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We chose this cruise because we liked the itinerary - it was a bit different than the million other carribean cruises out there. We were on the Exotic Explorer followed by the Cuban Fusion. For those unfamiliar the ship does rolling themes to each week of the cruise. It is Cuban Fusion every other week with the gap alternating between Exotic Explorer and Pride of Panama. Ship We were very happy with the ship, it was smaller than the last ship we were on but we were pleased with the size and variety of public areas, never did we find a situation where a bar/coffee bar had no seats; which was not the case when on the two MSC ships we have been on. Unlike some of the newer larger ships being put out there all areas, apart from the two speciality dining options, were accessible to all passengers which was nice. Cabin The cabin is classed as a deluxe balcony and it was larger than most balconies as it accommodated both a table, two chairs AND two sun beds. In terms of storage it was generous and the wardrobe space was significantly bigger than those of the normal balcony rooms (we looked in). Compared to other cruise lines I would still stay it was more than their standard balconies but less so. The cabin itself was very clean and the bed was comfortable although, at least from our personal perspective, it shares a common problem with all hotels and cruises in that the pillows are always fluffy but provide no neck support but when doubled up are too much. This is personal so I don't place too much emphasis on this. The fridge was large and whilst having some mini bar items it had enough space for me to keep my epipen cold and also bottles of water and cans of pop. However, there were a couple of small touches that could have been addressed to improve the cabin. The carpets were poorly fitting around the edges and were frayed or pulled up. In addition, in the bathroom the shower curtain had some tears and was missing eyelets and didn't really hand well or stay within the shower tray. For the record we are not fat but the curtain barely hung below the lip on the shower and was not really weighted so as you moved in the shower it would easily just fall out and soak the floor. Dining We were impressed with the dining on board which definitely suited British tastes. The main restaurant houses both a traditional dining option that rotates daily, with the italian menu reserved for upstairs but that has a static menu (but wider than the daily rotating menu). The main dining room had some good food and we were pleased whenever we ate there (I was not well for most of the first week so didn't eat much - nothing to do with the ship but personal health issues). Steak was sometimes served in the main restaurant but my wife was rather non-plus over it. That said we were pleased with the food here and did not feel short changed or required to go to the speciality dining venues. The buffet choice was good with salads and fruit always available. Alongside this there were staples such as chips, burgers and hot dogs accompanied by rotating food suited to British tastes as well as rotating themed food. One thing we really liked was the hot coconut and chocolate cake with custard, it was only on one night but it really hit the spot and we wished it would be rotated on again. At lunch there was a panini station which at breakfast served as an omelette station. Immediately next to this there was a carvery station and I must say I was particularly impressed with the quality of the meat; it was cooked well without being overdone and was very tender. I like a carvery and was not disappointed. For me this most notably applied to all the beef dishes served at the buffet - the meat was tender whether it was in a curry or stroganoff. It felt unusual that the buffet closed by 9.30pm then the choice became much more limited over at the 'Glass House'. Several times I had the curry there alongside salad but I must highlight that regardless of what it says the curry says 'vindaloo, 'madras', 'mild' they all tasted the same except for the meat being used and was in no way spicy - but was tasty. Also a couple of times the chicken curry included small bits of bone so it is worth being careful when going for the chicken curry. Specialty dining wise we did not go to either the Steakhouse or the Asian fusion option but personally I felt it was not great value. For example when paying the cover charge on NCL or MSC the range of sides and cuts of steaks were generous and better than we normally get in the UK and good value (especially in the context of NCL). However, when looking at the menu it felt more limited and did not provide particularly good value in terms of cost when compared to what you would pay in the UK - the desserts and starters were not particularly impressive. Service We were pleased with the service, the staff were very good and generally greeted you with a smile and conversation without being too in your face. English is the only language onboard and the staff all had strong English and there was a good diversity of staff - on some cruises the staff are almost exclusively Indonesian or Filipino (not that I have any issue with this) but onboard there were a number of staff from South and East Asia, the Carribean and Europe which seemed to make a different atmosphere. The waiting staff in the bars were attentive and there was rarely a situation where you would be left without a drink. Often we went to the bar but that was our personal preference as I am not used to having my drinks brought to me. Ports and Excursions We only went on one ship organised excursions otherwise we had made our own arrangements. I personally recommend picking independent tours as they were cheaper, easy to locate and you had more personal attention. For example One of the tours we went on was to the Mayan Ruins about an hour away from Costa Maya. Our tour both arrived before and left after the ship organised tour with a guide for only 6 of us and a chance to spend longer at each part of the site and ask questions of the guide. I have some more tips below. Entertainment The entertainment was good and provided a nice range of both musical productions and comedy. The other activities onboard were well organised and provided a range of choices no matter what your preference so all groups were well catered for. Other points All the main activities were free onboard - the wall climbing, the mini golf, VR taster and video games. The latter is an important one if you had kids or teenagers. Having been on cruises with arcade machines you watch kids and teens (I was the same when I was a kid) pumping money (well swiping their cruise card) into the arcade machines. However, the ship had a number of XBOX ONE consoles that were available to be played by passengers for no cost. It is something small but something I could appreciate if I was travelling with kids. Upgraded drinks package - We upgraded the drinks package and would say that it was worth it in terms of the canned soft