I have cruised a dozen or so times, including trips with Cunard, Celebrity, Princess, Costa, Royal Caribbean and the Marco Polo. This time I was looking for a short autumn break with my mum and sister. We were restricted on the date we could go, and we decided on the trip only a few weeks beforehand, so choice was limited. The Thomson Dream (Mediterranean Treasures) looked like a good itinerary and was offered at a very reasonable price, so we booked it. I had read some mixed reviews - some were obviously fans, and repeat riders, while others were disappointed by a perceived lack of 'Platinum' service and amenities. We went with an open mind, knowing we would enjoy being on holiday together and visiting Spain, Italy and France, but a little concerned about sharing a cabin for 3 (quite large!) adults.
Thomson flight from Manchester - speedy check in, 2hr 15 min flight, on time. Smooth transfer to ship. Having left Manchester at 6.00 a.m. we were quayside at 11.00 a.m. local time.
Thomson Dream is a handsome, all white, old fashioned liner-looking ship. She seemed small docked in Palma next to the Queen Elizabeth (also beautiful to look at) and the huge Norwegian Epic (that resembled a gigantic block of flats). Embarkation was quick, friendly and efficient and we were on board by 11.30 a.m.
We need not have worried about the cabin, which was a spacious 'outside plus' on deck 7 (Aurega) and made up into twin beds (mum and sis) and a sofa bed (me). The sofa bed was a good size with a comfortable mattress, and to all intents and purposes felt exactly like any single bed. I slept well every night. There were two wardrobes, one open and one with doors, plenty of hangers, 3 large drawers and 3 smaller drawers plus bedside tables with drawers and shelves. Suitcases fitted under the beds and so did not encroach on cabin space. There was a good size dressing table with a large mirror and side lighting. The cabin was tastefully decorated and very pleasant to relax in. The bathroom had a bath and powerful over-bath shower with extra hair washing attachment, an adequate sink and shelving for 3 people's toiletries, plenty of hooks, and a hairdryer. There was always plenty of hot water. The cabin was kept spotlessly clean by our cabin steward Ronaldo, with chocolates on the pillows every night.
The ship's interior is well appointed and maintained. There are no 'wow' factor features such as an atrium with glass lifts, a ballroom, or an amazing shopping area that you might find on larger more modern ships. It is not 'stunning' like the QM2 or Celebrity Equinox, but then you are not paying anything like their prices. And I have to say we enjoyed the easy layout (nearly everything is on Deck 8) and found the bars and restaurants to be delightful, comfortable and varied in character and decor.
We always ate breakfast outside on the Lido deck, as we were blessed with great weather for the time of year. There was the usual choice of fruit, cereals, danish pastries, cold meats and cheeses, omelettes made to your specification, and bacon, sausage, eggs etc. No better or worse than any ship I've been on. You could have breakfast in the formal dining room, but we chose not to.
Lunch was again buffet style, with a choice of British favourites like roast meats and veg, and sandwiches, but also Italian, Asian (including Thai and sushi) and plenty of salad choices. On the outside decks you could get burgers, hot dogs and pizzas until late in the afternoon. There was also ice-cream, cakes and hot puddings every day. We often spent the day ashore, though, and treated ourselves to local seafood or pasta with a bottle of wine!
For evening meal we always ate at the full service restaurant on Deck 4. There is an open seating policy, so you can eat whenever you want from about 7 - 10 p.m. We thought this might mean the kind of queues and waits we had seen on Crown Princess earlier this year, but we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a table. Sometimes we shared, sometimes we had our own table. I think larger groups of 6 or so who wanted to eat together may have had longer waits.
Food in the evening was good but not great. There was only one main course I did not enjoy, and it was changed immediately for another with no fuss. There were always 5 courses with several choices in each - a starter such as pate, seafood cocktail or spring roll; a soup; a salad; a main course with fish, meat, vegetarian or 'exotic' option; and a dessert. Tea and coffee followed and were no extra charge, unlike some other ships. The wine choice was not very extensive, but all the bottles we had were perfectly acceptable including familiar favourites like Australian Chardonnays, New Zealand Sauvignons, Argentine Malbecs and so on. They were the same price you might pay in a restaurant at home - about £14, with no add on tips or service charges, which we thought was great value. Still water was provided for free from well known spa water bottles rather than a jug. Bar prices for beer and spirits were comparable with prices at home, again with no added extras.
The service in the restaurant was generally very good - only one busy evening did we have significant waits between courses, and we did not mind as we were having such a good chat with our table mates. Although you sit at a different table with different waiters every night, and so do not get to know them like you might on other ships with set meal times and set tables, they were all courteous, polite and friendly. The food is not cordon bleu, it is more like the works Christmas 'do' at a local pub or hotel, or a 3 star hotel in Spain, if you get my drift! If fine dining is part of what you enjoy about cruising it's not for you, but if you just want an enjoyable holiday experience it's AOK. The restaurant itself is a pleasant space, again no 'wow factor', but very nice.
After our meal we usually went to the theatre show, for two reasons: firstly, the bars get very full and a couple of times we had difficulty finding a seat - so, a good tip - you can go into the theatre about 45 minutes before the later show (10.30 start) and get the best seats with a table and get waiter service drinks and have a chat with fellow passengers; secondly, the entertainment was absolutely first class. On most cruises I've only been to a couple of shows, preferring a piano bar, cocktail bar or a 'pub' type bar as the shows can be cheesy and repetitive imitations of west end or broadway. But - must say - the Thomson entertainers were the best I've seen on a ship. Great staging, choreography, singing and dancing. The Cabaret/Chicago/Les Miserables evening was superb and the Michael Jackson show exceeded
Ports of call on this cruise were very good. Trapani (Sicily) was the first and a bit dull, but Sorrento, Rome, Calvi (Corsica) and Palamos were all great days out. We only booked one trip - to Rome - and saw the Pope speaking to thousands in St Peter's Square, the ruins and splendours of ancient and renaissance Rome, and had a great lunch, too. Otherwise we just got off the ship and did our own thing. Tenders were efficient, shuttle buses were provided for free.
We had only one day at sea, and the sunbathing areas by the pools became very crowded. We are early risers, despite going to the late show and having cocktails and late night nibbles afterwards (!), and so had no trouble getting sun beds in the areas we liked, but many other people did. The only real negative comment I'd make about Thomson Dream is the pool areas - they're due for an upgrade and aren't in keeping with the interior standards. At the Lido pool there were many small mosaic tiles missing from the pool apron, though they were replaced on the last day. Both pools are surrounded by low walls, which you can sit on, but mean that anyone with mobility problems (like mum) can't access the pools. The sunbeds are past their sell by dates and many are marked or stained. We just threw our towels over them and relaxed with a book, but it does not create a good first impression and is out of synch with the standard of the rest of the ship. Late afternoons, when most folk were back on board after their trips could also be crowded. My sister wondered whether Thomson could convert the hardly used tennis court area into an extra sunbathing/bar area and maybe replace the courts with table tennis, table football or quoits for those who like outdoor games.
All in all we had a great holiday and liked the ship. Some reviewers use the phrase 'cheap and cheerful', but it is much better than that - it's very good and great value. 'Platinum' might be over egging the pudding compared with Cunard, Celebrity or Princess, but you pay a lot more for a few privileges on those lines.
Apparently there was norovirus on the ship, but nobody we talked top knew anyone who had it - usual precautions taken by crew kept it well at bay.
Disembarkation and the flight home were equally smooth. I'll certainly sail with Thomson again. Next trip is on Disney in Florida, February, also a first, then Fred Olsen - another first. Can't get enough of life on the ocean wave!