We stayed at the Premier Inn Gatwick the night before our flight (TOM024). Turned out to be a great idea and at just £39 for the night, excellent value to boot. We ate in the restaurant which had a nice atmosphere and some of the friendliest staff I've come across in similar hotels.
Overall score for hotel: 11/10
We nipped across the road to the terminal just two hours before the flight and there were just three families ahead of us in the queue.
I was sad to hear an old couple's tale who - not being internet savvy - hadn't realised that they had to book (and pay) for seats (together) despite 'upgrading' to Premium via their travel agent. This saw them sitting apart for the 8 hour journey. Cheap tactics by P&O (with whom we are contracted with, not Thomson).
Overall airport experience (ours, not the old dears) score: 10/10
Onboard on time and a nice new aircraft. The 3-4-3 config is a pain if you need to go to the loo often (oh, the struggles of being a 50-year-old man :-)). We had 13A/B both ways which, in hindsight were a poor choice for above mentioned reason. Should have gone for 13B/C for easy access.
Shortage of loos and iffy configuration make for a clunky aircraft layout. No crossing over at any point except at rear of aircraft. The staff were quite pointed about this and it was very much a charter level of service.
Cheapo headphones handed out (you need to keep them for the return trip!) and drinks service begins.
The inflight mag starts off by saying that "the first drink is on us". But it isn't. Cabin crew response; "Oh, you're P&O charter so you have to pay for everything". Nice. Feels like I'm flying Ryanair. And please remember; P&O make these rules, not Thomsons. Cheap, very cheap, unlike the cruise.
Food, both ways, actually pretty good. No choice; get what you're given.
Overall flight/service score: 6/10
Uneventful flight (one film watched) and - after a short delay while the aircraft arrival team were found - we were led off to awaiting buses. Ours, a 1960s number, was a bit scruffy and didn't have A/C but I assumed that was because P&O got it for 30p cheaper than a newer version. Windows all wedged open, off we set.
Arrived safely at the terminal which was a bit less modern than I imagined, but it did the job and we were soon through security (look out for the washing up bowls to stick your stuff through the X-ray machine on) on the ship.
Overall transfer/check in score: 7/10
Our balcony cabin, F402, came with a sofa and we were glad we'd paid the little extra for this.
- Excellent TV with some hi-def channels.
- Small but perfectly formed shower room/loo. Good lighting, decent towels. Smart toiletries (The White Co.) which were replenished on request.
- Good comfy bed and linen, changed once a week.
- Balcony, fine for us but heard others complain it was smaller than normal.
- General hotel-style feel to the room.
Overall score for room/service: 10/10
Because we arrived on the 'second' day, it was less hectic with few people hanging around for flights. We had a mooch around to suss stuff out.
Cases turned up at 7.45pm, three hours after we did, after we gave our very helpful/friendly cabin boy a friendly nudge.
Breakfast: Great. Something for everyone.
9/10 (good toast would have meant a perfect 10)
Buffet: Plentiful, generally aways piping hot (if it should be) and perfectly OK. Not great on seasoning but understandably they are catering to the lowest common denominator and many don't like salt/pepper etc. Felt like they had gone a bit mad on turkey/Christmas food as hard to escape it.
Buffet 'late night snacks'
Pretty uninspiring and basically the days' leftovers (confirmed by staff) with pizza/chips added.
Absolutely great. Food, service and ambience. A 'must do'.
Not sure why it's called the 'Beach house' as it's effectively the back bit of the buffet where P&O have established they can rake a few extra quid in.
Better than the buffet but not great for what you pay.
Nice ambience, good food but lacking a spice 'kick'. Great tho to escape the usual.
Freedom dining venue, perfectly OK. Decent offering. Always happy to help.
Limelight (Jackie G)
Seated at back of room so a little 'out of it'. No bread served despite a European menu. Quite wedding banquet-ish in terms of service. Jackie G gets a 7/10. Mad as a box of monkeys (in a nice way).
Spot on. Pub prices and decent house wine (always available yet cunningly not on all menus!).
Stuff to do
We love a swimming pool but the ones on 16 were a bit Benidorm-ish due to the fact that the loungers were mostly 'reserved' with a towel (pegged on), book and personal items from 6.45/7 then unused for hours until the bleary-eyed mob came along to claim them. Personally witnessed beds reserved and unused for 6 hours+. P&O give the blurb that this isn't allowed them say 'get on with it' doing nothing to police. Lazy and left a sour flavour, every day.
Top-class. Shows amazing. Went to many of the 'early' shows to guarantee a seat. Brilliantly done.
I thought I would hate the 'big' sail away party but decided to give it a go. Toe-curling and cheesy but excellent fun at the same time. Loved 'waving' goodbye to leaving ships alongside who seemed to love the cheers too. It's a 'must see'.
The last day was a but undignified. Tossed out of your cabin at 8am (cases the night before) saw cabin baggage suitcases a over the place. People showering by pool/getting dressed etc. Even saw a lady with full set of curlers in. Buffet packed and generally all a bit messy. Wish i could have fast-forwarded past this bit.
Disembarkation very smooth (newish bus too). Airport a bit crappy (not enough seats) and no usable wifi.
Flight home uneventful.
Bags on carousel quickly.
In conclusion, great ship, amazing entertainment, decent food and a good opportunity to see lots of different places.
Would we cruise again? Probably not. At least not this side of 60 and not on a P&O vessel as we'd have liked a more cosmopolitan bunch from different parts of the world. The crowd just weren't who we wanted to be around.
Horses for courses and all that. It would be a dull world if we all liked the same stuff.