We were first time cruisers on TUI (now Marella) Spirit last August and were both absolutely smitten. I think after a couple of days we were hooked, and after the two weeks were up we were ready to book the next, this one – departing at the end of July 2018.
We used or local TUI store and were sold this two week back to back on Explorer. This time we decided to take our 17 year old with us as she would really have. We paid adult price for her as she is 17 and had a cabin to herself (she was classed as a single traveller, she was issued with an adult cruise card and even had the note left on her bed inviting her to the single travellers reception.)
Arrival in Palma was slick, as was boarding, it was very soon apparent that this ship had far more technology than Spirit, more reliance on it!
The ship is quite big although it's still dwarfed by the likes of the Aida Prima and some of the MSC liners, it is plush in places. I'm aware that one reviewer picked up on things like scratches in the lifts, yes they're there but they didn't detract from the sparkle that this ship has.
The food is great, we feel that some of the restaurants are still struggling at busy times possibly because the staff are all so new, but the food quality is fabulous as was the service of most of the staff, so good that we tipped one or two as they really did go above and beyond what was required.
We ate in Latitude 53 most nights, Vista (the Italian) one night and tried on another two occasions, each of those times the wait time was just too long and so we returned to Latitude 53.
Breakfast was taken in the self-service (Market Place), the selection of food is good with English cooked breakfast, continental, freshly prepared omelettes etc. fruit and cereal always on offer. The only downside to the Market Place at breakfast time is the queue and the seating. Breakfast in Latitude 53 is a much more civilised affair however the choice of food is not available.
The cabins are well appointed and clean, we had an inside to keep the costs down, three of us for two weeks has cost more or less £7000! Had we travelled without daughter we would have had an outside cabin, we would not have an inside cabin again just because they are so dark!
We did not notice much sunbed hogging, although we did see some belongings removed after beds were ticketed. TUI should operate the same procedure in some of the bars!
We didn’t upgrade to premium as personally we have no need to. The drinks selection is adequate.
There have been some issues and things that don't sit right with us:
Over the first five days we experienced a series of minor problems... each of these took time out of our day to sort. Wrong people allocated the wrong cabin, boarding cards not working to open our cabin door on several occasions, my debit card swiped but receptionist added my husband's name as card holder, bank subsequently declined (quite right too), safe would not open and had to have someone in to sort this -- twice initially and then again at the end of our first week.
When I complained about the series of minor issues the receptionist clearly thought all of our issues were amusing! This was subsequently escalated to the General Manager who felt that a bottle of wine would fix this.
The excursions are very expensive (this is common among all tour operators I know). Please be careful! We were made aware of a family group who booked to go to Camp Nou in Barcelona – parents and a young child in a buggy. They were charged by TUI for three… Children under five go into Camp Nou FREE!
The premium restaurants are all expensive when you consider this is an all-inclusive ship... the "supplement" is between £25 and £35 per person. You may think different but to me, that's not a "supplement", that's paying for the meal in full! If it really is a supplement then are we saying that steak and chips in Surf & Turf costs well over £50 a head?
Despite paying an adult fare for daughter, despite her boarding card starting that she is on here as an adult we had one waitress try to give a 17 year old a baby plastic beaker and straw for a glass of coke. When questioned the waitress advised that daughter was "under age", we had ordered “a coke!!!” I should point out that my daughter doesn't drink alcohol so no comments about legal age limit please.
Entertainment is confused to say the least. The cruise director, Matthew, was only really seen on TV and seemed to spend his time promoting Champneys. If comparing the entertainment team to Spirit, then Spirit is first rate and Explorer is dreary. The resident band, The Collective seemed to have more rapport with the guests. Structured entertainment seemed to be nothing more than quiz after quiz punctuated with bingo and the standard sail away parties.
We didn’t use the casino which is located between the Indigo Bar and Night Club. We did watch one or two games, we thought it was noisy with hustle and bustle. It appears that despite the signs children are allowed into the casino area.
Broadway show was generally very good, some of the jokes from the comedians were recycled, but not the less very well presented.
This is very much a family ship and not what we were sold. I did query the family element with our travel agent before we paid the final balance but were assured it would not be overrun with small children (my husband is a school teacher and during our holidays he likes to be away from children), however this was not the case. Whilst we observed a deal of children behaving well there was of course the contingent who were unruly and allowed to be so, the late adult entertainment (another form of quiz) being overtaken by a seven year old – yes, I am sure your son is cute but this is adult time!
However, in short we're had a good holiday. We will not be cruising on Explorer again, we may consider Explorer 2 (adults only) although we are also considering that market.