"We are 'in' - this is our firm commitment to the industry," said David Selby, general manager of Thomson Cruises, referring to the British tour operator's charter of the Thomson Spirit (ex-Patriot, ex­ Nieuw Amsterdam) from Louis Cruise Lines (LCL), which acquired the ship from Carnival Corporation.

"We are the leading brand in tour operations in the U.K.," Selby explained. "At one point we were chartering four ships. This year we have two, the Emerald and the Topaz." Next year, the Thomson Spirit will replace the Topaz, increasing Thomson's cruise capacity by 12 percent.

Selby said that Thomson Holidays carried nearly four million passengers on tours (and cruises) in 2001 and has customers across the whole range of demographics in the U.K. While the company also owns the 800-member Lunn Poly travel agencies, Selby said that with the new ship he hopes to be in other travel agencies in the U.K. as well. "All the agents should look at us now," he added.

"Just because we contract out does not mean we do not do cruises well. We do cruises very well. Some cruise lines contract out too," said Selby.

Selby said that Thomson will not increase the passenger capacity of the Spirit, which will remain at 1,254. The focus will be on dining, entertainment and open deck space, according to Selby, who said that the ship will feature open dining in the main 700-seat dining room, a 24-hour casual dining venue, and a 45-seat a la carte restaurant. Entertainment will include contemporary shows and musicals.

Commented George Michaelides, general manager of marketing at LCL: "The ship is on her way to Piraeus where she will arrive on May 22. We will then take a closer look and decide jointly with Thomson what work needs to be done. We will carry out some upgrades before the ship starts sailing."

Starting in May 2003, the Thomson Spirit will sail from Palma de Mallorca, while the Emerald will continue to sail from Corfu. A winter program has not been announced yet.

With a "smiley face" on the funnel, Selby explained that the logo is from the German-based travel company TUI of which Thomson is a part. "We want to put smiles on people's faces when they vacation with us," he said.