The longest-serving member of Thomson's four-strong fleet, Thomson Spirit started life in 1983 as Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam. In 2000 the vessel was taken over by the now defunct United State Lines and renamed Patriot, before being taken over by Louis Cruise Lines. Following a refit in 2002, Louis chartered the ship to Thomson and in May 2003 the vessel began sailing as Thomson Spirit.
As an older, mid-size ship Spirit has many of the trappings associated with traditional ocean liners -- all part of its appeal and one of the reasons it has built up a loyal following of repeat passengers. Features include good-sized cabins, a lovely wrap-around teak deck and spacious public areas, such as a surprisingly large reading and games room.
Another big draw -- particularly for first-time cruisers -- is the tried and trusted brand name of the UK's largest tour operator. Passengers who have gone on Thomson's package holidays can expect a similar experience at sea and a product that is firmly aimed at the British market, particularly on the food and entertainment front.
As a result the vast majority of passengers are British, although some cruises -- in particular shorter ones -- can attract people from other nationalities, such as the US, who might be on holiday in the UK and want to sample a British cruise experience.
Aside from a number of adult-only itineraries, Spirit has a very inclusive atmosphere and offers something for all ages, including multi-generational families, couples, single travellers and younger groups of friends, such as hen and stag parties. The wide range of bars and public areas -- along with a disco until the early hours -- means that even the most diverse assortment of passengers can happily co-exist side by side.
Spirit makes no bones about where it stands in the market, offering great value cruises with none of the bells and whistles or hot and cold running butlers associated with high-end cruise lines. That said, even seasoned cruisers would be wrong to be sniffy. By splashing out a relatively small amount of money on a cabin upgrade and choosing where you dine, Spirit offers a comfortable experience, along with some amenities you don't get on larger, modern ships.
A winter 2013/2014 refit saw balconies added to 19 suites and deluxe cabins on Eagle Deck 9. The facelift also included new decor in the cabins and upgrades to the Raffles Bar and Broadway Show Lounge.
Also new for 2014 are adult-only cruises and taster cruises, and next year will see a new homeport and itineraries for Spirit. For summer 2015 the ship will swap her ex-UK homeport for Marmaris, Turkey, providing six new ports of call for Thomson Cruises -- Bozcaada and Izmir in Turkey and Thessaloniki, Kavala, Chios and Patmos in Greece. Some of these destinations are included in the new "Undiscovered Aegean" itinerary. Two other new itineraries for 2015 are "Eastern Encounter", calling at Beirut, Larnaca, Ashdod and Haifa, and "Black Sea Explorer", with ports of call at Istanbul, Nessebar and Mykonos.
The ship has a laid-back vibe and the dress code is very casual by day, with jeans, shorts and T-shirts being the norm. In the evening it errs towards smart-casual, particularly in the Compass Rose and Sirocco's restaurants. There is one formal night each week, which coincides with the captain's gala cocktail party. Some -- but by no means all -- men opt for black tie (tuxedos are sold in the onboard shop), with others wearing jacket and tie. Most women wear cocktail dresses.