Thomson Dream Latin Gems January 5-19 2014
Since this was the first cruise my wife and I had tried, I want to give a personal view of the Thomson experience from a newcomer's point of view, rather than to attempt a detailed blow by blow account of this particular holiday.
Before we sailed from Bridgetown Barbados, my main curiosity was what life on the ship would be like. You can find out all you need to know about the places we visited - Curacao to St Vincent And The Grenadines - online. If we booked an excursion, the standard of the tour guides was good (cheerful and informative), and some of them were prepared to be briefly drawn into conversation about what life and politics were really like on their island.
Life onboard the Thomson Dream showed up some of the problems inherent in the cruising holiday model.
You will see from the comments of others that Thomson and we passengers are fortunate in the quality of its crew. Thomson doubly so, because they are lucky to be able to provide their customers with this level of service so cheaply.
The company's problem with their business model is simply that it is a business, and the aim is to maintain the feeling of luxury while generating maximum profit.
It all depends what you expect from a holiday of course. My wife and I chose to go on a cruise, hoping that "inclusive" might really mean "inclusive", which it does not - at least, not on this ship run by this operator. As soon as you get on board, people are trying to sell you stuff - wine "packages", stuff from the shops, ETC. I would like to do the paying up front and have done with it. Many of the conversations I overheard were on the subject of how much this or that would cost, and whether this or that package was good value. I didn't go cruising to feel like a calculator, nor to be made to feel like a commercial target. Of course we are commercial targets, but it would be nice to get all that out of the way before you leave, so you can relax with your illusions.
This attitude on the part of Thomson leads to making use of the cheap component - the crew - and cutting back on the expensive bits. For example, the Dream's Orion Restaurant cultivates an atmosphere of fine dining with very good and attentive waiter service, and gastronomic-sounding dishes on its menu.
The flavour of the food here was often good, but nowhere was it as good as the menu description. To take a random example from our final night, an appetizer described as "fresh fruit cocktail with calvados", contained fruit, but no detectable calvados, while the Baked Alaska contained the basic ingredients, but it was warm sponge with ice cream on top of it, with granules of meringue on top of that - not Baked Alaska. Mushrooms were processed - small fragments (canned or dried), which really aren't good in an omelet. In other words, presentation is being used to hide the budget, when presenting it as decent food would be more honest, although it wouldn't fit the illusion of luxury which Thomson is trying to create.
The quality of the live entertainment on the ship was quite good, but not great. Again the budget was showing, and 2 weeks of the same entertainers, who can certainly be hired more cheaply if offered longer contracts, exposed any faults they might have and, obviously, entertainment at that price is going to have some vocal or instrumental flaws.
You may also find that no 2 cocktails with the same name will taste the same. I don't know why that should be, but it makes ordering your favourite cocktail fairly meaningless if you can't be sure what it's going to taste like.
So, in conclusion, great crew, dodgy business model.