(11:45 a.m. BST) -- TUI Discovery 2 is Thomson Cruises’ latest flagship that joined the fleet in May 2017 -- less than 12 months after the line’s near identical sister TUI Discovery launched last summer.
Arriving as the second of a new style of vessel is never going to make as many waves as the first, especially when Discovery and Discovery 2 are so similar, having both sailed previously for Royal Caribbean International as Splendour of the Seas and Legend of the Seas, respectively.
Anyone who’s cruised on Discovery will feel very at home on Discovery 2 and recognise all the main features and facilities, though there are a handful of significant differences and a whole heap of smaller, subtle changes.
This 1,830-passenger ship, which has 915 cabins, underlines the shift of Thomson Cruises towards larger, more modern ships with increased facilities. We joined TUI Discovery 2 for four nights as part of a round-trip Mediterranean sailing from Malaga.
Here are the hits and misses from our time onboard.
Kora La and Surf & Turf Speciality Restaurants
These two classy dining spots are definitely the pick of the bunch. The only trouble is, once you’ve eaten here it will spoil you for the main dining rooms which can’t match them.
Our particular favourite was Kora La, which serves the best views on the ship along with the succulent flavours of Asia.
Its location on Deck 11, with sweeping vistas over the main deck and out to sea, justifies the £19.95pp charge, especially as every table gets a decent view through the floor to ceiling windows.
We loved the sumptuous treats that included popcorn prawns and the delicate flavouring of the delicious duck and watermelon salad -- a new dish to debut on Discovery 2. We were also impressed that all curries were personally prepared with special note taken of each diner’s spicy preference.
The Surf & Turf steakhouse is another venue worth taking a seat in and with its ambience as a private club, serves as a good contrast.
Sadly, you don’t get any views, partly due to its shuttered windows, but the menu provides an impressive line-up of choice cuts and alternative entrees, and some novel desserts too -- for £24.95pp. Both are worth trying, but if you only want one -- for us it has to be Kora La.
At night, this place rocks and is perfectly pitched at the passenger mix, with some excellent performers who know how to work the audience with medleys of feel-good sounds ranging from Abba to the Bee Gees. These soon get everyone on their feet and packing out the dance-floor, while even those left seated end up bopping in their chairs! Besides the singers who take to the main stage, the banana-yellow grand piano adds another fun dimension with good old fashioned sing-a-longs that really add to the feel-good vibe of this venue. This seems to be the social hub of the ship in the evenings; even the adjacent gaming tables in the small onboard casino are often busy -- and it’s easy to see why.
Virtual Reality Experience
We had such a fun time in here that we didn’t want to stop! This new feature is one of the biggest differences between Discovery and Discovery 2. On the former, this space is taken by the Break Out and Escape Room, which taps into the new craze for cryptic Crystal Maze-style group challenges. However, its £15pp charge (which has since been cut to £10pp) deterred players, prompting Thomson Cruises bosses to look at an alternative -- complimentary -- attraction for Discovery 2.
Still in the experimental stage when we tried it, it was still captivating as we were transported to an intergalactic world to fight space pirates before swapping scenarios to arrive in a Harry Potter-esque magic chamber where exotic spells transformed our surroundings with fantastic special events. It's brilliant -- and so realistic, too.
Thomson Cruises’ strength lies in the control it has over the entire product. With fly-cruise passengers generally travelling on Thomson Airways flights, the company can make its embarkation and disembarkation procedures far more seamless.
Arriving for check-in was a breeze and completed in minutes. On our sailing, the line was so confident of its speedy check-in turnaround that the ship departure time had been scheduled for 10:30 p.m. even though the last batch of passengers weren’t due to arrive until 10:15 p.m.
On disembarkation, one of the very appealing features which puts Thomson ahead of its cruise rivals is that passengers can stay onboard and enjoy the facilities, even if their flight isn’t departing until much later in the day.
The warmth and friendliness of the crew on Thomson ships is renowned and it’s no different on Discovery 2. As one of the very few mass market lines to include gratuities in the price, you might wonder whether it would adversely impact service levels, but our experience was that the crew we encountered were more genuinely friendly and willing to go out of the way to help. Our room steward was particularly helpful and always cheerful; the restaurant staff were extremely attentive, efficient and entertainingly chatty; and while the bar staff could be rather slow, they were at least charming with it.
Islands Buffet Restaurant
This was our least favourite part of the ship and, to our eyes, the most dated, though the variety and quality of the cuisine was fine. However, unlike the spacious, airy feel of the rest of Discovery 2, Islands seemed more cramped and a little dingy. Plus, at peak times during breakfast it was virtually impossible to find a seat. After wandering aimlessly for several minutes back and forth, we were able to perch on one of the stools at a dining bar by the window. There was only one spare place mind. If there’d been two of us, we’d have been scuppered!
Discovery 2 is a very worthy addition to the Thomson Cruises fleet that will continue to take it forward, but experienced cruisers who have been on the likes of P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean International or Princess Cruises will always be conscious that it cannot match the range of modern facilities or continually high standards of cuisine across-the-board on these lines.
Having said that, Discovery 2’s target market of lovers of the Thomson brand, first-timers and families will find plenty to like aboard this ship. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for Thomson.
--By Sara Macefield, Cruise Critic contributor