Well, first and foremost, I really do like the ship and with the right itinerary and price I wouldn't hestitate to sail on her again (subject to no new serious problems emerging). It was a great cruise - there were some 'issues' (not least of all an engine problem which appears to have been sorted) but nothing which affected our overall enjoyment.
I am giving as balanced and fair a review as possible so I will mention a few negatives but that should be taken in the context of things as a whole and the pluses and minuses are different for each person.
Public areas: are spacious, light and attractive
- the Medusa lounge (equivalent to Liberties/High Spirits on Celebration and Spirit) is roomy and light more like the Oklahoma on Destiny - good venue for game shows etc.
- dining room much more spacious than C & S (not keen on port holes as you can't really see out - but that's being picky and since we were too busy eating not really a problem!)
- many of the lounges have newly upholstered chairs and curtains - very nice indeed - all designer touches - and hopefully indicative of the 'vision' for the Dream once the refurbishment is complete
- there are a variety of lounge areas which are very pleasant and with a different ambience. They give a range of options to meet for drinks/listen to the musicians or a quiet lounge for reading and card room etc.
- we liked the smaller more discrete seating areas in the Lido restaurant and Sirens although some refurb is required here
- where there has been new carpeting (shops area and Reception) it looks really smart (I guess it would take quite an injection of cash but if all areas, especially the corridors where they are shabby in parts, were re-carpeted it would transform the ship in one go)
- the shops were bigger and provided more range than on the other Thomson ships
We had a basic inside Deck 5. First impressions were that it was quite spacious although the double bed arrangement did make it a bit tight getting round on one side. We looked in one cabin set out as singles and there was a lot of room and consequently looked a lot bigger.
It was well lit and much brighter than the equivalent cabins on C & S. We thought the decor quite tasteful - the wood was a light finish. The outside cabins across from us had darker wood which I didn't like so much but they did have a nice big squarish window which let in a lot of light so it probably looked fine from the inside (I was just nosying from the corridor! )
After initially thinking there wasn't much storage space (missed the sets of drawers on C & S), once we got organised, everything went in o.k. We did have to ask for some extra hangers though (had meant to take some - trouser/skirt hangers would be especially useful).
The ensuite was good. The toilet only had a delayed flush on a couple of occasions. The sanitary ware was in good order and the shower had panels!!!!!! Hooray! No mosaic tiles!
One mattress was comfortable - one a bit hard for our liking but a duvet put on as a 'topper' made a huge difference. (Steward very helpful in this respect).
We did hear a mechanical 'clang' from time to time - not a problem unless you're having a sleepness night. I didn't hear other passengers mention that except someone at the front of Deck 5 who said it had been very noisy one night - but that was the night we lost an engine so I think it may have been connected. Other than that our cabin was quieter than our usual experiences - I used some earplugs for the clangs after a couple of poor nights then slept well - and after a few nights was ok without the plugs. I think at the start I was having problems adapting to the time change, woke up and then found the background noises disturbing.
As you've probably read, there is a free electronic safe in the cabin which was appreciated although a little temperamental at times but Reception were quick to respond.
The cabin was well kept and clean.
All those I visited have been refurbished to a very good standard - I believe from what someone said that they haven't all been done - but again, if those are done as part of a rolling programme of improvements, it will be good.
Obviously there had been some serious issues prior to our embarkation with the air-con. There was a legacy of passengers who had either had a problem or were affected by complaints from passengers who over-lapped from the week before but by our second week things had settled down.
We heard that often there are problems after re-fits (borne out by events in May and Dec) and we all know about the freezing air-con units in Hamburg and clearly new units were being fitted. There was still some additional work to be done as we embarked and a few people did complain and needed fans in their cabins (ours was hot the first night but very comfortable thereafter) but there was no apparent large scale problem as I never saw lots of irate passengers at Reception (usual sign of big problems!).
As the holiday progressed the public areas became cooler although some of the stair-wells and lifts were too warm especially the lower down you got but as we were only 'passing through' it didn't present too much of a problem. Corridors were ok in my experience.
My impression is that apart from odd mal-functions (any cabin can have individual issues) the air-con issues seem to be resolved.
