We usually go with all-inclusive holidays, mostly with TUI First Choice.
Lately we have thought that we spend too much time on the resorts and miss out on seeing much of where we are - hence the decision to go with a cruise.
We chose marella as we are used used to TUI, and know their standards and the all inclusive is important - we didn't want to get hit with unexpected costs.
The itinerary and ship were the result of research - we liked the small number of sea days, and a mid-sized but newly (partly) refurbished ship seemed ideal.
Arrival and first impression:
First impressions were fantastic - dropping luggage at the airport to next see it onboard was great, as was the get off the plane and straight onto a bus.
Our flight was late (and was last of all the flights) so we were rushed on board and straight to muster drill, it was all well organised despite this.
We chose 9107 based on reviews (and paid to choose - but as a deal with booking extra space seats) - we wanted a large balcony so that we could use it if the ship was very busy on sea days, and its central position was ideal for stability. Central location meant its never too far to go up to pool deck or Market Place, and same not far down to bars and restaurants.
I was very happy with 9107 - everything worked, it has enough room and storage, and got 2 cases out of the way under the bed. Cabin steward Prasetyo was brilliant, always friendly, greeted everyone by name, and learnt our routines to make sure the cabin was always cleaned and tidied while we were out.
Market place buffet was just what I would expect from an all-inclusive buffet. There was always plenty of choice and I was happy to see staff always cleaning, and checking food temperatures etc.
They also really try hard with sanitisers everywhere and strongly encourage guests to use them.
Latitude 53 was fine, we ate here on dress to impress night and it was busy but we were given a pager and just had a few drinks while waiting. Again the staff were very attentive although busy, and my wife's drinks just magically kept being replaced without asking.
The Italian in Latitude was great also, which a good choice, and attentive service.
Kora La was a nice change and the food and service was worth the upgrade.
The same was true of surf and turf - it was a very nice relaxed dining experience, and well worth the extra. The steak was brilliant - though the beef onboard everywhere was excellent - the sirloin I had in the Italian was gorgeous.
The only slight niggle is pre-dinner drinks in aperitif - everything in aperitif is cost extra if you are on the std drinks package - just a small niggle.
All the bars were excellent - I only ever had to wait a bit in the lounge on dress to impress night when it was really,really busy. Just about everywhere a waiter appeared as soon as you sat down and had drinks quickly. Even on the pool deck the waiters were constantly circling with trolleys of booze.
I stuck with the std drinks package as it covered 90% of what I wanted and was happy of pay for the occasional cocktail (mudslide) and other drinks - like in the coffee port. I ordered what I felt like, and the bit extra I had to pay was still well less that the £200 to upgrade - but you may feel differently - read the menu online as make your mind up!
This was the least impressive bit of the cruise. The team work hard, but the main shows were a bit lacking - Vocalists and the many voices of LIss Jones were very poor. Though rockology was great - so they can do it!
That said the other bands and singers in the bars were great for the most part - especially the duo who were often in the lounge. It certainly didn't spoil my holiday - just a minor niggle that could be improved.
Service onboard was fantastic everywhere, staff were always happy to help. All the staff I interacted with from embarking/disembarking, shore excursion team, waiters, cleaners etc were all great.
Ports / excursions:
The choice of ports was good, though I think the paradise islands itinerary was a bit weaker.
We did a mix of TUI excursions and DIY. To be honest I would do less TUI ones next time, as all of the ports had lots to do, and only the Antigua Lobster Lunch and Aruba Sea and see were really worth the extra cost of the TUI - they were the two stand-out excursions.
A fantastic holiday, and now my wife wants to always cruise in future - so that says it all really! (And probably with Marella again as they match what we want/expect)
I'd certainly cruise on the explorer again or any of the bigger Marella ships...
I picked 9107 as my wife loves the sound and sight of the sea - hence a balcony - and advice from the internet as to position. We also were unsure how busy the decks would be so the large balcony with sun lounger and hammock were a contingency plan.
9107 is totally surrounded by (non-connecting) cabins - so it was completely quiet.
Its also near central so gets minimum motion.
On entry there are three wardrobes - one with shelves and the safe, the other two with full height hanging space. Opposite is the bathroom - reasonable shower with glass door, and sink and loo with a few glass shelves.
Main room has a double bed (side on) with side tables, a dressing table and a small sofa which can pull out to a bed.
The bed is just high enough to put two full size cases underneath as long as they will squish slightly.
The room is a little smaller than most cabins on board as part of the large balcony eats into the room space. (The room was originally one of the few balcony cabins on ship before they refitted some years ago and added the larger external balconies to decks 8,9 and 10)
Balcony is plenty big enough to hold the two chairs and table as well as a lounger and hammock.
The Balcony access is a single heavy door in the large balcony cabins rather than the patio types on smaller balconies (opening out) but can be easily propped open by a lounger.
9107 is well positioned - not far to go up to pool / buffet and not far down to bars / restaurants.