This was our first cruise, suggested as a celebration holiday by the Thomson travel agents.
With the premium seat upgrade, the flight out was good. Having our baggage transferred from the plane straight to the ship was very welcome and saved much hassle.
The taxi was waiting just a few metres from the plane and whisked us away to the ship. Unfortunately the taxi was not the 'adapted' taxi that the Thomson Welfare team had justified the very high cost with! ($45 for a $23 dollar trip)
Prior to travel we had been advised that we would have to use a taxi transfer due to my wife needing a mobility scooter, (no problem there), however Thomson would pay one direction and we would pay the other, again no problem. When we were eventually advised of the cost, about double what the taxi companies advertise, we said we would book one privately. Thomson welfare then advised that if we did that, then they would NOT pay for the other journey. Asked why, they explained that they are only able to book return journeys! When I asked how they would do that when the return leg was in a different country, they tried to explain that if we were returning from to the same airport, that they would book a return. When I reiterated that we were not returning to the same airport, they said 'well thats the policy.' The next reason was that they had to book an 'adapted' taxi to ensure that the scooter would fit along with our luggage, (see above!).
So, we booked it through them, the taxi they provided wasn't adapted! (this was later resolved by the ship's welfare and social hostess though).
We had gone for the bigger outside plus cabin, which was fine. Plenty of room, double bed and three seater sofa. Tip for showers, unhook the end of the shower curtain at the opposite end to the shower and leave a foot or so gap. This reduces the amount of curtain that tries to wrap itself around you! The shower has plenty of power and there was always plenty of hot water. The bed was comfortable. We were surprised at how little exterior noise there was. Albeit that when the neighbours spoke particularly loudly, they were audible. This was never an issue for us though, as they tended to only resort to that volume on rare occasions when they appeared to be talking to someone outside their cabin.
There were three available sockets, flat blade US style, TV plugged into one, kettle into another and one under the dressing table. You need to have the main room lights on in order for these to work.
For the first 36 hours or so of the cruise, the ship runs an assisted buffet system. This is done for health reasons and works very well. The chefs are more than happy to serve portions of whatever size you choose. It worked well and I honestly cannot see a downside.
Lido restaurant and bar: Deck 9 aft- This is the informal buffet restaurant, the bar being outside with it's own hotplates etc. At breakfast the omelette station is here, which changes to the hotdog and burger grill at lunchtime. Both sausage and burgers were very tasty.
There was often a problem with keeping food hot, certainly much of it was cooler than would be accepted in a UK restaurant. That said all the food was very tasty. The pastries were all very good too - be warned, they are full of calories ;o), and very moreish!
There was a good choice of teabag types and both regular and skimmed milk. The coffee was not particularly good, being of a pretty cheap blend.
Orion restaurant, deck 4 forward - This is the more formal restaurant with waiter service. Gentlemen are required to wear a collared shirt and trousers for dinner. As in all the restaurants, there isn't the type of choice seen in land based hotels. There is a choice though and the different restaurants serve different dishes. The service was good and the food was all tasty and well presented.
Tip, despite what is said by the Thomson sales agents and printed in the brochure, a tie is required on formal nights.
Sirens restaurant deck 11- another indoor and outdoor option, right by the pool.
Evenings sees this restaurant transformed into the Grill. For an additional charge this is where to go for celebration/special meals. It's comfortable and atmospheric, the food is very good, especially the steaks.
The outdoor area, similarly transformed is the venue for Steak Under the Stars and Steak with the Stars, again at additional cost. We tried and enjoyed both. Steak with the Stars, includes reserved 'VIP' seating in the theatre and a glass of sparkling wine. We found this well worth doing, as it saved having to rush to the show to find decent seats.
Smoking is confined to decks 9 and 12 starboard side, deck 8 at the very rear and deck 10. Both 8 & 10 have tables and chairs.
Entertainment is a bit hit and miss. The entertainment team can certainly sing and dance, however some of the shows were beyond them. e.g. the Queen show was considerably lacklustre and the male 'lead' struggled to project his voice. This particular show suffered in comparison to our local school's production of We Will Rock You, which was performed with enthusiasm, talent and feeling, all of which was lacking from the ship's show.
There were better shows fortunately.
