THOMSON SPIRIT 11th August 2012
Friday 10th August 2012
Why go by train I thought, and instead booked an overnight sailing to Harwich via the Hook of Holland, ready for the 3 night ‘Weekend Affair’ cruise with Thomson. In fact of course on Friday 10th August I went by train part of the way – by Eurostar from St. Pancras, London, to Brussels Midi station, and then on the Thalys train from Brussels to Rotterdam, which was all very fast and enjoyable. It was a novelty to travel so far and so fast, rather than by using my original train plan to get to Harwich via London which would have meant a journey of about four and a half hours. Having met one of my friends on the train from Brussels, it was a short ride for us on the little flyer to the Hook of Holland, and soon I was walking along the foot passengers’ walkway to board STENA BRITANNICA in warm summer sunshine.
It was possible to check in and board straightaway, and once I’d put my suitcase in my inside single cabin 10305, I could explore this 2010-built Ropax vessel, which can carry 1200 passengers. At 64,039 gross tonnage she seemed huge and high above the quayside, but on board I thought the public facilities along Deck 9 flowed really well; it was delightful to sit on the aft Sundeck to enjoy a drink before dinner, and then eat in the Metropolitan a la Carte Restaurant, where the food and service were excellent and the portions very generous.
We sailed at 10.30 p.m. overnight to Harwich in calm seas, on what is advertised as a 7 hour crossing. Like many friends I had seen the television programme where the Managing Director of STENA Line had travelled on the ship incognito, but there was no apparent problem with the service and facilities offered on board that evening. We were told there were about 800 passengers on board, mostly with cars.
Ships seen: Stena Britannica, several Cobelfreighters at a distance
Saturday 11th August
A 5 a.m. call over the cabin tannoy announced that we had arrived at Harwich, that breakfast was now available, and passengers could disembark from 6.30 a.m. I had pre-booked buffet breakfast in the Taste Restaurant on Deck 9 so that started my day well as I could look out of the window and see THOMSON SPIRIT berthing just ahead of us. Her blue funnel gleamed in the early morning sunshine. I had sailed on her in November 2005, on a ‘Red Sea Magic’ cruise, and the itinerary from Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt was wonderful. My cabin then was an outside twin for single use number 10573, which was originally a crew cabin, way down aft on Deck 3.
I disembarked from STENA BRITANNICA into a deserted terminal and railway station, but was able to leave my small suitcase in the back office of the Thomson Terminal buildings thanks to a kind member of staff. Then we were off to the Halfpenny Pier at Harwich Town to sit in the sunshine and watch the water.
The tug ALERT came past, and then STENA BRITANNICA sailed again for Holland, after a three and a half hours turn round. She had a great deal of ‘greenery’ around the bulbous bow, we noticed. Another friend, staying at the famous Pier Hotel, finally emerged and offered breakfast and coffee so we enjoyed that before walking round the little town to the sandy beach. There were sea shells to collect in the hand and soft sand to collect in the open shoes, which I haven’t done for some time, plus practising ‘she collects sea-shells on the sea-shore’. What a lovely occupation for a Saturday summer morning.
DANA SIRENA sailed past from Harwich port, and as it was not possible to take a harbour tour (wrong day, wrong routes, and wrong blackboard notice) we went to see if we could check in for our cruise, which we could. Bags were collected and, on setting foot on the ship, all passengers were personally greeted and directed to their cabin. As I thought, my outside twin for single use was way down on Deck 3, and it was number 10569, and originally one of the crew cabins and just a few doors away from the one I had in 2005. Several of us wanted outside cabins for sole use so we were all located in this alleyway.
THOMSON SPIRIT was built in 1983 in St. Nazaire, France, and launched as NIEUW AMSTERDAM for Holland America Line at 33,930 gross tons for North American cruising. She had two diesel engines and two propellers. Whilst under construction there were fitting out problems and then her switchboard was damaged by fire in June 1983, which delayed her handover until 10th July 1983, but she then sailed transatlantic to New York. She usually cruised in the Caribbean in winter and from Vancouver to Alaska in the summer. HAL was acquired by Carnival Corporation in 1989, but stayed a separate company.
She sailed for HAL until 2000, when she was sold to American Classic Cruises, with delivery for October. Then she was sent to Sydney, Australia, as an hotel ship for the 2000 Summer Olympics, before returning in October to San Francisco to be handed over to her new owners, and re-named PATRIOT and sailing out of Honolulu. She sailed for one year for the re-launched United States Lines, as a subsidiary of American Classic Cruises.
It was hoped that the re-launched United States Lines would be successful but after the September 2001 terrorist events in the USA, this proved impossible. It would seem that The Jones Act and enormous debts to the US government (hoping that Project America would succeed) could not be overcome so the company was declared bankrupt and PATRIOT was laid up in Honolulu. In January 2002 she returned to Holland America Line ownership and reverted to the name NIEUW AMSTERDAM.
In May 2002 the ship was chartered to Louis Cruise Lines, of Cyprus, renamed SPIRIT and sailed to Perama in Greece for a refit. In May 2003 she was sub-chartered to Thomson Cruises who renamed her THOMSON SPIRIT and started doing cruises out of Palma de Mallorca in the western Mediterranean. She then began doing summer cruises in the Med. and Red Sea cruises in the northern hemisphere winter, which is how I came to sail on her in November 2005. This year 2012 she is sailing from Harwich or Newcastle in the UK, to the Continent or the Baltic. We are sailing from Harwich to Zeebrugge and then Amsterdam.
