Airport and check in.
We arrived at Manchester Airport just under two and a half hours before the fight. There was already a fairly long queue but it moved quite quickly. Half way through we were handed details of our Cabin Number, luggage labels, and tamperproof security stickers to put on the case. After handing over our cases the next time we saw them was outside of the cabin. Next it was on to security where we only had about a five minute wait, once through we collected some pre ordered foreign currency at the Thomas Cook desk. I was pleased that I had ordered this on the internet a day earlier as the airport rate was substantially lower to walk in customers. We had been given access to the Escape Lounge by our TA. I can only echo the comment of a Business Man who sat next to us in the lounge and said to me that "it's the worst UK lounge he has ever been in". Crowded, no natural light, poor range of snacks, not enough papers to go around etc were some of the comments. It did however provide an opportunity to meet some fellow cruisers.
Boarding was on time and quite fast, we settled into our pre booked seats on a Thomson high density long haul 767 which were two next to a window near the front of the plane row nine. The leg room was fine but the seats very narrow in part due to the 2-4-2 configuration. Cabin service was reasonable and meal was OK, but a later snack of a small sandwich roll was not very adventurous. Most of the flight was smooth but we experienced quite a lot of turbulence just over half way though. This lasted over an hour with the Captain dropping to a lower altitude to see if things improved-but there was no improvement. Unfortunately the in flight entertainment on our bank of seats broke down a couple of hours take off and attempts to refresh the system failed to fix the fault. We were offered one free drink in compensation, not much compensation for not having a TV screen for six hours but in the circumstances there was not a lot else the crew could do. We landed on time in Barbados.
Transfer to ship
Excellent, just a few steps from the steps of the plane, board a waiting bus, and then straight off to the ship. Only comment would be that if you take hand luggage which is anywhere near the maximum size allowed by the airline it will not fit the luggage shelf in the bus, this made the trip uncomfortable because it then had to be perched on your knee. Once at the cruise terminal we joined a fast moving queue, were offered a cold drink and then processed with a minimum of fuss. A few steps later the dreaded photographer appeared and after photo's were taken we boarded the ship on deck 4 and were immediately taken to our cabin. Number 5057 an Outside Plus.
Our initial thoughts were that we were too near the lift and would be disturbed by noise but this turned out not to be the case. In fact the cabin was well situated with one floor down leading to the Orion restaurant and the disembarkation point for leaving the ship. The lifts (more later) took you to outside the theatre, and nearby shops and lounges on deck 8 Sirens Buffet and deck, The Grill Restaurant, Restaurant and Shops, Reception and libary. Floor nine housed the Lido Buffet and deck although that was at the other end of the ship. The cabin was situated in the extension that had been added to the ship to the ship, it was exactly like the picture in the brochure and we were surprised by the spaciousness and storage space that it offered. The cabin and bathroom were clean and perfectly serviceable but old and dated and the bed settee was badly stained in places. Initially the cabin was very hot at almost 80F but a quick call to reception resulted in an engineers visit within fifteen minutes and his adjustments fixed the problem with no repetition throughout the cruise.
After reading reviews we had possibly lowered our expectations further than necessary, but we have few complaints. Yes, it's an old ship and looks like the paint is holding the steel together in places. The carpets and other soft furnishings are out dated but still serviceable. Overall the ship has a good feel, feels like a liner rather than a cruise ship, is easy to navigate, large enough not to feel caged in but not big enough to be impersonal. It provided everything we needed for a twenty night cruise. Initially there was a faint odour which may have been oil but as other people have commented this disappeared once the ship was moving. However on quite a few occasions there appeared to be more resilient pockets of a similar odour at two or three places along the corridor which was apparent if you were walking from one end of the ship to the other. There was also an odour in most public men's toilets which I found objectionable and this does need to be addressed by Thomson. Lifts were as bad as has been described on many other reviews but we found a few things that helped. For example it's the front ships lifts that lead to the embarkation deck as well as the Orion Restaurant and theatre that are worse. On a shore day do not use the lifts at the front of the ship. When coming onboard from a trip, walk up the stairs one deck and then along the corridor to the next bank of lifts. Again, don't try the front lifts if the Theatre is letting out, it's far quicker to walk or sit and wait five minutes.
There were two pools and although there were a few who belonged to the 'towel on my bed at dawn' group it was not that difficult to get a bed even by the pool on sea or port days. Internet connection is (like every other ship we have been on) painfully slow although it was never a problem to find a computer without having to wait.
Well what can you say! Almost without exception the staff were friendly and worked together as a team. Our room was looked after by Joko who we saw only occasionally but his presence was seen every time we entered the cabin. Bar service was good but special mention goes to Fe who for the whole of the cruise could be found morning, noon and night on the Lido Deck and provide excellent and friendly service.