The special guest comedian was well worth missing! He managed to empty the theatre of all but 30 people.
The magician and guest speaker were both very good.
One of the Entertainment team appeared to have an inflated view of his own importance, in a restaurant, off the ship, he felt he was above waiting to be served and strode to the front of the queue demanding to order his food without having to join the queue. On board, he expected passengers to hold the door open for both him and his companion and didn't even deign to acknowledge them.
THE show to catch though, was without doubt the Dreams Got Talent crew show. It is a variety show with some excellent performances. Most notable was Hazel, who has a superb voice and received a much deserved standing ovation whenever she sang.
Having heard Hazel sing in the show, I asked Luci if she could arrange for her to sing for me at my birthday meal. I will be forever grateful to Luci for doing so, Hazel alone was worth every penny of the extra we paid for the meal, and then some.
I bought Hazel some flowers as a thank you, yet they seemed a woefully inadequate token to me on the night. She really is a star. Although she may be short in stature, she is easily head and shoulders above the professionals when it comes to talent and ability.
The resident band, Medusa Lounge, are good, however they suffer from being crammed onto too small a stage. The lead singer is just a foot or two in front of the drums, the net result is that the drums dominated just about every song.
We did have a few issues, caused mainly by the lack of communication between the ship and Thomson UK. The ship's crew were very helpful, in particular the Excursions Manager, Greg, and the Social and Welfare Hostess, Luci. Luci is arguably the hardest working officer onboard!! In fact she really did make the difference between an enjoyable holiday and a disaster.
If you do experience any problems, I highly recommend speaking to the relevant manager onboard, they will almost certainly resolve the issue.
Thomson in the UK and the Welfare team in particular are quite considerably less professional and less interested in customers and their holiday experience.
The dishonesty re the taxi fares left an unpleasant taste and the advice from the Cruise event in the Thomson shop, where we booked our trips, was quite out of date re availability of wheelchairs and standards of transport used.
Despite the promise of 'great discounts' we found that the discount on all but one trip was £2, the exception was £4. So hardly worth the bother of going to the shop to buy them in advance.
With the exception of the Dolphin trip, the transport was uncomfortable and clearly not suitable for tours.
Scenes of St Lucia - this trip was predominantly about the tour guide telling her sob story, how she looks after 6 kids, only 2 her own, how expensive it is to live there and how she is struggling to put herself through Nurses training. The Batak factory was closed; she spent 20 minutes or so at her friend's roadside banana stall trying to get us to buy bananas. We arrived back at the ship just 3 minutes before it was due to leave!
A total waste of time and money.
Swim with Stingrays - A bit chaotic at the hold the stingray for a photo point. However plenty of free time to see and photograph the rays and knowledgeable guides. The complementary rum punch was very nice!
Dolphin Swim - Very comfortable coach, (supplied by the Dolphin company!), an awesome experience.
The basic trip is about getting in the water with a dolphin, touching it, trying some basic commands and finally holding the pectoral fins whilst it speeds you through the water.
Not cheap by any means, especially if you opt for the additional dorsal fin and our foot push, but a wonderful encounter with these lovely animals.
Photo packages quite expensive too.
Bermuda Island Drive - another awful mini bus. This was a 5 hour 'sightseeing' tour, starting at 10:00. There were not scheduled toilet or refreshment breaks, though the driver/guide would 'look after us' and sort some!! (yet another strong hint to give a tip?). First stop was a carper in an industrial part of the docks, toilets closed, so detour to the airport to use toilets there and waste 20 or so minutes.
Having had a decent stop to look at a beach, literally all there was to see, we were herded back onto the bus. Then sat for over 20 minutes whilst she explained how to build a house on the island.
Although the driver did point out some interesting buildings, often after we passed them, there were very few opportunities to take photos. Those sitting at the back of the full bus, on the raised section, were lucky to see anything other than road.
Later, reading the paper produced for cruise passengers, it was clear where the guides information came from and explained why she felt the need to tell us about building a house!!!
The seats were so uncomfortable, that after 3 hours quite a lot of people abandoned the 'tour' at Hamilton and took the ferry back to the ship.
It was a simply awful experience.
A little research showed that all the trips were available locally at greatly reduced prices and, from what other passengers said, were much better organised.