I can honestly say that I did not know what to expect when I set foot on board Marella Discovery for the day in Southampton. I’d heard mixed feedback about Marella Cruises, with many people likening the line to a lower end P&O Cruises. I can assure you it’s not. When I visited the ship, there were many similarities between the two cruise lines, but I would not say one was inferior to the other. In fact, I would set them on the same par in terms of standard and quality of the ships and service.
About Marella Cruises
Marella Cruises, formerly Thomson Cruises, is a British cruise line operated by TUI UK. The company should not be confused with the German operated TUI Cruises, which is a sister brand (think Mein Schiff). Marella Cruises is the third largest cruise line in the UK with an existing fleet of six ships, which is set to grow when Marella Explorer 2 launches in 2019.
The fleet has a varied itinerary, which takes in stops in Norway, Asia, North America, the Caribbean and the Middle East. The line also operates a series of themed cruises, such as their Electric Sunsets series with Back to the 80s and Back to the 90s themes.
The company is well known for its excellent onboard entertainment and British style of cruising, which get outstanding reviews from passengers. It also offers very good cruise packages – all tips and gratuities are inclusive of your fare. On Discovery, Discovery 2 and Explorer, selected drinks are included in the price of your cruise. Next year this will extend to Explorer 2, Dream and Celebration too. A premium drinks package can also be purchased at a very reasonable rate.
Marella Discovery was originally launched in the mid 90s as Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas. She is one of the largest ships in the Marella Cruises fleet, carrying 1830 passengers and weighing around 69,000 GRT. Despite her age, the ship has had plenty of money spent on her during refurbishments, which means her décor and façade haven’t dated too much.
At the heart of the ship stands the magnificent five-storey atrium which has large windows, glass lifts and lots of light. There are a number of bars and onboard facilities situated around the atrium and the space is well-used in the evenings for cabaret performances and cocktail parties. I really liked the design of this area, which reminded me of similar atriums on Independence of the Seas and Oceana. It wasn’t too glitzy or American, but it did have a lovely feel about it.
There are several options when it comes to choosing a cabin on Marella Discovery. All rooms come equipped with a TV, tea and coffee-making facilities, a safe, hairdryer and hanging space. All of the cabins we looked at were spacious, clean and very comfortable. I wouldn’t have an issue staying in one, and even the inside grades had ample room.
If you are a fan of inside cabins, you can opt for 2, 3 or 4 berths which vary in style, price and space depending on which deck you are on. The inside plus will give you the most room to move around.
Standard balcony cabins sleep up to two people in a twin or queen bed arrangement. Deluxe balcony cabins can sleep up to 4 (if a sofa-bed is used). Passengers also have the option to book outside and single occupancy cabins.
If you want to splurge on a suite you have the choice of family, junior, grand, executive and royal suites. We had a look around two types of suite, both of which flowed really well. As well as a separate bedroom, there was a lovely lounge area and a large balcony, spanning the length of the cabin. Suite passengers get a number of additional perks such as express check-in, free pressing and the occasional free continental breakfast in bed.
A full list of accommodation options can be found here.
The ship’s main restaurant – 47° – is visually very lovely. Spanning two decks, the lower tier serves standard cruise ship fare, whilst the upper tier dishes out Italian cuisine with no booking required. The décor is a trendy blue, edged with dark wood on the lower tier, whilst the upper level’s beige seating is said to be inspired by the sunset. There are large floor to ceiling windows along each side, letting lots of light into the room. At the centre of the lower tier stands a piano and a glass chandelier. We didn’t eat in the main restaurant but I can imagine it’s got a great atmosphere in the evening.
This is Marella Discovery’s buffet restaurant on deck 9. Like most cruise ships, food is split into sections making it easy to navigate your way between courses. I opted for some chilli, rice and chicken curry from the hot counter. If you wanted something less heavy, salad options were plentiful. The room was very busy as it was a turnaround day so lots of passengers were having lunch. I had no issue with my lunch, which was pleasant and tasted very much like P&O Cruises buffet food. I would say that the buffet menus on the two cruise lines are very similar, possibly because their target audience (the British market) is the same.
We walked past this outdoor snack bar which looked really fun, as seating is housed in colourful beach huts. Passengers can help themselves to a number of grab and go food options such as sandwiches, chicken wings and bacon butties. I could see myself using the Snack Shack a lot if I was staying on board.
The Glass House
Next to the indoor pool you’ll find counters serving deli-style light bites during the day. When we visited, the area was very quiet as most people were eating in the main buffet. In the evening passengers can try tapas or steak on a stone for an additional supplement.
The main cover-charge restaurants are housed together on deck 11. A bar links the two together, which is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink. To one side stands the trendy Surf and Turf Steakhouse. Passengers can sample an extensive selection of starters such as beef carpaccio, crab bisque and scallops. They can follow this with one of the restaurant’s signature steaks like a Tomahawk sharer or Angus fillet. The décor was dark but stylish and the restaurant felt very different to Kora La.