During Lifeboat Drill we noticed that all the life jackets worn by the staff carried a label with the Louis Cruise Lines name, and it is interesting to reflect that we are on a ship owned by Carnival Corporation, in the separate Holland America group, chartered by Louis Lines, and sub-chartered by Thomson. She’s still a noisy-engined ship that vibrates in a way that she shouldn’t!
After meeting in Horizons up on the Eagle Deck before dinner, we went as a group of eleven down to the Compass Rose Restaurant on Deck 4. The Maitre d’ didn’t turn a hair as we said we would like to sit together if possible please! He put us at two adjacent tables, so we enjoyed an excellent meal with a good choice of dishes.
Ships seen: Stena Britannica, Dana Sirena, Alert, Thomson Spirit
Sunday 12th August 2012
The ship’s engines woke me as we arrived and berthed early in Zeebrugge, Belgium, but I managed to get back to sleep; now I know what to expect in the way of noise and vibration, I can accept it and know it will never change, so hooray for earplugs.
After an early lunch, several of us took the free shuttle bus to the harbour port entrance and then walked along the coastal road pathway and into a small dock where we could join the little ZEPHIRA for a 75 minute harbour tour. There was a small bar on board and refreshments available, so these were very welcome on such a hot day.
While we were waiting to leave the dock side I told my friends about meeting my cabin stewardess this morning, and asking ‘Please is it possible to have a face flannel/face cloth in my cabin?” She replied, in her Eastern European accented English, “We don’t have flannels on this deck, but I will try and get one for you.”
Those of us down on Deck 3 agreed about the engine noises of THOMSON SPIRIT so close to our cabins, and that the cabin air quality was poor, but the bed linen was good and the bathroom spotlessly clean. As usual, it is the solo travellers who have to pay more for a cabin.
The harbour tour was interesting with good views of our cruise ship, the ferries BORE SONG, PRIDE OF YORK with her previous name NORSEA clearly visible on the hull, and also NORQUEEN.
After the harbour tour we returned to the ship by foot and coach, still under a clear blue sky. I went back to my cabin, and there was a lovely thick white face cloth for my use. Success! I’m still mulling over the idea that because my cabin is down on 3 Deck, I am not of a grade which qualifies for a face flannel in my bathroom.
This evening our group met for pre-dinner drinks and chat in the lovely Voyagers’ Bar, dressed for formal night. I remember sitting in one chair with a glass of wine in my hand, and my hand and wine were both trembling with the vibration of the ship – funny, but not funny really, and the Bar staff were all used to it. Formal night dinner was delicious again.
Ships seen: Zephira, Bore Song, Pride of York, Norqueen, Coral Obelia, Yasmine, Excelerate, and several Cobelfret ships
Monday 13th August 2012
The day started with a noisy awakening by the engines as we arrived in Amsterdam, turned outside the Rail Station complex and went astern into the cut towards the Cruise terminal. It was a long way, but allowed COSTA DELIZIOSA to turn round out in the main waterway and then berth ahead of us. Goodness, that brings back memories of my memorable trip on her into dry dock in Marseilles in December 2011!
After breakfast and a trek through the thousands of people in the Cruise Terminal either disembarking or embarking the Costa ship, we could walk along to the railway station and take the first ferry of the day across the water to the other side. We could see the Eye, the new Film Museum with its graceful styling, and in the water nearby we could see a coloured globe of the world that in fact was made of plastic bottles. There was time for coffee at a pleasant water side café, before taking another ferry back to the other side. From there we could take a third ferry to another landing stage to get closer views of our ship, which looked rather dwarfed beside the Costa one.
Back on the ship we had time for lunch and photo opportunities, before meeting to be taken up to the Bridge for a visit. That is always such a treat, because every Bridge is different and it is such a privilege these days to be given the opportunity. We are lucky that Ocean Liner Society groups are often invited to the Bridge, but this was simply a small group of friends, and we were very grateful to the Thomson representative on board who asked the Captain of THOMSON SPIRIT if a visit might be possible, to which he agreed.
After this excitement we left the port of Amsterdam and started travelling along the North Sea Canal back towards the open sea and our return back to Harwich. I was very intrigued to see several rigs or platforms in the docks on our route, and these were huge structures obviously in for repair or maintenance work.
THOMSON SPIRIT has a speciality restaurant on board, with an extra cover charge, and this evening we had been booked in to SIROCCO’s for a meal. The menu choice was excellent but it seemed that the chef could not cope with his menu and all the guests; we were not the only people in there, but the meal took nearly three hours to be served and we felt we could not be bothered even to wait for a dessert. It was such a shame but the Maitre d’ apologised on behalf of the Chef and Restaurant and in fact did not charge us.
Ships seen: Costa Deliziosa, Seajacks Zaratan,3 Amsterdam ferries
Tuesday 14th August 2012
This morning we arrived back in Harwich, Essex, and had to disembark after breakfast. The noisy engines had made their presence felt since the early hours, but I suppose we were all getting used to the vibrations, but moving around the ship was often disconcerting. We had all enjoyed the 3 nights on board THOMSON SPIRIT, and the staff had provided a great product for their predominantly British passengers.
I arrived home and realised that the appropriate song for the trip and the ship might well be the old rock ‘n’ roll hit “Shakin’ All Over”.