The 33,930-ton, 1,254-passenger Thomson Spirit will be based in Newcastle from May to July and then Harwich in August and September with 15 different ex-U.K. itineraries, including old favourites like the Baltic, Iceland and Norwegian Fjord. It will also introduce a new 11-night British Isles cruise, taking in various islands including Guernsey, Isle of Man, Isle of Mull and the Orkneys, with prices from £949 per person.
The trend-bucking choice of Newcastle in lieu of more popular southern ports will delight cruisers in the north, who still have long distances to travel to join the bulk of ex-U.K. ships travelling from Southampton and Dover. Thomson will join Fred. Olsen and Cruise & Maritime Voyages as regulars at the northeast port. A spokeswoman for the line explained the decision: "Newcastle had always been a success in the past backed up by strong cruise sales from our retail outlets in this area." Add to that the obligatory strong customer demand for the reintroduction of cruises from the U.K.
But why the original departure from Britain? Thomson initially abandoned its ex-U.K. programme in 2009 to concentrate on fly-cruises from its then-new port of Marmaris, Turkey, as well as Corfu, Greece and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. At the time it was reported that although the ex-U.K. cruises had always sold well, Thomson was a tour operator with its own airline, and it made sense to use its aircraft to fill the ships.
It was, however, always assumed that Thomson would return to home shores.
The homecoming is a savvy move by Thomson as figures out this week from the Passenger Shipping Association showed British cruise departures increased by 10 percent in 2010, with more than 650,000 people choosing to cruise from the U.K. The confidence in this growing market was echoed earlier this month by P&O Cruises, the biggest U.K. homeporter, announcing a hefty 148 ex-U.K. cruises in its summer/autumn 2012 itineraries.
Thomson is offering a selection of early booking offers which include an onboard spend of up to £100, up to 25 percent off all cabin upgrades, as well as free parking or coach transfer to Harwich or Newcastle ports for all Summer 2012 ex-U.K. cruises for bookings made up to 30 June 2011. The Thomson Spirit itineraries from the U.K. will be avilable to book from 7 April.
--by Lorna Blackwood, Cruise Critic Contributor