Marella Cruises and P&O Cruises are two very Brit-centric lines, with two very different onboard experiences. Both cruise lines are solid choices for British holidaymakers so we've pitted them against each -- covering everything from drinks packages to dress codes -- to help you decide which one would suit you.
Marella Cruises, owned by German tour operator, TUI, offers a similar experience to a traditional all-inclusive package holiday -- attracting the same type of holidaymaker.
P&O Cruises, however, offers arguably a more upmarket experience, with younger, bigger ships including Iona and sister Arvia , as well as a broader dining and entertainment offering. However, there are many similarities -- everyone onboard will be British, and passengers can 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 -- Iona even has its own onboard gin distillery!
Both are family-friendly brands with adults-only ships in their fleet; for Marella Cruises that's Marella Explorer 2, and for P&O Cruises it's Arcadia and Aurora. Both also include gratuities in the fare, though Marella goes one step further and includes booze -- a big selling point for Brits.
From dining to dress codes, here's a breakdown of how the two lines compare.
Marella Cruises Draws An All-British Crowd Seeking a Package Holiday Experience
Marella Cruises usually 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.
Note that Marella has one adults-only ship, Marella Explorer 2; it's other three ships (four from summer 2023 with Marella Voyager) welcome families: Marella Discovery, Marella Discovery 2 and Marella Explorer.
P&O Cruises Also Attracts an All British Passenger Base
P&O Cruises traditionally has two adults-only ships (Aurora and Arcadia), which attract a 55+ crowd. The five family ships -- Arvia, Iona, Britannia, Ventura and Azura -- are family ships drawing similar clientele in the off-season, and families with kids during school holidays.
Catering exclusively to the British market, passengers are almost entirely from the UK
Marella Cruises Bases Ships in Europe, the Caribbean & U.S.
The ships are primarily based in the Mediterranean and Adriatic in summer and the Caribbean and Canary Islands in winter. Marella's cruises are all typically fly-cruises, with departures from airports around the UK, a big selling point for anybody not based in the southeast.
New ship Marella Voyager (June 2023) will divide its time between Palma and Barbados.
P&O Cruises' Base is Southampton with Sailings Across Europe, the Canary Islands and Caribbean
P&O Cruises base most of its ships in Southampton, with no-fly options to the Baltic Sea, Norwegian fjords, Canary Islands, Spain & France and Mediterranean. P&O Cruises mini-cruises from Southampton include two- and three-night sailings to Holland and France on Arcadia.
The line's Caribbean cruises are available in 2023 on Arvia, Azura, Britannia and Ventura.
Marella Cruises Cabins Are Refurbished, Older Cabins with Fewer Balcony Options
Marella's fleet comprises four, medium-size refurbished ships -- Marella Discovery 1 and 2 and Marella Explorer 1 and 2 -- that the line has done a great job of transforming. The addition of these ships, which have been phased in as older ships have been phased out, has seen a significant 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 £50 reservation fee. All cabins feature tea and coffee-making facilities.
P&O Cruises Cabins Include Brand-New Options, Plenty of Outdoor Space
A wide variety of cabins are on the more modern ships, from interiors to suites; and 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.
Iona and Arvia also offers a new class of cabin for the line, the 274-square-foot Conservatory Mini-suites, nautical-themed rooms with bifold-style doors to offer greater outdoor space.
All cabins feature tea and coffee-making facilities.
Marella Cruises Dining Offers Choice & Inexpensive Speciality Restaurants
Some Marella Cruises' ships offer open seating in the 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 a fee and for free, including a pan-Asian restaurant, Kora La; a surf and turf restaurant; an Italian restaurant, Vista or Gallery 47 (depending on the ship) and a sushi bar.
On Explorer 2, there's also a dedicated pasta and pizza restaurant, Nonna's, and a barbecue restaurant, Beach Cove. Explorer and Explorer 2 also feature the upmarket Dining Club, the priciest restaurant onboard and the only one to offer wine-pairing dinners.
