This is an extensive review...Bear with me, but this is our honest opinion and our personal view. Firstly, to put this cruise into context it will have been our 17th. We have enjoyed 3 previous cruises with 'Thompson', all of which have been fine and we thought good value for money. This was why we booked with their new branding 'Marella' and we were looking forward to going on the Explorer.
The advertising and videos looked fine, and the Baltic was an area we had not cruised in but had been to independently previously. The port itinerary was great, Copenhagen, Warnemunde, Stockholm, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Klaipeda, and Fredericia. We had visited Tallinn and Riga both previously. The cruise did what it said on the tin, and destinations were not disappointing with no problems visiting the ports. All through the cruise, we were blessed with sunny weather and mainly calm seas. From this aspect, the voyage went well.
Embarkation was good, as it was at the ports, and at the end of our cruise; well organised by the ship and no issues. Same in Russia, where good advice was given by destination services on procedure etc. There was enough time to organise and plan your own trips/activities if you had not booked ship ones, and what excursions we did take were reasonable and good. One issue which a number of people raised was the point that Marella no longer provides port maps in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and help the planet. Fine, but a lot of people were not happy accessing an online map version on the ship, and some are not IT savvy, so its a cheap cost-cutting exercise in our view. You can in most places get a 'hard copy' map from the cruise terminals at the ports you visit for free anyway.
Cabin: We opted for an outside picture window, and this was on deck 8. This is allocated on arrival unless you are willing to pay an extra 'fee' ( I think about £48.00 ) to choose your cabin. We have not met this practice before, perhaps we have missed something !. It seems Marella must be going down the same route as budget airlines in that your cabin will be allocated unless you pay to choose it. Not good, and another money making exercise. We were allocated one close to the bow. Not so bad for us as we don't suffer sea sickness, but quite bumpy when rough.
The cabin was adequate and very clean. Our cabin steward was good and of great help. We had a double bed which was two singles put together, and my side had a distinct 'dip' in the middle due I found out to a bent bedframe. I think someone of 'ample' proportions must have slept in it previously, but my first night was quite uncomfortable. I reported this, along with incessant noise from the air conditioning blower which, apart from temperature, we could not alter. The bed mattress was altered and I was told nothing could be done about the air conditioning fan. It was fixed in a fashion, and I slept better for the rest of the cruise. The shower was good, but no specific soaps and moisturisers as on previous Thompson cruises, just packet soap and shower gell from a universal dispenser.
There was a lack of writing materials, and there was no passenger laundry to use. Laundry was available on a 'same day' premium pay per item basis or a cheaper pay for item next day service. Unlike on previous ships you could not launder or iron your own items. Again, not good we thought and another added cost. We took handwash and managed to wash smalls and dry them on a towel on our window, but it was warm weather and it worked out well. Our advice is bring a travel iron !!. There was adequate lighting in the cabin and also draws/storage space and hangers. Another point, we were close to the Broadway Lounge, and we could hear singing and music in the cabin till late as they were practicing and the shows were on