Sorry if the review is a bit TLDR....
The flights and logistics
We had a slightly delayed departure from Leeds although this was not of Tui's making. Nevertheless after a comfortable flight we were safely deposited in Palma. The process of getting from baggage claim to the coach was seamless with some pre information to whet the appetite. On arrival at the port our cases were ferried from the coach by burly men and we picked up our cards for cabin 8183 and within 15 minutes we were on board and exploring the explorer (pun intended).
There is not the wow factor of the Discovery with the multi storey atrium but they have managed to get a lot in the ship. Areas that felt a little small on the discovery e.g. Kora la have plenty of room to breathe. The ship is in lovely condition albeit there are perhaps a few blemishes which given more time in dry dock would have been resolved but nothing to fret over.
We were in cabin 8183 which is a standard balcony. It was immaculately presented and quite spacious. After an initial arm wrestle with Mrs D where I was only allowed 3 drawers, a shelf and two hangers we reached a more equitable distribution and all our 50kg of luggage had a home. The cases fit under the bed if you lift the frame to get them past the lip.
Our cabin steward Basirun was a quiet chap but very polite and thorough. We were very content.
One slight issue in the first two days or so was that people were getting used to the vacuum toilet system and twice our system (through no fault of our own must add!) lost its suction. It certainly wasn't built by Dyson. Captain John did seem to have become rather expert in the thoroughbred style fragility of the system as it regularly featured in his anecdotes. Having said that the person who reputedly flushed a breakfast sausage down there certainly needs an intervention.
We decided not to get the premium Ai package. The house red was very pleasant as were the other wine options we tried. In terms of everything else the Ai suited us as it does contain main brands and we are not fussy over whether the gin is Gordon's or Bombay. It has much the same effect after sufficient numbers.
Of the bars we tried squid and anchor, the lounge, indigo bar and the pool bar. We really liked s & a and also indigo was a good spot for a drink before the club started as it was quieter and had some of the best views on the ship.
Places to eat/food
For breakfast we tended to eat at the market place. The choice was plentiful and most days I managed to resist the temptations of the fried bread. Most days. There are good options jn terms of cereals, fruit, cooked and continental options. We had no issues in getting a table at any time. Lunches we used both the market place and the Mediterranean. The options in the market place were nice and fresh and had variety. In the med I had the bespoke pasta option. Taste wise it was very nice indeed although perhaps a little oily. For our evening meals we generally ate in latitude 53 but occasionally went to vista if the menu was not to our taste. We never had a poor meal with highlights for me being the beef Wellington, the lovely soups and the crepes suzette. We ate at kora la one evening and it was superb. If anything they've raised the bar further from D1. A brilliant evening.
Service wise it was mostly excellent although you could be lucky or unlucky with who was looking after you. On one night it took 2 and a half hours to get through and the waiter was clearly confused and forgot orders. We aren't complainers and felt a little sympathetic to be honest as he was floundering a bit. The same night however showed some incredible service as said waiter's line manager was aware that things had not gone as they ought and was at pains to check we were okay and in subsequent nights made a point of checking that we had had speedier service. Her name is Princess Ann (great name) and she is an absolute credit to Marella.
Its a sleepy sort of town but we spent an enjoyable few hours ashore and walked from one end of the town to the other and back. There are a few interesting shops and nice bars for a bit of liquid refreshment.
We did the Tui excursion Rome on your own. The coach dropped you outside the Palace of justice which is 700yds from St Peters Square. The map was very good. We did a whistle-stop tour of the sights mainly walking but also used the metro to get to the colloseum. We fell in love with Rome and really want to go back for a long weekend. Fingers crossed that euro in the Trevi fountain works! It was a long day but so worth it.
Marina Di carrara
We again did a tour as the port itself is meant to be a bit bleak. Our tour was to santa marguerite and Porto fino. There was a boat trip between the two. I suspect that this is a trip that is very heavily dependent on weather but we had a fantastic time. The levels of opulence and wealth in Portofino are unbelievable. If Simon Cowell moved there they'd put him on income support. Our tour guide was also an absolute star. She seemed to have more fun than work and encouraged her colleague to sing and dance on the boat trip back.
This was a tender port. It is a lovely little town and tuns into The neighbouring town of Frejus. Lovely bars and cafes and some nice shops. We planned to have an easier day after two early starts. Naturally we did over 20k steps on this 'easier' day.
Simply stunning city. The shuttle bus from the port is well worth the price and drops you at the bottom of La Rambla. From there we meandered our way around and then after a quick beer had a long walk out to the sagrada familia. If you picture a sandcastle covered in fruit and pictures all of which are melting you get a fair idea. It is well worth the trek albeit it was a long walk from the main drag.
Doing a two week trip means you get to have palma as a port of call and it remains one of my favorite cities. Lot of great shops and bars. We walked to and from the town centre and it is a long hot walk. I was a soggy mess by time I got back to the ship.
If this town were in UK we would think it was a bit grotty and steer away. As its in Italy it feels to have an earthy charm. Lovely architecture sits cheek to cheek with utter decay. The hawkers at the port are persistent although a firm no tends to work.
In Italy they say va fa Napoli to mean go to hell. We had done pompeii and sorrento previously so decided to do a different trip instead. We went to Capri. The trip was very well organised albeit we sacked off the walking tour to explore at our own pace. Marco the guide clearly had a lot of good connections as he could are age a meal, a boat trip and perfume discounts. We lived Capri. It is stunningly beautiful and has some wow type shopping. Based on the photos at restaurants keanu reeves and Beyonce agree as they seem to have eaten everywhere in that town. The hydrofoil to and from Capri was also great fun and it was well worth the excursion price.
We got the obligatory port authority bus into town. We then walked to the station and went over to Pisa on the train for an extortionate fare of 2.6 euros. For a clean train as well. No where near as good value as our smelly old trains... Not. After some questionable photos we went back to livorno. The town centre is actually very nice and worth a visit albeit people normally use it as a base to go further afield.
We got an early tender then walked to the gare in order to get the train to Monaco. Nice few hours there including walking the full grand prix circuit. Back to villefranche and had a nice l lunch in the town before heading back on board. Its an easy trip to do yourself and much cheaper.
Probably the weakest port of the cruise. Its a quiet fishing town and aside from a few bars and some shops there isn't much to do other than go to the beach. As it was overcast we chose not to do this. Still it's a pleasant place to spend a few hours. As it was our last day we weren't too worried that it was a quieter day.
Entertainment and facilities
The show cast are clearly very talented although some of the shows weren't our taste perhaps. The comedian Tucker was OK albeit a bit bland. Has to be fairly safe though. We did not use the spa although in the hope of fighting against the inevitable weight gain made a few visits to the gym. It's a nice part of the ship and we'll equipped. Whenever I was there it was quiet albeit I cant guarantee those two facts weren't linked ;). We also really enjoyed the quizzes and gameshows.
It was the best cruise we've had. So many great memories and places. We met some lovely people as well. The staff are exceptional (albeit some of the guests can verge on rudeness in their dealings with them at times) and the ship is great. It's definitely a grower.