My wife & I have just returned from the Red Sea Magic cruise on the Thomson Celebration and thought I would share my experience with you. In one word....EXCELLENT! This was our first cruise so remember that we have nothing else to compare it to, but it food, accommodation, cleanliness & entertainment were all fantastic so I can't see how it could be improved?
As it was our first cruise we decided against any trips (besides, we have been to Egypt before) so we stayed on board for the full week. (I heard nothing but good things about the trips, although many people did say that they were long, exhausting days with several hours spent on the coach and plenty of walking when you got there)
The food was out of this world, and you will come back two stone heavier! There are 3 eating places on the celebration;
1) The Lido; this is the buffet restaurant where you help yourself. In between breakfast, lunch & dinner they have afternoon teas, snack bar, and late night buffet and so this is running 24 hours a day. Very informal you can come straight in from the pool deck in shorts, T shirts & flip flops.
2) The Meridian; this is the waiter service restaurant and they have a stricter dress code. Described as "smart casual" I got turned away once because my shirt didn't have a collar! (Just a Polo shirt is fine; you don't need shirt & tie every time you want breakfast!) Waiter service is provided for the 3 main meals each day. Food is tremendous but portion sizes quite small so most people tended to have an appetiser PLUS a soup PLUS a salad in addition to the entree & desert.
3) "Mistrals"; This is the small, intimate "a la carte" restaurant where an additional Â£19 per person is payable (Â£15 if you do it on Thursday night when you first arrive) Like me your first thought may be: "Why pay Â£38 extra for a couple if the food in the Meridian is that good?" but trust me it is worth every penny! From beautiful presentation to immaculate service it is probably one of the best meals I have ever had in my entire life! (CruiseCritic makes reference to the celebrity chef Aldo Zilli but his name was not mentioned anyway on board so I don't think he is associated with this cruise ship anymore?)
The entertainment is as good as the food! The "Broadway show lounge" performed a show twice a night (usually 20:45 & 22:30) and these were very polished, slick productions by the clearly very talented show team. Whilst the theme of the show changes (There was an "Elton John" showcase, an "Africa" themed one, 70's "Car Wash", etc) it can get a bit "samey" if you want to be a bit picky and is essentially a group of 8 performers singing & dancing. (One night they had a comedy guest called Brenda Collins....well I say comedy...her jokes were hardly cutting edge and thought she was terrible but I assume that when Thomson are booking a comedy act they have to play it safe and book someone who appeals to a broad range of people right?) After the show lounge the other main area tended to be the "Liberties" nightclub with game shows, quizzes, and cabaret, although sometimes the entertainment switched to the Lido pool deck. (Look out for the very talented band "Top Men" who can sing & play songs from virtually every genre!) In addition to these you have "Hemmingways" bar but personally I would check out "Horizons" on deck 9; a lovely place to sit and have a cocktail with ambient mood lighting and the wonderful singing duo "Too Intense" providing a beautiful acoustic set with Tomas on guitar and Maris on vocals -- enchanting!
I'll mention the drinks; we were full board so basically all the food was included, but they wanted an extra Â£199 PER PERSON to upgrade to all inclusive. This seemed terribly expensive and I'm glad we didn't pay another Â£398! I suppose it all comes down to how much you drink but a pint was Â£3.50 so a couple would have to drink roughly 16 pints a day between them in a week to break even! Tea, coffee & water are free all day long, and fruit juices are provided anyway in the Lido up to 11am so I'm not convinced that the drinks package was value for money. (Some items carry an additional surcharge anyway!) Couple of other things to note about the drinks package; If you decide to take it out ALL guests in a party have to have it, not just one person, so no sneaky paying for just one all inclusive drinks package and both of you using it! Also, you cannot upgrade once on the ship (I thought I might get a reduced bargain!) I did like the cashless system on board; there were no errors with my purchases and you get an itemised bill regularly during the trip. I also felt no pressure to tip as this is included on the prices, and with it being a cashless system then you didn't feel obliged to say "keep the change"!!
Now while we're talking about money I'll tell you what we paid for this cruise (no-one seems to like saying how much they paid but I know it's a thing we all want to know!) I booked 2 months in advance and paid Â£1440.00. This was for 2 adults, full board, with all flight supplements & extras included plus a cabin upgrade. At the time the implication was that this was a massive saving on the regular prices but unless you know for sure what the regular price is then it's hard to assess.
Our cabin was really nice (we upgraded to a Deluxe one on a higher deck and we briefly popped in a basic one left open on deck 8 and I'm glad we upgraded; bigger, brighter, and spacious with a proper bath! Money well spent I thought!) The ship itself is lovely, yet after chatting to other more experienced travellers some did comment it looked a little "tired", and yes, signs are there if you look for them; if you want to inspect the grouting in the bottom corner of the bathroom, or study the bottom of the posts & handrails on deck for blistering or peeling paintwork, and look at the silicone sealant between the decking then you can see signs of fatigue, but trust me, it is kept immaculately clean throughout.
As you can see this review is very positive, but if I had to find fault, it would be with the nature of the ports; big, barren, dusty wastelands full of containers and empty of character. In my mind a ship should dock and everyone can simply walk down the gang plank and visit the fish market and little shops and stall....this is NOTHING like this! OK....we never got off so I guess it didn't really matter but if I did another cruise I would look at the ports of call a bit closer!
This review is going on a bit longer that I expected but it wouldn't be complete without saying just how lovely everyone was! There was a real GENUINE feeling of warmth & friendliness, and I think the Captain summed it up nicely when he said "We might not be the biggest ship, or the newest, but I believe we are the friendliest" and I have to woleheartedly agree!