drinks as well as our preferred options when it came to spirits, amongst other things The soft drinks are useful because we could pack a couple of cans in our bag when we went on excursions - it does save you a few dollars a time plus you avoid being gouged for soft drinks in some places. The cocktails were less impressive although there were a couple that stood out but confusingly, despite some being listed as available in every bar (there were a number that are specialty to each bar - for example beer cocktails in Live Room, smoking cocktails in Bar 11), some staff would refuse to make them which was annoying when we got called a liar when we stated we had been served one in that bar the night before by their colleague. They also varied in terms of the quality they were made and sometimes staff made it feel like a nuisance to go get them from the back. It is also worth noting in the Live Room they have a much larger range of premium beers - Duval is a personal favourite of mine and if you are beer connoisseur then it certainly beats the standard choices. My wife liked the Coffee Port - she thought the coffee was far better than the coffee available from the bars and while I don't drink coffee I liked the milkshakes and blended drinks available. Also whilst it is not off limits to other passengers as all drinks there were in the premium drinks package only (so if you were on the standard all inclusive you would need to pay individually for them) it tended to be quieter as an area to read or have a quiet discussion. Some Tips 1. The Premium drinks package is not for everyone but I love 'real' coca cola and the coke on tap often had a 'rola' cola taste to it. Also it is worth noting that the canned drinks like the Coca Cola and San Peligrino were not UK sourced. This meant that the coke was made with High Fructose Corn Syrup, the San Peligrino was full sugar (not the reblended reduced sugar version in the UK) and the Fanta was an unnatural colour owing to the various aritificial colours allowed in the US. This was not an issue for me but I know some people may have an issue. 2. Cuba (late arriving and leaving early the next day) - we used an independent company that was great at providing a custom tour for a lower price to the cruise's own. However, you should note that you have to go through passport control and complete a visa - in this regard they prevent those not on ship organised excursions getting off until the ship tours get off. This delays you by about an hour to an hour and a half. However, as most of them are big tours we soon caught up with them with our small tour so it is not a big issue. In addition, if you want to go to Tropicana you may need to curtail your independent tour (it started later than it would have otherwise because the ship docks late). 3. Cuba currency - Be careful with converting your currency. Do not take US dollars as whilst the currency is pegged to the dollar the exchange rate includes a penalty. Use GBP or Euros. One thing that was annoying was we had some money left and went to exchange it back - we knew the buy back rate would be worse than the sell rate but the staff rounded down to the nearest £10 (they don't have GBP coins and it appears no £5). As such I would suggest not converting all your money in one go but rather convert it most on the first day and then on the morning of the second day in port convert some more if required. Wait until the morning to buy general souvenirs (rather than quality cigars) as you don't want to waste the time on the first day (remember you won't get off until between 3pm-4pm) on what could be spent seeing the main attractions. Our guide highlighted a good general souvenir shop and we went back the next morning. Also please note that many people plan to go to the market near the ship but as you dock on at a weekend the market does not open until 10am - as such you may want to spend the morning elsewhere before stopping at the market. A good general souvenir shop is on O'Reilly between Mercaderes and San Ignacio - it is just a doorway without a sign but you will see souvenirs around the doorway and the prices were good as well as being close to the ship and open at around 9am on the day you leave. 4. Guatemala - We pre-booked a tour that included a visit to a local school where they ask for stationary for the children and staff. If you think you will go on the tour then it is worth bringing stuff as it is amazing how something that seems inconsequential to us makes such a difference to them. It definitely made you appreciate how lucky we are here. The reason we did not give the cruise 5 stars is because of a few issues: 1. Some of the time the premium drinks would not be cold which might be small but who wants a warm coke or a luke warm beer? Sometimes they just didn't have it - at one time they ran out of coke at one of the bars for two days. I understand that most customers are not on the premium package but it is no way to encourage people on it. 2. Entertainment Staff - One of the entertainment staff 'subtely' let us know they have to pay for their drinks and what her favourite drink was. We kind of felt like a**ses if we didn't get one - I mean it is all inclusive and it was not a premium drink so we got her one and left it for her. However, we did this twice more over the next week and on the third time a different member of bar staff than normal warned us that we would be reported if we did it again and we would be in trouble not the member of staff. Either let passengers give drinks or tell staff not to casually drop it into conversation. I don't expect to get in trouble plus if they looked at our drinks tab they would see that, with my illness and the number and length of excursions, we drank far less than others (some people were mainlining Peroni or margaritas like they were water). 3. Return flights - we had upgraded to premium club and on the outbound flight we were very happy with the level of service and general staff friendliness and standards onboard. On the return flight it felt very much like 'we have your money and you had your holiday so what do we care!' They were funny about which of the two toilets I could use (both were working but they wanted me to use the one in my aisle rather than the one closest to my seat (because of my condition I specifically chose a seat close to the toilet; they made passive agressive comments about other passengers and despite only having a Sprite all flight when I asked for a soft drink over an hour before we landed I was told the bar was closed. Economy on Emirates or even Virgin Atlantic is better than this. It wasn't like I was trying to rinse the bar or get wasted - I just wanted a soft drink. It really did put a downer on it rather than a nice end to the holiday. So overall it was a very good cruise - I would recommend it to others but I would be cautious about upgrading the flights and upgrading the drinks package unless they could be more consistent and not end up feeling like a nuisance or you have asked for something you shouldn't have.

