One the advice of friends, that have used the Thomas Cook Cruise consultants before, we decided to try this service out. Unfortunately it was the most disappointing and expensive mistake we've ever made.
We were very clear about the cruise we wanted. Hot, lots of sunbathing, smart, up-market and luxurious, fine-dining, where everyone dressed for dinner, children free areas & pool(s) and other likeminded travelers the same age as us.
What we got was more of the cheap, bottom of the range, weekend getaways for the unemployed and elderly. A cheap, nasty, cold, draughty Dover/Calais ferry full of sick, elderly, WalMart shoppers. One of the staff described the ship as a "floating hospital". The morgue can hold up to 24 for a two week trip and was used while we were on board. Hardly the sort of thing one expects on a "luxury cruise"
We only had three formal nights -- where formal attire consisted of a crumpled suit, white socks and trainers for the men and stretched, lycra, sweat suits for the women.
The weather was appalling at sea, storm force for the first few days, pools closed, objects strapped down, people being sick. It was terrible. Once we arrived at the islands it did warm up but it could never be described as even remotely hot and or suitable for sunbathing.
We purchased an all-inclusive food package but this too was a scam. There was a lovely Italian restaurant and an excellent Steak House but both had excessive surcharges. Depending on your location, on the ship, even Tea's and coffee's all had to be paid for. So much for "all inclusive" There was even a charge for pizza's that were delivered to the room. Over and above that were the scandalous additional taxes and the constant demand for gratuities.
In hindsight we should have realised this thing was all a con. When we agreed to book the fly/cruise package we were initially told everything was fine but, little problem, there were no more direct flights. Instead we were expected to fly out of Heathrow, have two changeovers and fly back to Gatwick with another two changeovers which was ridiculous. If you are selling a fly/cruise package the least one expects, is to go direct and to depart and return from the same airport. Needless to say we had to upgrade our flights.
We chose to stay overnight at the airport as the flight was so early the following morning. The hotel was very good and a huge contrast to the one that was booked for us in LA. This was dirty, shabby, run down, tired, very warn and damaged;- peeling wall paper, stained carpets, chunks of grout missing around the bath to mention just a few of the problems. There was no view of the sea, as advertised, our room looked onto the roof of the hotel atrium. The service with poor, the majority of the staff displaying a couldn't care less attitude. The hotel was in the middle of nowhere, with no local facilities, no shops, nowhere to even buy a bottle of fresh water (hotel was charging over $7 for 2$ bottle). Compared to the other hotels, which cruise guests stayed in, this was a complete rip-off. We had requested a room with internet access but on arrival was told our room didn't have it. No apology, staff didn't not give a d*m and despite the high cost of the hotel room breakfast was not included.
When we arrived in LA we our expectations were again dashed. We had been told that there would be someone to meet us and take us straight to the hotel. What was not said was this consisted of a very harassed, if pleasant enough lady, escorting us out a taxi rank. We had to wait over 2 hours to take a "cruise authorised" taxi which was ridiculous after just coming off a long-haul flight and not what we had been told when booking the holiday. The lady that met us gave us an instruction sheet on what to do one the day of the cruise departure. We did everything as requested however, the person that arrived, to co-ordinate everyone, completely ignored us and then had the audacity to complain that we had not come to find her! Who exactly was the customer here? She was used to dealing with old, elderly, infirm passengers, that didn't argue, did as she told them to do and were happy to be shepherded and patronised. A younger clientele will not tolerate this sort of behaviour. We were very lucky in that we'd watched all the suitcases being loaded onto the bus and had noticed that ours were not there. The cruise rep insisted, quite rudely, that they were and that we had to board the bus immediately. While my sister discussed this with her I checked with the concierge and found out that they had forgotten to load them. Housekeeping thought they'd been left behind by mistake and had moved them into a storage room. If we had got on the bus we would have had nothing with us for at least 4 days. The rep made no apology, at all, for her lack of assistance and or support but she did ask for a gratuity.
Once on board we discovered more discrepancies in what existed vs. what we'd been sold. There were only a handful of tacky shops, selling tourist junk, there was nowhere to buy fresh water, which was a chargeable item and not included in our full-board package. There was nowhere to buy good, fashionable, clothes, pull on, elasticated waisted shorts may have been ideal for the over 70's but not what we were looking for. However, there was a very tiresome, never ending "sales" drive on the ship --photographs, cookery books, cooking oil, the list was endless and the sales teams were relentless. I feel very sorry for the pensioners that got sucked in and felt obliged to purchase things, they didn't want, just to get away from the sales teams.
We were also told to expect lots of exciting entertainment during the day and in the evenings. Napkin folding, bridge and bingo hardly qualify as exciting entertainment. There were no facilities for anyone other than pensioners. The outdoor movie screen was predominately dedicated to American football or other sports. The hot tubs were unavailable every day because of the obese occupants and, as mentioned the pools were closed for the majority of the trip. The one area that was quiet and calm was, of course, only available if you paid extra for it. The yoga and Pilates classes were far too small, only run once a day, very early in the morning, and were vastly oversubscribed. One person, that we met, that had managed to go, told us they were dreadful. Everyone laid out on mats in between all the people using the spinning bikes and other gym equipment. All very loud, hot and sweaty. Not what one expect from Pilates or yoga. She never went back.
We were also advised to book any tours as soon as possible as there were very limited, 10-12, places per tour. We booked two. The first was a dolphin day and nothing like the description we were given. There were at least 100 people, all filed into a pool, told to splash the water, kiss the dolphin, smile for the camera - next. The cost of the photos, on top of the cost of the tour was a joke. The second tour, a snorkelling one, was charged at $99.00 per person; whereas it was under $10.00 in town, and was so bad we refused to pay for it. The ships tour department were deliberately, unhelpful and difficult maintaining we had to discuss this with the tour operator, who we'd had no contact with and didn't know. As we'd booked it as part of the holiday and not via a 3rd party we maintained it was their responsibility. They finally, agreed to help, but only because there were so many people complaining I don't think they had much choice.
Regarding tours, I understand that Thomas Cook and the tour teams want to sell these at fastly inflated prices but it is reprehensible that guests are not given any options. No one tells you that you can arrange these locally, for a fraction of the cost, very easily. They don't tell you that there is an excellent local bus service that runs on every island that costs only one dollar. Considering the vast majority of your clients are elderly, and quite obviously not terribly wealthy, to constantly tell them to only use taxies is ethically and morally disgusting.
Other points to note are, when we arrived, we had four chairs on our terrace, which we used every day. The day we arrived, at the first port, all the chairs were removed and replaced with new ones but, only two not four. It was real inconvenience, and took a lot of time to get the other two chairs returned. As the ship constantly advertises the fact that the balconies are the ideal place for drinks and dinner with friends it was completely unacceptable for them for them to remove these without asking.
The one area where praise is due is the restaurant that we went to virtually every night. The two Macedonian waiters (Dragan and his boss) looked after us extremely well and the food really was first class. Sadly this is the only thing we could recommend from the start to the end of the whole trip.
This was our experience and it was so bad because it was diametrically opposite what we'd asked for. The odd, very elderly (wheelchairs and oxygen tanks), guests we spoke to seemed to be enjoying themselves and those are the people the cruise line accommodates. If you are young, fit and healthy, beware of what your told....
We hold Thomas Cook fully responsible for this disaster. We will never set foot on another Princess Cruise and will make sure as many people as possible know just what it's really like. We will also never, ever use Thomas Cook again.