Just returned from two week Baltic cruise on Marella Explorer (10 th Aug19).
Never having cruised before, we were unsure what to expect, but the itinerary was exactly what we wanted. Apologies in advance for the length of this review, I know it's going to be a long one
We sailed from Newcastle, so no flights involved for us which was a huge bonus, mainly as no luggage restrictions ( so long as each case weighed no more than 23k each) but also being able to avoid the chaos of airports in summer.
We stayed overnight the night before in Premier inn at the port( not the best, will review separately on trip advisor) .
We drove to the car park at 1130 which took all of 30 seconds from the hotel, dropped off our luggage in the marquee as instructed, where our cases were tagged with our cabin number - didn't see them again until we were on board. Then taken by bus to the check in area where we were given our cruise cards and information. We waited no more than 10 mins to be called to have passports checked, and after another very short bus ride we embarked. We were on board by 1215 - really efficient, smooth process, greatly appreciated by us as we had no idea of the process.
We had just had lunch by the pool when an announcement was made at 130 pm that cabins were available and our luggage arrived around 330 pm , really efficient service.
We explored and attended muster drill which was obviously very busy, but it was well organised and lasted no more than 15 mins.
Unfortunately the weather was poor for sail away so I believe a sail away party was held indoors. We stayed on deck in the typical British summer weather to watch us sail away instead.
We had a sea day immediately which gave us time to explore all the ship had to offer. Two pools, which were bigger than we expected. Three generous hot tubs too. Poolside bands when weather allowed, and twice daily films by the pools.
10 bars, 10 restaurants , a kids area, a teenage area, table tennis, mini golf, cinema, show lounge, champneys spa and gym, basket ball court, adults only sunbathing area, library with table games, shuffle board, quoits a huge English style pub with lots of quizzes and bands. Great value shops, I'm sure there was more but am at a loss to remember
Entertainment was on in the show lounge twice nightly and the few we saw were good. They had a guest comedian who was really good - so good we went to both his shows , one being a late night version
Service on board really was with a smile. Every member of staff without exception was friendly and polite. Everyone of the staff worked so hard and gave the impression they loved what they did. Our room stewards were fab and we appreciated the turndown service in the evening. Our cabin was kept very clean each day.
Hygiene was important throughout the ship, with hand sanitiser everywhere and gentle reminders in the daily cruise news .
Exiting the ship at each port of call was easy and smooth. , no long lines , and the same getting back on after each port. The sail away party after each port was great and after our two day stay in St Petersburg we were welcomed back with songs and dancing from all the crew on the dock side - really nice touch. Another nice touch was a BBQ by the pool on a rare sunny day after we visited Copenhagen .
Food is subjective and I'm sure you can't please everyone. But we didn't have a meal we didn't enjoy on board. From the buffet to the steak house, all really good. We tried them all, including the ones with the supplement except for the Dining club, purely as its not to my taste .
There were no tender ports on this itinerary , but a few of the ports were a little way out of town. TUI did provide shuttles for these at £5 each which we used. Only in Stockholm was the shuttle useless. It dropped us in a busy part of town difficult to find again for the return. We made our own way back to the ship, but guests were complaining the shuttle picked up in a different part of town that people weren't made aware of causing some to have to get taxis back to the ship
We didn't use TUI excursions at all, we researched before and either did our own thing or booked privately with no issues at all. Besides the price, the fact that TUI use full size coaches for excursions put us off. The privately booked tours used 16 seat mini buses, making it easier to see the sights quickly with a guarantee of not missing all aboard time
We didn't know wether we would love or hate the cruising experience, but can safely say we are hooked !
Thank you captain John , you have an amazing crew, you should be very proud, but you need better jokes !
Cabin 8159, pre booked for £48
There was three of us sharing as we were travelling with our adult daughter
This cabin is mid ship quite near the mid ship lifts. Very quiet, not disturbed by any noise at all. Quite spacious but it was designed for 4 adults and we felt this would feel very cramped if there had been a forth adult sharing. Lots of storage though and empty suitcases fitted under the bed. Small but functional bathroom, no shower curtain a nice glass door instead
Considering there was no window, it was quite bright. Full length mirror on the wall and hairdryer in the drawer. About 4 plug sockets2 European, 2 American but we brought a 4 way extension lead so no issues. Tv on wall with Sky news and sports news, and an Irish Chanel with the odd film on. Loved the bridge and pool cam function though
Very comfortable beds and pillows
We loved our choice of cabin and would probably choose it again if using an inside