May 4, 2017
(2:45 p.m. BST) -- TUI Discovery 2 leaves the shipyard in Cadiz next week, having received a six-week bow-to-stern makeover, ready to set sail under the Thomson Cruises' brand.
The 1,830-passenger ship is a sister to the wildly popular TUI Discovery, which sailed as Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas up until last year.
TUI Discovery 2 will embark on its first passenger sailing on May 14, offering three itineraries from its summer homeport of Malaga.
While TUI Discovery 2 might not be brand-new -- it launched in 1995 and sailed as Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas until April 2017 -- it has the most balcony cabins of any Thomson Cruises' ship and offers a wider choice of bars, restaurants and entertainment. What's more -- as part of the line's Discovery class -- the ship is all inclusive.
We were onboard the ship earlier this week for an exclusive shipyard tour -- here are some of the features and updates we loved.
Less is More
The garish style of the ship's former life has been stripped away to make way for a more tasteful feel that will appeal to its new British market.
The Glass House has been pared back -- with just small remnants of the Greek theme left in place -- the overall look creates a more harmonious space for relaxing during the day and dining at night.
Similarly, much of the ship's former casino -- a feature that doesn't tend to appeal to Brits -- has been removed, including the many slot machines that once filled the space. Although a few gaming tables remain -- plus a new roulette table that was added based on passenger feedback from TUI Discovery -- the space now feels less casino and more fun and lively jazz club.
The Live Room & Casino feels light and open; windows that were previously boarded up to create a casino atmosphere have been stripped away and the space is airy. There's a fantastic bright yellow piano in the centre of the space, too, set to complement stage acts such as a virtual band and live performances.
Thomson Cruises' brand-new app, Navigate, debuts on May 14 on TUI Discovery and we love this new development.
The app will be complemented by new technology around the ship -- digital portals, digital kiosks and iPads for ordering -- that will allow passengers to find their cabin or navigate the ship; book restaurants, spa treatments and shore excursions, as well as offering a host of other features, all through the touch of a button.
During our shipyard tour this week, the line's Direct of Operations, Adrian Hibbert, demonstrated just how easy the digital portals are to operate.
And for passengers who would rather stick with traditional methods of making reservations or booking an excursion -- that's fine, too!
Fresh and Delicious Cuisine
We got to sample some of TUI Discovery 2's cuisine, and we have some excellent news for future passengers: It is utterly delicious. Sitting down to sample dishes from the Italian menu at Gallery 47 -- available upstairs in the ship's main dining room -- we tried a Caprese salad, a pumpkin risotto, and a trio of desserts.
The presentation was stunning, complete with on-trend edible flowers used to decorate dishes. Most importantly, though, ingredients are fresh -- tomatoes in our Caprese salad were ripe and juicy, while several varieties of bread that had been freshly baked onboard were presented at our table. The foccacio in particular was outstanding.
All of the ship's cabins have received a cosmetic makeover, including fresh carpets, artwork and updated soft furnishings. Cabin hardware hasn't been updated, though, so don't expect a major overhaul.
Balconies have also been refreshed, with the metal framework painstakingly cleaned back and repainted. The ship contains a whooping 366 balcony cabins -- that's 40 per cent of all cabins with outside space -- a huge coup for a line that has historically offered very few balconies. Although balconies weren't set up with a table and chairs during our visit, they felt roomy and are a huge advantage to the line.
One impressive new cabin feature is the handy USB connections fitted to the bedside lamps on either side of the bed. They're conveniently located for charging an iPhone overnight, and we love this new addition.
Snack Shack will carry over from TUI Discovery, serving sandwiches, salads, fast food such as burgers, and a variety of snacks from breakfast through to 6 p.m. Thomson has fitted a new
entrance to create direct access from inside, making it easier for passengers to find their way directly to Snack Shack without having to walk across the pool deck first.
We love the seaside theme of Snack Shack, with its row of traditional British beach huts named after ports on the ship's itinerary. We got a sense of the casual and beachside ambiance that the area creates and can see it being a popular daytime hangout for families onboard.
Islands' Self-Service Taps
This new feature, a self-service beer and wine tap located in Islands' buffet restaurant, is certain to be a huge hit with passenger. Pour yourself a glass of white, red or rose wine, or even a pint of Foster's, John Smith's or a cider from one of the pumps.
A first for the line, we don't expect the novelty to wear off any time soon!
TUI Discovery 2 feels modern and fun, but best of all, it feels like a Thomson Cruises' ship. It carries all of the line's hallmarks -- an intimate and easy to navigate feel, promising the friendly service that the line is so well-loved for -- it's just bigger, with more balcony cabins and far more variety and choice.
Expect kettles and Yorkshire tea in cabins, favourite lagers and ales in drinking and dining venues, your favourite comedians and British cuisine, just with a stronger entertainment offering and more fun. What's not to love?
Read more about Cruise Critic's exclusive TUI Discovery 2 dry dock visit.
--By Kerry Spencer, Editor U.K.