We chose this cruise for itinerary – two sea days in two weeks and a route covering a good contrasting area of the Caribbean such as the dry arid island of Bonaire to the green lush island of St Lucia. Also ease of access is a bonus – checking in at our UK airport and not seeing our luggage again until it arrives at your cabin is a bonus as too is arriving at Barbados airport and just walking a few metres to your transfer coach. Our first Marella cruise, but have cruised with Celebrity, RCCL, Azamara and Cunard over the past 8 yrs.
We chose Premium cabin seating, adding this on a couple of months before departure. The included Escape Lounge at Manchester was quite good, very busy though but was a good step up from Aspire which we have previously used. The flights were very comfortable and you would certainly not go hungry or be uncomfortable on the flight with popcorn/crisps, two meals, plenty of drinks and water, hot towels, spacious seating and relatively good IFE.
The Explorer is 22 years old and feels and looks her age in most places, she has a wobble too and is not the smoothest of rides where ever you are on the ship, yaw movement as well as a pitch and roll even in light seas. Parts of the ship are art-décor style such as the MDR restaurant and parts are modern, light and airy such as the coffee port and the Mediterranean restaurants and bar areas. The Broadway show lounge hasn’t been touched in refurb, with some carpets and seating in poor condition, a gold ceiling and grab handles, illuminated side tables with gold coloured surround which are so dated.
The Market Place Buffet is the least updated, the new dark grey carpet and probably original seating, tables, panelling and ceilings are unwelcoming and dismal. Walking through the area between service the area smelled of stale water and unpleasant odour. We only occasionally ate here as it was often busy and other guests rarely used tongs etc to handle food. There were people in swimwear too – many of these guests were dressed to impress with plenty of body artwork, obese in size and little clothing. Drinks included wine were on draft. Fruit juice was only served at breakfast and not available at other times. Tables were cleared quickly in here though.
Our cabin a deck 10 junior suite was a good size with an immense amount of storage. House-keeping was some of the best we have experienced. The extras for booking this class of cabin were not enough however, they should have included the premium drinks package. The extras were: Three items pressed per person for the first 24hrs even returned and re-hung in our wardrobes. two mornings of complimentary room service breakfast (continental) – which was very good – lots too!, a Lavazza coffee maker in the cabin, Clarins toiletries which were pleasant to use and express luggage delivery with speedy check-in. We never had any problems with the toilets or smells that others encountered. This forward cabin was extremely quiet too and we never heard noise from docking etc. The bathroom was quite spacious with a glass door on the good-sized shower, washing line, lots of shelving. The balcony was large with a hammock – rarely used, two chairs and a table and two sun loungers. We used our balcony quite a lot as the sundecks are cramped and noisy. We could hear the music on the deck 11 pool deck from the balcony.
Our main gripe is the poor quality of food and drink, Marella are really counting the beans here. The included wines were poor quality, most of the pre-made cocktails at events and the theatre were so watered down with ice they were tasteless. We don’t drink excessively and ended up upgrading to the Premium package for the second week, also to enjoy the lovely Lavazza coffees in the Coffee Port – the lovely Phillipino lady working here was excellent in her work.
The dinner menus in Latitudes both in choice and presentation often resembled a meal in a supermarket café. Poor cuts of meat, tasteless bland food and a lack of presentation and service which took forever, sometimes 40-45 mins between courses! Wine and water not refilled, having to chase up with staff orders and refills should not be necessary. The Vista the lower floor of the MDR was an Italian with a slightly better menu that changed every other day, but was very popular, hence pagers were often used with waiting up to an hour, we managed to eat here early between 6.30 – 7pm or 8-30 onwards. Service was inconsistent, there was not enough staff.
We enjoyed the Surf & Turf restaurant, the main course and deserts were very good, the starters not so. Not sure it was worth the cost again other supplementary restaurants on other ships at a a similar price though.
We also ate a couple of times at Med Tapas, the food was quite tame with not enough flavouring used. The Portuguese Espetada skewers were very good but at a supplement of £9.95. The meat on these was excellent. On one occasion, our two main courses arrived 30 mins apart! We were not charged the supplement.
The entertainment was adequate, the shows we gave up on and were not of interest to us. The two girl entertainers flown in called Union Avenue were very good up in Indigo, with a couple of singers and guitarists around the ship very good too – vocally most were very good and extremely hardworking. We avoided the pool sailaway parties and BBQ’s – we like a good time but to see a 20 stone tattooed woman with a pint in her hand dancing dancing to calypso and reggae music is not a pleasant sight and multiply this by the other chavs (around 25% of the cruise guests) it was a low grade holiday camp.
The staff themselves from Captain Peter who was very personable yet showed he was in authority and was always visible around the ship, I don’t know when he slept! (he needs to work for Azamara as they have great captains too!) were really friendly, welcoming and there was always a hello when walking about, yet the waiting staff in the bars and restaurants lacked training and service was totally inconsistent, yet you cannot fail to like them for they work long hours on eight month contracts. As mentioned the house keeping staff we had were some of the best we have experienced.
The TUI-navigate app was very useful it uses the ships wifi (without charge as not connected to the internet) and you are able to access your onboard account, book restaurants, check your itinerary and book excursions, You can also buy internet use - which is very expensive, slow and not worth the money.
On a final note and not many people that are booking may not be aware of is that you have to vacate your cabin by 8am on your last morning, this is fine if you are on a lunch time flight, however if you are not flying until early evening as many of the Barbados flights do then you will have to either try to book a limited number of courtesy cabin @ £35 or hang about the ship and book a slot in a cabin to use the shower. There is secure storage for hand luggage and your suitcases are taken from you the evening before departure. We managed to retain ours however I had asked on our arrival day.
We would not return to Marella, the cruise cost over £3000 per person and for that money we expected more, especially in food and drink quality.
My title R&R could mean.... 'Rough and Ready' are guests and ship in place.
Rum & Reggae- order double to taste the cocktails and be fed up of hearing Mysterious girl, Red, Red Wine each day reggae style and it could mean
Rest & Relaxation - yes in places, our balcony was quiet, parts of the ship were too, mostly not though.
It is entry level cruising and for those loyal to the brand they need to experience other lines. Also, for those loyal to Marella they need a loyalty scheme.