Behind the Headlines: How Ambassador’s Ambition originally looked


Ambassador Cruise Line’s Ambition is the renovated newboy of the cruise sector. Having delved into the archive, we can show you the ship’s original guise – all the way from 1999.

Built by the celebrated Chantiers de l’Atlantique (crafters of SS Normandie and Cunard’s QM2) back when denim-dungarees remained fashionable, Ambassador’s new flagship – Ambition – has recently grabbed headlines as the blueprint for “premium value” success.

Her transformation has been nothing short of spectacular, costing £10 million and disproving sceptical notions that older ships cannot be revived for contemporary use.

Industry pessimists have been given little to work with; we’ve been aboard, and the ship’s quality and mantra offered a spectacular first impression.

Ambition’s hefty renovation also helps to write a new chapter in the ship’s history, following a turbulent parentage under a plethora of different names for various cruise firms. From flying the flag as AIDAmira to adolescence with Costa Cruises, Ambition has traversed the globe for a record number of cruise lines during her first 25 years.

So, to mark a new beginning for Ambition, we’ve delved into the fathomless pits of our archives to reveal the ship’s genesis, and subsequently uncovered how she originally appeared when first entering service.

MS Mistral: the original press release

Ambassador Ambition (as MS Mistral) wearing her original Festival Cruises livery.

Dated 10 November 1999, the ship’s first post-launch report highlighted her first name – Mistral – and announced that she was the first new build to be commissioned by Festival Cruises.

It was also stated that two subsequent ships had been awarded to the French yard; scheduled to be delivered in 2001 and 2002 (later to become European Vision and European Stars).

“Designed and built by Europeans, the vessel is aimed at the European passenger market,” the release pointed out.

Cruise ship theatre from Ambassador Ambition with seats and railings.
The original theatre design of MS Mistral, currently sailing as Ambition

On a more majestic note, Mistral was cited as the “largest French-flagged” cruise ship built since the SS France of 1960 – despite public knowledge that Festival Cruises was headquartered in Greece, but they missed the point.

After entering service, Mistral spent four months touring the Mediterranean before embarking on a series of winter cruises in the Caribbean, operating out of Guadeloupe.

The originally stated dimensions match the ship’s current status, which won’t come as a surprise. The 47,900t vessel remains 216m long (shock) with a beam of 28.8m, although interestingly the draft has changed after various timely revisions have followed Mistral during her lifespan. The original draught of 6.85m has now changed to 7.016m (23ft).

Ambassador Ambition’s original powerplant

Mistral was powered by the latest high-performance diesel-electric propulsion system when launched and boasted four Wärtsilä 38-series genset engines, which spun the alternators at 600rpm.

The 12-cylinder diesel units had a nominal rating of 7,920kW, giving a maximum installed capacity of 31,680kW. That’s probably getting a bit heavy on the geekery front, but all that power ensured a cruising speed of 19.5 knots, with maximum thrust at 21.5 knots (roughly 25mph).

Stability arrived courtesy of a pair of folding Mitsubishi fin stabilisers, while passenger and service elevators, provision stores and associated refrigeration machinery were supplied by MacGregor. All top brands in their day that would help reinforce the new ship’s serious attitude towards quality.

The original cabins and restaurants

Ship cabin featuring bed and chair with 1990s design
A snapshot of MS Mistral’s original twin cabin

Not a fan of the flowery-Waif look? Then brace yourself. Mistral offered a double occupancy passenger capacity of 1,196, and those rooms were clearly designed by Hyacinth Bucket following an all-night fairy-cake binge.

Compared to modern trends, these rooms hit the senses hard.

Don’t judge too harshly, however. That was very much the design of the era, and there’s a homeliness to all those huggable colours and dense, light-eating fabrics.

Setting the décor aside, Mistral’s interactive television and information system (accessible to passengers from their cabin) was a revelation compared to what people had in their homes.

The interactive system could be operated in a number of different languages to relay important ground rules about life on board – such as the freshly established Euro standing firm as official on-board currency.

Mistral’s 598 cabins were arranged over eight hotel-style decks, each of which was named after iconic European cities – Paris, Rome, London, Berlin, Brussels, Athens, Cannes and Madrid.

MS Mistral’s 1990s dining style

Just as Ambition’s contemporary layout is currently presented, public areas on Mistral were mostly situated on decks five, six and 11 and were designed to be as open-plan as possible.

The centre point of the lobby revolved around a marble centrepiece that showcased a running waterfall (now sadly removed), leading towards the 600-capacity carrousel show lounge spanning two decks, featuring an entrance on each one.

The Saint-Honoré shopping gallery and L’Etoile, Mistral’s main restaurant, could initially be found on deck five, while deck six (Rome) featured the Greco café, overlooking the lobby and aft, the Rialto restaurant which, in summer, offered diners outdoor tables partly shaded by a canvas tent.

The on-board gym and spa has changed over time

The Cannes deck featured the ship’s sports club and a spacious leisure area incorporating a main pool, splash pool and thalassotherapy facilities.

The health spa, designed by UK specialists The Syntax Group, was one of the largest afloat at the time. Cannes deck also features a stern cafeteria/tea room, La Croisette, which was surrounded by an enclosed promenade offering panoramic views.

Other facilities on offer to passengers included a theatre and discotheque, cigar and card rooms (ah, the 1990s…), and facilities for teenagers and children.

Time’s onward march waits for no one and progress is progress as we stride into the modern day.

There’s a bittersweet tang of sentimentality when looking through the pictures of Ambition in her original Mistral guise, but as the times move on, the ship has had to adapt.

There is no denying that Ambition now feels firmly planted in modern times, and reviewing the original press release only goes to prove how far the vessel has come.

Ambition now offers different furnishings and has cleared the top deck




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