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Marella Cruises vs. P&O Cruises

Composite photo of Marella Cruises ship and P&O Cruises ship
Marella Cruises vs. P&O Cruises

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Two very British lines (one German owned, one American owned), with two very different onboard experiences. Marella, owned by giant German tour operator, TUI, was once called Thomson and offers a similar experience to a traditional all-inclusive holiday -- attracting the same type of people.

P&O Cruises, however, offers arguably a more upmarket experience, with younger ships and a "posher" crowd. However, there are many similarities -- everyone onboard will be British, expect typical British dishes in the dining rooms, kettles in cabins and both have pubs and bars offering a wide selection of beers and gins.

Both are family-friendly brands, depending on ships -- Marella's newest Marella Explorer 2 is adults only, while three of P&O Cruises -- Oceana, Arcadia, Aurora -- do not allow kids. Both too include gratuities in the fare, though Marella goes one step further and includes booze -- a big selling point for Brits.

We've put them together to help you decide which one would suit you.

Updated January 8, 2020

Who are you going to meet?

Marella Cruises

  • Marella attracts exclusively Brits and predominantly families in school holidays.

  • During term time, expect couples aged 55-75.

  • The line is popular with first-timers, as many passengers will have been on a land-based holiday with parent company TUI and been persuaded to try a cruise.

Marella Cruises Forums

P&O Cruises

  • P&O Cruises has three adults only ships (Aurora, Arcadia and Oriana), which attract a 55+ crowd.

  • The four family ships -- Britannia, Ventura, Azura and Oceana -- are family ships drawing similar clientele in the off season, and families with kids during school holidays.

  • A new ship, Iona, launches in 2020 and will be the biggest ship ever built for the U.K. market. Iona will be family-friendly.

  • Catering exclusively to the British market, passengers are almost entirely from the U.K.

P&O Cruises Forums

Where are they based, and where do they go?

Dubrovnik Cityscape on Adriatic Coast, Croatia (Photo: Dreamer4787/Shutterstock)

Marella Cruises

  • The ships are primarily based in the Mediterranean and Adriatic in summer and in winter, the Caribbean, although Marella Explorer sails in summer from Newcastle to Norway and the Baltic Sea.

  • Marella Discovery operates a season in the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and southeast Asia.

  • Newcastle aside, Marella’s cruises are all fly-cruise, with departures from 28 U.K. airports, a big selling point for anybody not based in the south east.

Calvi (Photo: Bouvier Ben/Shutterstock.com)

P&O Cruises

  • Based in Southampton, ships sail year round to destinations around the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Canary Islands and beyond.

  • There is also a full programme of fly-cruises from Valletta in summer and Dubai in winter.

  • In winter months, Britannia and Azura are based in the Caribbean, operating fly-cruises from Barbados and St Lucia.

  • Arcadia operates a long world voyage in winter, while Ventura offers no-fly cruises from Southampton to the Caribbean.

  • Iona’s maiden season will include the Norwegian fjords, Spain and Portugal.

What's the accommodation like?

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

Marella Cruises

  • Marella's fleet is really in two halves -- the older, smaller ships -- Dream and Celebration -- and the four bigger and (relatively) newer ships -- Marella Discovery 1 and 2 and Marella Explorer 1 and 2.

  • 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 for families or groups of friends.

  • Marella offers a few single cabins and also embarks on tactical promotions from time to time, with zero or reduced single supplements.

  • Passengers wanting to reserve a specific cabin have to pay a £42 reservation fee.

Britannia Accessible Cabin (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • A wide variety of cabins on the more modern ships, starting at interiors and going up to suites.

  • A choice of interconnecting and family cabins onboard the family ships.

  • Britannia offers the line's first solo cabins with balconies. Azura and Ventura both have 18 dedicated single cabins.

  • At an average of 184 square feet, cabin sizes are on par with most other mainstream cruise lines.

  • All cabins feature tea and coffee making facilities.

What are the dining options?

Marella Celebration Dining (Photo: Marella)

Marella Cruises

  • Varies by ship: Some offer open seating in a main dining room, others fixed-time dining only, but there is always 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.

Afternoon Tea on Britannia in the The Epicurean Restaurant (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White oversees the Gala Dinner in the main dining rooms.

  • P&O Cruises have a roster of "food heroes" and passengers have the opportunity to cook with Marco Pierre White and Eric "Cake Boy" Lanlard in the first Cookery Clubs at sea on Britannia and Iona.

  • Passengers cruising on Britannia, Azura, Ventura, Arcadia and Oceana can choose Club Dining (traditional set seating) or Freedom Dining (flexible dining times and seating). On Iona, all restaurants are open seating dining.

