Spent a week on the Marella Explorer at the end of July/beginning of August with my partner and our youngest (aged 9) and, all in all, had a good holiday. I have had two cruises with Marella previously which I had enjoyed - this one was not quite as good as these previous ones, but was still enjoyable.
Firstly the positives:
Embarkation and disembarkation were smooth and quick
Ship well laid-out and easy to navigate
Cleanliness of cabin and general areas very good and housekeeping attentive
All staff friendly, polite and helpful
Kid’s club very good
All the shows in the theatre (bar one that did not work well at all) were very good
Bar drinks/service excellent and inclusive drinks more than plentiful in choice
Availability of sun loungers/hammocks good (especially on upper decks above pool) apart from sea day when it did take some time to find somewhere.
Plentiful supply of water dispensers around ship very useful
Proper shower screen instead of curtain
Loved the cream teas!
Now for the negatives:
FOOD: – In general the food was not as good as we have had on previous cruises (included Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2). It was acceptable, but nothing particularly special and seemed to have been tailored for a bland, “safe” palate (on one occasion we ordered the “vindaloo” which was nothing more than a risotto with no spice or any heat at all – it would not even have passed as a biriyani!). The buffet had a good selection (but not as varied or extensive as previous cruises and again, fairly bland) and the ice-cream machine rarely worked properly as it was not freezing correctly. In addition on days when we returned from trips sometimes they were in the middle of changing from one meal to another so vast areas were shut with little choice of anything to eat. The pasta/pizza/tapas restaurant was mediocre and limited (although the idea of selecting ingredients for your pasta/pizza was an interesting concept). The snack shack sandwiches were OK but the salads were mainly lettuce and the burgers and hotdogs of very cheap quality. The menu selection in Latitude 53 was pretty limited (and two of the items were exactly the same every night) and most of the starters were very small portions, more like an “amuse bouche”. At Vista (the Italian) they offered the same, fairly uninspired, menu for 3 nights then changed it for the last 4 – the Italian on both Discovery ships is much better, with more selection, more courses and more changes) so we did not even bother eating here. I got the impression that they were pushing people to pay extra to eat in their speciality restaurants (as they were constantly plugging this over the tannoy system and in the Cruise News) and I believe that is why less effort was given to the inclusive restaurants. In addition the inter-active screens did not display the correct menus for the 2 waiter restaurants – it always showed the menu from the day before, which was of little use (I used to use this a lot on previous cruises to decide where to eat) They did not even display the menus outside the restaurants (again on previous cruises they were outside) so every night I had to go to the restaurants as they was opening to ask to see the menus (by the end of the cruise Latitude 53 was putting some menus out on a table in front of the restaurant about 15 minutes before it opened so people could have a look). The service in the main restaurant on our first two nights was ridiculously slow – on the first night it took over 2 hours to be served 3 courses (we missed nearly all of the show due to this), in addition to which our deserts (which should have been hot) arrived virtually stone cold – on the second night it took almost 2 hours to be served 2 courses so we decided to skip the 3rd course so that we could dash to the theatre just as the show was starting. Both these nights we were at the restaurant at 6.45pm (we did not really want to go any earlier as it would be too early to eat and by the time our son came back from kid’s club at 6.30pm, showered and got changed this was the time we could go). Another annoyance was that my partner asked for Peronni on the first night (which was freely available at all bars and was also brought round during the day on trolleys and is included as part of the all-inclusive) but was told they did not have any in the restaurant. He told them that the bar (literally opposite the restaurant) served it so could they not get one from there – they said they would check and after about 20 minutes my partner asked again and finally a further 15 minutes later they brought him a bottle. On the second night the same thing happened and my partner said it would be quicker for him to have just got up from the table and walked to the bar himself. By the third night, as there was a Barbecue on the pool deck, we decided we would try that as it might be quicker. Yes, it was quick, but all the food was stone cold (I mean everything – totally cold) even when new items were being put out they were already cold by the time we put them on our plate and sat down!! (I did complain about the service and cold food – see further down review for the ship's reaction).
