Delights of the Promised Land and Aegean Discovery 9-23April 2014
The entire experience from flights to cruise was extemely disappointing for the reasons stated below:
Check-in and Flights. We arrived at Thomson's bag drop/check-in at Gatwick at 08:30 for a 10:05 flight and joined a very long queue for all Thomson flights leaving before 11:00. We were there for ages until Thomson took us out of the queue at 09:55 because we were in danger of missing our flight. When we arrived at the gate we were told that the flight would be delayed by 30 minutes. As a result of that delay, our flight arrived at Paphos just before the Thomson's Leeds and Glasgow flights resulting in utter chaos in the baggage hall with our luggage arriving after a long delay on a different carousel from the one indicated. On our return to Gatwick our plane sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour. No explanation was given. The only communication we received during our flight was a message from the Captain - after over four hours - to say that we would be landing soon at Gatwick.
Food. The worse part of the cruise was the food. We ate mostly in the MDR, the Compass Rose, and, when the MDR was closed, the Lido self-service cafeteria. In both places, the food was over cooked and too salty - a health risk. Fish was overcooked and dry. Meat and bacon were so overcooked that they were grey in colour. All eggs, whether fried, poached of boiled, were served with yolks like hard-boiled eggs.
We noticed that food was also recycled. For example, if roast beef was on the lunchtime menu, one of the starters for dinner would be spicy beef - small slices of beef in a spicy, salty sauce - and one of the mains would be braised beef - dollop of salty gravy on top of which would be two slices of beef. There were a few things which were not overcooked. French beans were so hard you wondered whether they had only been boiling for a few seconds.
The cubes of beef in a pie were so hard to eat that it seemed that they had only had brief contact with the rest of the pie before being served up. Same with chicken cubes in a chicken curry.
We had kippers for breakfast once. When it came, we and others on our table wondered what it was. It was brown and mashed up!! Needless to say, another meal we could not eat.
We did not fare much better at the Gala Dinner. We had mussel gratin as a starter. No gratin but a big hairy beard!! Again, a health risk. We did, however, get our steak cooked to our liking - medium rare - but it was covered by a salty mushroom sauce.
For Easter we had dinner in Sirocco's, the speciality restaurant for which, as you know, we paid £19 pp extra. Our first course was a complete disaster - escargots swarming in a very highly salted butter garlic sauce. Although we tried to avoid the sauce wherever possible, our tastebuds were ruined by this course. No amount of water or champagne could get rid of the salty taste in our mouths and, as a result, our lobster and dessert tasted salty.
We did complain about the food onboard several times, only to be told that we could have something else on the menu. But everything was so badly cooked. A few of our fellow passengers told us that the food was not as good as it used to be. One told us that it was down to a new crew who were still in training!! If so, you would have thought the chefs would have been told to season to taste and use their eyes and sense of smell - I was once served fish which was off. We got the impression that quantity mattered more than quality and the cheaper the ingredients, the better. It was the only cruise we have been on where we lost weight!!
Health. The only things we "gained" were sore throats and a hacking cough which also afflicted the crew. When we came on board most of the crew were coughing, often without covering their mouths. A few, including a lady in reception, had lost their voices. We were concerned and surprised that they were allowed to keep on working. Little wonder that by the time we had left the ship, most of the passengers were coughing.
Ship's condition. We booked an outside cabin online and expected it would at least be on par with other outside cabins we have had previously on other cruise lines. However, it, like the rest of the ship was tired, dated and not very clean. The shower basin had strands of hair. The sink had a strand of hair and was chipped. The "white" towels were grey and threadbare and in places frayed. There was also a draught coming from the porthole. The cabin and its layout reminded us of the latter days of the former PO ferry 'The Pride of Bilbao'. The resemblence was further enhanced by the tired, dated - and in some places, in need of repair, of the public rooms and by the consistent rocking of the ship.
Customer Service. This is were the ship performs much better. The crew are generally warm and very friendly. However, we did have a problem. We bought a wine package which included mineral water. This worked well until the time we tried to exchange a water token for a bottle of water in the Raffles bar. We were told that we had previously taken five bottles away in one go and had therefore no water left. The fact that we had five unsused water tokens was ignored. We thought we would try Lido but, again our request was refused. We complained to the reception desk and they could not understand how this could happen. After ringing the bar staff in Raffles, they told us to go back to Raffles where we would be able to exchange a token for water. And yet again we were told we had taken five bottles out in one go. The bar staff just completely ignored the evidence of our unused tokens and would not accept that whoever served us last time had most probably entered on the computer five instead of one in error. We eventually did get our bottles of water through the intervention of the assistant bar manager who was called in because we would not go away. We felt that our word was not good enough and had the feeling we were viewed as deliberately trying to defraud Thomson of the princely sum of five bottles of water! On a separate and related point, we were not impressed by the attitude of the staff runing the ship's destination desk. Whenever port maps were all taken, the staff would just apologise and say they are all gone. There was no attempt to produce more maps. It is hard to imagine this happening on, say, Holland America.
Compared to other cruise lines, the Captain's reception was very disappointing. It was not a reception whereby you mingled with the Captain and his officers over drinks and nibbles but an opportunity for the ship's photographers to take photos of you whilst queuing to finally meet the Captain. After shaking hands and having yet another photo, you are led to the Broadway Theatre, given a glass of cheap wine or a non alcoholic drink, shown to a seat, given a nibble and told to greet and clap the Captain and his officers who are on the stage drinking champagne!!
We find it hard to believe that people put up with a third rate standard from Thomson. We suspect from talking to some of our fellow passengers that they do so because they have never been with any other company and are apprehensive about trying someone else, particularly a non-British company.
We were surprised how quick and easy it was to get to Athens by ourselves. We left the ship and caught a bus to Piraeus metro station which is a terminus so it was just a matter of buying return tickets from the ticket office and boarding an awaiting metro. The metro had a diagram of stations it would be stopping at and before reaching a station, the station name was announced in Greek and in English. We changed at Omonia and took the red line to Akropoli which is an easy walk from the Acropolis. The directions to the red line were easy to follow and so were the directions from Akropoli to the Acropolis. As we did not stop for lunch, we were able to visit the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Zeus, the Roman Forum, the New Acropolis Museum and Syntagma Square where we saw the changing of the guards and still manage to get back to the ship by 4 pm. Not bad considering that we left before 10 am. On the way back we met a Canadian couple who we saw on our way out. They to managed to see many sights and, like us, were amazed how quick, easy and cheap it was to do it yourself.