Watchdog returns to our TV screens tonight after a four-month break, but some things just don’t change – the first show of the new series has another bash at cruise ship Thomson Dream, which they last had a go at in September.
The build-up to the return of consumer champions Anne Robinson, Matt Allwright and Chris Hollins refers only to “passengers’ horror stories from a luxury cruise ship” – and it’s naive of the BBC to perpetuate the myth that every cruise ship deserves the “luxury” tag. Thomson’s own description of the Dream on their website doesn’t use the word once.
But let’s not quibble. What are the horror stories? Over to the BBC Press Office:
Last series Watchdog featured the Thomson Dream cruise ship after passengers told us about flooded cabins, broken air conditioning and some very nasty sewage smells. All this was on a ship that Thomson claimed was new and luxurious. But which – we revealed – was actually 24 years old, and simply sailing under a new name. After our report, Thomson changed the wording on their ad, and told us they were putting the ship into dry dock for repairs. They said they were confident that future passengers would enjoy a “quality experience in line with their expectations”. But it looks like not all of them have enjoyed a quality experience. The ship is about to sail around the Med, but we’ve heard from passengers who went on earlier cruises in the Caribbean and it seems that whatever repairs were carried out during its six weeks in dry dock, the same old problems came back afterwards.
Sandra Seward and her husband Brian sailed on the Dream at the start of December. Sandra told Watchdog: “The first evening on the boat we got ready for dinner and just as we were going to go out Brian popped back in to the bathroom had flooded. In the morning I put my feet to the ground and realised that there was water squelching through my toes”. The Thomson Dream cruise caused even worse problems for fellow passenger Catherine Shand. She told us: “Within minutes of leaving Southampton we discovered water pouring up from the drain on the floor and also the bath. This was brown dirty water. Well this flooding continued for three days and the final straw was on the third day when I opened the toilet door I was met with this rush of water which was going at such a rate that I had to run and grab the cases from underneath the bed. Eventually they moved us to a new cabin”. Catherine also told us about engine problems: “On one occasion when they tried to start up the engine there was a plume of black smoke and this really caused a lot of distress to passengers as they thought the ship was on fire”.
None of these passengers had seen our previous report about the ship. Lots of other passengers had, but unfortunately, that was AFTER they had booked. Watchdog spoke to Bill Griffiths who paid over £4,000 for a holiday on the Dream with his wife and two boys. Bill told us: “Having seen the Watchdog programme we telephoned Thomson for reassurances and they assured us that all the problems had been fixed”. This was true, if you weren’t worried by things like this: “We had massive problems with the toilets from day one. It was constantly filling up to the brim. Every day we had to call a plumber out. With two teenage boys and my wife all sharing the same cabin it was pretty appalling really. And we were always finding queues of people at reception who were complaining. They had been told, as we had, that things had been fixed and they certainly had not been”.
Kevin and Judy Goggins were among the unhappy cruisers. Which wasn’t surprising, as they had paid over nine thousand pounds for their two week family cruise. Kevin told Watchdog: “On Boxing Day I was in the bathroom of our cabin and I had a shave and I was cleaning my teeth and I looked down and there was something in the sink which I ran my hand through and I realised then that it was lumps of sewage coming out of the bottom of the sink and an absolutely horrendous smell. After a week, Joe and I, my youngest son, we left the ship, to come home and Judy and Dean stayed on in the hope that things would get better”.
Unfortunately they didn’t. There were further engine problems and a fire on board. In all, Watchdog has received complaints from more than 40 other passengers who holidayed on the Dream between December and March. A return trip for them seems doubtful.

Problems with the Dream’s air-conditioning following the November re-fit have already been reported and are explained on Thomson Cruises’ detailed response to Watchdog. Strangely, the statement makes no reference to the complaints about the bathroom complaints:
Thomson Cruises sincerely apologises to those customers whose holidays were disrupted onboard the Thomson Dream in December. The ship has proved to be a very popular addition to the fleet and enjoys exceptionally high customer feedback scores of 92%, but we recognise that on this occasion the quality of these customers’ holiday experience fell short of expectations. These issues resulted from a series of unfortunate events that followed the ship coming out of dry dock. All were rectified swiftly and there have been no significant issues reported since this time.
In November, Thomson Dream went into dry dock in Germany for six weeks to undergo major upgrade and repair work. This programme included an upgrade to the electricity generating plant and system, an overhaul of the sewage and fresh water systems, the installation of new toilets in public areas and general maintenance work.
The problems experienced by customers last summer were fully rectified during this time, but despite our best efforts, the ship’s extended time in dry dock created some new issues. These only became apparent when the ship departed Germany, when it came to light that some individual air handling units were damaged during the exceptional freezing conditions in Hamburg.
We would like to clarify that this issue with the air conditioning system was unrelated to the problems experienced during summer 2010, which were rectified whilst in dry dock. As soon as our team became aware, an engineer was immediately dispatched to the ship and replacement air handling units were ordered straight away from a UK supplier.
Unfortunately, whilst in the Caribbean the ship also experienced technical issues with its new electricity system which were quickly rectified. In addition, a small fire was also detected in the engine area of Thomson Dream in the early hours of 31 December 2010. The fire was swiftly brought under control. The health and safety of our customers is our number one priority and at no point was it compromised by this incident.
Customer satisfaction is of paramount importance, and at this time we contacted a number of customers due to join the ship, who we believed might be impacted by the issues and offered a cancellation with full refund.
Once again, we would like to apologise to these holidaymakers for the disruption they experienced and would like to reassure customers that all issues have now been resolved. Despite these challenges, the winter season’s customer satisfaction scores onboard the ship have been exceptionally high, with 92 per cent rating the cruise overall as either excellent or good for food, quality, entertainment and service, making it one of Thomson’s most popular holiday experiences. We are confident that those due to travel on Thomson Dream will enjoy a quality holiday experience in line with their expectations.

Ms Robinson and her team have already proved themselves to be purveyors of lazy journalism by trotting out the “luxury” label. Unless they push for a response to the actual complaints raised in their own programme, then they really are the weakest link. Goodbye!
Watchdog is on BBC1 at 8.00pm tonight (April 7).