SOCKETS IN CABIN– there was only one socket (two if you unplugged the kettle and balanced your item on the tea/coffee making items) which, for a cabin for 3 of us, was really not enough when trying to charge phones, i-pads, kindles, cameras etc.
DRESS TO IMPRESS – so few people bothered which made it a real shame as we really enjoy this night. The main restaurant had some people in ball gowns, cocktail dresses, three piece suits, tuxedos and even dress kilts, whilst others were just turning up in casual shorts and t-shirts! Firstly Marella/Tui should maybe make people aware of this night prior to their holiday by including a note about this before people leave the UK or add it to the information they provide or even send an email (I spoke to two families who had never been on a cruise before and they had no idea that there was a formal night and had not brought anything with them. They both said that, had they known, they would have loved to have packed something special to wear). Secondly, seeing as the main restaurant is on two floors, why can’t the staff direct those in formal attire to one floor and those in casual dress to another? My partner was in tuxedo and bow tie, my son in three piece suit and bow tie and I was in cocktail dress, so we felt a little uncomfortable as several of the tables seated around us were in t-shirts or casual polo tops! (I would suspect that, likewise, people turning up in casual day wear might feel awkward seated amongst people in full Black tie attire!)
KID’S CLUB DRESSING UP PARTIES: This also applies to the kid’s club as there was a fancy dress night and also a super heroes night (had we known in advance we would have packed something for him to wear – as it was I did not bring him any fancy dress outfits!!).
BRIDGE TOUR KIDS CLUB; this was my son’s 3rd cruise and both times before he has not made the bridge tour, as we had been off the ship on booked excursions, so he was very keen to do it this time. Therefore, on the first day when I registered him I asked about the tour and was told that a note would be put on the door to inform us of when it would take place. We checked every day, but saw no note so no idea if this ever took place – he was a little disappointed.
REPEAT CRUISER'S DRINKS NIGHT: the cruise news asked for anybody who had sailed before with Tui to contact the reception. I did this and my name and cabin number were taken and I was told we would be invited to a drinks party with the Captain near the end of the week. I asked if they knew which night but was told I would be informed by way of an invite. We waited for an invite and by the last night had not received anything. When I went to investigate I was told that they did have our name but that we had missed the party as it was the night before and that the invites were given to housekeeping to hand out so there was nothing they could do but they would send us “pins” to our room (which we received in an envelope on the last day with a letter apologising) – strangely exactly the same thing happened when I sailed with them last time, when they again forgot our invite!!
BILLS: I was charged for a drink that I did not have and had to go to reception to have this removed from my bill - again the same thing happened on my last cruise (so I would advise people to check their statements daily!).
As mentioned above, re my complaints, a comments card had been placed in our room so I did fill it in with some positive comments but also mentioned that service in restaurants was too slow, food (in particular at barbecue) was cold and menus on interactive screens were out of date. And, to their credit, the next day I was approached during lunch by a member of staff who thanked me for bringing this to their attention, apologised profusely and said that they were looking into the slowness and that they were trying to work out a way of keeping the barbecue food hot (although I’ve had barbecues on cruises before and they have managed to serve hot food, so they must have experience of how to do this). In addition the following day a note was put in my room to say the head waiter would speak to me regarding my comments (but as I had already had the discussion with another member of staff I did not feel a further discussion was necessary).
On the fourth night we finally received excellent service – and I must mention and thank Rajesh, who provided a most attentive, friendly and professional approach – the food came swiftly, the bottles of Perroni were flowing and he constantly checked on us. Likewise, Dimitri, who also served us, was most attentive and efficient. From then on we always asked to be seated in the area staffed by Rajesh and Dimitri and have to say the service for these meals could not be faulted.
Also, on the morning before last, as we were in no rush to get off the ship, we ate breakfast in Latitude 53 and the service was swift and attentive and the food hot.
