Thomson Celebration ‘Red Sea Magic’
MS Thomson Celebration – Thomson Cruises
(Warning: A very long review – prices as of Dec 2006)
Thomson Holidays, a division of TUI UK Ltd, are the largest tourism and services group in the world. Thomson Holidays ARE the market leader in the UK inclusive holiday market, a position it has held since 1974. The company has about one third of the UK market and operates a wide range of resorts offering a large variety of holiday. Thomson owns the UK’s leading chain of travel agents, as well as a direct call centre. In addition they operate their own airline ‘Thomsonfly’.
Above: Crowd free embarcation at Sharm el Sheikh at sunset.
Thomson is the UK’s biggest provider of ‘budget cruises’. In 2007 they operated a five ship fleet; Thomson Spirit, Celebration, Destiny, Emerald and Calypso. ‘Thomson Spirit’ and ‘Thomson Celebration’ are the ex Holland America line Ships Nieuw Amsterdam 1983, and Noordam 1984, respectively. They are around 34,000 gross tons and carry approximately 1250 passengers. ‘Thomson Destiny’ is Royal Caribbean’s ex ‘Song of America’ 1982, formerly Airtours very popular ‘Sunbird’. She weighs in at around 37,500 gt and carries 1432 passengers. The Emerald is the oldest 1958, at approximately 26,400 gt and carries 1,198 passengers. Calypso 1968, is the smallest ship in the fleet at 11,000 gt, and carries 486 passengers.
For the ship enthusiasts out there, Thomson Celebration was built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique at St. Nazaire France, the yard that built the Queen Mary 2. Unique to her design and that of her sister, was the total absence of curved lines; every line on the exterior of the ship is angular.
When I announced the fact that I going to book a Thomson cruise (‘Red Sea Magic’) to some seasoned cruising friends, I was warned not to touch ‘Thompson’ with a barge-pole. Interestingly these were all people that have never actually cruises with Thomson. There is definitely an element of ‘cruise snobbery’. Some people believe that the ships must be rusty old tubs, the food and service must be poor and many of the passengers will be drunken members of the underclass. Well I can now report that this is could not be further from the truth.
If you walk into a Thomson Travel Agency and say ‘Cruise’, and many Brits do, you will probably be handed a copy of the ‘Thomson Cruise’ brochure before that of any other cruise line. The brochure is very family friendly, with some good child discounts. There are lots of ‘cruise and stay’ options to bolt on to the many cruise itineraries. Thomson prefers direct telephone booking. In addition their web site http://www.thomson.co.uk offers additional discounts for on-line bookings.
I booked the cruise via Thomson web site, which is the first time I have ever booked cruise on-line. The web site worked well. However, one word of warning, Thomson’s prices do go up and down from week to week ‘like ‘stocks and shares’. Special ‘Sale’ offers come and go through the year. It is possible to book a price on Friday and see the same cruise cheaper by Saturday. This actually happened to me. Unfortunately, unlike in America, we Brits do not get a refund if the price drops after booking.
Most cruises sold in the UK cost at least £100 per day, often more. The Thomson fare for my 7 night cruise over Christmas 2006 cost about £75 per day, which included a spacious deluxe window cabin, the long haul flights, coach transfers, all taxes, with no tips being required. The Thomson flight was virtually ‘free’ when you considered that the overall package did not cost so much more than the flight, if it had been purchased separately.
Although she’s a small ship by modern standards, the Thomson Celebration is plenty big enough and has around fifteen public rooms at the passenger’s disposal. These proved to be more than adequate for the number of passengers.
Much of the décor appeared to be original HAL 1984 style although if I had not known this, I would have dated it as late 1960’s – 1970’s in appearance. In fact certain aspects of the interior design such as light fittings and use of mirrored tiles reminded me of aspects of the QE2’s decor, built in 1969.
Most of the decks have names, most have numbers too, but just to confuse the issue, three decks have letters of the alphabet instead of names. Fortunately the ships signage was good and navigation onboard was not difficult.
