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Thomson Spirit Cruise
Weekend Affair - 11th-14th August 2012
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This page is still under construction
This page shows images of a short cruise from Harwich to Zeebrugge and Amsterdam on Thomson Spirit.
Nieuw Amsterdam was built in 1984 by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in St Nazaire for Holland America Line, subsequently part of Carnival Cruises since 1989. Her sistership Noordam was introduced the same year. She was sold in 2000 to American Classic Voyages as the Patriot to start a new cruise line using the historic name of United States Lines. This line folded in 2001 following the September 11th terrorist attacks. Patriot was chartered by Thomson Cruises from 2003 as the Thomson Spirit. Her sistership Noordam joined the Thomson Cruises fleet in 2005 as Thomson Celebration.
I travelled with my wife and 9 other ship enthusiast friends on a three night break to have a look at the ship built in 1984 as Nieuw Amsterdam for Holland America Line. Thomson are a cheap and cheerful cruise line owned by the German TUI AG group. Thomson are primarily a package tours group selling inclusive flights and hotels in the UK market. In some respects they ignore traditional cruise ship practices. Thomson travelling is also a bit like Ryanair - a cheap basic price but everything else is extra, including a hefty charge for using your credit card on board and £39 to choose a precise cabin in advance (cabins of our grade were on decks 8 & 9, the deck 8 cabins having restricted views due to the lifeboats). To use the small safe in the cabin cost a staggering £15 to get a key from reception. A 10 minute bus ride from Zeebrugge to Blankenberge was £7 (all day ticket on the 68km long Kusttram 5 Euros).
When booking the cruise, we found the website was amateurish and confusing, geared to the package holiday market. There are repeated warnings about the 20kg luggage allowance, both on the website and in the documentation sent. There is obviously no limit if you are not flying. 2012 is Thomson's return to UK-based ships following a few years with ships working only from the Mediterranean, Canaries etc, where everyone flies. Nobody has updated the website. Free parking was part of the fare, but a few days before departure we received an email saying we should book our parking. The phone number in the email linked to a Thomson shop in Dudley, who of course could not help. The phone number on the website was just for booking additional cabin treats for the cruise. At a third attempt we did get through to the correct number only to be told that we did not need to book. It took one of our party six calls to different numbers to confirm this. A question & answer blog for Thomson showed that many people found this confusing. After the cruise, an email received with an online questionnaire started with a mandatory hotel menu, so was impossible to fill in.
Unlike every other cruise line, Thomson do not issue luggage tags before the cruise as all companies do. Instead, we had to queue in our car to receive tags from a booth. Two lines of cars should have grouped themselves into A-L and M-Z queues. The signs were badly placed so many cars incorrectly joined the M-Z queue which was always the shorter queue. The person in the M-Z booth then had to run over to our A-L booth where they appeared to hold the master list, taking priority over those in our queue, and doubling the length of time in the queue. A six year old child could have come up with a less inept system. We then dropped off our luggage at a line of luggage trolleys and parked our car, catching a bus to the terminal. At the end of the cruise we caught the bus back to the car park, where luggage was lined out in the open air. What happens if it is raining?
The indoor public areas of Thomson Spirit have been well maintained, many parts looking quite new, although no rooms are particularly inspiring. Our cabin was 21 on Deck 9 which was spacious and had unrestricted views unlike some lower deck cabins of a similar size. The bed mattress was distinctly thin and the CR-tube TV was well past its design life. The bathroom certainly showed the ship's age and water pressure for the bath and shower was feeble. A bath required planning 20 minutes in advance. It seems that there should have been a pressure adjustment lever but this had been broken off. The open wooden decks certainly showed the ships age, as did many of the rails, also some of the latter had been recently ended and re-varnished. As was usual on older ships, Thomson Spirit has extensive open decks with a wonderful and very wide promenade which circles the ship. Very sad that such outdoor space is so rare on modern ships, since it generates little income.
Thomson Spirit vibrates everywhere when in port and when sailing. The only time I did not notice it was when sailing slowly along the canal to Amsterdam. It seems that this has always been a problem.
Food in both the Lido self service and main restaurants was much better than expected, and well up to the standard of many more expensive lines. A final night dinner in Sirocco's, the extra cost restaurant, became something of a disaster after the first three courses, which had all arrived within an hour. We queried the delay in the main courses after an hour, yet after 90 minutes the main courses still had not arrived. It seems this was our fault for being a party of eleven which had arrived together. Since we were split over two separate tables it would not have been a problem to serve one table first. I gave up at that point and left. The cost of £19 to eat there was not cheap, although we were not charged due to the delays. Most people had ordered steaks, which do not take long to prepare, so the excuses were ridiculous.
There were other petty irritations about Thomson too numerous to list, but in particular being instructed by our cleaning staff to give an excellent rating in the questionnaire riled somewhat. In the end we did not fill it in at all since a huge number of questions were irrelevant marketing-related privacy intrusions about what mobile handsets we had, whether we were interested in solar panels and when we expected to buy insurance etc etc.
Given the company, good weather and ports visited, I enjoyed the cruise. However it was taken mainly to see a now elderly ship, which may have limited life, and I will definitely not be taking another Thomson cruise based on this experience.
Sections on this Page
Thomson Spirit Postcards
Thomson Spirit Leaving Harwich
Thomson Spirit Interiors
Kusttram - De Lign - Belgian Coastal Tramway
Tram des Tijds - Museum Tramway
Amsterdam Local Ferries (GVB)
Amsterdam Trams (GVB)
Ships on this Page:-
Costa Deliziosa - Costa Cruises
Franlis- Ostend excursion boat
Port of Amsterdam 7 - tug
Union Sun - tug
Yasmine - Cobelfret ro-ro
Zephira - Zeebrugge excursion boat
Sat 11th August 2012 - Depart Harwich
Sun 12th August 2012 - Zeebrugge
Mon 13th August 2012 - Amsterdam
Tue 14th August 2012 - Arrive Harwich
UK Excursion Vessels
World Ferry Fleets
Simplon Postcards. Home Page
Simplon Postcards - Recent Updates
- Simplon Postcards facebook page
Thomson Cruises Pages:-
Thomson Cruises - Header Page
Thomson Spirit (1983) - ex-Nieuw Amsterdam
Nieuw Amsterdam (1983) - later Thomson Spirit
Holland America Pages:-
Holland America Line - Header Page