I had wanted to try a cruise for ages, everyone I know who had been on one seemed to be hooked. We were fed up with the international buffet fare of all-inclusive hotels and hoped for something a little more upmarket, plus the chance to sample lots of new places. We had holidayed with Thomson before so booked a cruise at the local Thomson travel shop. Admittedly we hadn't researched cruises at this point.
The girl at the travel shop recommended the Colourful Coasts cruise during the school Easter holidays. Whilst booking we were strongly advised to purchase the drinks package at £398, we were advised that this would cover us for all drinks except Champagne.
When we arrived on board ship we were very disappointed to find that the drinks package did not cover the drinks that we wanted to order e.g. Bottles of mineral water, Jack Daniels, Jamesons, bottled beer or drinkable wines. Also we would have had to order approximately 100 drinks during the week for the More
drinks package to have been worthwhile.
Our external cabin on deck 4 had two single beds and extremely thin walls, you could hear someone snoring in the next cabin. The vacuum system in the tiny bathroom meant that sometimes you could not flush the toilet and the shower would not drain. Also the hair dryer in the room was broken. It would have been nice to have had access to an ice machine, other reviews have mentioned them but they appear to have been removed now.
We did not try Mistral's restaurant (supplement), but dined at the Lido (buffet restaurant) for breakfast and lunch and Meridian (waiter service) at night. All of our fellow passengers that we met were extremely friendly with the one exception of two Welsh couples who insisted on speaking in Welsh when we tried to speak to them at a wine tasting.
We were very disappointed with the quality of the food, throughout, although there was certainly plenty of choice. Many fellow cruisers, even Thomson regulars, were very disappointed with the food this time as compared to previous cruises. We certainly didn't expect come back from a cruise lighter than when we went! I particularly recall how disappointing the "paella" was at the Spanish themed night...claggy overcooked yellow rice sprinkled with overcooked squid rings...just awful! Am I alone in hating UHT milk in drinks and on cereals? I would have ordered coffee in the new "Coffee Port", however again the drinks package did not cover this (although there was a 50% discount).
The sea was extremely rough on the evening of the Captain's dinner and my partner became extremely sea sick. I ventured out briefly only to be met by staff in masks clearing up piles of vomit from the carpets.
Consequently there were a couple of evenings when we were unable to leave the cabin. I did an exercise class on a fairly choppy day and the instructor changed the routine to floor-based exercises so that we did not fall over. The pitching and rolling was so great on deck that the water came out of the swimming pools and sloshed around on deck. The waves were hitting our porthole on deck four. I would not recommend a cruise on the Atlantic for those who suffer from sea sickness!
Regarding the gym, a fellow cruiser arrived for an exercise class to be told that the class was not viable with only one attendee, consequently she went on one of the treadmills. A minute or two later I arrived to be told the same thing, it was only afterwards that we found out that the instructor had said the same thing to both of us. I wasn't impressed, either, that certain classes e.g. yoga were chargeable. I would have thought that cruisers paying Thomson prices would at least have all exercise classes included.
We did not enjoy the entertainment package, although I know that other cruisers did, song and dance is not our thing. We attended the early evening (less blue) show by a "comedian", however it seemed that the jokes were as old and tired as the ship itself.
Another problem for us in an overcrowded ship was the crooners in the bars, there was nowhere to go for a quiet evening drink without having a duo murdering songs nightly. We particularly liked the Horizons bar on deck 9 and looked forward to the brief interludes when the duo "2 Intense" stopped singing! It has to be said, though, that other cruisers seemed to like them.
On the sea day, every lounger was taken, the crew were supposed to remove personal belongings after a certain time, however this was not done. It was standing room only on most of the decks and certain individuals brought clothes pegs in order to reserve loungers for the day whilst they went off to do other things.
The on shore excursions were enjoyable, we particularly enjoyed quad biking in La Palma. We also enjoyed a lovely lunch with live music at the Ritz Café in Funchal (as recommended by our tour guide).
The crew were wonderfully friendly and worked like Trojans 24/7. There were several staff whose job it was to paint over rust all day, every day (the thirty year old ship is certainly showing it's age).
On our return from the cruise I made an official complaint (on 25th April), the complaints policy says that complaints should be responded to within 28 days in line with ABTA guidelines. Our response was finally received on 7th June from an After Travel Customer Support Advisor, she basically said that all other feedback had been very good from other passengers on our cruise, something which I find very hard to believe. I do not plan to holiday with Thomson again and my partner has been put off cruising for life! Less