Island Escape: Spirit of the Med Review
Thomson is a travel agency company that offers vacation packages, deals and travel insurance. "Island Escape" is the name of the cruise ship. "Spirit of the Med" is a package that offers flights from different locations in the UK, such as London airports, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh, and a cruise to five locations in seven days: Barcelona, Corsica, Rome, Florence and Toulon. The package includes the cruise, the flights, flight-to-ship transportation (on shuttle bus), and food on deck. It does NOT include drinks (except tea and coffee at breakfast time) or travel excursions. This article is a review of the vacation package.
Considering that when you pay, you pay for all your transport, accommodation, and on-board food, £600 per person (roughly) was a pretty good price. However, there was a 50% off offer on at the time, two weeks before boarding, so it might not be that cheap again. Even so, Thomson and other travel companies often have good deals, especially if you don't mind booking at short notice.
The food was a 24 hour buffet. Even so, it wasn't bad quality at all, and some of it was quite delicious. The food was different every day - depending on which country we were going to, the available food would be Spanish, Italian or French style.
Tea, coffee, milk, juice and water were available in the mornings, and you could order drinks with dinner (for an additional fee). One great thing about the buffet being 24 hours was that if you wanted to get up extra-early, breakfast would be available, and if you wanted to eat cake at 2am, you could.
The excursions available seemed to be fairly overpriced for what was on offer - usually a bus ride and a group tour somewhere. In this case, we avoided excursions and made our own trips. This was better for us because we had the freedom of walking around where we wanted, eating where we wanted, and not having to rush to keep up with the crowd. The downside to not taking any excursions is that we probably missed some great attractions or historic sites that were shown.
We did take one excursion - when we went to Italy, all of the transport in and around Rome were on strike, including train drivers. Since no trains were running, we agreed to pay for an 'excursion' to Rome - and paid £30 for a bus ride into the city.
This wasn't bad, because we were dropped off right outside Vatican City, and knew where to go to get back to the ship. The downside was the price, which seemed quite heavy for a bus ride. But without it, we wouldn't have been able to get to Rome at all, so we were grateful.
I would suggest buying an excursion if:
- You want it all organised for you (no worrying about buses, trains, getting lost, etc)
- You don't mind a tour guide
- You don't mind being in a big group
- You want to see most/all of the attractions while you're there
Don't purchase an excursion if:
- You'd prefer to explore on your own
- You'd prefer to go at your own pace
- It doesn't bother you that you might miss something
- You can organise your own transport and get back to the ship on time
The ship had a lot to offer in the evening for entertainment. There was a small casino, and a bingo game every night (which, I admit, I loved to play) that offered cash prizes. The ship crew also organised different shows at night, including musicals and concerts. These types of family-friendly shows are usually a bit corny for me, but we attended a show where the crew sang songs from different films and musicals, which was actually very enjoyable.
They also hosted competitions, such as a singing contest, competitions like the 'cutest couple' award, and question and answer team games. There were a few bars located at different parts of the ship, offering cocktails, beer and wine, which were delicious. You bought these drinks, as well as things like bingo tickets, with your room key, and pay for it in full after the cruise.
The ship also had things I didn't try out, like a gym and some jewellery and art shops. Despite the fact that a lot of the facilities were catered for older people (over half of the passengers were 50+), there was a lot of fun things to do.
The locations we went to themselves were great, and definitely worth a visit.
Barcelona was a high class, stylish Spanish town, with tapas, high-street shops and cute little markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as candies and nuts. We also found a strange sex shop on a street corner.
Corsica was a stunningly beautiful island with friendly locals and fresh air. It was pleasant to walk around on the bay or explore the little streets. With the blue sea, tasty food and lots to see, I didn't think one day was long enough there.
We were fairly unlucky in Rome, because of the train and metro strike and the fact that it poured with rain all day. But I'd like to go again.
Florence was a gorgeous Italian city where we saw a famous bridge, old buildings and tried famous Italian gelato.
Toulon was another stunning piece of landscape, with a pretty shore and bakeries smelling of bread. Another place I would visit again.
All in all, Spirit of the Med was a nice cruise where you could see a lot of places without spending too much money. The entire trip cost around £850 per person including everything - travel, food, spending money, etc. The food was good, with slightly cheesy but fun entertainment, and it was great travelling around so much in so little time. Definitely worth a try one summer. I award this trip four stars out of five.