We took three organised tours through Marella (which I had booked in advance) which were well arranged and enjoyable. Half-day tour of Pompeii; Inside the Tower of Pisa; Nice tour and little train.
The other three days we explored shore on our own. Palma was a bit awkward as there was a taxi strike (although Marella staff did not seem aware and were not that helpful in suggesting other routes into town, they just kept telling us where to get taxis – even though we kept going back to tell them that there weren’t any – we eventually found a public bus). at Palermo we just walked into town and got a taxi back. At Palamos we used the shuttle bus.
In summary this was a decent and enjoyable cruise for the money. If they can sort out the temperature of the food, provide a slightly better menu and improve the speed of service provided by all staff in the main restaurants then this would help immensely.
Cabin size as expected. Bathroom functional and acceptable (liked the shower screen as the past 3 cruises I have been on have had a useless curtain!). They only provide a bar of soap and a generic "body wash" so take your own shampoo/conditioner/body lotion etc. Our main bed was very comfortable but my son was on a bed settee which was not comfortable at all - also once this was out you could not get onto the balcony without climbing over the bed as it was right in front of the whole of the balcony doors and ended at the drawers with no space to walk round at all. Storage ample. Hairdryer a bit useless! Only one socket (two if you unplugged the kettle).
There was a taxi strike the day we were here but we finally found a public bus which provided an easy journey into town (5 euros there and 5 back for 2 adults and 1 child). This was actually embarkation day so did not have too much time, however, spent a good 3 hours wandering around the outside of the cathedral and around the streets and little market stalls.
Had planned what we would see and printed a map in England prior to coming and glad i did as the one from the ship was virtually useless! We walked 20 minutes from the ship until we came to the main road (Via Vittorio Emanuele). We then walked through a little park with amazing trees (huge with massive roots - must have been hundreds and hundreds of years old - very impressive). We then carried on the main road then on to the fountain and main squares and went into several little churches (la Marorana, Santa Caterina and Dai Teatini) – Martorana in particular had some amazing mosaics and fantastic ceilings. We then came back out onto main street to the four corners (magnificent buildings and small fountain) then carry on the main road to Palermo cathedral on the right. We paid extra to do the jewels, catacomb and climb on to the roof (the view from the roof was excellent but they only let a few people up at a time so we had to wait about 20 minutes for this section). We could not find a bus back and most of the taxis seemed to have been pre-booked - eventually a taxi driver kindly phoned in to his office and booked us a taxi back to the ship
The tour guide was excellent and very informative. She had a radio mic and we all had earpieces so that we could hear her commentary. It was a very interesting visit, although we were expecting a few more artefacts or a museum with displays.View All 504 Pompeii Walking Tour Reviews
I had been to Pisa before but had never been inside the tower so this trip appealed to me. Our tour guide was very good and her commentary was very informative. Firstly we went inside the cathedral (ladies need to cover shoulders and backs so anybody who needed it was given a paper cape to wear) after this we had some free time to take photos of the outside of the tower before our allotted time (you can not take any bags or items inside - only a phone/camera and one drink - so we were taken to the lockers to leave our bags). Once inside we climbed the 297 (I think!) steps to the bell tower at the top where we had an excellent view over Pisa. I really enjoyed the experience.View All 141 Leaning Tower of Pisa Reviews
The ship cannot get right to the port so we took a tender over and then joined our guide and the first part of the tour was on the coach where she gave a running commentary as we drove round Nice. After this we boarded the little train to climb high above the town, stopping to take photos before returning and then had free time - the first part of which our guide led anybody who wanted to join her (we did) through the flower and food market, we then wandered around on our own, stopping at fountains, statues and some jumping fountains and took a short walk along the beach. Our son also had a little ride on the carousel. We then rejoined the coach for the remainder of our city tour. An enjoyable day.View All 3 Nice and Little Train Reviews
Pretty little fishing port. Not really much to see or do, but we walked around the little town, through the streets and into the church and took some photos from a view point. We also visited the fishing museum (although was not that interesting to be honest).