Marella Cruises offers families a clever combination of comfortable British beach resort ambiance with a fun yet sophisticated holiday at sea -- with kids' club, M Crew, and programming dedicated to the line's young sailors.
Five of its six ships are dedicated to families, with Marella Explorer 2 for adults only, and the whole fleet is all-inclusive -- including ice cream for kids, drinks for grown-ups and all gratuities -- which makes budgeting much easier.
The free M Crew Kids' Club for three to 11-year-olds is only part of what Marella has lined up for children, which is particularly important if your little ones are not that interested in clubs.
Young Marella passengers receive their own letter from their ship's captain before they leave home, telling them about kids' activities, such as augmented reality treasure hunts onboard and the impressive colouring experience -- creating 3D versions of their own art work using an iPad.
They get M Crew activity kits featuring cartoon characters Miss Maintenance the robot engineer, Captain Mac and Melody Mermaid, and in their cabins there's another M Crew gift to keep them busy during any downtime.
Once signed up for M Crew Kids' Club they can dip in and out of organised table tennis and football tournaments, take part in quizzes and the whole family can watch early evening shows together on sea days or family-friendly films in the cinema.
Child-friendly food is available at all meal times, with pizza and pasta buffet regulars, ice cream cones for pudding and barbecue lunches on deck when the weather's right. Afternoon tea, with cake to please every one's taste, is also surprisingly popular with children and M Crew Kids' Club staff will even take them to breakfast a couple of times a week so parents can have a lie-in.
There are family-friendly excursions, too, such as trips to waterparks, aquariums and beaches with discounts for under-12s. Children over 10 can also join guided cycle rides with their parents -- there are mountain bikes on most of Marella's ships.
The Kids' Club splits children into two or three age groups, depending on numbers -- usually three to eight and nine upwards -- to be entertained by qualified staff. They can paint, stick and make a mess; play with age-appropriate toys and go on backstage tours -- even to meet the captain on the bridge. Some evenings there are also pyjama parties and movie nights, to give parents a chance to eat dinner alone.
But there's even more on offer on Marella Discovery, Marella Discovery 2 and Marella Explorer. Each has an additional teens-only space, The Hideout, which has a karaoke booth for recording songs, a DJ booth and movie nights. These ships have Babytainment classes for accompanied under-threes with nursery rhyme singing and baby ballet some of the things on offer.
The two Discovery ships also have climbing walls and all three have a minigolf course where families can play together, while every Marella Cruises ship has at least one pool and a sports court for basketball or mini-football.
Marella Discovery and Discovery 2 have an indoor pool as well as the main deck pool, while Marella Dream and Marella Celebration have a kids' pool next to the family-friendly Lido pool as well as the main sun deck pool.
If you want a family cruise on a ship that caters to mainly British guests, with English usually the only language for announcements and prices for excursions in sterling, then Marella Cruises is certainly worth a try.
The all-inclusive price, with no tipping or service charges required, is particularly welcome to British holidaymakers as well as Australians and New Zealanders, and it's easy to book cruise & stay holidays through Marella's owners Tui.
There are cruises from Southampton and Newcastle with no luggage restrictions, so it's easier to take baby equipment and supplies, and fly-cruises with family deals in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.
Marella does cruise areas such as the Far East and Red Sea, too, but these are usually adult-only and out of school holidays.
M Crew and the range of activities offered for kids is free. Children don't pay adult prices or cabin supplements, either, and there are special prices for infants under two.
You can also pre-book cots free of charge when you book, although babies under six months are not allowed on most itineraries.
Also, children in nappies are not allowed in any of the pools.
Updated April 20, 2020