My wife and I took the Thomson Celebration Colourful Coasts cruise, embarking 21 March 2014 and occupying a Deluxe Balcony Cabin on Deck 9 forward on the ship.
The cabin was indeed one of the high spots of the cruise. There was more space than in comparable cabins we have experienced with other cruise lines, with a large and comfortable double bed, table and chairs both in the cabin and on the balcony, separate his and hers wardrobes, both bathtub and shower in the bathroom, and a plentiful supply of toiletries. Our steward kept everything immaculate each day. One small niggle was that the toilets work on a vacuum system, and there were very occasional delays (up to 30 minutes!) before flushing! Another point to bear in mind is that, during stormy weather, a cabin such as ours, high up and forward on the ship, experienced a higher degree of pitching and tossing during stormy weather, although in the cabin position’s favour we did not experience any continual vibration or whining noise from the engines, as reported on many reviews about cabins located lower down and further aft on the ship.
The second high spot of the cruise was the evening theatre performance: many reviews have commented on the professionalism of the performers and we have no need to comment further.
The third high spot was the excursions we chose: “South-Western Delights” on Gran Canaria (sand-dunes in Malpalomas and the exceedingly pretty little port of Mogan where we enjoyed a lovely and inexpensive seafood lunch), Taroudant in Morocco (we could not face the 12-hour for the return journey to Marrakech, but Taroudant, the “Mini-Marrakech” was a very good second-best as an introduction to Morocco), and “Fire Mountain” in Lanzerote (this absolutely stunning volcanic landscape of world-heritage standard counts among the excursions of a lifetime in our opinion).
Having mentioned our high spots, there is one important constituent of the cruise which, like the proverbial curate’s egg, we judged to be “good in parts”. This is the food served in the non-supplement restaurants. Food is of course a very subjective topic. We enjoyed the wide choice of food, but were a rather disappointed in its quality. We ate both in the Meridien waiter-service restaurant and in the Lido self-service buffet. We chose the Meridien on the “Captain’s Gala Evening”, when a more up-market menu was served (including both lobster tail and beef wellington), and we also ate in the Meridien on evenings when the food in the Lido was restricted to a “Theme” (for those not appreciating curry, there was very little to eat in the Lido restaurant on either the themed “Thai” or the themed “Indian” evenings). Apart from these evenings, we found the service in the Meridien was rather too formal for us, as our waiters, while competent and willing to help when asked, were not particularly friendly. Indeed, they sometimes sounded abrupt. This was in contrast to smiles and friendly greetings which we met with everywhere else on the ship, including the Lido Restaurant. So normally we ate in the Lido for its informal atmosphere, friendliness, and wide choice.
There were no really negative features of our cruise: indeed the whole of the Thomson fly/cruise operation ran for us extremely smoothly. True, for 36 hours we sailed continuously from Madeira to Morocco in the worst wind and sea conditions, according to our cabin steward, that he had experienced in the 10 years he had worked on the ship. This is of course not Thomson’s fault, but I understand that rough conditions are often met with on this part of the voyage, and those who are not too concerned to see Marrakech and who are particularly averse to storm conditions might want to consider the cruise “Canarian Coasts”, operating alternate weeks, which omits Agadir.
Although there were no major negative features, we had a few niggles which I’ll report since I have not seen them in the reviews I have read. I would perhaps have included them, for Thomson’s attention, in the questionnaire we were asked to complete at the end of the cruise, but (a) there was no space on the questionnaire for more than a few words of comments, so does not allow focus on specific practical issues, and (b) I refuse to complete a questionnaire which asks a number of plainly marketing questions such as the dates at which one’s house insurance and motor insurance expire.
First, we wanted, BEFORE booking the cruise, to check that there would be a cabin suitable to our requirements. The Thomson system is however set up to look at cabin availability AFTER booking - we solved this by going into a branch and getting the staff to check by phone immediately prior to booking. This worked, although the various documents we received from Thomson during the time from booking to the start of the cruise typically did not confirm our cabin number (for which we had of course to pay £42), and it should be noted that other cruise lines we have used do not charge to select a cabin (nor indeed for a cabin safe).
Our choice of cabin entitled us to Thomson’s so-called “Premier Service”. This gave a few small advantages, of which to us the most important was that, according to Thomson’s website this would entitle us to priority transfer of our luggage from quay to cabin at embarkation. When we enquired at Thomsons through the branch before the trip how this was arranged in practice, nobody could tell us. In fact, it turned out the Premier Service consisted of a priority desk at check-in on the quayside similar to an airline check-in, minimising queuing. However, our luggage then went through the same transfer process as with non Premier Service passengers, all luggage being loaded into a big container, which was then transferred to the ship and distributed within about 45 minutes.
The port stay at Santa Cruz de La Palma, capital of the island of La Palma, is only 6 hours long. This was too short to both go on a tour and to visit the port, itself very attractive. We would have been disappointed not to see the port, so we had to miss going on a tour. Since the next day the port stay at Funchal, Madeira, is of 12 hour duration, would it not be possible to lengthen the port stay at La Palma by one hour, departing say at 4pm rather than 3pm, and arrive in Funchal one hour later, at 9am rather than 8am? This would give 7 hours in La Palma and 11 hours still in Madeira.
On a similar subject, while it is possible to book tours in advance, Thomson’s documentation does not give the start and end time of each tour. This makes it impossible to pre-determine whether a tour if booked will or will not co-ordinate with other plans, such as another tour, or a port visit. While providing such advance information on tour departure times may give Thomsons some additional planning issues, other cruise lines manage to do this quite smoothly.
Finally, a point which is of restricted interest probably: both my wife and myself like to play table tennis and Thomson’s prospectus mentions the availability of a table-tennis table on the ship. We have played on other ships, which have located one (or even two) table-tennis tables on open deck, but with some protection from wind by being close to walls and occasionally even having ceiling awnings. Unfortunately, the Celebration table is in the middle of the deck and will therefore rarely provide even fair conditions (I acknowledge that play is unlikely ever to be equivalent to play on dry land!). Still, any hopeful table-tennis players should at least be aware of these conditions before deciding whether to bring any equipment with them.