We are frequent Thomson cruisers and have been on the Dream on four previous occasions. We like the 'Thomson product' i.e. the warm, friendly and unpretentious atmosphere, good service and excellent entertainment. This cruise was a new departure for us as we prefer port-intensive itineraries and I was a little apprehensive about weather/sea conditions and the prospect of six days at sea crossing the Atlantic.
We joined the Dream in Lisbon and set sail for Madeira after which we embarked on the Atlantic crossing. The conditions were good and there was a full programme of activities to fill the days. Payable enrichment courses included chocolate making, creative writing, painting and choir. Additionally there was a play, daily entertaining lectures about the history of comedy from Rod Taylor who was a BBC producer, films, bridge, interviews and the usual offerings of games etc from the entertainment team. There were classical musicians in the Argo Lounge, a pianist in the Delo bar, an excellent duo in Oceans Bar and a trio who popped up everywhere, before the shows in the theatre, on the Lido deck and for scheduled spots in Medusa. They were excellent too. The band wasn't so much to our liking - but there was plenty of variety to cater for all tastes and of course there were deck parties and cabarets on the pool deck. The cover had to be used on one or two occasions but this is a useful and good space for that kind of entertainment.
The weather was gradually getting warmer as we approached the Caribbean but the availability of sun loungers was an issue with the perennial problem of sun-bed hoggers. There was room for more loungers which would have helped but there is a real need to address this problem especially on an itinerary with so many sea days and all passengers on board. (It will present more problems with the Dream in the Caribbean next winter with the two sea-day itineraries. In the Caribbean in the middle of winter people will want to be outside enjoying the sun not sitting inside in lounges.) There was supposed to be a policing policy but this clearly wasn't working well enough with a high percentage of sun beds with towels and belongings but no occupants! Especially on a ship without balconies (except a very small number) everyone is looking for deck space and there was quite a degree of frustration amongst passengers unable to find somewhere to sit outside.
Once in the Caribbean, the weather was excellent during the day, (one or two rainy nights) the azure sea a fabulous 27 degrees and the islands of Tortola and Gr Turk were great. We did a beach transfer at Samana to the idyllic island of Cayo Levantando. After Cozumel which provided an opportunity to visit the Mayan ruins, we arrived at Havana which was a highlight - such an interesting and fascinating city with its grand buildings and faded elegance. With an overnight here we were able to go on an evening excursion to the Tropicana. It was a real experience and very much enjoyed, a fantastic atmosphere of vibrant Cuban dancing and music under the stars. A big swell prevented us from tendering to Gr Cayman so we headed straight for Jamaica. Soon we were heading for Aruba, our last port of call and then Barbados to fly home. A great itinerary with varied and very good ports of call and I wouldn't hesitate to do a Transatlantic again.
As for the Dream, it had the usual warm and welcoming ambience with hardworking crew providing good service but sometimes slow in the main dining room in the evening. Housekeeping was the usual excellent standard with great attention to hygiene. The entertainment was good, augmented by an increased number of guest acts which were, with the odd exception, very good indeed. The show team were exceptionally good dancers but the singing occasionally wasn't up to the same standard although they were a new team and hadn't really had time to settle in properly. Time will tell how good a team they are as the season progresses. The shows we thought were varied and generally good although attempts to appeal to a younger market with more contemporary sets didn’t come off too well imo in some of the cabarets and one of the Concerto style shows.
We were disappointed though as we thought the standard of food wasn't up to our previous experiences of Thomson or the Dream. It seems that there have been significant economies made of late and this is beginning to be a serious concern for us. The desserts have always been unimaginative but the main courses have deteriorated to a very noticeable degree in particular in the Orion for the evening meal. They lacked variety, choice and good cuts of meat. Pork was disproportionately represented in all kinds of forms (pork Wellington was a new one on me) but it seems that now steak is available at a surcharge of £10 in the main dining room or for £12/13(?) 'under the stars' on the Lido deck this doesn't appear now on the menu, beef is infrequently offered and no lamb except in curries/kebabs. We did dine in the Grill (£19.95) which was excellent and had the lamb there – it was very good.
We used to be very satisfied with the quality and choice of evening meals in the main dining room but can't say we were on this trip. On the whole we found food in other venues and for breakfast and lunch good although, again, there were hints of cost-cutting with the disappearance of fruit bowls and a very poor selection of cereals on some days.
We really enjoyed the Transatlantic, loved being back on the Dream enjoyed the itinerary, entertainment and company but didn't think the food was up to standard. All in all, a very enjoyable cruise for many reasons but I shall be monitoring reviews on Dream very carefully to find out whether there has been an improvement in food quality or sadly we may be coming to the end of a long, happy relationship with Thomson cruises.