Until now, the tour operator Thomson just happened to ‘do’ cruises under the Thomson Cruises brand. With the launch of TUI Discovery and the recent announcement to launch Discovery 2 next year, they are now (officially) a cruise line. So what makes Thomson cruises different from other cruise lines?
The first thing to point out is when booking a Thomson cruise, you are booking a ‘package’ holiday. This means that your holiday with Thomson starts at the airport. If your flight is delayed, they will either delay the launch time of the ship or make sure you get to the next port. They offer packages from Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Shannon, so no matter where you are living, you should be able to fly from your local airport. Transfers, baggage and tips are all included in the price. Unlike many of their competitors, there are no hidden extras.
Originally launched by Royal Caribbean as Splendour of the Seas, it is now cruising the Mediterranean as TUI Discovery. It can carry 1830 passengers, which is relatively small compared to some of the larger cruise ships, ( Harmony of the Seas can carry over 5700). But that has it’s advantages too. Smaller ships can be more personal, less daunting, easier to navigate and can fit into more ports, so less tendering is involved.
The biggest ‘game changer’ is that TUI Discovery will be fully all-inclusive from Summer 2017. This means that everyone on board will be treated equally. No need to wear horrible wristbands, and no need to check who is buying who drinks, and all that palaver. I must say that is a pet hate of mine with all-inclusive holidays. There is nothing worse that listening to guests argue with the bar staff because their ‘drinks package’ doesn’t include certain drinks. And that awful feeling that you are being watched to see that you are not ordering drinks for other non all-inclusive guests! Ordering a drink can be like the Spanish inquisition sometimes! No need for any of that with the TUI Discovery. Branded drinks are also included, which is a nice touch. Ok, so maybe not Hendricks gin or Grey Goose vodka but you get the idea.
I was on board for the official launch recently, so although only an overnight stay, it was enough time to see all the highlights 🙂 The first thing I noticed was massive open air cinema screen. I originally thought this was a temporary structure for the launch party but then was told by crew that it is a permanent fixture. I thought how cool it would be to watch the latest movies while having an evening swim in the pool! You can get blankets, popcorn and even hot chocolate from the nearby pool bar!
Speaking of pools, there are two, an outdoor and indoor pool, as well as four relaxing whirlpools. Both swimming pools are surrounded by comfortable sun loungers and I got the impression there wouldn’t be any difficulty securing a place to sun bathe on sea days. I particularly liked the ‘Glass House’ where the large indoor pool is located.
After chilling out beneath the glass roof you can pop over to the classy dining area and have lite bites or tapas, juices or smoothies, all included in the price of your cruise. If you really want to push the boat out 😉 you can use hot stones to cook your meat to perfection, a small charge of £9.95 applies for this.
Adjacent to the indoor pool is the Oceans Spa and fully equipped gym. You can get twenty minute manicures, eyebrow threading and even get botox on board, as well as teeth whitening and acupuncture! If you really want to chillax you can hit the adult only pool deck. It is quite small but comes complete with luxury loungers and comfy pods. They even have a call button to order drinks so you don’t have to move! And because TUI Discovery will be all inclusive for Summer 2017 so you can order as many drinks as you like! Remember they also include all tips / gratuities so if you happen to spend the day pressing the call button – no need to worry 😉
The all inclusive package also lets you dine in five of the seven dining venues. The two speciality restaurants, a Surf & Turf Steakhouse and an Asian restaurant carry a supplement of £19.95, which is not bad considering the standard of food and the restaurants contemporary styling. TUI have invested heavily into their restaurant offerings. The steakhouse features crockery from Villeroy & Boch. The steak knives are designed to minimise contact with meat so as not to impact the taste. Celebrity chef Ian Pengelley oversees the menu in the Asian restaurant.
I loved that the main restaurant offers waiter service. Not one for buffets, I was impressed to be handed a menu at breakfast time. Freshly cooked omelettes, an English breakfast (with nice rashers and sausages!) can all be ordered from your table. They also have, what I can only assume, will be a very popular Snack shack, offering ‘festival food’, i.e hot dogs, goujons etc. It has funky beach hut type booths which are named after their favourite ports of call.
The bars are pretty classy too. Bar Eleven is a cool cocktail bar with stunning ocean views. The Atrium bar, complete with a featured staircase is a relaxed prosecco themed bar. Incidentally, prosecco is included in the all inclusive package too – how cool is that!
If you are looking for a lively venue, the Live Room ticks all boxes. As the name suggests, it hosts live music as well as late night parties and discos. It’s design is modern, yet retro and it really works. The small casino is integrated into this room. Whilst this is great for anyone who doesn’t want to miss out on the entertainment, it’s not so great if you want a quiet game of blackjack…
Discovery also offers a broadway show lounge. With a team of big names from the world of showbiz, the entertainment promises to be their best yet. The secondary show lounge will offer interactive game shows where the audience will be able to vote for the winner. Teenagers will love the ‘Hideout’, a room complete with a karaoke booth and a teen disco. Let’s not forget the Gamerzone, with free Xboxes and assorted games. Wifi is available on board and although it wasn’t the fastest, it is affordable at £49 for a week. They also offer entertainment for younger kids including ‘ Splash Live’ an interactive live show for 6 – 10 year olds. ‘Break out & Escape’ is a novel, real life escape game where kids need to work together to find clues to escape before the time runs out, there is an additional charge of £20 per per person for this. A baby centre, kids clubs, a climbing wall and mini golf are all on board too, and are free of charge.
You won’t find the latest Kate Spade or Michael Kors shops on board, you won’t find waterparks or ice skating rinks, that ship has sailed! You will find an intimate ship with contemporary styling, that has made a smart decision to include quality dining, drinks and entertainment in the price of your cruise. I have no doubt that a new style of cruising has been discovered.