Decks one to three (C, B, A decks) are mainly passenger cabins, with the exception of the ‘Medical Centre’ on deck three. Deck four (Main Deck) features the main dining room, ‘The Meridian Restaurant’ and ‘Reception’. Deck five (Broadway deck) is exclusively public rooms with the Lido Restaurant at the stern, the lower level of the ‘Broadway show lounge’ amidships, forward of that ‘Hemmingway’s Bar’ and Casino, ‘Broad Street’ shops, the Cinema, and at the bow ‘Explorers Lounge’, ‘Browsers’ Library’ and the ‘Kids Zone’. Deck six (Promenade Deck) featured ‘Liberties Lounge’ at the stern and the ‘Broadway’s Theatres’ Mezzanine level and bar. Deck seven (Mariner deck) featured the ‘Oceans Gym’. Likewise deck eight (Bridge deck) featured ‘Ocean Beauty Salon and Spa’. Deck nine (Eagle deck), the uppermost deck, featured ‘Horizons’ at the bow.
I’m in danger of stating the obvious here, but there was no ‘Atrium’ onboard Celebration, now commonplace on modern ships to provide a ‘wow’ factor and waste space.
The ‘Broadway’ theatre (it should be called ‘West End’ for us Brits) was not unlike that of the QE2’s main show lounge. It was an old style entertainment lounge without raked seating and required prompt attendance to secure a good seat. It was located amidships and had two walkways passing through it on the lower level. The upper ‘Mezzanine’ level also had two corridor/balconies which looked down onto the stage. The stage was quite large and I believe was extended to replace the original HAL dance floor. It appeared that the seating capacity had also been increased from her original design, too. Bar drinks were served if you sat on either level. The room worked reasonably well, but people’s heads obscuring your sight line was always a risk. It could also be a little distracting if people chose to pass through during a show, although doors were closed at show time.
‘Hemmingway’s Bar’, the ‘Explorers Lounge’ and ‘Horizon’s’ (HAL’s former Crows Nest observation lounge) perched on Eagle Deck 9, were all particularly nice places to relax with a drink. Piano music, accompanied by violin, was often performed in ‘Explorers’. ‘Horizon’s’ often had a band. ‘Hemmingway’s’ features one of the few pieces of art from HAL original one million dollar onboard art collection, a Chinese lacquer screen. Thomson has provided many painting around the ship, including many sea scenes of fishing boats, but few are particularly outstanding and the lot are unlikely to fetch a million dollars today.
The ships Casino is an extension of Hemingway’s. Although very small compared to new ships, it hosted quite a lot of action each evening. It probably fair to say that us Brits are not as enthusiastic casino players as the American’s are, but we are slowly learning.
‘Liberties’ is an alternative show lounge and offered a live band/cabaret and a disco of an evening. Although a rather functional room in appearance, it is just the right size to create a great atmosphere. It could often be difficult to find a seat, after the late Broadway show, as many passengers would gravitate to it. However at around midnight, the crowd thinned out a bit, especially if there was a excursion departing at 6.30am the next morning.
There was a large Cinema with proper raked seating. It showed new release movies three times per day. Even fresh popcorn was available. It provided a nice alternative to sitting in your cabin watching the TV.
The ‘Broad Street’ shops were reasonable in number and sold the normal cruise fare of T-shirts, watches, jewellery, perfume, spirits and cigarettes etc. There is of course the obligatory photo Gallery. The onboard photographers are particularly enthusiastic. The photographs are sold for at least £9.99 although not always of the highest quality in terms of composition or printing. Although there is no obligation to buy, most people do. A cruise video/DVD is also available for £19.99. Part of the video was filmed during the lifeboat drill which I feel is inappropriate, because it encourage guest to, laugh and wave during what should be a serious affair.
The ‘Oceans Beauty Centre’ and Spa was located on deck 8. As with all older ships, it was limited in size and facilities, but proved very popular. ‘Oceans’ gym was quite small too, with limited equipment. However I suspect that most Brits onboard we more into ‘keep fat’ than ‘keep fit’, myself included. If that sounds like an unjustified comment, smoking was quite a popular pastime onboard and I only saw one jogger all week, although the ship had a wide wrap around teak promenade deck (5 laps equal one mile).
There were four small self-service laundry rooms onboard, equipped with washing machines, dryers and irons. These are always popular with Brits. These were free to use but a small charge was made for the washing powder. A cabin-collection laundry service was also available.
