Editor's note: The ship underwent another refurbishment in October 2014 and was fitted with a new sunbathing area and an Asian-themed a la carte restaurant ‘Kora La', specializing in Indian and Chinese cuisine.
Thomson Celebration joined the U.K. holiday giant's cruise division in 2004, after sailing for Holland America Line as Noordam.
Originally launched in 1984, Thomson Celebration is now an old dame of a ship. The upside of sailing on an older vessel is that it looks like a proper ship, with elegant lines and a wide, wraparound teak promenade deck; features difficult to find on newer vessels and a traditional look the passengers enjoy. It's not uncommon to hear people commenting in port how pretty their ship is compared with others with a chunkier design. On the downside, the ship is showing its age; some cruisers report that cabins suffer from vibration and somewhat aged plumbing.
A big refit in May 2013 saw Thomson Celebration upgraded to Platinum status, alongside its fleetmate Thomson Dream. Essentially, this means it counts as a fancier, more contemporary ship in the Thomson collection and is priced and marketed as such. The transformation is largely cosmetic. All the cabins have new soft furnishings, as well as flat-screen TVs and tea and coffee making facilities. Suites have iPod docks. The bars and lounges have been refurbished with a more modern look and a new a la carte restaurant, Mistral's, has taken over the space that once housed an Italian-themed restaurant.
A cruise with Thomson, particularly at this Platinum level, isn't necessarily a cheap option; better deals can be found on more contemporary ships in today's heavily discounted marketplace. But the company does have a loyal following of cruisers who enjoy the informality, friendly atmosphere, mid-sized ship and the Britishness of the whole setup -- familiar features like the right kind of bacon on the buffet and British beers behind the bar. The mainly Filipino and Indonesian crew are also loyal, many having worked for Thomson for years, and it shows. Their rapport with passengers was fantastic, with plenty of crewmembers greeting embarking guests like old friends.
Celebration, like the other Thomson ships, is a great prospect for first-time cruisers. Travel is seamless, with direct flights from 19 UK regional airports. Tips are included, which takes away a lot of stress for Brits. Information, such as the daily programme, is presented in a clear and logical format, taking some of the mystery out of cruising. Finally, Thomson offers a cruise-and-stay programme that again creates a stress-free holiday, combining a week's cruise with some of its many beach hotels in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.