  • Wine expert ‘Jolly’ Olly Smith masterminds the Glass House on Aurora, Azura, Britannia, Ventura and Iona and accompanies selected cruises.

  • New ‘Food Heroes’ with a presence on Iona include renowned Spanish chef José Pizarro and Norwegian chefs Marie Forsberg and Kjartan Skjelde.

What's each line's idea of fun?

Champneys Spa on Marella Explorer 2 (Photo: Marella Cruises)

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.

  • Marella Explorer and Marella Explorer 2 each has an extensive spa run by Champneys, the first seagoing venture for the company.

  • Lido Deck fun includes impromptu sessions of "Mr & Mrs" and "Family Feud".

  • Indoor fun includes bingo and quizzes.

Azura Oasis Pool (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • P&O Cruises' ships offers traditional sports, such as short-tennis, mini-golf, basketball and cricket, often in a dedicated sports area (on the family ships); on the adults-only ships you'll find shuffleboard and quoits.

  • All ships have pools; on the family-friendly ones, expect water games like volleyball and deck fun including dancing with the exuberant entertainment team.

  • Cookery classes in the cookery school on Britannia are extremely popular.

  • P&O prides itself on its sailaway deck parties, with dancing and flag-waving.

What's the nighttime entertainment like?

Marella Celebration Theater (Photo: Marella)

Marella Cruises

  • On the newer ships a team of 11 big names -- including choreographer and dancer Tara Wilkinson, who has worked on hit shows Motown and The Full Monty, and Martyn Ford, a musical arranger and conductor who has worked alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice -- has helped created 11 new West End-style shows,

  • Nightly entertainment, including live music, quizzes and karaoke, is centred on pubs and lounges.

  • No strict formal nights, just the occasional ‘dress to impress’ evening, which can be interpreted as you wish.

Evolution 2017 Performance (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • Features the in-house entertainment team Headliners, who perform a series of revues and shows.

  • Unique to Britannia is the Limelight Club where former stars of stage and screen give intimate performances in a supper club-type setting.

  • "Strictly Come Dancing" dancers and judges appear across the fleet on selected sailings.

  • Expect the likes of regular karaoke, quizzes and discos across an array of bars, including the signature Crow's Nest and Glass House.

  • P&O Cruises has a dress code, so at least one night per seven day cruise will be formal, with black tie encouraged.

How well are families catered for?

Mini Golf on Marella Dream (Photo: Marella Cruises)

Marella Cruises

  • Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2's kids' areas are split into three sections: the Baby Centre; the Kids' Club, for ages three to 11-years old; and The Hideout, a teen room complete with karaoke booth, a dance floor, DJ booth and lots of sofas to hangout. There's also a Gamer Zone next to The Hideout, featuring a brand-new children’s show, 'Splash Live!'.

  • Marella has rolled out kids’ characters -- the M Crew -- across the fleet, complete with a movie and puppets.

  • Marella Explorer's kids' club is too small for the ship, with just 30 places.

  • Marella Dream also provides a Showtime Stage School for 9- to 16-year-olds with lessons in acting, dancing and singing (90-minute lessons cost £35 per child, though end with a show in front of an audience).

  • 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.

  • Family-friendly shore excursions are offered from all ships except the adults-only Marella Explorer 2.

The Reef on Britannia (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • On the family-friendly ships, the range and quality of the children's facilities are superb, with excellent staff, outdoor space and a top-notch kids program.

  • All the family ships have kids pools and splash areas for toddlers.

  • Family ships have dedicated areas for family dining.

  • Also on the family ships, family-friendly movies are shown during the day.

  • Family ships provide dedicated areas for family-friendly dining.

  • Also on the family ships, child-friendly movies are shown throughout the day.

How does pricing compare?

Marella Cruises

  • All gratuities are included in the price of the cruise.

  • All non-premium alcohol is also included in the cruise fare.

P&O Cruises

  • Gratuities are included in the cruise fare.

  • Bar prices are the same as you'd pay on land or, in some cases, cheaper.

What’s the bottom line?

  • Choose P&O Cruises if you’re looking for a more traditional cruise experience, with dressing for dinner.

  • P&O Cruises also wins out on dining options on its two newest ships, Britannia and Iona, both of which offer a great deal of choice.

  • Both lines have a mixture of older and newer ships in their fleets with varying facilities on board, although P&O’s fleet is overall younger.

  • Marella’s all-inclusive ships tend to have a happy, relaxed vibe; being British, its passengers enjoy not having to worry about tipping or drinks prices.

  • Marella is a great option thanks to its seamless service, with flights from 28 U.K. airports that connect to its cruises, and an extensive cruise-and-stay programme.

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