This is our 2nd cruise on this ship, but the 1st cruise for our 2 sons in their 20's. We were lucky in going before the bad weather of the middle and end of December. So we had an uneventful flight out and only a 1 hour delay on flying back. We were aboard 11th to the 18th December. Island Cruises staff are at the airport to greet you and direct you to the coach for the 45 minute ride to the port and check in. We left Manchester just after 7 a.m. and were aboard by 1p.m.
The weather on the whole was good, dull and warm with some rain the 1st couple of days, then mainly warm / hot and sunny. (Especially Agadir, be careful you don't burn). On arrival there were heavy dark clouds in the port which lived up to their promise and unloaded the rain in the evening so the sail away party was held indoors. And day 2 in Las Palmas was dull with heavy clouds. We had no really bad weather untill the last night when it was rough and stormy. But a warning to those, like us, who have not sailed the Atlantic before. People complained of the "rough weather" all week, while what it was was big swells of the sea caused by bad weather elsewhere in the Atlantic. So the ship did rock up and down quite a bit.
We had a balcony cabin on deck9 and the boys had an outside twin on deck 4. Others have commented on her age and need for refurbishment , It mainly shows in the age of the wallpaper and the dated appearance of the bathroom. But all fittings and tiles were not chipped or broken. (I looked in the boys' cabin and it was identical inside to ours, but they said they had no 'fridge in theirs. The cabins are not huge but have plenty of room for what you need them for, including plenty of drawer and wardrobe space. And all kept spotlessly clean by the steward.
The public rooms are all in good order with plenty of shiny wood and brass. On arrival it felt odd to be there with no sign of Christmas aboard, but as the week progressed the crew decorated them ready for the Christmas cruise and it felt really festive by the 2nd half of the week.
Dining is in one of the 2 buffet restaurants. The Beachcomber on deck 10 is open 24 hours, while the Island is open just at mealtimes. This time it felt very busy at main meal times in the Beachcomber and sometimes difficult to find a table, especially on the couple of days the weather made it unsuitable to use the outside seating area. So this time aboard we ate more in the Island Restaurant and never had to wait more than 3 to 4 minutes for a table. There is the Oasis A la Carte, restaurant, but we did not use it. While still good we felt the food was not quite as good as last year. This surprised me having read the reviews of the other Thomson's ships. But there was a good choice and it was always hot. And as you are eating the staff are always there for drinks orders and to remove used plates quickly. Also hygene is observed with the usual hand gels outside the restaurants and also at the gangplank before boarding.
Drinks. We had the All Inclusive package and it is better than last year. As well as covering beer, wines, spirits and soft drinks it now includes many of the cocktails. It does not cover the whole drinks list, but more than enough to satisfy us.
The Entertainment. Ross, the Cruise Director and his team work really hard to give everyone a good time, whether in the theatre shows or in the game shows in the Bounty Lounge. We really enjoyed "Elvis" on the 1st night. And the guest comedian. And the show team had worked hard to put on a professional shows for us on other nights. But also don't miss out on the game shows hosted by Dan and Hayley Jane. Especially Millionaire, Name That Tune and Come Dancing. I know it sound a bit Butlins or Pontins, but you get well entertained. And on sea day do not miss Ready Steady Cook.
The only problem we had was on the sea day the toilet system broke down for about 4 hours. There were a lot of desperate people about by the time it was fixed.
The ports and excursions. Gran Canaria, we did our own thing and used the City Sightseeing HOHO bus. But unlike other of their busses we have been on it was a bit of a waste as there was not much to see. We would have been better getting a taxi into town. Much cheaper. The ship docks at the other end of the front to the main part of the town and it is quite a walk. La Palma is a beautiful Island, though small, and we did the Volcanoes and Wine excursion. It was very interesting to see the other side of the island and round the volcano by the sea. It is not for those of poor mobility due to the nature of the track round the rim. The boys stayed in town and had a relaxing time. A lovely place but not many shops open as it is Sunday.
Funchal This place is beautiful, you could easily spend a week or more here. It was dull and cloudy on arrival, but the sun came out all day for us. I had researched doing here D.I.Y. but the cost was hardly any less than the ship's excursion for the same itinerary. We did the Taste of Madeira one as we wanted to go up in the cable car and down in the toboggans. That was an experience not to be missed. Most of the time we seemed to be going down sideways. The excursion got us back to the ship for just after 1p.m. and we had lunch aboard before collecting the boys and we had a taxi back into the town centre for a lovely afternoon strolling around and relaxing outside in one of the cafes. They have a Mcdonald's on the sea front and of course the boys had to have one. The seafront is lovely to walk along but it is a long walk back to the ship. And a word of warning here. They are working on the dock improvements here and at the dock itself it is quite dangerous to walk as there is no pavement and there are works vehicles and traffic going in and out of the dock area. In the evening, as darkness fell, on came all the lights around town. We were back aboard by then and even from the ship it looked beautiful.
Agadir. If there is one place we did not like it was here. I am not one who advocates staying aboard when in port but if I was ever on a ship that docked in Morocco again I definitely would not get off. We had been to Alexandria in June on our cruise and visited the Pyramids and Cairo and should have been prepared, but this place was worse. The whole place looks like it is built on a rubbish dump that is still in use. We did the Taroudant excursion and it was interesting, we went round the old market, but afterwards be prepared for haggling at stalls when the guide takes you to the touristy bit. The tree climbing goats were really interesting. We were glad to get back aboard.
Lanzarote. This is the one place we all did the excursion together. Fire Mountain. This is not to be missed. DW did not realise she would be getting a ride on a camel as part of it. It was a different experience and quite hair raising in places. Then up to the top for the demonstrations of the volcano's heat. The ride through the park was amazing, like being on the moon.
Then it was time for the last day and the flight home. We were lucky and only delayed about 1 hour. They couldn't get the plane off the ground in Manchester due to the ice and had to defrost it. One thing about the flight, our eldest is 6 foot 4 inches and thinking back we should have booked extra legroom seats as it was cramped for him in the standard ones.