The spirit of Iberia was a replacement cruise for Majesty. It had been scheduled for the Red Sea which was cancelled due to the trouble in Egypt.
The Spirit of Iberia was also the first sailing since the Majesty had come out of dry dock following a bit of a spruce up.
It was our third cruise and our second on Thomson. With the wheel chair we always book through a travel agent. Both my husband and I are in our 40's, it is my husband who is the wheel chair user but he is not confined to it. The majority of the other passengers on our ship I would estimate were 65+, and there were at least 4 other wheel chair users on the ship.
Before we went
Tickets are E-tickets and were e-mailed a month before we travelled. We did airport check in online before we left and printed off our boarding passes at home and just took them with us with our passports. I also checked in to the ship on line before we left so we could use the "priority" queue when we got to port.
Airport: London Luton to Malaga
We've travelled through Luton several times before and so knew exactly what to expect and where to go for assistance. Luton is also our nearest airport and so takes some of the stress out of travelling. We arrived at the airport 3 hours before our flight at 3:00am. Despite Luton not flying night flights, we still had somewhere to sit down and have a cup of tea while we waited for the check in to open.
Check in opened early, but the Thomson cruise rep who normally stands by the end of the queue was late so we had to go to the Thomson desk for our cabin luggage labels. This was ok though, because we were early, there were very few people in front of us and the Thomson desk was right next to check in anyway. The queue was short and the girls on the counter were efficient. We had to wait about 15 minutes for security to open. Again, quick efficient, communicative and polite. A sheer joy after our last absolutely horrendous experience at Heathrow in December 2013.
Assistance was easy to find right next to the doughnut stand. The staff there were again, polite, understanding gave clear communication and were extremely polite. They got us on the plane using the ambulift with no hassles whatsoever. They put the wheel chair in the hold and all done with such professionalism.
On our return flight we remained on the plain until the ambulift arrived. The wheel chair was waiting on the ambulift when we got there. This time the staff on the ambulift were rude and condescending. They nearly knocked off my husbands knees with a side door they have to use and clearly they couldn't be bothered. Normally they strap the person down sitting in their wheel chair. But this was too much trouble for them. They ordered my husband to get out of his wheel chair and sit in one of the seats. Just plain awful behaviour. But we got rid of them quickly choosing to go through passport control on our own. We went through passport control and customs in two seconds flat and were soon on our way home.
Luton airport is very easy going for wheel chairs. It is slightly up hill from the drop off point to the front of the airport. There are plenty of drop curbs and the lifts were all working. Being there early in the morning is also an advantage because there are no madding crowds, stopping short in front of you, or looking at duty free instead of where they should be going. We didn't have a problem with loads of perfectly able bodied people deciding to take the lift instead of the escalator either.
It's Thomson! You get what you pay for, clean tidy aircraft. Polite staff and the only thing included in the price are the toilets. Drinks and snacks very pricey. But it's only a 2 1/2 hour flight so you can take it or leave it. We had ham and cheese toastie on the way back. Very soggy and slightly burnt. Certainly don't expect the standards you get on long haul flights. We booked our seats on line before we went.
We remained on the plain for assistance for all the other passengers to get off. The wheel chair was waiting for us, and a member of staff pushed the wheel chair through the airport as far as baggage collection. It was a very quick process. We were first on so our cases were last off pretty much. It was extremely busy because four other UK flights arrived at the same time. Thomson had so many staff at Malaga it would have been impossible to get lost. We went straight to our coach, where the coach driver put our cases and the wheel chair on for us. As usual the great British public saw the wheel chair and that my husband struggles to walk but we still ended up over half way down the coach for the transfer. After all the Englishman's coach seat is his castle, and heaven forbid moving if someone is struggling.
Malaga Cruise Port again was quick. Thomson. Transferred all the cases from the coach and onto the ship, so the next time we saw our suitcases was at our room. They'd already arrived at the room by the time we had got through the cruise check in. I did have to go running after my husbands wheel chair as a very efficient member of staff had already taken it off the coach and started treating it like a suitcase. This was one of the problems with being half way down the transfer coach. For a disabled person travelling alone, they would have had no hope of catching the wheel chair.
Cruise Check In:
We had priority because we checked in on line. We were through check in, in 15 - 20 minutes flat. We spoke to someone who had been in the normal queue. It took them 3 hours to get through cruise check in.
There was no assistance between the coach and the ship. After check in, there was a working lift and the ramps up to the ship were quite steep. Anyone elderly would not have been able to push a wheel chair up. The staff were fantastic at the gang plank and took hold of the wheel chair and took us straight to our cabin.
