We are in our early 60's, and this is our 6th Cruise with Thomsons, and the 3rd one on the Celebration. We are becoming old hands at the cruising with Thomson game now, so for all those thinking about a cruise for the first time, here's what we think, along with what happens on arrival etc etc. First off, we sailed from Marmaris, but I had to enter Istanbul, as Marmaris is not listed among the embarkation ports on Trip Advisor! We flew into Dalaman on 6th May from Doncaster, as I'm fairly tall and its a 4 hour plus flight, we booked extra legroom seats as they were on offer. It was an uneventful flight, and was on time taking off and landing. Upon landing at Dalaman went through the usual chaotic process of retrieving our suitcases, going through security and locating the transfer bus. Its quite a long transfer from Dalaman to Marmaris, this was the second time we had done it, and we were very pleased to discover on arrival, it had taken approx 30 minutes less (about 1 hour 20 minutes)than the last time. Upon arrival at the port you are met by a member of the ships entertainment team, who explains the registration process with you and directs you to the waiting reception staff. You fill in various forms, have your photo taken (for ships security purposes), get your boarding card (which is similar to a credit card)and has your name and cabin number printed on it. This is the most important thing you have while on the cruise, as it acts as your credit card for when you order drinks (regardless of whether you are on all inclusive or not) buy excursions or goods in the ships shops, and also acts as your passport. Every time you go ashore you must have this card with you, the security staff swipe it through their system and up comes the photograph that you had taken at registration, and it tells the system you are leaving the ship, the whole process happens in reverse when you reboard. This way the crew can look at the computer and tell at a glance whether everyone is back on board or not. You also need it to show to the Port security people, when you leave and enter the various ports you are going to. One other thing I recommend you do at registration is register your credit/debit card there and then, this is done so that at the end of the cruise your bank account is debited for all the drinks and excursions etc you may have bought, also you are given the opportunity to rent a safety deposit box (found in your cabins wardrobe) for the duration of the cruise, it costs (non refundable) 15 euro's for a weeks cruise (more for the 14 day cruise)and the cost is added to your onboard account. Tip:- return the safe key just before you go to bed on the last night of the cruise, the reception staff get very very busy on the morning everyone is leaving for home, and you could find yourself in a large queue to do something that takes less than 2 minutes. Tip:- You have to put your suitcases fully packed outside the cabin by 2 am on your last night on board, the crew then take the cases up on deck and unload the suitcases using a giant sling thingy when the ship docks the next morning. I take one of those disposable plastic razors in addition to my normal razor, and use this when I get up on the last morning, (the last night I also squirt a large pile of shaving foam next to the sink before packing the wash kit)then throw the razor away after shaving, we do the same with toothbrushes, we take cheap ones and simply throw them away after use on the final morning (put toothpaste on them before packing the wash kit). You will see lots of passengers trying to locate their suitcases on the quayside the following morning, just to put all their wash gear away, so my tips will save you the hassle.
Well thats the preliminaries out of the way and now to the cruise itself. On the day you arrive there will be a life boat drill, which is compulsory for all new passengers (those on two week cruises only do the drill once), it lasts about 20 minutes or so and gets you familiar with your lifeboat station and the various alarms etc. After the drill the time is all yours, your suitcases should have arrived outside your cabin by now, when you initially arrived at registration, your suitcases are unloaded from the bus by the crew and you don't see them again(apart from putting your cabin number stickers on them that you are given at registration) until they arrive outside your cabin, so you can unpack.
Most of the restaurants are open and you are free to go for a meal, there are hand cleaners outside every restaurant usually with a member of staff there to make sure the passengers use them, and they are also outside the toilets and again on boarding the ship. We have not come across a single case of the sickness and vomiting bug on any of our Thomson cruises, so well done to them for their vigilance. The first day at sea is to be honest pretty boring if you have cruised before, if not then its your chance to find out where everything is, and even browse among the onboard shops. You will find, that just like on shore Hotels, there is a shortage of sunbeds, and yes, even onboard you get the usual crowd who reserve sunbeds with their pool towels. This is pretty annoying but at least on the Celebration staff removed the towels if they had been left unattended for 45 or more minutes (the owners have to go to reception to get them back). There are waiters everywhere you go, be it the sun decks or the inside lounges, who are very efficient and will take your drink order etc (don't forget to carry your card at all times, as they will ask for this, and take it away with them while they get your order). The food is generally very good, and you can choose whether or not to use the self service restaurant or the waiter service restaurant for all the meals, our preference was to use the self service at breakfast and lunch, and the waiter service for dinner. There are stairs up and down to all the decks as well as lifts. We found the were times when the lifts took ages, so generally used the stairs if we were only going up or down 2 or 3 decks. There are launderettes on board, and for those worried about creased up tuxedos, evening dresses etc, an ironing service. The Captains formal dining night is normally in the evening of the first day at sea, (it is purely voluntary, if you don't wish to go then you use the self service restaurant for that night) there are two sittings 6pm and 8pm, a note will be left in your cabin letting you know which one you have been allocated to, Tip - if you would prefer to go to the other sitting then go and have a quick word with the Maitre'D in the waiter service restaurant, and he will exchange your invitation note for you. The formal evening begins with a photograph being taken of you with the Captain (at the entrance to the entertainment lounge), you are then shown to a seat and given a cocktail to drink. You have to wait in the lounge for up to an hour before you go for the meal, Tip - Wait awhile before you go to the reception to lessen the time you spend making small talk and generally sitting around in the lounge, you do not miss anything. The meal itself is just like any other evening meal in the waiter service restaurant except you are in your finery, the Captain though, does not attend, well he certainly hasn't in any of the 7 cruises (been on another one since this review)we have been on!
