shows from the onboard performers, as well as guest comedians and magicians.
Karaoke, dance lessons and late-night drinks in the Observation Lounge
Two formal nights per week, on which men are expected to wear a dinner jacket (or lounge suit is accepted) and ladies can dress up in cocktail dresses should they wise
Small casinos feature onboard
No activities or kids' venues except during holiday time when the ships offer the Little Skippers children's club during peak school holidays, with a range of activities, from pizza-making in the galley to treasure hunts around the ships.
Fred. Olsen has in recent years targeted multi-generational families and it is common to find larger families of various ages onboard, or grandparents sailing with grandchildren.
All guests must be over 18 when travelling, aside from the selected multi-generational cruises over the school holidays.
As such there are no dedicated kids' venues, but Ambassador will host activities for children and families during the multi-generational sailings.
Good value fares reflect the size, quality and age of the ships.
Daily tips are suggested at £5 per person, per day.
Bar prices are the same as or less than you'd pay on land.
An all inclusive upgrade drinks package includes a variety of soft and alcoholic beverages for £24.99 per person, per day, on cruises of five nights or longer.
Extremely competitive for budget-conscious cruisers.
Gratuities are added automatically, at £6 per person, per day (this amount reduces to £5 for cruises of 16 nights or more)
Ambassador offers a variety of drinks packages starting from £15.95 per person (for cruises of 5 nights or more) or £79 per person for a three-night cruise. These also include gratuities.
Drink prices are reasonable and comparable to those of British pubs.