A Great Cruise BUT some things to consider

Marella Discovery 2 Cruise Review by mxb350

5 people found this helpful
Trip Details
We chose this cruise because we liked the itinerary - it was a bit different than the million other carribean cruises out there. We were on the Exotic Explorer followed by the Cuban Fusion. For those unfamiliar the ship does rolling themes to each week of the cruise. It is Cuban Fusion every other week with the gap alternating between Exotic Explorer and Pride of Panama.

Ship

We were very happy with the ship, it was smaller than the last ship we were on but we were pleased with the size and variety of public areas, never did we find a situation where a bar/coffee bar had no seats; which was not the case when on the two MSC ships we have been on. Unlike some of the newer larger ships being put out there all areas, apart from the two speciality dining options, were accessible to all passengers which was nice.

Cabin

The cabin is classed as a deluxe balcony and it was larger than most balconies as it accommodated both a table, two chairs AND two sun beds. In terms of storage it was generous and the wardrobe space was significantly bigger than those of the normal balcony rooms (we looked in). Compared to other cruise lines I would still stay it was more than their standard balconies but less so. The cabin itself was very clean and the bed was comfortable although, at least from our personal perspective, it shares a common problem with all hotels and cruises in that the pillows are always fluffy but provide no neck support but when doubled up are too much. This is personal so I don't place too much emphasis on this. The fridge was large and whilst having some mini bar items it had enough space for me to keep my epipen cold and also bottles of water and cans of pop. However, there were a couple of small touches that could have been addressed to improve the cabin. The carpets were poorly fitting around the edges and were frayed or pulled up. In addition, in the bathroom the shower curtain had some tears and was missing eyelets and didn't really hand well or stay within the shower tray. For the record we are not fat but the curtain barely hung below the lip on the shower and was not really weighted so as you moved in the shower it would easily just fall out and soak the floor.

Dining

We were impressed with the dining on board which definitely suited British tastes. The main restaurant houses both a traditional dining option that rotates daily, with the italian menu reserved for upstairs but that has a static menu (but wider than the daily rotating menu). The main dining room had some good food and we were pleased whenever we ate there (I was not well for most of the first week so didn't eat much - nothing to do with the ship but personal health issues). Steak was sometimes served in the main restaurant but my wife was rather non-plus over it. That said we were pleased with the food here and did not feel short changed or required to go to the speciality dining venues.