P&O Cruises Dining is Superlative, Drawing on Celebrity Chefs and Wine Experts
Iona and Arvia have the most dining venues of any P&O Cruises ship with 30 options, including seven speciality restaurants. These include the Keel & Cow, a combination steakhouse and gastropub; and The Quays piazza, plus line favourites Sindhu; fine-dining restaurant Epicurean and The Glass House. Arvia debuts the line's first vegetarian/sushi bar -- Green & Co. featuring Mizuhana.
Dining can be pre-booked via the P&O Cruise personaliser. Passengers cruising on Britannia, Azura, Ventura and Arcadia can choose Club Dining (traditional set seating) or Freedom Dining (flexible dining times and seating). On Iona, all restaurants are open-seating dining.
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 (pictured above) in the first Cookery Clubs at sea on Britannia and Iona. With Pierre White also overseeing the Gala Dinner in the main dining rooms.
Wine expert 'Jolly' Olly Smith masterminds the Glass House on Arvia, Aurora, Azura, Britannia, Ventura and Iona and accompanies selected cruises.
New 'Food Heroes' include renowned Spanish chef José Pizarro, Norwegian chef Kjartan Skjelde and Blur bassist-turned-cheesemaker, Alex James. Pizarro also has a hand in Arvia's The Olive Grove; Pierre White oversees the main dining rooms, Zenith and Meridian; while new to P&O Cruises, Shivi Ramatour, makes her debut in The Beach House, offering Caribbean and South American flavours.
Popular speciality venues including Sindhu, The Glass House and Epicurean feature on all ships.
Marella Cruises' Newer Ships Offer More Action Packed Entertainment, Older Ships Are More Limited
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 Discovery and Marella Discovery 2 have a climbing wall, mini golf course and the Gamer Zone for video game enthusiasts.
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.
P&O Cruises' Offers Fabulous Options for All Ages on Newer Ships Britannia, Iona and Arvia, Older Ships Lean to Traditional Fun
P&O Cruises' ships offer 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.
Iona and Arvia packs in the most, with new-to-the-line four-screen cinema. The line's first Escape Room -- Mission Control -- debuted on Arvia, along with a thrilling high-ropes and mini-golf courses more pools. All ships offer spa with thermal facilities.
Marella Cruises Has Fantastic Brit-focussed Entertainment Options
A team of 11 big names has helped create 11 new West End-style shows. Typically, Marella also operates an annual music-themed 'Weekender' sailing.
Nightly entertainment, including live music, comedy shows, quizzes and karaoke, is centred on pubs and lounges.
Big screens on the Pool Deck show the latest movies with popcorn and cocktails served during viewings. No strict formal nights, just the occasional 'dress to impress' evening, which can be interpreted as you wish.
P&O Cruises Goes All Out When It Comes to Evening Entertainment
P&O Cruises features the in-house entertainment team Headliners, who perform a series of revues and shows. Britannia, Iona and Arvia feature the Limelight Club, where former stars of stage and screen give intimate performances in a supper club-type setting.
P&O Cruises has partnered with Gary Barlow, the musical director of The 710 Club on Iona and Arvia, where he will oversee the music club’s programming, selecting up-and-coming performers to showcase new talent.
Another fun spot on the two new ships is SkyDome, the ship’s glass dome-covered atrium that will showcase much of the ship’s action, including 710 Club; a cocktail bar; Ocean Studios four-screen cinema, plus deck parties and aerial performances.
Expect the likes of regular karaoke, comedy nights, 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.
Marella Cruises Has Kids Clubs, Baby Friendly Facilities
Marella Cruises has the M Club for three to 11 years olds, with kids' characters -- the M Crew -- across the fleet, complete with a movie and puppets. 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.
Babytainment classes are available for the under three set. There are also educational Sign & Sign classes led by Mr Tumble from CBeebies. There’s also the Baby Centre area for changing, food prep and playing. There are kids' movie nights and family-friendly West End-style shows, too.