On deck five at the bow, there was ‘Browsers’ a space which combined small internet room (chargeable access) and Library/reading room. Next to this was the ‘Kids Zone’ children’s activity room. One small design error was that the ‘Kids Zone’ was next to the Cinema so some noise could permeate through on occasions, but it did not prove excessively disruptive.
The ship never seemed too overcrowded and absorbed her 1250 passengers well. The deck space was good although there may have been competition for the sun loungers, if everybody decided to sunbath at once. The promenade deck had proper wooden steamer chairs, although white plastic furniture was in use on the Sun deck and Lido areas. Although we Europeans are supposed to be more inhibited that Americans, I only saw one woman topless sunbathing, much to my disappointment.
There were two outdoor pools and two whirlpools. The pools were small by modern standards, yet seem to rarely get used, even when the decks were full of sun bathers. I’m not sure why this was? The water temperature felt reasonably warm. The sports deck had a large netted area for ball sports and the decks had the traditional favourite ‘shuffle board’.
The ‘Lido Restaurant’ (buffet) worked very well and had a right and a left entrance with duplicated food on both sides. Queues of more than a handful of people were rare. A crew member always stood at the entrance ensuring that guests sanitised their hands with the anti-bacterial fluid. Although not the widest choice of afloat, the food was simple, wholesome and firmly rooted in the culinary British tradition.
The hot food was always served by staff, although you could have portions as big as you liked. For lunch, a range of breads, salads and cold meats were always available. There was always a hot soup and half a dozen hot dishes such as beef, fish, chicken, hot dogs, burgers, curry, and Asian options. Carved meats such as beef were available daily sometimes served with brussel sprouts, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. As well as a full range of cakes and pastries, a different hot British style ‘sweet’ was provides, such a treacle pudding with custard. There was also an ice cream bar, particularly popular with the kids.
What you did not find was American favourites of sushi, shrimp, lobster tails, ribs and prime rib- but I did not hear any Brits complain about the food.
There was a complimentary self-service tea and coffee station which was available 24 hours. There was a good variety of tea bags and both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. Iced water was also available. All other beverages had to be paid for.
Bar prices were generally the same as UK pub prices. I was not surprised to find that Stella (Larger) was available on draught, sold by the pint at £2.40p. Bottled beers, such as Budweiser, were generally of a similar price. Soft drinks, such as a tin of Coke was a little overpriced at £1.25 in my opinion. Thomson do NOT add a 15% service charge to drinks as many cruise lines do. Thomson do offer an all-inclusive ‘beverage package’. All adult members of your party must purchase it, however it does exclude certain premium branded drinks. They occasionally sell it at a discount, but normally it is only good value if each member of your party drinks more than £25’s worth of alcohol per day.
The buffet was a true Lido with doors which opened onto the stern of the ship, with plastic tables where one could dine on deck, overlooking the pool. Pizza and burgers were also cooked and served from a small ‘Terrace Grill’. There was also a Lido bar which served this area. Unfortunately this deck area was popular with smokers.
The Lido food was truly 24 hour. Breakfast began at 5.00am and merged into lunch, then dinner, then midnight buffet, then the late night menu, through to 5.00am again. One evening an Indian style curry night was offered, a British favourite, which proved very popular and always tastes best after a few pints of Larger. There was also a Gala ‘Chocolate’ buffet one evening for those with a strong constitution.
In the evening for dinner, table cloths appeared in the Lido Buffet and candles in glass tubes flickered (well electric candles anyway), a very nice touch.
The Meridian Dining rooms was a single deck room, but was spacious compared to some dining rooms onboard other smaller ships. I particularly noticed that there was good space between all of the tables and chairs. There were windows along both the port and starboard sides. It operated a ‘freestyle’ type of system. You could simply dine whenever you liked between 6.30 and 10.30 pm. It worked well as there were rarely any queues (NCL take note). However, on the one ‘formal’ evening, all guests were assigned an early or late sitting in the traditional manner, which allowed them to all attend the Captain’s Cocktail Party pre dinner and the show after dinner.
The waiter service was very efficient and unobtrusive, in fact it was better than I had experienced a few years ago onboard the QE2 in her Mauritania restaurant.
Thomson’s dining room fare is very British and often simple in style, rather than being particularly exotic or cordon bleu. However once again it was actually better than I had experienced in the QE2’s ‘M’ grade and certainly on a par with Olsen’s, RCI’s and NCL’s. However it does not try to compete with the five star lines in terms of quality or presentation. never-the-less no one complained and most passengers probably felt that they were getting exactly what they had paid for, if not considerably more.
