Thomson Dream Review
- Exceptionally friendly, willing crew
- Magrodome over the pool for cool-weather cruising
- Hints of an old-fashioned liner
- Range of dining choices including fine dining at the Grill
- Entertainment, food and drinks geared to British tastes
- Cycle tours offered in port
By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
Thomson Cruises' latest acquisition, the 55,000-ton, 1,506-passenger Thomson Dream, is the biggest and most luxurious to date of the company's fleet of five and is regarded by Thomson as its new flagship.
Dream is not, however, a new vessel; it's actually 24 years old and first sailed in 1986 as Homeric for the now defunct Home Line. Holland America bought Home Line in 1988, put the ship in dry dock for a 39-metre stretch in 1989 and operated it as Westerdam until 2002, when it was transferred to Costa, refitted and renamed Costa Europa.
Because the ship was originally built for Home Line’s New York-Bermuda service, it has hints of an old-fashioned liner about it, not least a classic hull design; pointy rather than boxy with some attractive sunbathing areas on the tiered aft decks overlooking the adults-only pool.
The dining room on Deck 4 is very low down (for stability in big swells) and there's a pleasingly wide, wraparound promenade deck with teak wood in fine condition. Thomson is planning to install traditional steamer chairs here. There's a real ballroom, too, with dancing before and after dinner every night to a live band. The library on Deck 8 also has an old-fashioned elegance about it, as does the adjoining Argo Lounge, a quiet area where posh afternoon tea is served and a classical pianist entertains in the evening.
Another hint at the vessel's heritage is the art; Thomson has inherited the original collection from Holland America Line, so the lounges are dotted with memorabilia from the glory days of the Dutch empire; hefty oil paintings, huge scale models of wooden galleons and a real cannon, complete with cannon balls.
Dream has yet to be given the complete 'Thomson' treatment. Although the refit was a recent as 2002, bits of the ship look dated, not least the red swirly carpets in the public areas (sadly, this is wearing well and may survive for a few more years). There's still Costa signage everywhere, too, something which we're told by Thomson executives is likely to change later this year when the vessel goes into dry dock. At the moment, Costa's confusing, colour-coded diagrams in the stairwells make finding your way around somewhat frustrating, particularly as the lifts are small and slow and not all the staircases lead to all the decks.
Most of the work in dry dock will be technical, although the usage of some public rooms is being looked at too, particularly the casino, which may be reduced in size, and the disco, which is rather isolated at the forward end of Deck 8.
Thomson Dream has six cabin categories from Standard Insides at 129 square feet to Grand Suites at 431 square feet. Only the Grand Suites, on deck 11, have balconies.
Cabins feel surprisingly spacious; doubles have two twin beds pushed together and plenty of room for a two-seater sofa, which converts to a bed. All have safe, minibar, hairdryer and TV (chunky old TVs, not flat screens), and adequate storage space and hangers for a seven-night cruise. Decor is smart blond wood and neutral colours in the inside cabins and darker wood, which feels more dated, in the outsides. Bathrooms are tiny, modular plastic units with shower and a shower curtain; no luxury here, although cabin grades above Standard Inside and Standard Outside do have a bath.
The Grand Suites are smart and contemporary, with flat screen TVs, bar, spacious living and dining area, separate bedroom (with a 'window' into the living area), Jacuzzi bath and teak balcony.
A specific cabin can be guaranteed for £39 at the time of booking. If you don't opt for the guarantee, cabins are allocated from the best downwards in each category (best being determined by the cabin's location), so it pays to book early.
Dream has five dining venues, three of which are buffets and two waiter service. The main, 24-hour buffet, the Andromeda Restaurant, a light and airy space aft on the Andromeda Deck, opens out onto the Lido pool area, with seating on the deck above as well as by the pool. The buffet is not particularly well arranged –- something which is currently out of Thomson's control as it's the way the structure has been built -– and long queues form at peak times with people forming just one line to collect everything from cereals to a full English fry-up at breakfast (which, incidentally, includes proper English bacon and sausages). There's just one other, smaller, serving station on the other side.
Lunch is a big array of salads, soups, mains and desserts, while evenings are impressive themed buffets, like Mexican, or Asian, although there's a carvery most nights, too. Most nights there are three appetisers, a salad buffet, five or six main courses and side dishes, and five or six desserts.
Siren's, a smaller buffet area adjacent to the main pool, which has a retractable roof, serves similar fare although with a smaller menu, with a chef's station (offering stir fry when I was onboard) instead of the big themes. It's open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea of sandwiches, wraps and cakes. On the same deck is the small Terrace Grill, serving burgers and pizza by the pool during the day.
In the evenings, part of Sirens becomes The Grill, a smart, a la carte establishment with waiter service and a refined, romantic atmosphere.
Charging £20 a head cover price for The Grill could be too ambitious for Thomson, given that we're talking mass market cruising with an emphasis on value. The place was almost empty when I visited, although the food is excellent. Starters include Crab and Salmon Spring Roll and Peking Duck Crepes, while mains range from Lobster Thermidor to Tournedos Rossini and Surf 'n' Turf. Soups and salads are also on the menu and the desserts were beautifully presented.