We ate all evening meals in the Orion with other meals being taken either there, the Lido or the Sirens Buffets. Food was always plentiful with the Buffets providing typical Buffet food and this was supplemented by Omelette Stations, Burger Bars, Stir Fried station, Pasta station, and occasionally Deck BBQ's. There was also one chocolate midnight buffet and one Grand Midnight Buffet. Tea was served in the Argo Lounge each day at 4pm but you had to get there early to get a seator go to the Lido Buffet. Food was available somewhere 24 hours a day with room service a further option. The Orion served a five course meal for dinner with a choice on all courses. Portions are not large but if you had the full meal you would not want more. If I had to find a criticism it would be that the Deserts lacked imagination especially in the buffets, but this for me was made up by an excellent cheese plate being provided in the Orion. The Orion was open seating from 6:15 pm, on the second night we went in around 30 minutes after this and were put at a table number 108 which was set for four. The waiter was Fernando and the wine water Noel. Fernando asked us if we liked to eat fairly early (before about 7 pm) and that if we did would we like the table for the duration of the cruise. He told us to tell whoever was on the door that we were with Fernando and just to make our own way. So this is where we ate each night. Fernando turned out to be a very well trained experienced waiter and one of the best in the 15 or so cruises that we have done to date. Throughout the cruise we were never short of the right silverware or glasses, never rushed but never kept waiting longer necessary, the order was never wrong and when on two occasions we made the wrong choice, an alternative replacement appeared very quickly. If you go on the Dream then find Fernando, you will not be disappointed. Mention must also be made of Noel our wine waiter. After two days Noel knew exactly what we liked and it appeared on our table shortly after sitting down. Glasses were always replenished before they were empty and the glass of Port that I enjoyed with the cheese appeared by magic every night. Both Fernando and Noel were friendly but professional at all times and we cannot speak too highly of them. We did not pay for a meal in 'The Grill'. We may have tried it at some stage had the menu not have been changed half way though to one which had less appeal. On the downside although there were many hand sanitation dispensers around the ship it was disappointing to note that on occasion some of them took several days to be refilled or serviced.
Again what can I say other than if you cannot find something you like in the evening you must be in the minority. The onboard team under Steven Guy put on many good and some (like Queens 'We are the Champions') great shows. The effort and enthusiasm that the team put into the shows is to be admired. The two staff shows received standing ovations from the majority of the audience. There was the 'Duo Mystique' in the Ocean lounge, as well as the group 'Dream Vibe' in the Medusa lounge, 'Keith' did a number of piano sessions nightly in the Delo bar and had a vey wide repertoire. There was also as the classical duo 'Olah' performing on piano and violin in the Argo lounge, it became more difficult to get a seat here as the cruise progressed. In addition there were guest lecturers, late shows, game shows, two UK singers, Soul singer Steve Micheals, Tribute act Maxine Mazumder (ex Stars in their Eyes) and two very different UK Comedians, Maurice Grumbleweed and Paul Eastwood who were brought onboard for different sections of the cruise. During the Atlantic crossing the Theatre was used as a cinema. Of course there was there was Bingo, Casino, a Deck Party, and many other things that I have forgotten to mention. Not as much was offered during the day but then most would either be on the sundecks or ashore.
Ports of Call
The exact Ports of Call are listed on another Members recent review and are too many to go into detail here.
Having already visited a number of the Caribbean Islands we arranged trips at thee of the Islands that we had not visited. In Antigua we used 'Laurence of Antigua', 'More than a Cab in St Lucia, and Royston in St Kitts. All three were very good, their details are available on this forum and I will post separately in the appropriate place when I have time. Overall we felt that our trips were better value and gave more flexibility that those offered by the ship. There a few things we consider would have improved the itinerary. For example it would have been nice if we could have 'overnighted' in Barbados as we spent 10 hours getting there but saw little of it. Having read about St Vincent we decided not to go ashore and comments from fellow passengers indicated that this is an Island that could be missed. Antigua was visited on a Sunday and all the shops were shut, I think that a little ingenuity like dropping St Vincent may have resulted in a visit when it was actually open. Gibraltar had a Bank Holiday on the day we arrived and although many tourist shops were open many others were shut, again surely this could have been avoided. At Tangier we stayed on board and again the vast majority of passengers who went ashore either on trips or to walk around said that they wished they too had stayed on board. Almeria was a first visit and was a surprise, there was plenty to see, and it gave the impression of being quite an affluent Spanish City with a well preserved Castle and with everything in easy reach of the Port. We will definitely revisit on our own for a few days.
Our flight was not until seven pm so we left the ship at 5pm having paid Â£35 to keep a cabin all day. Our cabin was not available but we only had to move two doors down and we did not have to vacate our original cabin until nine pm which an hour after everyone else. We stayed on board but on reflection this was a mistake and we should have gone ashore or on a trip. At the appointed time we reluctantly left the ship to find that most other people had already gone. Transfer to the airport was well organised and I supposed it took about 25 minutes to check in. The plane this time was a short haul high density configured 767. The legroom was substantially less than the outgoing flight and one was left with the impression that cattle that were being transported would by law have been entitled to more space. Fortunately the fight was only short but Thomson should do better.
This was an excellent holiday which as a package stands up well to comparison with the American cruise lines and which we would repeat in a heartbeat. Not five stars, not perfect in every way, but then what cruises are. Overall the ship exceeded expectations, the service and attitude of the staff was excellent, food was reasonable and plentiful and night time entertainment varied and very good. The weather was good most of the time and apart from a few rough patches so was the sea. The Captain did a good job of slightly altering course to follow the weather and only a few minor showers and a few hours of cold winds were experienced. There was one strange incident at about nine am on route to Gibraltar when the ship made what felt like a violent turn, although in truth it probably felt worse than it was. As we had had a late night and we had to put the clock on an hour we were still in bed and we almost rolled out of it. Items on the bedside cabinet and dressing table fell on the floor and we learnt later on that in the restaurants there were plates and other things flying about. The following day the Captain announced that he had been told some passengers had been concerned over the manoeuvre and apologised. He continued that he had not commented the previous day because to him it was a perfectly normal manoeuvre necessary because he had to join the Mediterranean shipping lanes at 90 degrees to the Atlantic. What complete and utter bull, why do people think that telling porkies is better than the truth and that it is OK to treat customers as if they were idiots? Apart from this one incident everything else went smoothly and all ports were reached on time.
Overall the cruise was good value and we paid for the all inclusive package which offered a very good choice of named brands. The package definitely saved us money but next time we will not take it because as it was unlimited we certainly drank a lot more than is either usual or recommended.
A long adult only cruise such as this is not offered by Thomson very often, but we will certainly be keeping our eyes open for the next one.