First port of call was Istanbul, we decided to go on a morning only excursion, as we wanted to visit the Blue Mosque. The coach picked us up not far from the ship and off we went, the guide was very good, spoke excellent English and was very informative. We discovered from him that Istanbul has a population of 16 million, which I must admit I found surprising. The Blue Mosque itself was pretty impressive from a distance, even more so closer up. We also visited The Hagia Sofia Mosque, and the underground cisterns (used in the James Bond movie "from Russia with love"). It was an enjoyable excursion and one of the better ones we have been on. I won't say anything more about it, as it will spoil it for those thinking of going on it. Istanbul was I thought, a pretty impressive city, with numerous colourful trams going here there and everywhere, but we didn't feel confident enough to venture out on our own here!
Port 2 was Mytilene, it was not very inspiring (the weather didn't help as it was overcast all day), and generally looked scruffy and dirty, so after about an hour wandering around we spent the rest of the day on board ship.
Port 3 was Piraeus for Athens, we came here on our last cruise so didn't go into Athens(its very very busy)this time and instead went on an excursion to the Corinth canal. Again I won't spoil it by saying too much about it, we found it to be okayish but not one of the better ones we have been on!
Port 4 Mykonos, Ah, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and this is what cruising is all about, a picture postcard setting with its whitewashed houses and windmills. The narrow streets were clean and everywhere had that warm feel about it, in short don't go on an excursion here, just catch the shuttle bus from the ship, and enjoy a very pleasant stroll around the town. See if you can find George the pelican!
Port 5 Kusadasi, once again the sun was shining and it was nice hot day. Again we came here on our last cruise, when we walked around to Mouse Island, so this time we turned left out of the port and wandered among the shops, and then along the seafront to what looked like a new marina area. There was another cruise ship in port and the whole area got busy. There are lots of interesting excursions to be had here, but we opted for a quiet relaxing day instead.
The evening entertainment is headed by a west end type stage show, which is normally excellent (seen more than a few now, so are starting to get critical I suppose), and has two showings a night for the early and late diners. There are also live groups, Soloists and Jazz musicians performing in the other lounges and bars. We found it very hard to get a seat in the main lounge when we come out from a show, as did plenty of other guests, its something which I have commented to Thomson's about in the past, when they send their questionnaires to me, as it has happened on every cruise. There is also a UK guest act one night each week, it is usually a comedian, who also does a late night show later in the cruise.
For the cinema buffs, there is a proper cinema on the Celebration and its sister ship the Spirit, I don't know about the other Thomson ships apart from the Dream which definitely hasn't got a cinema. There are also two newish films shown every day on your cabins Television, along with the usual news channels.
During the day there are all sorts of organised activities going on from Fashion shows to Ice sculpting to Quizzes etc etc. There is also a games room (jigsaws, board games etc) and a Library where you can go and borrow paperbacks. There is a room with electronic type games in it, a Spa, Gym, Kids club, Swimming pool, Whirlpool and a games court on the top deck for football, basketball etc. Among the ships shops is also a beauty saloon, and duty free shops selling alcohol and cigarettes, which I found to be cheaper than the Thomson's aircraft duty free's!
Finally I recommend you leave a tip for your cabin steward, these people are amazing, they always seem to be there working away from dawn to dusk, and nothing is too much trouble for them. If you are new to cruising then I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised, and the ages range from babies in pushchairs to old age pensioners, true the older people are in the majority, but there seem to be more 40 and 50 somethings cruising now than when we did our first cruises. We have been fortunate enough to go on numerous holidays since 1997, including a River Rhine cruise, a Beach holiday in Corfu, to 4 holidays on lake Garda Italy, Sorrento, Madeira, Austria 3 times, and a coach tour of Switzerland, but we enjoy the cruises most of all, which should tell you something?
I hope this review (turned out far longer than I thought, so sorry about that), has been of some help to anyone contemplating cruising for the first time.