The main dining room, the open seating Orion, is forward on Orion Deck and is only accessible via two of the four stairwells. The room spans the width of the ship, with traditional portholes along the sides, and is done out in creams and browns, with seating mainly for fours, sixes and above. The choice is impressive and the flavour is British/International with some adventurous twists, such as Exotic Chicken Breast Stuffed With Banana. The menu includes three starters, two soups, two salads and six mains, as an example, Seafood Brochette, Pork Parmigiana, Beef Wellington and Vegetable Lasagne.
Wines are very reasonably priced; a glass of house red, white or rose is £3.50 and a decent bottle of white around £14.50.
Grand Old Favourites
No two Thomson ships are identical so it's more a question of concepts that are being repeated on Dream than physical features. The entertainment works along the same lines on Dream as on the other ships, with ten West End-style shows per fortnight, each including high-energy dance themes and plenty of big hit songs. There's always stand-up, with different comedians being flown in regularly, and there's always cabaret, using entertainers who have worked well on other Thomson ships.
Thomson is often noted for its onboard service and a lot of the Indonesian and Filipino crew on Dream have come from other ships in the fleet. Their energy and enthusiasm make a huge contribution to the happy atmosphere onboard and the bar staff and restaurant waiters in particular appear to be much-loved by the passengers. There's no tipping, as on other Thomson ships (it's included in the cruise fare), so the relationship between passengers and crew is not in any way motivated by cash. No service charge is added to bar drinks, either.
An all-inclusive option of £189 per person includes house wine, unbranded spirits, some cocktails, beer and 50 percent off the wine list.
Dream, like Thomson's other ships, is served by a huge range of regional charter flights, in this case, from 21 U.K. airports for the summer season out of Palma. One of the brand's great strengths in Mallorca is its wide choice of cruise-and-stay options and cruises on Thomson Dream can be combined with anything from a three star apartment to a five star hotel.
New and Nifty
Dream is the first Thomson vessel to have a retractable roof, in this case, over the main pool. Other than this, nothing is new as such, but watch this space for when the ship has had its refit in November; on Thomson Destiny, what started as the disco became the much more successful Blake's Lounge, as guests simply weren't using it as a nightclub. On Dream, the Ladonte Disco, tucked away forward on Deck 8, is under scrutiny and may meet a similar fate, with late night dancing in one of the more centrally located lounges instead.
Not brand new, but expanding and featured on Thomson Dream, is cycle tours in port, a service Thomson inherited when it took over Island Escape and subsequently expanded to Thomson Destiny. Dream carries a fleet of top-notch mountain bikes for guided tours in each port that start at £34 for Barcelona or Villefranche and rise to £54 for Rome, the big daddy of bike rides, which involves nerves of steel.
There's a small children's playroom, still branded with Costa's 'Squok Club' name, for Thomson's Kidzone programme. The club is strangely located in an interior room off the disco, close to a small amusement arcade, the Golden Apple, aimed at teens. We were told onboard that both areas are going to be improved. Costa's playrooms don't really attract that many kids, as Italians keep their children with them during the day (or running riot around the ship, in our experience), while Brits are much more inclined to make use of the clubs, so these spaces may struggle to cope during July and August.
Thomson Dream has a decent sports court up on Deck 12, big enough for paddle tennis, five-a-side football and basketball.
In peak season, the main pool will be designated family-friendly and the aft pool will be adults-only. For all of June and September, the whole ship will be child-free.
One thing Thomson Dream lacks is a proper spa. There's a beauty salon on Deck 8 offering hair, nails and foot treatments, and a couple of treatment rooms for massage off the gym on Deck 10, and there is a proper spa menu but the facility itself can’t compete with the spas on more contemporary ships.
There's a strange little window-less room on Deck 8 that Costa used as a chapel. Thomson is currently using it as a meeting room but its future is undecided.
The one thing that stands out most on Thomson Dream is the friendly crew and the positive effect they have on the passengers. The quality of the service, food and entertainment and the fact that all of these are 100 percent geared to British tastes are the things that are going to work about this ship; it's the familiarity that British passengers enjoy, as well as the fact that drinks are cheap and tips are included.
But in summer 2011, Dream will be competing head-on with Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas out of Palma and it will be interesting to see whether passengers stick with what they know, or are seduced by the prospect of a bigger, newer, glitzier ship.
Have just returned from a weeks cruise on the 'Dream' with two friends who were first time cruisers. We were a bit disappointed as it did not live up to the Platinum standard in so far as the pool areas very basic and shabby, lack of sunbeds and ...continue
This was our second cruise on the Dream and we enjoyed it as much as the first with a few reservations.
1. The ship has been upgraded to Platinum since our first time last year but apart from new seating, carpets and the addition of a ...continue
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Having spent many years resisting cruises thinking that I really wouldn't enjoy the experience, I finally relented and we booked a this Mediterranean cruise on the Thomson Dream. We picked this one as it was being marketed as being of Platinum ...continue