The buffet choice was good with salads and fruit always available. Alongside this there were staples such as chips, burgers and hot dogs accompanied by rotating food suited to British tastes as well as rotating themed food. One thing we really liked was the hot coconut and chocolate cake with custard, it was only on one night but it really hit the spot and we wished it would be rotated on again. At lunch there was a panini station which at breakfast served as an omelette station. Immediately next to this there was a carvery station and I must say I was particularly impressed with the quality of the meat; it was cooked well without being overdone and was very tender. I like a carvery and was not disappointed. For me this most notably applied to all the beef dishes served at the buffet - the meat was tender whether it was in a curry or stroganoff. It felt unusual that the buffet closed by 9.30pm then the choice became much more limited over at the 'Glass House'. Several times I had the curry there alongside salad but I must highlight that regardless of what it says the curry says 'vindaloo, 'madras', 'mild' they all tasted the same except for the meat being used and was in no way spicy - but was tasty. Also a couple of times the chicken curry included small bits of bone so it is worth being careful when going for the chicken curry.

Specialty dining wise we did not go to either the Steakhouse or the Asian fusion option but personally I felt it was not great value. For example when paying the cover charge on NCL or MSC the range of sides and cuts of steaks were generous and better than we normally get in the UK and good value (especially in the context of NCL). However, when looking at the menu it felt more limited and did not provide particularly good value in terms of cost when compared to what you would pay in the UK - the desserts and starters were not particularly impressive.

Service

We were pleased with the service, the staff were very good and generally greeted you with a smile and conversation without being too in your face. English is the only language onboard and the staff all had strong English and there was a good diversity of staff - on some cruises the staff are almost exclusively Indonesian or Filipino (not that I have any issue with this) but onboard there were a number of staff from South and East Asia, the Carribean and Europe which seemed to make a different atmosphere. The waiting staff in the bars were attentive and there was rarely a situation where you would be left without a drink. Often we went to the bar but that was our personal preference as I am not used to having my drinks brought to me.

Ports and Excursions

We only went on one ship organised excursions otherwise we had made our own arrangements. I personally recommend picking independent tours as they were cheaper, easy to locate and you had more personal attention. For example One of the tours we went on was to the Mayan Ruins about an hour away from Costa Maya. Our tour both arrived before and left after the ship organised tour with a guide for only 6 of us and a chance to spend longer at each part of the site and ask questions of the guide. I have some more tips below.

Entertainment

The entertainment was good and provided a nice range of both musical productions and comedy. The other activities onboard were well organised and provided a range of choices no matter what your preference so all groups were well catered for.

Other points

All the main activities were free onboard - the wall climbing, the mini golf, VR taster and video games. The latter is an important one if you had kids or teenagers. Having been on cruises with arcade machines you watch kids and teens (I was the same when I was a kid) pumping money (well swiping their cruise card) into the arcade machines. However, the ship had a number of XBOX ONE consoles that were available to be played by passengers for no cost. It is something small but something I could appreciate if I was travelling with kids.

Upgraded drinks package - We upgraded the drinks package and would say that it was worth it in terms of the canned soft drinks as well as our preferred options when it came to spirits, amongst other things

The soft drinks are useful because we could pack a couple of cans in our bag when we went on excursions - it does save you a few dollars a time plus you avoid being gouged for soft drinks in some places. The cocktails were less impressive although there were a couple that stood out but confusingly, despite some being listed as available in every bar (there were a number that are specialty to each bar - for example beer cocktails in Live Room, smoking cocktails in Bar 11), some staff would refuse to make them which was annoying when we got called a liar when we stated we had been served one in that bar the night before by their colleague. They also varied in terms of the quality they were made and sometimes staff made it feel like a nuisance to go get them from the back. It is also worth noting in the Live Room they have a much larger range of premium beers - Duval is a personal favourite of mine and if you are beer connoisseur then it certainly beats the standard choices. My wife liked the Coffee Port - she thought the coffee was far better than the coffee available from the bars and while I don't drink coffee I liked the milkshakes and blended drinks available. Also whilst it is not off limits to other passengers as all drinks there were in the premium drinks package only (so if you were on the standard all inclusive you would need to pay individually for them) it tended to be quieter as an area to read or have a quiet discussion.