The soups and salads were simple and tasty. For main course, beef, duck, gammon, turkey, salmon and pork were all featured, as well as a daily vegetarian option. The deserts featured British favourites such as Christmas pudding and a Butterscotch pudding, mince pies and ice cream.
Before going, I had heard horror stories that Thomson passengers turned up for dinner wearing jeans and baseball caps, however I found this to be untrue. Although not as formal as some ships, the guests generally dressed reasonably smartly every night, particularly the women. There was one official ‘formal’ dining evening night which required men to wear at least a suit and tie. All other nights were designated ‘smart’; men were asked to wear full length trousers and a button style shirt.
One minor complaint is that shipboard announcements, from the cruise director ‘pushing’ the onboard entertainment, occasionally interrupted our meal in the Meridian restaurant. Thomson obviously assumes that we do not read the daily ‘Cruise News’ sheet, delivered to each cabin.
Mistral’s A la Carte Restaurant (oddly named after a French wind) was a small alternative dining room, at the back of the Meridian, occupying the port flank. It often required advanced booking. It carried a supplement of £15 per person and I am told that the food was very good indeed. However, I have always been very reluctant to pay a supplement for food on a cruise ship, when there is so much free food around.
Being an older ship, there are no balconies onboard the Celebration. There are some suites on the upper decks, and although nice, these are nowhere near as opulent and spacious as top suites found on newer ships. They also probably do not cost as much.
There are eight grades of cabin, grouped in four varieties: inside, outside, deluxe and Suite. These ranged from a modest 144 square feet to a reasonable generous 294 square feet. The larger cabins are on the upper decks. I booked a deluxe outside cabin which at the time only cost a modest supplement on top of the ‘standard outside’ cabin fare.
Thomson is firmly sitting on the fence with their smoking policy. They strongly discourage smoking in the cabins, but do provide ashtrays.
The cabin fixtures, fitting and furniture generally still had a 1980’s feel about them, although our cabin had a 19inch CRT TV and Fridge/Minibar which are later additions. The carpets, beds and soft furnishings were certainly newer too. However the cabin chairs and a dressing table stool, which look original, are starting to look a little worn. Reupholstering them would be a nice way to preserve them, although I assume that it would be cheaper to simply replace them.
The whole ship’s air-conditioning was a little inconsistent. Many old ships suffer from inadequate cooling, but surprisingly the Celebration’s public rooms were too cold for comfort on some occasions. For several days it was impossible to warm my cabin up, providing a few chilly nights sleep. A few days later the air-con temperature control was responsive and allowed me to regulate the cabin temperature. Other passengers made similar comments. If the heating had broken down during our cruise, it was certainly not mentioned.
My deluxe cabin, number 214 was located on deck six, the promenade deck, and had two square windows. The disadvantage of this was that people regularly walked past, so drawing the curtains was essential for privacy. In addition it was difficult to actually see the sea across the wide teak promenade deck. never-the-less I enjoyed the natural light and the spaciousness (208 square feet) of this grade of cabin. It was also located only a few decks away from most of the ‘action’, with most public rooms are on decks 4, 5 and 6. Similar grade cabins on the deck above (deck 7) had their view partially obstructed by the lifeboats.
My cabin had two single beds, but they had been put together as requested. I must say that although I’m not tall, the beds did feel a little on the short side even for me. The wardrobes and draw space was very good, but I did have to request extra coat hangers, which I often do onboard ships. Although there were a number of lamps and light fittings in the cabin, the lighting is never adequate in almost any cabin, on any ship, or land based hotel for that matter. Do the architects really think we want to get dressed and that women want to apply make-up and prepare their hair etc. in subdued mood lighting?
The bathroom was a little dated and worn, with pink tiles. However it was more spacious than many standard bathrooms on modern ships. It had an almost full-sized bath with shower attachment and curtain. Unfortunately the water pressure was quite low so it was almost a miracle how so much water could end up on the bathroom floor. I used more towels dying the floor, than myself. The bath was big enough that I was able to shower without the shower curtain sticking to my back like superman’s cape, unlike on many other ships. Despite these criticisms the shower was very welcome after a long day’s excursion. There was a sink and the standard ear-popping type of toilet. Surprisingly for a budget cruise, a full range of bathroom products were supplied including shower caps. Although not branded products, they were of good quality. Two robes were also provided in the room (possibly linked to cabin grade) along with pools towels.