Now, for the whole holiday I never saw one bucket or drip! For about a week, I didn't even see a plumber, fan or wet carpet either. Then S*d's Law our cabin had a shower flood - nothing too serious - just a back fill of shower water (nothing more sinister) into the shower tray and through the drain in the en-suite floor. The problem was two cabins down which did have an over-flow onto the cabin carpet. The plumbers responded very quickly and after a second slight recurrence fitted 'something' down the drain according to our stweard. A one-way valve? Anyway no more problems and the steward used an anti-bac solution to clean the area - presumably just swilled the floor down - no smell, no problem as far as I was concerned (and I am pretty particular on hygiene!). Now, these kinds of problems have been evident on every sailing I've done (including non-Thomson) and as I said, there was actually less evidence than other experiences. The only fan I heard drying a carpet was in the cabin near us.
Again I went quite a long time before I thought there was anything to report. Whatever is there seemed to be transient. Our neighbour reported a sewage smell in the corridor at 7.30 one morning - we went out at 7.45 and detected absolutely nothing. I heard another lady ask a companion if they'd smelt anything at 2am. The fact that specific times were mentioned, indicated something very short-lived. We never had a smell in the cabin although we were in the area which had been reported as being amongst the worst affected in the past.
There was sometimes what I would have described as a bit of a musty smell with very faint overtones of drains - but not really a sewage smell (certainly nothing like I came across in one street in Havana - that WAS a proper sewage smell!). My DH thought it was a slight diesel smell. This hit me most on embarking on Deck 3. Again, I've come across the same aromas on every ship I've been on - although often just a slight whiff which soon disperses. However on one day for a while there was a more definite smell in our corridor - but it soon went. Odd really - but certainly not indicative of a serious smell pervading the whole ship.
One lady I met said she'd been on board in July and the smell was bad around Reception but now there is new carpet there and it's all gone. Perhaps some of the residual smells are linked to the soaking some carpets got in May - further carpet replacement if that's the case could make a difference and really should be a priority both for this reason and cosmetically. These are my observations, others may have had a cabin/corridor affected and have a more negative view but as I walked around the ship I must say there was the occasional whiff - but no worse than I've experienced in the past on other cruises.
I really liked the theatre - it has a number of advantages over those on C & S and Destiny. It's much bigger and the seating is fixed so if you go to early to claim a decent seat you're not going to get some inconsiderate soul moving a chair and plonking down in front of you! Yes, there are pillars which restrict views from some seats - but if it matters enough to you, you'll go early and get an unobstructed view! There are plenty of seats though - in addition to the sofa-style seating nearer the front and on the balcony, I think I counted in the region of 300 raked cinema style seating at the back which were never full when I was there so if you don't get the seating closer to the stage or on the balcony there should be somewhere which is ok to see the show. The stage, staging, lighting and sound system are excellent. I was impressed.
The service was very good but we, like several other regular passengers, felt there was a little 'flat' feeling at times. It was hard to put your finger on anything specific and it would seem nit-picking to do so (but since I'm trying to paint the picture for those who know the other ships well - I'm pushed into drawing comparisons). In a few instances we detected a lack of being proactive e.g. waiters around but seemingly not being too 'on the ball' in terms of replenishing cereal bowls, glasses etc.
To a new Thomson passenger it probably wouldn't be detectable but, where on the other Thomson ships the crew is very much into 'going the extra mile' and anticipating your every need before you've even thought about it, there appeared to be a slight difference. Mind, it's clear some passengers had been very unhappy in the previous weeks and if the staff have been in the front line taking the flak (unfairly - what can they do about mechanical problems?) perhaps it's not surprising they may feel a little less up-beat than usual. Having said all that, the service WAS good and we had great waiters in the Orion - but I just think they're still in a settling-in phase which has been adversely affected by two very troublesome periods. Please don't take this out of context, I'm definitely not complaining or even being critical - it's just a comparison. There really is nothing to complain about.
We only ate in the Lido and Sirens for breakfast. We found the choice and quality good. I liked the seating areas (will be better still once reupholstered and carpeted). I met one lady who said she'd never sail with Thomson again and was complaining about the lack of choice for food. She was used to large ships with multiple self-service eating areas (Chinese, Indian etc, etc) and complained bitterly about Thomson in comparison. She hadn't however been into the Orion, the main dining room. Why would you spend your whole holiday moaning about the food and not try the alternative venue to see if it was better? Anyway, I can't comment on the choice/quality other than at breakfast but we thought the food very good in Orion and enjoyed our meals in there. Granted the portions aren't huge but after 5 course meal (either lunch or dinner) I was plenty full enough! And you can always pay a visit to the Lido for supper if you need any more food!
