Written on: 15/08/2006 by Hoaxster (2 reviews written)
Compass Rose waiters
Overall trim of the ship
Some ill-chosen comments by show staff
All-inclusive drinks package too restrictive
The Thomson Spirit Idyllic Iberia Mediterranean cruise was out third cruise in a large family group (10+). We'd been on My Travel branded ships (Sunbird and Carousel) previously, so we had a reasonably good idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, this cruise didn't quite come up to scratch for a number of reasons.
The ship is smaller with (allegedly) fewer passengers than either of our previous cruises, but at times it did seem a little crowded, especially during the day at sea when everyone wanted to occupy the same sun bed on the Lido deck. It is also showing its age somewhat, particularly in the decor and cabin fittings (tiles coming away in the shower room etc). One new thing that really impressed us was the installation of sanitisation pumps (alcohol rub I think) at the entrances to the restaurants, and the staffs' insistence that everyone used them religiously - a good idea well implemented.
Can't really comment on the shows because we've seen enough moderately talented kids warbling hackneyed show-tunes and it's just not our thing. However, when they did venture out onto the pool deck they were quite funny, but they had a nasty habit of putting their foot in it, ie. moaning about how much they get paid, how they were robbed the last time they visited our NEXT destination and how much they miss home. To be honest, I had more sympathy with the guy scrubbing the lavs - which he did frequently and thoroughly.
They weren't the lowlight of staff misery though! A particular barman from Eastern Europe who shall remain nameless seemed to have issues with why he was there (to serve drinks) and who everybody else was (paying punters). The rest of the staff more than made up for this, so don't be put off having a drink.
This brings us rather neatly to the so-called 'all-inclusive' drinks package. This is a complete waste of space, unless you like drinking dubious quality lager and wine that would be better placed keeping a runway in Antarctica clear. Despite forking out the extra dough, we had to pay even more to get something bearable with dinner. At the risk of descending into a rant, we also tried 'Siroccos' in an attempt to get something that didn't reek of MSG. Partial success as a plate of snails and a crepe Suzette hit the spot, but in justifying paying extra, sadly not.
But enough moaning (unless you count the drug dealers of Lisbon, the far-flung mooring off Malaga and the lack of manners displayed by shipmates of all nationalities) and on to the good bits; Our cabin was managed superbly - best cabin service we've had by miles. The kids enjoyed themselves immensely, and the bar-staffs' patience with their insatiable appetite for fruit punch was outstanding. I'm very fussy about food, so even though I've slated it, there was of course tons of it, continually available and served by some wonderful and interesting people. All the food and bar areas were kept scrupulously clean, and I can't praise the people at the bottom of the ship's career ladder highly enough, whereas the more senior ones often came over a bit snooty and full of their own importance.
Gibraltar was exactly the same as last time, except with prior knowledge we knew to just take the minibus that meets you off the boat, pay the seemingly exorbitant price (trust me, the cable-car is a bit of a hike away, and the caf at the top is terrible) and do the two-hour tour. We got to see so much more of the rock and its furry inhabitants. The siege tunnels are really worth the effort - coming back is harder than going in.
Lisbon was rougher than I expected. The commercial port is a twenty minute shuttle-bus ride from the city centre. Although fairly interesting (e.g. Eiffel's free-standing elevator) it didn't blow me away, although lots of kind gentlemen offered to sell me blow - duly declined.
Been to Cadiz before too so we knew pretty much everything was within walking distance. Headed straight through the middle of town (they don't show you that on the open top bus) to the local beach for local people. Stood out like sore pink thumbs, but enjoyed a really good swim and the excellent beach facilities anyway.
Malaga looked terrible (could be wrong there) so didn't even disembark. The mooring is about a mile down a concrete quay designed for cargo vessels, and even though there were shuttle buses into town, they didn't seem too frequent. Took a restful day properly exploring the Spirit's other facilities. Highlights included a self-service laundry, a good long session in the well-equipped gym with a friendly instructor bloke who knows when people just want to get on with it. Found the front of the ship (we seafarers call this 'the bow') where several more bars had escaped our attention for several days. Watched a massive pod (200+ honest) of dolphins come across the aforementioned bow in the most salubrious Horizons bar - if the majority of our group weren't smokers, I think we'd have spent a lot more time there.
The absolute winner of this cruise is Cartagena. It is a beautiful town with lots of friendly people, and everything is very close (two-minute walk) to the port. I'll definitely be going back there.
Most of our party were satisfied overall, but most noted the slightly slower bar service and slightly less interactive entertainment and greatly increased smoking restrictions. I wouldn't recommend either the ship or the itinerary to anyone serious about travelling, but if mountains of food and lakes of booze in sunny weather are what you're after then go for it.