Kora La lies opposite Surf and Turf. It serves pan-Asian food from south and east Asia. Tucked into one corner of the restaurant is a sushi bar, which has a variety of Japanese delights like sashimi and nigiri. Both restaurants charge a fee. I loved the panoramic views in Kora La, as windows run along the length of the restaurant. It was also very bright compared to the more sombre interior of the steakhouse.
Broadway Show Lounge is Marella Discovery’s main entertainment space, with a seating capacity of 800. The ship operates 11 West-End style shows, which are shown at 8.15pm and 10.15pm each evening. As I mentioned earlier, Marella Cruises are known for the quality of their shows and their onboard entertainment programme. Obviously I didn’t experience this first-hand but I did get to meet a member of the entertainment team and I was impressed by his enthusiasm and passion for the ship.
In warm weather, passengers can watch a film out on deck on the large outdoor cinema screen located on deck 9. Blankets are available when it gets chilly outside.
Bars and lounges
As previously stated, every passenger gets a selection of drinks included in their cruise fare on Marella Discovery. I am a big advocate of the all-inclusive package, providing it’s reasonable (and Marella’s are). Passengers wanting to upgrade to the premium package will have a wider selection of drinks on a daily basis, such as bottled water, branded fizzy drinks and champagne cocktails. However, the cost of drinks is very reasonable anyway, so it might be worth waiting until you are on the ship to see whether you want to upgrade. Here are a few of the main bars/lounges you’ll find on the ship:
This classic lounge plays host to a number of activities during the day including dance classes and Splash Live! In the evening it comes alive with high-tech entertainment shows.
The Coffee Port
Situated in the atrium, this coffee shop offers premium hot beverages and sweet treats which aren’t part of the all-inclusive package. A small library can be found on one side of The Coffee Port.
This colourful bar houses the ship’s largest selection of on-tap beers. The bright seating is very eye-catching, although the bar is a bit of a thoroughfare. A small casino can be found in one section of the Live Room. A combination of live music and DJ classics keeps the bar lively well into the night.
This is a good spot to watch the evening entertainment in the atrium, or, simply people-watch during the day.
For the best views head to Bar Eleven on deck 11. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail or dance the night away into the early hours of the morning.
It’s very easy to keep fit on Marella Discovery. As well as an outdoor jogging track and well-equipped gym, there is a climbing wall and mini golf course for those feeling adventurous. Anyone familiar with Royal Caribbean will know these are features on most of their ships. I really liked the mini golf course and I think it’s something I would try out as a passenger.
I liked the design of Broad Street Shops. It doesn’t overlook the atrium but it is set off to one side. It has the feel of a small upmarket shopping mall (on one level) and is bright and tasteful in terms of its design. You’ll find your standard cruise ship shops selling perfume, souvenirs and jewellery.
Children are well looked after on Marella Discovery. There is a baby centre, which has a dedicated feeding and entertaining space for little ones. There’s also babytainment classes for children under the age of 3. These are free activities like baby ballet and nursery rhyme sing-alongs.
3-11 years olds can visit Kids’ Club and teens can hangout at the Hideout. In addition, there are various shows and challenges aimed at children, such as the Splash Live! interactive show, Gamerzone and the Breakout Challenge puzzle escape game.
There are two main swimming pools – the family-friendly main pool and an undercover indoor pool with whirlpools. The latter is housed under a retractable roof by The Glass House. The area has a Romanesque feel to it, as large white columns surround the pool. This pool is open to adults only in the afternoon. The main pool has a splash area for children, two whirlpools and plenty of sunbeds.
Oceans Spa can be accessed from The Glass House and it features treatment rooms and a beauty salon. Passengers can access a special relaxation sunbathing area through the back of the gym/spa.
Marella Cruises’ Navigate App is free to use when you are on the ship. All you need to do is switch your Wi-Fi on without having to pay to log-on to the internet. The app allows you to book excursions, meals etc., check your bill and opening times. I think this is a great idea and I can see it being very useful.
What I thought of Marella Discovery
For me, first impressions of Marella Discovery and Marella Cruises were very good and I really liked the ship. As a regular P&O Cruises passenger, I would have no hesitation going on a Marella cruise, if the right itinerary came up. I felt very at ease with the British style of cruising, as this is what I am used to. The clientele was very similar to P&O Cruises’ and many of the ship’s officers were British. Everything is priced in pound sterling, so there’s no need to work out onboard exchange rates. There are no enforced formal dress codes, although many people still dress up for the Captain’s cocktail party.
I’ve come across a lot of people who speak negatively about Marella Cruises (without having cruised with them) and I’m not really sure why. Some people see the cruise line as a poor man’s P&O Cruises, but this really is not the case! I would say both brands have a similar target audience and a similar product.
If you love the British way of cruising and good value cruise packages, then Marella Cruises might just be the cruise line for you! You can find out more about them via the official website. If you want to read more about Marella Cruises, don’t miss these posts on my blog.
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