Our cabin had an adjoining door to the next cabin. Unfortunately this dramatically reduced the sound insulation and I was able to hear much of what the noisy family of three in the next cabin said and did for the entire cruise. An additional word of warning; the cabins on the lower decks of all older ships, especially the ones located aft often suffer from more engine noise and vibration than those on the upper decks. This is the case with Celebration.
Festive Holy wreaths appear on the upper deck cabin doors just before Christmas day. A Christmas gift of a plate of dates, crystallised pineapple and other tasty morsels appeared on a plate, in our cabin. A number of Christmas trees were located in strategic places around the ship. Chocolates were placed on our pillows each evening although I did not see any towel animals.
Although Thomson has suffered toilet malfunctions and other plumbing problems on their ships in the past, I am pleased to say that the plumbing worked well on my cruise.
The breadth of the entertainment onboard this ship was a revelation. It’s wider than ‘RCI’s’ for example. In fact I’ve only seen Cunard offer such a wide range. Thomson managed to incorporate all of the cruise traditions into an action-packed week, where as some other cruise lines have actually dropped some of them. We had a sail-away deck party, a Captain’s cocktail party (no handshake or photo though), a ‘Gala ‘Chocolate’ buffet, daily midnight buffets, baked Alaska parade (called a Christmas bomb, though), a wide variety of high and low-brow entertainment , a Christmas carol concert, and a crew show.
The entertainment troop was responsible for the majority of the entertainment. They consisted of a bunch of mainly young people who were all enthusiastic and competent singers and dancers.The cruise director was a surprisingly stern man for a cruise director. Thomson work their entertainment team harder than most because they put on ‘flesh and feathers’ (song and dance) shows in the main show lounge twice per night, for six of the seven nights, unlike other lines that may only offer two shows per week, relying on guest entertainers. In addition at 11.30 each night, members of the troop would sing in ‘Liberties’ an alternative cabaret venue. The songs performed ranged from pop, MOR, Motown to opera. In fact the troop’s only night off was when a guest comedian took the stage for one evening, although there was still the 11.30 pm cabaret.
The shows ‘Africa’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ (a homage to the music of the 1970’s) were particularly good. ‘Hero of the Nile’ was original and very ambitious, being half comedy play, half song and dance. However it did not really work. My only other complaint is that the entertainment troop always sang to taped music and NOT to a live band, unlike onboard most other ships. However I suspect most of the audience did not even notice.
There were of course the normal offerings of bingo, vegetable carving, karaoke, napkin folding, wine-tasting Mr & Mrs game show etc. which took part on a daily basis around the ship. However for those seeking a little more culture, the troop also delivered two afternoon plays during the week. There were also three lectures on Egyptology from an Archaeologist couple.
There were three talented bands onboard, which played live classical, pop and jazz music, in various bars and lounges. The disco was held in ‘Liberties’ each evening and ‘got going’ at midnight each evening. Unlike other ships I have been on, there was never an evening where it was poorly attended with no dancing taking place.
An interesting and unique feature was the stern of the Celebration which was particularly spacious for a ship of her size and incorporated a stage that was covered by canvas awning. Although it never rained, this was used for the sail-away show/party.
Audio Visual Note: Unfortunately the ceiling data projector mounted in the Broadway Theatre, used for Lectures, vibrated excessively at sea with the motion of the ship, so the PowerPoint slides vibrated on the projection screen. I found this rather annoying. A floor/stage mounted projector would possibly prove more stable.
Thomson’s guests are almost exclusively British and more friendly than most. Passengers from the North of England are particularly well represented. Thomson cruises are very popular with families, the middle aged and elderly. In fact the age mix is probably more diverse than those aboard many cruise ships serving UK passengers. I met people from all walks of life including those in manual occupations, Teachers, an accountant, several P&O regulars and a woman that spent six weeks onboard the QM2 last year. I did not witness any problems with rowdy kids or rude or drunken adults.
