We boarded in Funchal, Madeira, which was one of the 3 possible joining points on the cruise. Most people appeared to have joined in Tenerife, so the format of the cruise was tied to their itinerary. This meant that we had the "farewell" dinner on the 4th night of our cruise, and the muster drill on 5th day (altho' there was apparently a pseudo drill in the cinema the day after we joined, it was not announced and we missed it, and it was never mentioned to us.) so it felt a little "out of kilter", but didn't affect our enjoyment.
The weather was not very kind to us, and on the day that we were supposed to visit Agadir there was a force 8 gale that made it unsafe for us to land. The captain gave a recommendation that if you were likely to need sea-sickness pills, that you take them early - which many people were glad of. The entertainment staff pulled out all the stops, and did their very best to amuse 1200ish disappointed passengers with a good variety of activities.
We had been on the Spirit almost a year before, when our impression had been generally very good. The ship is a little tired, but the cleanliness and the staff enthusiasm more than make up for this, to make it a good value for money package.
However, we did notice a few changes. On the positive side, we thought that the entertainment was much better (with less emphasis on songs most likely to appeal to the over 90's lol....) The cruise director, Ross Roberts, was excellent in our opinion, and the shows were fresh and varied. There were 2 UK acts, a comedian (Paul Eastwood) and a female vocalist (Rachel Russell?) both of whom I would have paid to see. The on-board show-team also performed with gusto, and were particularly enthusiastic at the sail away party (on our 5th night...).
On the downside, we thought that the food was not nearly as good. As usual there was a huge choice, and you could eat as much as you liked (and many did..) but the quality had definitely deteriorated, especially in the Lido. Here it reminded me very much of school dinners - grey bacon, watery stews, slimy roast potatoes, and lumpy custard etc. The price of drinks had also gone up considerably ( a glass of house wine was up over 25% from £2.95 to £3.75 in less than a year, cocktails and speciality coffees had risen by a similar percentage.) The prices are still comparable to UK pub prices, so not exactly a rip-off, but they were less attractive than before.
Would we recommend it? .......Probably. It's a case of "You get what you pay for", and we didn't pay a King's ransom. On the whole we enjoyed it, but it was definitely closer to 3* than 4* this time, and I think we may look at something a bit more up market next time we cruise.