This was our first cruise and first package holiday! I traveled with my mother who is in her 60s and we usually enjoy city breaks, Barcelona being one of our favourites but decided this year that a cruise would be a great way to see the city sights we like with a bit of relaxation thrown in!
We were drawn to this ship from its description as informal and laid back on the website, we also were very happy with the ports of call and the price! We had issues trying to book as when we went into the Thomson's shop the "cruise expert" did everything she could to try and put us off the Island Escape and book a different more expensive ship, after 45 minutes of her showing us restaurant menus and pictures of other ships we left, went to a different Thomson's shop and booked the cruise we wanted! This then prompted me to read some reviews, which perhaps I should have done before I booked, but I am so glad I didn't as it could very well have made me book a different cruise! Some of the reviews I read we're horrific and really put a shadow over our holiday... I need not have worried though as this was one of the best, if not the best holidays we have been on!
I was not sure what to expect with this being my first package holiday and was really impressed with the presence of the reps in the airport and how helpful they were! We were pointed in the direction of our bus where we were handed a pack with some information and what would happen next and then driven to the port. Once there, and after sanitising our hands at one of the ever present gel dispensers, we went through a very easy and informative check in and embarkation, our cases were delivered to our cabin very soon after.
The cabin we stayed in was an inside cabin on deck six, it was in a perfect location as it was just off the main corridor and not to close to either the stair well or restaurant for the noise but close enough for easy access! The cabin was immaculately clean and our cabin steward came in several times a day to tidy up or turn the beds down etc. It was basic but the beds were comfortable and there was plenty of storage space. There was also mini bar items in the cabin, these were not included in the all inclusive package but seemed reasonably priced. There was a news letter delivered every evening which contained useful information about tomorrow's port of call and what was happening on board.
We spent our first full day at sea where we explored the ship, it's facilities and booked our excursions for the week. Our first impressions of the ship had been really good and we were even more impressed after looking around. Descriptions of "a rust bucket", "filthy, disgusting communal areas" and "food which was like school or prison fare" played on my mind but I really don't know what these people were seeing that I wasn't! I am not easy to please, I have a touch of OCD so am really particular with cleanliness and am a picky eater but I have to say that there were no complaints from us at all. I have never seen as many people cleaning 24/7 as I did on that boat and it really felt that the crew were doing everything they could to ensure that germs and viruses etc were not spread.
We mainly ate in the Island Restaurant on deck 6 as it was near our cabin. A waiter ensured everyone used the hand gel before entering and then you were shown to a table, the first couple of times we went we sat in different places but by day 3 we sat at the same table with the same people every night. The food was a buffet and the choice was fantastic, every night there was a soup to start, a carvery option, a pasta option, a vegetarian option and several main and side dishes plus a salad bar, hot and cold deserts and cheese and biscuits. There were also theme nights, Italian, Chinese and an Indian night. All of the food we had was first class and never cold as some people had written in their reviews. We did eat in the Beachcomber Restaurant a couple of times as this was open 24/7. This restaurant was a lot more relaxed, food was still buffet but served on melamine plates as these could be taken outside or to the pool area etc. We had breakfast there a couple of times when we had an early start for an excursion. They also served afternoon tea, typical stuff like sandwiches, cream scones, cake, sausage rolls etc which we enjoyed a couple of times instead of having lunch. They also served "midnight snacks" which we also had one night... I would like to tell you what was on offer but I was a bit worse for wear and it was the equivalent of getting a late night takeaway after a heavy night out! I do know that they had nachos with cheese on as this was what was half left in a bowl in my cabin the next morning!
There were also some reviews saying that the all inclusive was not very good... We found there to be a very wide selection of drinks available, we drank cocktails most of the time, there was a choice of about 8 with alcohol and 3 non alcoholic ones plus a special of the day on AI. We also drank wine in the restaurant with dinner, it wasn't what we would usually drink but was fine. We ended most night with a glass of port in the Sundowner bar watching the singers, I know that the spirits etc were house spirits and if you wanted brands you paid for them but I don't know many places where this would not be the case on all inclusive!
All in all we really enjoyed this holiday, found the ship far exceeded our expectations after reading the reviews, the whole process of embarkation and disembarkation very smooth, the excursions value for money, all of the staff really helpful and the food and drink fantastic. We are already considering another cruise on this ship next year.