On Marella Explorer, the kids' club is too small for the ship, with just 30 places.
Family-friendly shore excursions to beaches and water parks are offered from all ships except the adults-only Marella Explorer 2.
From Dining to Kids Clubs, P&O Cruises is a Solid Choice for Families
P&O Cruises has recently linked up with Aardman, the inventors of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, to offer a range of family-friendly activities onboard.
Children in The Reef clubs will be able to participate in themed dance classes and craft workshops where they can make Gromit ears or Shaun the Sheep masks.
On 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 and early evening performances at the theatre.
Marella Cruises Offers Excellent Value for Money
A typical seven-night fare on the line's next new ship, Marella Voyager, starts from £1,095 based on Inside cabin departing October 2023.
All gratuities and drinks, including non-premium alcohol and soft drinks, are also included in the cruise fare.
For fly-cruises, flights and transfers are included.
A typical seven-night fare on new ship Arvia, departing October 2023 and based on an Inside cabin, is £1,279. This includes flights to Barbados.
Gratuities are included in the cruise fare; drinks are excluded. P&O Cruises drinks package is £39.95 per person per day (Ultimate Drinks Package), including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Bar prices are the same as you'd pay on land or, in some cases, cheaper.
Added value offers when booking include a choice of onboard credit, car parking in Southampton or return coach travel to Southampton.
(*Prices subject to change)
Marella Cruises' Dress Code is More Relaxed
The dress code on Marella Cruises is broken down into three categories: Beachwear, Casual and Smart.
Beachwear is a 'come as you are' affair, so swimwear is fine. Casual means tops and shorts or a sundress. Smart is when passengers are required to dress up, with a smart shirt, suit, shirt and top, dress. Jacket and tie are not mandatory.
P&O Cruises' Upholds a Traditional Dress Code
P&O Cruises dress code is more traditional, with set nights for formal wear. Dress code is cocktail dress, ball gown, tuxedo or dinner jacket/suit and tie on gala evenings and Black Tie nights.
On other nights it's smart/casual, with the line advising passengers to dress as you would for dinner in a nice restaurant. Smart denim jeans are permitted, along with trousers and shorts, skirts and tops or twin sets. Tailored shorts are also permitted in areas such as the buffet restaurants and open deck bars.
Shoes should be worn inside and no swimwear in the ship’s lounges, inside bars, restaurants or reception.
Fancy dress and novelty items of clothing are not permitted on P&O Cruises ships.
Marella does not currently operate a loyalty programme.
P&O Cruises Peninsular Club operates a tiered-based system with six levels, starting from the Pacific Tier, which requires 150 points to join.
One night on board = 10 points.
Club rewards include discounted prices, including five percent off Select Price bookings on selected cruises, onboard discounts, a dedicated magazine, welcome gifts, through to Champagne, priority check in and onboard events.
For sailings on or before 30 April 2023, all passengers aged 18 or over will need to have had all required doses of a World Health Organisation-approved vaccine to travel on these sailings.
If you’re aged 18 and over, and it's been 270 days since your last dose of your complete vaccine course, you'll need a booster vaccine at least seven days before sailing. This also applies if you will reach the 270 days point during your cruise. The 270-day limit doesn't apply to a booster vaccine, one booster dose is sufficient.
All guests aged 18 years and over need to be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine a minimum of 14 days prior to travel.
Guests aged 17 years and under are not required to be vaccinated.
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 Britannia, and its newest ship Iona, both of which offer a great deal of choice. Both lines have varying facilities onboard, although P&O Cruises fleet is overall younger and offers a wider choice of entertainment. Iona’s partnership with Gary Barlow and fun new concepts such as a boutique cinema and gin distillery sets it apart. P&O Cruises' is the go-to line for no-fly cruises from Southampton.
Choose Marella Cruises if...
You're looking for value. Marella is unbeatable on pricing and for inclusions. 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 UK airports that connect to its cruises, and an extensive cruise-and-stay programme.
Updated January 11, 2023