You have to hand it to Thomson - they know their market and they serve it well. Almost everyone I spoke to on this cruise said how much they were enjoying it, and I'm sure approval ratings will be high. And to be fair to Thomson, I had a very pleasant week's holiday. The weather was lovely, each port offered something different, and with the exception of a 3hr delay on the outbound flight and a chaotic checkin on the inbound, all travel elements went smoothly. Thomson does not, however, provide a refined cruising experience. If it were a budget cruise line that significantly undercut others on price, that would be fine. But it is not. I went with Mum, last minute, and we paid just shy of £2,000 for the week. Once on board, they tried to sell us a drinks package, which we declined - we had assumed, wrongly, that "all inclusive" would include all soft drinks and possibly table wine. We stuck to mainly water and coke, went on one trip and bought a couple of things from the shop, and our cabin bill came to a further £250. Compare this to a last-minute 12-night Baltic cruise with Celebrity a couple of years ago for £800 each, and Thomson starts to look pricey.
The ship is clean and the staff are friendly, but it's a 20-year-old tub with no atrium, a lounge rather than a theatre, limited shopping and facilities, and no balconies. It reminded me very much of cruising with Airtours in the late 1990s. Our cabin (Outside Plus on Deck 6) was clean, quiet, air-conditioned and perfectly adequate, and we slept very well, but the tiny bathroom and dated decor again nodded to the ship's age. There is no pomp and ceremony to Thomson cruising (which is precisely why many people choose it), but I would have liked a bit more effort. The dining room epitomises the casual approach. The food is dull and repetitive, and the presentation uninspired. Every appetiser consisted of the fish/meat/whatever dumped in the middle of the plate, with half a tomato and a salad leaf above, and a squiggle of sauce below. The main course was generally a piece of meat with two or three different veg, whilst the puddings were mostly synthetic stodge that had come from the freezer. In short, it was mass catering rather than fresh cuisine. The all-inclusive approach to tips means that waiters are not incentivised to go the extra mile, and the service was variable. One night it was outstanding, but generally it was slow and lacking finesse. I would have liked a beautifully laid table and a waiter who pulled out Mum's chair and laid a napkin on her lap, but too often the staff were still plonking cutlery down after we'd been shown to our seats. The breakfast juice was from concentrate, and the lunchtime buffet had the same selection every day.
The entertainment team, on the other hand, was first rate, and they put on highly professional shows night after night. The warm-up act, Muzzik Unlimited, wasn't bad, and the guest comedian, though not to my personal taste (think Wigan working men's club c.1989) was appreciated by many. The entertainment is very music(al) based, which suited me well, but it might not appeal to everyone.
We made our own way at the various ports, with the exception of Kusadasi, where we went on a very well-organised tour to Ephesus. There was quite a good choice of excursions and, though relatively expensive, they did not seem any more pricey than on other cruise lines.
To sum up, we had a lovely holiday because we enjoyed the ports of call and were kept entertained whilst on the move. If you view the ship as a floating 3 to 4 star hotel, and focus on the sun and the sightseeing, you will enjoy it. If you're cruising for its own sake, though, I would suggest a different company. It's a fine line between casual and downmarket, and Thomson sometimes sails dangerously close to the latter.