The one thing that all the guests had in common is that they did not want to spend a small fortune on taking a cruise.
Thomson’s ‘Red Sea Magic’ is rather a unique itinerary. It runs from October 2007 to April 2008. I went at Christmas 2006 and ‘Celebration’ was the only cruise ship operating in that area. Unusually it was possible to board in one of two ports: Safaga on Tuesdays and Sharm El Sheikh on Thursdays. This gives a better range of flight options from the various UK regional airports. The ports of call are: Aqaba overnight (Jordan) for Petra, sea day, Port Sokhna (Egypt) for Cairo, and Safaga (Egypt) for Luxor, overnight.
The ports of call are all ‘ugly’ industrialised docks and not suitable for walking into each town. Taxis were not easily available and shuttle busses were limited. The ports had been picked for there geographical locations being the nearest ports to Egypt and Jordan’s major attractions. So in other words the guests were reliant on the excursions offered by the cruise line.
The main attractions were the Rose Red City of Petra (2 hours coach ride away), the Pyramids of Giza and Cairo Museum (2 hours coach ride) Karnack and the Valley of the Kings, Luxor (3 hours coach ride). Each of these was a full day excursion of 12-15 hours which required an early start at 6.30 – 7.30 am. The prices were in the region of £70 per person. There were some shorter and cheaper excursions on offer. The driving times were rather flexible due to the local traffic. The guides were generally excellent and a quality lunch was provided in a 5 star hotel on each full-day tour. A nice bonus was that a snack box was also provided as we boarded the coaches. The coaches were modern and all had toilets. Although all very tiring, most passengers felt that the long excisions were well worth it.
A very nice touch was that crew members (not the entertainment troop) would stand of the key side and wave us off with scarves when we went on an excursion and would be there again to meet us on our return with hot towels, hot drinks and often live music and dancing. Premium cruise lines take note.
The ‘Thomson Celebration’ will also cruises Mediterranean waters from May to October 2007, Palma, Mallorca, being her home port.
Cleanliness and Health
Virtually no other ship review has ever considered those passengers with a sensitive sense of smell, so this is a first. Well I can report that the ship never smelt old, musty, of sewage or that nasty diesel type smell that can permeate some other older vessels. It smelt clean and fresh at all times
The crew were meticulous in sanitizing the corridors, carpets, public room furniture arm rests, door knobs and hand rails with anti-bacterial spray, each night. When the cabins were vacated they were sanitised including carpets, wardrobe doors and other touchable surfaces. In fact I have never witnessed such a thorough job.
I did meet one woman that had a stomach upset (possibly the Norwalk virus) and she volunteered to be confined to her cabin for a 24 hours. Her meals were provided by room service. When she was better, all soft furnishings and bedding materials were replaced and the glassware in the cabin replaced with the plastic variety. The cabin was also fully sanitised. There was no charge levied for room service or the Doctor’s visit. I am not aware that there was a major outbreak onboard.
Unfortunately, although Thomson offers some excellent fares, especially off-season and for late bookings, they do charge for facilities that other cruise lines provided free of charge. In some cases these charges do not become apparent until you begin the on-line booking process (in my case). When you initially look in the web site, the basic price does not include these charges up front. Although the service that have charges are ‘optional’ as such, you may well feel that they are a necessity to have.
For example, Thomson cruises are often sold in a package with a ‘Thomsonfly’ flight. Now these are no-frills type flights, with minimal leg room; a mere 28 inch pitch. As the flying time from London to Egypt is around 5 hours this is ‘long haul’ on a plane more suited to a one or two hours short haul. You will not be surprised to hear that Thomson flights do not have a ‘fist class’ section; all seats are the same – crampt. Thomson will sell the seat with extra leg room, such as emergency exit seats, for a supplement, but these seats are no wider. On our outbound flight to Sham El Skeikh (Egypt) three emergency exit seats were left empty, on an otherwise full flight, because I assume no one had paid the supplement.
Thomson actually impose a charge £12 per person if you wish to sit together. I find this charge particularly mean. Should guests REALLY be asked to pay to sit with their friend, partner or relative? If they don’t pay, do they deliberate slit you up? Thomson also charges £12 per person for a hot meal. So that’s £6 each way, for a ‘plastic’ meal which would be overpriced at 60 pence. A range of other drinks and snacks is also available onboard for purchase, all of which are of course a little overpriced.
