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Thompson Dream

British line Thomson Cruises is shaking things up in winter 2010-2011 with a series of new 14-night Caribbean itineraries -- including Thomson's first-ever calls in Havana, Cuba. The cruises will be operated by the new 1,506-passenger, 54,000-tonne Thomson Dream, which will join the fleet in April 2010.

Havana is an exciting choice because not many cruise lines visit the Cuban city, due to U.S. restrictions on travel there. Even U.K.-based Fred. Olsen has only four cruises calling in Havana in 2010; German line Hapag-Lloyd offers just a couple of calls in Cuba, as well. However, when Thomson Dream sails its new two-week cruises from December 2010 to March 2011, it will not only offer a full season of Cuban visits but also will feature two or three days in Havana on each itinerary.

There are three different types of itineraries from which to choose -- Caribbean Experience, Cuban Adventure and Classic Caribbean. What's unusual is that the ship will actually sail a repeating, 21-night route that will be divided into 14-night segments. That means passengers will debark, and new passengers will board halfway through your cruise. Also, because each 14-night segment is a one-way sailing, Thomson will not offer a fly-cruise option. (There is no option to sail three weeks roundtrip from any of the departure points, as many ports of call are repeated from segment to segment.)

About Thomson Cruises:

As the cruise division of Britain's largest travel agency and tour operator, Thomson Cruises occupies a unique place in the British cruise market. Founded in 1965, Thomson soon established a dominant position in the vast British inclusive-tour market, with its own travel agencies, airlines and more. In the company's first foray into the cruise market in 1973, Thomson chartered two former ocean liners from Greek owners but by 1976 had failed to capture an audience, like so many other budget cruise lines of the 1970's era. But in 1995, it restarted cruise operations by chartering a small ship, The Sapphire, from Cypris-based Louis Cruise Lines. Thomson Cruises soon chartered a variety of other ships, including Island Breeze from the now-defunct Premier Cruises, The Topaz from former Premier executive Paris Katsoufis, and another Louis ship, The Emerald, which remains in the fleet today.

Thomson aimed to have an effect on the British market much like Carnival did in the U.S. -- that is, to move cruising from a niche market to the very mainstream of British tourism. Thomson had already made the package holiday hugely popular in the U.K., and wanted to do the same for cruising. Despite its aging ships, Thomson had several elements that lured an ever-increasing number of Britons to cruise for the first time -- name recognition, a large presence of its travel agencies across Britain and attractive fares.

In 2008, Royal Caribbean sold its stake in another U.K. line, Island Cruises, to Thomson Cruises' parent company, TUI Travel. This meant that Island Star left the fleet in March 2009 to join Royal Caribbean's Spanish brand, Pullmantur, while Island Escape joined the Thomson fleet in spring 2009 to continue offering informal cruises to the U.K. market.

From its beginnings as a budget cruise operator in the 1990's, Thomson has progressively improved its product and become more mainstream in the cruise industry by improving its ships, amenities and service while also branching out to a wider range of itineraries.


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