I, my wife and our children aged 22 and 19 have just returned from a two week cruise on the Thomson Spirit. We took our first and only previous cruise in the Western Mediterranean on Ocean Village 2 in 2008. It was good but a horribly rough sea on the very last night of that cruise put us off. However, this year, we decided to try again.
The holiday actually comprised two seven day cruises back to back starting on Friday, 1 July 2011 and finishing on Friday, 15 July 2011. Each started in Corfu. The first was called Adriatic Explorer and took in the ports Kotor (Montenegro), Koper (Slovenia), Venice (Italy), Split (Croatia), Dubrovnik (Croatia) and back to Corfu (Greece). The second was called Pearls of the Aegean and took in the ports Aghios Nikolaos (Crete), Kusadasi (Turkey), Mykonos (Greece), Piraeus for Athens (Greece), Katakolon (Greece) and back to Corfu.
Choosing the Cruise
We attended a Cruise Exhibition in London in March 2011 (we live near Ilford in Essex to the east of London) where we picked up a number of brochures. Lots of research was also performed on the internet. We had a fair idea of the sorts of ports we wanted to visit and found the Thomson Spirit itineraries most closely matched our preferences. Reviews, such as those on the CruiseCritic site, further supported our choice. Our second choice was probably a 14 day itinerary on Norwegian Jade starting in Venice, but my searches on the internet found the Thomson Spirit provided the most competitive price for the two outside staterooms that we required.
While I often make purchases on-line, I much prefer to make this sort of purchase face to face. We therefore went to a Co-Operative Travel Agent armed with proof of the best price I had found on the internet. Specifying things such as adjoining cabins, one with a double bed and one with twin beds are, in my experience, almost impossible in on-line booking systems. I also find, as was the case in this instance, that the Travel Agent (and indeed other types of retailer) will agree to match the best price you found provided you bring the evidence and they can then find the same price on-line themselves.
We booked the holiday on 29 April 2011.
Travel to Corfu
Our nearest airport is Stansted, but annoyingly that was £100 more per person than the price for Gatwick. A mini cab took us to and from Gatwick. Our flight out was delayed 2 hours due to a crew member being taken ill. I had heard that boats never wait for delayed people, but maybe as both the flight and cruise was with Thomson, I was assured that there would not be a problem, the boat would wait. In the event, the plane made up some time in flight and we were only 1.5 hours late arriving in Corfu. After an efficient coach transfer from the airport to the port, we stepped on to the ship at 10pm local time, one hour before we set sail at 11pm.
Greece, including Corfu, is two hours ahead of British Standard Time (BST). As we arrived so late on the boat we managed to miss or overlook the fact that sailing north from Corfu took us into a region that is only one hour ahead of BST. We therefore had an amusing time on Saturday morning when it took us two thirds of the morning to realise that our watches were now one hour fast!
As mentioned earlier, my wife and I and our two children had adjoining cabins. These both had a small porthole. There was plenty of storage space and the floor space was reasonable. This was helped by the fact that our suitcases (one for each person) fitted under the bed once emptied. I imagine that some bulkier suitcases than the ones we used might not, but that would still not cause a serious problem. Our children's room had a chair and a stool, whereas our room only had a stool. We mentioned this to our cabin attendant and while they were unable to do anything about it immediately, they did add a chair to our room during the middle Friday when the ship was changing from one seven day cruise to the next. I assume that the chair we gained was obtained from a cabin where the occupant was not staying on for the next week, thus leaving the new occupants none the wiser that the stool in their room should have been also accompanied by a chair!
The bathrooms in each of our cabins were identical and although not large, were perfectly adequate.
There was no fridge in either cabin, but the air conditioning kept the cabin cool. There was a selection of different sized water bottles and a few soft drink cans available for purchase for a reasonable price in each cabin.
The room also had a small TV which had a variety of channels mainly focussed on news, nature and music. There were also two film channels that showed a film three times a day, with the film line-up changed each day.
The Thomson Spirit (1254 people) was around half the size of the Ocean Village 2 (just over 2000 I think) that we had sailed on three years ago. We did have some concerns about this meaning that there would be insufficient facilities and/or that we would feel the movement of the water more, but these concerns proved to be unfounded. Maybe we were lucky that the seas were like a pond for the entire duration of the cruise, but we were certainly always very comfortable. There were three or four occasions when some or all of the promenade deck had to be closed due to high winds, but even in those conditions we felt almost no movement.
We found the facilities were also fine. The ship had a small library, a games/card room, a cinema (a different film shown each day three times during the day), a casino and at least four different entertainment/drinking venues varying from a theatre type area to an intimate bar type area. There was also a video games area, gym, two swimming pools and two or three self service laundries.
All purchases on the ship were to an account. You presented your room card to the person serving you and they provided a chit for your signature. A statement of account was delivered to each cabin twice a week. The sort of purchases we had to make was tours, drinks, photographs, and shop items. All food and tips were included in the price we paid although the top of the range restaurant would have cost us extra had we used it.
The whole ship was spotlessly clean and tidy.
