As we were travelling with 3 young children (4,7 & 10) and had to travel in the UK school summer holiday it is surprisingly difficult to find any suitable cruises. We had been looking for months and finally found one at the last minute in a local travel agent and immediately booked it. My wife and I have previously cruised with Princess, Cunard and Celebrity so understood that this would not be the same. We understood that it was a very casual three star ship but were a little worried when we checked out a lot of the negative reviews on this and other sites.
We should have not have been worried at all the cruise was absolutely fantastic! The ship is a little tired on the inside although spotlessly clean, and lacks the open spaces on more modern ships. There are also some design flaws such as no nearby stairwells from the upper sun deck to the pool area which remind you that it is a converted ferry although nothing serious. Other than that I was very impressed. Our outside cabins were similar to those on other ships, comfortable, clean with an excellent cabin steward.
Some people have made negative comments that only plastic plates were available Beachcomber Restaurant but it is a typical inside/outside buffet restaurant similar to all ships I have travelled on, all of which to my memory had plastic plates. The Island Restaurant was a more formal buffet style restaurant but you often had to share tables with other passengers. The buffet food was very good with a decent selection of meals and the kids loved it, although I do prefer waiter service. The Oasis Restaurant was a typical waiter service restaurant and the food was excellent for a £15 per adult cover charge. Kids can dine with you from a good Kids menu at no charge. I found the service much better in this restaurant than some other ships we had been on as it was never crowded and you had much more personal attention. Both main restaurants had large windows and we ate almost every meal to fantastic sunsets. The only exceptions was a fantastic lightening storm.
The excursions, although expensive were worth it particularly in some of the ports we visited where local tour prices were more than on the ship. We did Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in Naples and Sporting Barcelona.
The Ocean Theatre shows were excellent for such a small team with limited resources, and the entertainment team were genuinely talented and hard working. The Bounty Lounge had more of a holiday camp atmosphere which was not something we would usually enjoy but it was quite fun and everyone was enjoying themselves. The Sailaway bar was my favourite and was as good if not better than any back of ship area I have travelled on. Plenty of space to enjoy some spectacular sail-aways.
Our four year old girl loved Palmy's club which gave us some much needed quiet time, but the older boys preferred doing their own thing.
We did not do all inclusive but did enjoy more drinks than we should, and it cost a lot less than the all-inclusive upgrade price of £199 per adult. Prices were generally similar to average UK pubs, and bottles of wine were very reasonable. The all-inclusive package did seem to cover most drinks with modest cover charges for more premium brands, however some did complain that no liqueurs were available at all under the package.
As I would expect of Thomson the pre-cruise information packs, airport check-in, transfers, embarkation etc were excellent, and as good if not better than other more expensive companies.
The negatives were that on the day at sea there was nowhere near enough room for everyone in and around the pool area which would have made it a nightmare for anyone with kids if they did not get a lounger. When it rained heavily on one evening we realised how crowded the ship was with everyone inside as all areas outside the restaurant were full. Much of the daytime entertainment was not to our taste but the kids and most other passengers seemed to enjoy it. A small minority of the passengers I would have preferred not to cruise with and had a very different outlook on life to us, but most were great.
In summary if you want a great cost-effective cruise I would not hesitate to recommend the Island Escape.