Onboard the ship Thomson has a range of charges for room service. A continental breakfast costs £4.50, for example. The cabins do not have safe deposit boxes, like on most other ships, but these are available at Reception at a cost of £12 for the week. Once again I find the latter particularly mean, as unlike room service, a deposit box requires very little staff labour.
Although you can book a cabin ‘grade’ on-line, if you want to choose a specific cabin number, you have to phone them (how bizarre in that in this high tech age) and pay a supplement of £30. Other cruise line’s web sites have incorporated cabin number selection on-line.
Even if you do incur some of these addition charges, a Thomson cruise can still be considerably cheaper than most of the other cruise lines serving UK passengers. Although on other occasions, during peak periods such as school holidays, they may not be much cheaper that the non-budget cruise lines.
Embarkation and Disembarkation
Thomson’s super efficiency began at Stansted airport (UK) where there was a Thomson desk before e we reached the airline check-in desk. My name was checked on a list and labels with my cabin number were attached to my luggage. As I had not paid to book a specific cabin number, just grade, this was the first time that I found out what cabin I was actually booked in to.
I arrived at Sham El Sheik airport early evening. I’d heard that the airport can be a complete nightmare in terms of organization, but we must have been lucky? I and my fellow passengers were quickly able to collect our luggage and had no problems passing through a passport control. Surprisingly we were not required to buy Visa’s. We were efficiently met by Thomson representatives who guided us to our awaiting coaches. We placed our luggage in the ‘hold’ of the coach and form there on it was transferred directly to our cabins.
The port was about half an hour’s drive away. On arrival, it was clear that our coach was the only one at the port, at that time. As Thomson were flying in UK guest from all over Britain, I assume the arrival times were staggered thought-out the day. The sixty or so of us left the coach and entered a small stark building which was hardly your average cruise terminal building. Inside there was just a handful of operators with Laptops, but they speedily processed our cruise tickets and issued our security/cashless account cards and our cabin-key card (two different cards, rather than the normal one). Within a few minutes we were all ‘processed’, making this the quickest of my cruise career. We were then able to walk across a car park area (or take a shuttle bus) to the Thomson Celebration which looked majestic against a red sky, as the sun began to set. We climbed the gang way and EVERY passenger was welcomed onboard and escorted to their cabin. Few cruise lines manage this.
Disembarkation was equally efficient. Thomson issued us with our flight ‘boarding passes’ on the ship, so we were effectively already ‘checked in’ (other cruise lines please take note). Our luggage was labelled for the flight in advance and was collected from outside our cabins by 1.30am that morning. That was the last that we would see of it until we arrived at our destination airport. We were given a time to leave the ship, dependant on UK destination airport. We were able to leave the ship easily and promptly (no queues), get on our coach, and departed for the airport punctually.
Thomson certainly runs a very well oiled machine.
It is often claimed that Thomson receives such good reviews simply because many of their passengers are cruise ‘virgins’ and know no better. Well, I can now firmly dispute this myth. Thomson gets such good reviews because they offer a very good product that is great value.
Thomson does not operate big new state-of-the-art ships. However Thomson is not really about the ‘hardware’, their speciality is clearly the ‘software’ i.e. a friendly, well organised service and a great onboard atmosphere.
The crew were some of the friendliest and efficient that I have experienced on any cruise line. Thomson has ‘no tipping required’ policy, therefore Thomson’s crew are proof positive that it is possible to achieve high standards of service by good management and training, without resorting to the more primitive ‘carrot and stick’ method of working for tips.
If this had been my first cruise I would have been ‘blown away’ (impressed). Even though I have cruised for a number of years, I was still very impressed with what I got for my pound. Thomson provided many extras that you would not expect from a budget cruise.
So you can forget all the negatives that I have mentioned in this review. I could find these on any ship. The Thomson product is more likely to “exceed your expectations” than the cruise lines that boast they will, while charging you twice that fare. As long as you realise that you are not paying for a five star product and are not going to get one, you should be very satisfied. Needless to say the cruise was the cheapest I have taken, certainly the best value and one of the more enjoyable.
Malcolm Oliver, Dec 2006
‘Celebration’ (Colourful Coasts) review: http://wp.me/PfRKD-dk