(5 p.m. BST) -- Thomson Cruises has revealed a number of new-to-the-line features set to debut on its latest ship TUI Discovery 2 -- including new entertainment and dining options, a virtual reality room and a new mobile app.
The details emerged during an exclusive tour to the shipyard in Cadiz, where the ship is being transformed from Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas to Thomson's latest ship -- a sister to TUI Discovery.
The 1,830-passenger ship will leave dry dock after a six week refurbishment on Tuesday, May 9, before operating a "shakedown" sailing for Thomson employees. The christening ceremony will take place May 12, with two of Thomson Cruises' crew members becoming godmothers to the ship, as is tradition with the line.
Talking exclusively to Cruise Critic, Thomson Cruises' managing director, Richard Sofer said: "We really wanted to tone down a lot of the ship's former decor and create a feel and design that would appeal to our British audience.
"In the Glasshouse [restaurant] we've pared back a lot of the Greek-theme to tone it down and we've stripped out all of the slot machines that filled what is now the Live Room & Casino."
On the ship's new entertainment offering, Sofer said: "We've got a good mix of new entertainment, including new shows that will take place in the Venue to production shows in the Broadway Show Lounge.
"Where we've looked to invest with the onboard entertainment is with the high quality of new shows and productions, and in the variety and choices that we offer passengers."
The line has replaced the Breakout & Escape room on sister ship TUI Discovery with a Virtual Reality and Green Screen Experience room.
"Whereas we've got the Puzzle Room on Discovery, we wanted to try something new on Discovery 2," Sofer said. "The new Green Screen Experience Room and Virtual Reality Experience Room, for example, are interactive and family fun. But the space can easily be changed if we want to evolve and update it in the future."
Other new-to-the-line features include:
- Self-service beer and wine taps in Islands buffet restaurant, allowing passengers to pour their own drinks.
- Handy bedside USB connection points in all cabins, plus an additional three Oceanview cabins -- taking the total to six.
- Brand-new shows, including "Chaplin," "Steel City," and "Legends Live."
- Surf & Turf and Kora La feature a host of new dishes, including a rack of lamb and a vegetable filo wellington at Surf & Turf; and a duck and watermelon salad and pork belly dish at Kora La.
- Mineral water dispensers have been added to each deck near cabins.
- The configuration of Venue -- where passengers can watch comedy performances, game shows and live vocalists -- has been revised to create a more open-plan space that can accommodate up to 570 passengers, compared to Discovery's 400-passenger capacity.
- On Deck 10 there's a new circular outdoor bar, featuring a large overhanging canopy, that is set to better serve thirsty passengers midship.
- Victoria's Secret has been introduced to the ship's boutique shopping area.
- Roulette table in the casino.
- Four penguin sculptures in different colours dotted around the ship.
Brand New Technology
A new app called Navigate will be available to all passengers from the ship's first sailing in May.
The app will enable cruisers to book restaurants, spa treatments and excursions, as well check their itinerary, browse through photography and restaurant menus, and geo-locate their cabin and navigate the ship via their mobile device.
Sofer said: "The point of the app is to add to your experience onboard the ship and complement what you're already doing."
He revealed the app was tested on TUI Discovery in February, adding: "I fully expect it to be a success and we will definitely look to extend it onto any new ships. We have some technical challenges with regards to installing on the older ships, but if we can overcome them, then that will definitely be in the plan [to roll it out fleetwide]."
The Navigate app works in tandem with 68 new digital signage screens -- 36 of which are interactive -- and 10 new Digital Kiosks that allow passengers to make bookings or navigate the ship.
The infrastructure required to support the app and new technology required the installation of 526 new Wi-Fi access points and roughly 26km of cabling, all added during the ship's dry dock.
Crew will also carry handheld devices when taking orders, a new system which aims to provide better and faster service to passengers.
TUI Discovery 2 will operate its first passenger sailing on May 14, offering three different return Western Mediterranean itineraries from its Malaga homeport, including Continental Coasts, Spanish Sunsets and Iberian Treasures.
--By Kerry Spencer, Editor, U.K.