Some Tips

1. The Premium drinks package is not for everyone but I love 'real' coca cola and the coke on tap often had a 'rola' cola taste to it. Also it is worth noting that the canned drinks like the Coca Cola and San Peligrino were not UK sourced. This meant that the coke was made with High Fructose Corn Syrup, the San Peligrino was full sugar (not the reblended reduced sugar version in the UK) and the Fanta was an unnatural colour owing to the various aritificial colours allowed in the US. This was not an issue for me but I know some people may have an issue.

2. Cuba (late arriving and leaving early the next day) - we used an independent company that was great at providing a custom tour for a lower price to the cruise's own. However, you should note that you have to go through passport control and complete a visa - in this regard they prevent those not on ship organised excursions getting off until the ship tours get off. This delays you by about an hour to an hour and a half. However, as most of them are big tours we soon caught up with them with our small tour so it is not a big issue. In addition, if you want to go to Tropicana you may need to curtail your independent tour (it started later than it would have otherwise because the ship docks late).

3. Cuba currency - Be careful with converting your currency. Do not take US dollars as whilst the currency is pegged to the dollar the exchange rate includes a penalty. Use GBP or Euros. One thing that was annoying was we had some money left and went to exchange it back - we knew the buy back rate would be worse than the sell rate but the staff rounded down to the nearest £10 (they don't have GBP coins and it appears no £5). As such I would suggest not converting all your money in one go but rather convert it most on the first day and then on the morning of the second day in port convert some more if required. Wait until the morning to buy general souvenirs (rather than quality cigars) as you don't want to waste the time on the first day (remember you won't get off until between 3pm-4pm) on what could be spent seeing the main attractions. Our guide highlighted a good general souvenir shop and we went back the next morning. Also please note that many people plan to go to the market near the ship but as you dock on at a weekend the market does not open until 10am - as such you may want to spend the morning elsewhere before stopping at the market. A good general souvenir shop is on O'Reilly between Mercaderes and San Ignacio - it is just a doorway without a sign but you will see souvenirs around the doorway and the prices were good as well as being close to the ship and open at around 9am on the day you leave.

4. Guatemala - We pre-booked a tour that included a visit to a local school where they ask for stationary for the children and staff. If you think you will go on the tour then it is worth bringing stuff as it is amazing how something that seems inconsequential to us makes such a difference to them. It definitely made you appreciate how lucky we are here.

The reason we did not give the cruise 5 stars is because of a few issues:

1. Some of the time the premium drinks would not be cold which might be small but who wants a warm coke or a luke warm beer? Sometimes they just didn't have it - at one time they ran out of coke at one of the bars for two days. I understand that most customers are not on the premium package but it is no way to encourage people on it.

2. Entertainment Staff - One of the entertainment staff 'subtely' let us know they have to pay for their drinks and what her favourite drink was. We kind of felt like a**ses if we didn't get one - I mean it is all inclusive and it was not a premium drink so we got her one and left it for her. However, we did this twice more over the next week and on the third time a different member of bar staff than normal warned us that we would be reported if we did it again and we would be in trouble not the member of staff. Either let passengers give drinks or tell staff not to casually drop it into conversation. I don't expect to get in trouble plus if they looked at our drinks tab they would see that, with my illness and the number and length of excursions, we drank far less than others (some people were mainlining Peroni or margaritas like they were water).

3. Return flights - we had upgraded to premium club and on the outbound flight we were very happy with the level of service and general staff friendliness and standards onboard. On the return flight it felt very much like 'we have your money and you had your holiday so what do we care!' They were funny about which of the two toilets I could use (both were working but they wanted me to use the one in my aisle rather than the one closest to my seat (because of my condition I specifically chose a seat close to the toilet; they made passive agressive comments about other passengers and despite only having a Sprite all flight when I asked for a soft drink over an hour before we landed I was told the bar was closed. Economy on Emirates or even Virgin Atlantic is better than this. It wasn't like I was trying to rinse the bar or get wasted - I just wanted a soft drink. It really did put a downer on it rather than a nice end to the holiday.

So overall it was a very good cruise - I would recommend it to others but I would be cautious about upgrading the flights and upgrading the drinks package unless they could be more consistent and not end up feeling like a nuisance or you have asked for something you shouldn't have.
mxb350’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Cabin 6126
Good location and despite concern that those above would be able to look down on us this was not an issue given the tiered layout and ceiling over the balcony. One small issue with this cabin is that on one side the barrier runs the width of the balcony so it is not easy for the room next door to see you on your balcony but on the other side it has a short door (waist height). This means that once on the balcony it is quite easy to see and be seen by the balcony next door.