There was a pasta station, omelette station, hamburger and speciality sandwich bars etc at lunchtime too.
One thing we did notice which we thought could be addressed was that unlike the other Thomson ships (even on those e.g at the entrance to the Lido restaurant from the deck it's not always 100%) they didn't have a waiter manning the hand gel dispensers. Most people were very good about cleansing but staff on C & S seem to be more pro-active in ensuring it's done.
Was superb! The showteam has depth and great talent - the shows were extremely well delivered. They have good singers with no weak links and great dancers too - David in particular got a standing ovation in one show which is unusual for a male dancer to be recognised in this way - but he was impressive! Mentioning him individually shouldn't detract from the others who were amongst the best we've ever seen both singers and dancers. Stephen Guy and Gavin Carroll lead an excellent team.
I've been a little less impressed in recent trips with the shows (on one occasion the team wasn't as strong as usual) but it's mainly been the mix of shows/material which has disappointed. This season has some new shows and newly adapted shows which are cracking! There is a Queen show which is excellent (not the one which was part of the ABBA, Bee Gees, Elton John - it stands on its own). The new Broadway show has excerpts from Cats, Hairspray, Miss Saigon, and Africa. Parts were new, other bits revamped but excellent - the staging, lighting, costumes are really great too. The show with the Can-Can had a fabulous new twist as well - some comedy and the male members of the team having a part to play. It was good to see a new take on an old favourite.
The game shows in the Medusa Lounge in the eveninngs were popular and well attended. We weren't on board much during the day so can't comment on the daytime activites.
Pool area and sun loungers:
As others have reported there is a lot of sun bed saving - they say they will monitor this and certainly I heard some passengers complaining bitterly that their belongings had been removed. I think it's down to other passengers to point out to crew where beds have been unoccupied for a long time. It's the old chestnut which still causes frustration. Perhaps the crew should adopt a proper, routine 'traffic warden' approach putting a ticket (with time) on ALL empty beds then if still there 45 mins later, remove belongings. I think this is the principle but only, as said before, when other passengers point out offending beds.
We heard so many tales of beds continuously unoccupied for hours. It really is selfish of people but until a hard line is adopted, sadly, I think nothing will change. It would be controversial, but if they said that nothing EVER should be left on beds I reckon there would always be plenty as people would just come and go and there would always be spares - of course, probably not in your most favourite area but at least it would be fair to everyone! Soap box message over!!
There are a lot of different areas - not too many in the shade although at the stern there are a couple of small decks accessed by steps down from the Lido deck onto shadier places (Decks 6 & 7?) - it would be good if quite a few more beds were put down there (very limited number currently) - I would estimate at least another 50 beds could be available in a mix of sun/shade on these two decks.
There weren't many children on board so the main pool wasn't too busy or noisy and there is a smokers and non-smokers side, similarly on the Lido Deck and some in the open, others under a canopy.
There was a comprehensive selection of excursions but on the whole it's easy and cheaper to take local taxi/bus services in the Caribbean especially if it's for beach transfers. Although more expensive, the Thomson excursions we did we felt were reasonably priced.
Thomson really do have this down to a fine art. We were not transferred to the airport until early afternoon for our 6pm flight so we were able to have a few further hours exploring Havana during the morning, return to the ship and have a leisurely lunch before waiting in a comfortable lounge for our call. Fortunately our cases had been collected the night before complete with provided security tape and electronic I.D. These were transported directly to the plane so the next time we saw them was at our destination airport at baggage reclaim at Gatwick. Havana airport was very slow - lucky then that we didn't have to check our hold luggage in too! They took ages just to check our passports and documentation confirming the £17 Departure Tax had been paid (Thomson added this to our on-board account so we weren't bothered by that aspect of the Cuban regulations.)
I hope this has been balanced - I felt the need to raise a few things which may been read as 'negatives' but as I said before, none of these afffected our enjoyment and I would be very happy to return! We feel the Dream has great potential - but in the meantime is still a good experience.