Additions of Balconies:
We had booked a junior suite. We book a junior suite because it is big enough for us to store a wheel chair without having to have a disabled room. We were pleasantly surprised that we had a balcony. Majesty was not built with balconies and these have only just been added on this year. If you're used to cruising newer ships, don't expect too much from your view. Our balcony was extremely spacious and the door out was nice and quiet. The view was a little lacking. About 85% of the view was obscured by a life boat! and you could only see any view at all if you stood up. Our balcony didn't have screens at either end so it wasn't really all that private, but if you had screens you'd have had no view at all. But it was nice to go out in a morning and get some fresh air.
The ship is not the newest, but Thomson have worked really hard to keep her looking as nice as she can. The whole ship is clean and tidy and there was the smell of fresh paint and varnish everywhere you went. It has 11 decks, but there is no disabled access onto deck 11 which is the sun deck. From a wheel chair point of view, there is far too much furniture on the open decks. We took a walk round the promenade deck on deck 7 when there was no one using the sun beds, and we had to stop at least 10 times for me to move sun beds so we could get the wheel chair through. If people had been on the sun beds with all their belongings as well there would be no hope. The only other sun beds are deck 11 so if you're disabled and going on holiday for sun bathing, the Majesty is definitely not the ship for you. Deck 10 is the pool deck and is littered with chairs and tables. When in use I would advise wheel chairs not to gain access to this deck by stair tower B lifts. You will not be able to get past the chairs and tables to get onto the deck. There is also no seating on deck 10 reserved for wheel chairs, and as usual the public will not move for you, so we found ourselves either asking people to move, trying to move furniture enough to get the chair in or just plain giving up. As for getting a seat in the sun, unless you have two working legs, forget it, it just isn't going to happen, so you best like the shade. There was also too much furniture on deck 10 for wheel chairs to have ease of movement round deck 10. Once you had found somewhere to sit, you were pretty much stuck there. So you need someone able bodied with you to fetch you ice creams and go to the buffet for you.
We gave up completely on the buffet. Again there was no reserved seating for disabled or wheel chairs. No one able bodied would move for you. The whole week we only had one couple in the Cafe Royale give up their seat for us to be able to eat. We had to battle tables and chairs to get a seat in the buffet, and then I had to choose my husband's food for him because he couldn't get out again to go to the buffet. If we got something hot, I had to get his first, and then mine, so by the time we got seated together either his had gone cold or we were eating separately. This was disappointing because when we had been on the Thomson Celebration, we had reserved seating and the staff had pushed my husband round so we could both eat at the same time. In the end for breakfast, the only way we could get a seat for breakfast was for us to sit in the Royal Observatory on deck 9 on our own, and for me to use the stairs from there to the Cafe Royale on deck 10 to get our breakfast, which took about 4 trips by the time I had got my husband's breakfast, then mine and the cups of tea as well.
The main restaurants were great. The food was spot on. We did lunch one day in the 7 seas restaurant, but chose to eat our evening meal in the Four Seasons. The manager was superb, and kept us a table by the door every night so my husband didn't have to walk far. We had one meal in the Bistro which was amazing, apart from a small accident with one waiter dropping the dips from another table which splashed on my dress, my shoes and my husband's suit. Although the waiter was extremely apologetic, it would have been a nice gesture for them to offer to clean our clothes in the ship laundry for us.
We only went to two shows. They were very well presented, but again we had problems with seating. There were two reserved bays for wheel chairs, which able bodied people insisted in sitting in. Also If you'd sat there it would have obscured the view for the people behind. It was also not possible to sit together very easily. The first night we went I ended up sitting behind my husband who had to find somewhere to leave his chair and walk to a seat because there were no other options. Not really what you expect when you go on holiday as a couple. The second show we went to we asked a woman if someone was sitting in a seat next to the gangway, she said yes but no one was sitting the other side of her. I said to her we couldn't put the wheel chair the other side because it would block the fire escape, and instead of offering to move up to release the chair next to the gang way, she just looked at me, pulled a face and said "Ahhhhhh". That night both of us ended up sitting in the gangway near a fire exit. Another wheel chair user ended up sitting in the gang way whilst her husband and family were sitting 10 metres away. Just because you use a wheel chair doesn't mean you don't want to sit with your friends and family, holidays are meant to be a time you spend together.
Lifts were very slow, because there were so many people aged over 65 there were a lot of people using the lifts and they took forever. There was also the same old problem of able bodied passengers all piling in a lift leaving the wheel chairs to wait for the lift to go from top to bottom 3 times sometimes before you could actually get in it. Instead of getting out one person even suggested that there should be a lift reserved for wheel chairs, rather than people who can walk using the stairs. When I wasn't pushing my husband, I didn't use the lift once and it was so much quicker.
