If you’re looking for a quintessentially British cruise experience, look no further than these two UK cruise lines.

Though one is Norwegian-owned (Fred. Olsen), and the other is ultimately German-owned (Marella, formerly Thomson), both wear their British credentials with pride, with British beers on tap in the onboard pubs, British entertainment on offer in the theatres, British food served in the restaurants and an almost entirely British passenger base.

However, there are a number of areas where these lines differ, not least in terms of demographics. While Fred. attracts a predominantly older (the average age is 67) crowd of couples, solos and groups, Marella is firmly aimed at the family sector and come school holidays the Marella ships (bar one, Marella Explorer 2), will be full of families.

Marella’s bigger ships are also a little younger (at least the newer ships) and have more features onboard such as climbing walls, an outdoor movie screen and multiple dining venues.

So if you are struggling to decide between the two, read our comparison of Fred. Olsen vs Marella Cruises and hopefully we can help you make the right choice!

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Offers a traditional British cruise experience for 55+ adults

Marella Cruises

Offers a British cruise experience somewhere between upmarket and traditional, attracting families, first timers and couples in equal measure

Who are you going to meet?

Friends Enjoying Drinks in the Neptune Lounge (Photo: Fred Olsen)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • Elderly Brits, with an average age of 67

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line Forums

Marella Cruises

Marella Spirit (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Mainly families during school holidays
  • Couples, aged 55+ the rest of the year

Marella Cruises Forums

Where are they based, and where do they go?

Iquitos (Photo:Jess Kraft/Shutterstock)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • The four-ship Fred. Olsen fleet is based out of five regional UK departure ports: Braemar in Southampton, Balmoral in Newcastle and Edinburgh (Rosyth), Black Watch in Liverpool, and Boudicca in Dover

  • Itineraries are many and varied, with ships travelling to 219 destinations in 75 countries, covering 79 areas of scenic cruising, including up rivers (Amazon, Guadalquivir), to the Baltic, Canary Islands and the Caribbean, including Cuba, and even the occasional "Mystery Cruise".

Marella Cruises

Great Stirrup Cay (Photo:Roman Stetsyk/Shutterstock)

  • The ships are primarily Mediterannean, Adriatic and Caribbean-based (in the winter months); though Explorer will be in Newcastle this summer (2019).

What's the accommodation like?

Superior Suite (Grade SS) on Board Braemar (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • Ships average 40 years old, thus cabins tend to vary slightly in measurement and layout, as there was no pre-fabricated ship construction when they were originally constructed.
  • Rooms have a "classic" feel, with dark woods and thick carpets.
  • Limited higher-grade and balcony cabins, but the line has added an extra 27 Terrace Balcony Suites on Boudicca and Black Watch

Marella Cruises

Marella Discovery's Deluxe Balcony (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Marella's fleet is really in two halves -- the older, smaller ships -- Dream and Celebration -- and the bigger (relatively) newer ships -- Marella Discovery 1 and 2 and Marella Explorer 1 and 2 (which launches in May 2019).
  • The line has done a great job transforming the newer ships, and their addition has seen a large number of balcony cabins added to the fleet.
  • The larger ships have also meant a wider variety of cabins, including suites and interconnecting rooms

What are the dining options?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Fred Olsen's Boudicca, Tintagel Restaurant (Photo: Fred Olsen)

  • Fixed-time dining in the evenings, but also the flexible option to dine in the Palms Cafe.

  • On some ships, an outdoor grill area is converted into an alfresco "pop-up" alternative restaurant.

  • The new indoor The Grill has also been added on Balmoral, the Black Watch Room on Black Watch, and the new Indian Ocean Restaurant on Boudicca.

Marella Cruises

Hot Stone Dining on Marella Discovery 2 (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Varies by ship: Some offer open seating in a main dining room, others fixed-time dining only with a casual buffet option.
  • The line has significantly improved its dining quality and options, both for fee and for free, including a pan-Asian restaurant -- Kora La; a surf and turf restaurant, the main dining room and a sushi bar.

What's each line's idea of fun?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Fred Olsen Cruises Main Pool (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • Onboard pastimes include Bridge, shuffleboard and quoits.
  • Onboard enrichment program including such activities as participating in a radio broadcast, gardening, wine appreciation, history classes, wildlife-watching, painting classes and expert lecturers
  • All ships have two pools and spa facilities.
  • The line has also added "Rigid Inflatable Boats" to the fleet, allowing for soft adventure pursuits

Marella Cruises

Marella Explorer’s Main Pool (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Onboard sports options include paddle tennis, five-a-side football and basketball. All ships have outdoor pools and spa facilities, and the newer ships even feature climbing walls and outdoor cinema screens.
  • Lido Deck fun includes impromptu sessions of "Mr & Mrs" and "Family Feud".
  • Indoor fun includes bingo and quizzes.

What's the nighttime entertainment like?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Glitz and Glam on Fred Olsen (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • Theater entertainment includes revue shows from the onboard performers, comedians and magicians.
  • Lightly attended after-hours discos

Marella Cruises

Marella Celebration Theater (Photo: Marella)

  • Theatre entertainment on the newer ships includes outstanding variety and quality of shows; as well as comedians, ventriloquists and magicians.
  • Nightly entertainment, including live music, quizzes and karaoke, is centred on pubs and lounges.

How well are families catered for?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Friends Enjoying the Scenery on Board Cruise (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • No activities or kids venues except during holiday time when the ships offer the Little Skippers children’s club operates during peak school holidays, with a range of activities, from pizza-making in the Galley to treasure hunts around the ships

  • Fred. Olsen specialises in multi-generational family cruising, and it is common to find larger families of various ages onboard

Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises for Families (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Newly-launched M Club includes activities for children up to 11 and for teenagers
  • Daytime kids activities include arts and crafts, superhero theme parties, treasure hunts and behind-the-scenes tours that even pay visits to the bridge.
  • Evening kids fun includes talent shows, mini-discos and pyjama parties.

How does pricing compare?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Black Watch

  • Good value fares reflect the size, quality and age of the ships.
  • Daily tips are £5 per person, per day.
  • Bar prices are the same as or less than you'd pay on land.
  • A drinks package includes a variety of soft and alcoholic beverages for £15 per person, per day.

Marella Cruises

Marella Explorer

  • Prices tend to be lower than those from the bigger US-based cruise lines with airfare included as Marella is part of the giant TUI holiday company which has its own airline.
  • No daily tips are required or expected. Onboard drinks prices are the same as in pubs at home.
  • All ships are all-inclusive for drinks and tips from 2019.

Fred. Olsen vs. Marella Cruises: The Bottom Line

  • If you are of a certain age (55+), mainly British and enjoy classic cruising in "country house" style with imaginative, destination-focused itineraries, then Fred. Olsen is the cruise line for you.
  • If you are a family or a 40-something couple ready to give cruising a try, go for Marella Cruises.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Reviews

Marella Cruise Reviews