The ship had three restaurants. We didn't use the top of the range one (Sirocco's) and therefore I cannot comment on the food or service there. We used the Compass Rose waiter service restaurant twice and the self service buffet style Lido Restaurant the rest of the time. Wherever we ate, the food was very good with a wide choice and variety. There were also some other eating venues where you could pick up items such as a baguette or a Pizza.
We wore smart casual clothing for all the restaurants we used except two gala (meet the captain) nights in the Compass Rose. For these we wore collar and tie and smart dress. Most people on these occasions actually wore dinner suits with bow tie with the ladies equivalently clothed, but nobody complained about our attire. We were very much in the minority with what we wore and I think if we were to cruise again I would try to find room to pack the right clothes. However, if you absolutely can't fit a dinner suit in then a smart shirt and tie should get you by. I'm not sure that would also apply if you wanted to use
The whole entertainment team were excellent. There were bands and soloists who performed for periods in the various entertainment/drinking venues, and there was a team of singers and dancers who put on West End show type performances on the main stage area. One performance, called Africa, was particularly outstanding, but all the entertainment was very professionally done and enjoyable. There were also guest comedians and organised activities such as carpet bowls and quizzes with which we also joined in and found very entertaining.
The quality of the service was a significant driver for our enjoyment of the cruise, although the facilities, dining and entertainment mentioned above was also very important. Without exception, every member of staff no matter what their role appeared committed to doing their job well and with a smile.
Port and Shore Excursions
In Corfu there was only one choice of excursion, but in all other ports there were at least three and often more. We went on the tours called; Highlights of Montenegro (in Montenegro), Ljubljana (in Slovenia), Islands of Murano, Burano, and St Mark's (in Venice, Italy), Walking Split (Croatia), Best of Dubrovnik (Croatia), Bella Vista (Corfu, on middle Friday), Knossos and Traditional Cretan Village (Crete), Ephesus and the House of Mary - Full Day (Turkey), The Total Island Package (Mykonos), Panoramic Athens & Plaka (Piraeus) and Ancient Olympia (Katakolon).
That amounts to a tour in every port and for four people a lot of money. I've no doubt that in most, if not every port we could have done our own thing for much less, but I'm also sure that we would have learnt and seen a lot less. The guides were all very knowledgeable and two or three of them were very entertaining characters. I'd budgeted for the tours and so the cost came at no great surprise and I'm glad we did them and would recommend them all. I particularly enjoyed the ones in Montenegro, Venice (the Islands, as we'd seen the main areas of Venice before), Corfu and Turkey.
Our cases had to be packed and placed outside our cabins by 2am on our departure day. This was less than convenient as it meant we couldn't pack the things we needed on our last morning such as razor, toothbrush and nightclothes. We ensured we had carrier bags in which to collect these sorts of items once we had finished with them. We also had to vacate our cabins by 9am. That would not have been so bad if we had had a morning flight to catch, but we had an evening departure that meant we were not due to leave the ship for the airport until 6.30pm.
Once we had finished breakfast and cleared our cabins our first task was to locate our suitcases which had all been left in colour coded groups (roughly according to flight time) on the quayside. This proved quite easy and we were able to add the contents of our carrier bags into the space we had made sure to leave in at least one suitcase. While having to go through this rigmarole is a nuisance I can understand why the ship want to ensure that all the luggage is organised early in the day. I doubt whether I would have been quite so forgiving if it had been raining. The ship did also set aside a room (guarded and monitored until 5pm) in which we left most of our hand luggage.
So we now had over 9 hours to fill. We had already done the only tour organised by the ship in Corfu on the middle Friday, so we had to make our own entertainment. There is actually quite a lot to do in Corfu Town. There are lots of shopping areas, two forts to explore and a number of various tours that could be purchased locally (we're not sit on the beach people). The main part of town is a long walk or a bus/taxi ride away. A bus leaves regularly from the port to the old town taking about 7 minutes and costing 1.50 Euros per person single. We then walked to the oldest fort and spent a pleasant but hot two hours exploring it and having a snack. We then went for a 40 minute trip on a land train. While that still left plenty of things to see in the town, with the temperature at 38 degrees centigrade, we decided we'd had enough and went back to the ship. We spent the remaining 4 hours sitting in one of the public areas and entertaining ourselves with board games and card games.
On departure from the ship you have to locate your luggage from the quayside and load it on. You have to unload it and ensure it is checked in at the airport. The coach transfer to the airport was again quick and efficient and with the plane actually ready to leave a little earlier than scheduled the time in the airport did not drag too badly. We landed about 15 minutes early and our cab got us home by around midnight BST (which our body clocks will have viewed as 2am as we'd been two hours ahead).
I have completed hundreds of questionnaires and inevitably I was asked to do one at the end of this cruise. The best compliment I can pay the Thomson Spirit is that I marked more things as Excellent (as opposed to just good) than I have probably ever done in a questionnaire before. No doubt it helped that the weather was good or excellent throughout our cruise and the sea was never rough, but while I remember enjoying our previous cruise on Ocean Village 2 I don't remember the overall experience making quite so big an impression on me.
Thomson have previously run an advertising campaign with the strap line "made with you in mind" where it suggests even a packaged holiday is tailored towards the individual needs. The experience on this ship amply illustrates that and I would recommend the Thomson Spirit without hesitation.