Destination Services were absolutely superb. They reserved my husband seats at the front of the excursion coaches. The staff on the gang plank got him on and off busses. Passengers on the excursions even helped get the wheel chair up and down stairs on the excursions. All the coach drivers had the wheel chair waiting for my husband by the time my husband got off the coach at each stop. The guides in both Casablanca and Seville both helped with the wheel chair. The excursions were a sheer pleasure and I would like to thank everyone involved from staff to fellow passengers, they really made our holiday enjoyable.
The ship docked at Lisbon, Portimao, Casablanca, Cadiz and Gibraltar. Malaga was just the port of embarkation and disembarkation.
I never think you can expect too much from sight seeing on a cruise because they are just short stops to give you a taster of that area.
We went on the following:
Highlights of Lisbon
4x4 ride through Mountains Portimao
Casablanca City Tour
Seville Full Day Tour
Gibraltar tour of the Rock
Lisbon was nice, but we really were not there very long. We didn't get authority to go off ship until 11:00am and we had to be back on ship by 16:30pm because we were sailing at 17:00pm. Lisbon is a lovely city and the old part is beautiful. We visited a monastery and went into the city. The guide was lovely although it was all a bit whirlwind. Lots of information. I would thoroughly recommend the tour. All I would say is don't go expecting lots of photographs. Particularly if you're pushing a wheel chair or push chair. The guide just kept on walking. She barely stopped. I had no hands free and therefore very few photos. I'm a keen amateur photographer and I would see a great shot, but then she just kept going. I understand that you can't keep stopping every metre for photographs but there are times you need to stop and allow people time to take photos. But she just kept walking. Extremely frustrating. But love Lisbon and will most likely go back some time to have a proper look around.
The 4x4 ride across the Algarve was superb, loved it. The driver was extremely knowledgeable about the area including the wildlife. We visited a cork farm, and a distillery for firewater as well as going up the highest hill in the Algarve. We saw the storks nesting and the most beautiful countryside, a stop at a cafe, totally off the beaten track down dusty tracks and through the hills. If your back can stand the bumps I thoroughly recommend this excursion it is well run and extremely breathtaking. Lots of photographs on this excursion.
Casablanca was nice, it is a huge city and has everything that huge cities have, poverty, graffiti as well as history. I had seen photos of Marrakech before and was a little surprised by what we found in Casablanca, but we saw some lovely architecture from the Mosque, Government buildings and the olive market. We enjoyed it and glad we went, I don't think I will go back again but am happy that I've seen it.
Seville was just plain beautiful. The buildings are amazing, the cathedral is amazing and I definitely want to go back again. There is so much to see and do, with cafe's lining the Main Street. It's an amazing place and my first introduction to Spain. We are thinking of going back for a long weekend. I would thoroughly recommend this excursion. We had a tour of a Palace, I'm afraid to say we had a bit information overload and lots and lots of steps there and told the guide we'd rather look round on our own for a couple of hours and we met up with the group again later. Lovely lovely place.
Gibraltar was special to us because my husband had lived there in his younger years and considers it at home. We had a quick 2 hour tour in the morning up to the caves, down to Europa point, to the apes and got a bit of history. But then we just went off and did our own thing for the rest of the day. We spent hours walking round the town, going to my husband's old school and finding all the houses he'd lived in. A truly special day but not one that others on the ship are likely repeat as it was unique to us. Again we are thinking of going back for a long weekend.
Day at Sea:
The day at sea was as any usual day at sea, look round the ship, look at duty free etc. the day at sea on this cruise was day 1 and then day 2 was the afternoon in Lisbon. It did feel a bit like it took 2 days for the Holliday to get going. I think I would prefer to see the day at see moved to middle of the week, as for nearly 3 days it just felt like we'd flown to a ship. The wifi didn't work properly for the first 4 days of the cruise and was horrendous signal when it did work. Wasted a fortune as you pay for time and it was just so slow.
Food on Excursions:
There was no food provided on any of the excursions on this cruise. It's the first time this has ever happened to us on cruises. There also wasn't much time to eat. Lisbon was about an hour to find somewhere providing you didn't go on the walking tour, and if we hadn't left the tour early in Seville we would only have had an hour there too. I think this needs to be clearly marked when you book on line because it was an all inclusive package and so you were starving by the time you got back to the ship, and if you're disabled in incurs all those buffet problems mentioned above. It would also cause a problem for people with conditions where they have to eat at certain times.
We loved our holiday and are on the Majesty again in December. It was better than our last cruise with MSC Lirica but our favourite still has to be the Thomson Celebration Red Sea Magic. It had an edge that we just haven't been able to find since