We went on the Enchanting Far East cruise on the Marella Discovery in December 2019. The cruise got off to a bad start when we fell victim to a somewhat desperate money-grabbing trick. Even though we went online to reserve seats for our party of three as soon as booking opened, TUI allocated us seats scattered all around the plane and then demanded an additional fee for sitting near (not even next to) each other.
The food in the buffet was of the usual standard. Not great, but adequate if you’re not dining at one of the proper restaurants. One thing that bothered us is the fact that they have done away with paper napkins at the buffet. These were useful for holding the tongs/ladles etc when serving up the food. If you have ever noticed the sticky residue on them you would understand why. Their disappearance is a backward step in maintaining hygiene.
The meals at both “all inclusive” restaurants were a bit hit and miss but the upstairs Italian one was the better of the two. Although the portions were sometimes comically small, when it was good, it was very good, and the service was very friendly and mostly efficient. Having said that, for the second year running we gave up waiting one night and walked out before our dessert reached the table. My main criticism is that the plates in both restaurants were often greasy and finger-marked. Staff were not very receptive to feedback on the subject.
All the basics are covered in the bars but the number of drinks in the “all inclusive” package has dwindled, along with the variety of cocktails available. I wonder how long they can keep calling it “all inclusive” without some watchdog picking up on the fact that it is in fact a long way from all inclusive. We found the waiter service in the bars to be quite poor. Several times we saw staff just standing in a virtually empty bar staring at the entertainment and studiously avoiding eye contact with the handful of customers.
The entertainment was OK for the first few nights. Generally, though, the entertainment is aimed at older ladies and chavs. If you’re neither of those, you’re going to get very bored, very fast. Unfortunately, the on-deck TV screen was zapped by lightning early on and we missed several nights of movies as a result, although they did put on some movies indoors, which is a welcome development. Marella need to work on this – and on providing cheaper and more effective Wi-Fi – if they are ever going to attract a new generation of cruisers.
The cabin crew were efficient and friendly. Some of the entertainment staff were likeable and very good at their job too (eg, George and Dean), although others were less popular with customers and need to work on their people skills.
One guy at destination services – Kevin – was very helpful and willing to spend time discussing trip options. Some of his colleagues were less user-friendly.
We found one or two of the reception staff to be unhelpful or outright rude; one girl in particular smirked and gave us an attitude when we were unable to book a late checkout.
Most of the organised trips were expensive but enjoyable. But there were some issues. Before the engine problems, we booked a cable car excursion on Langkawi. Once on the tour bus we were told that the cable car wouldn’t be running that day due to high winds. Fair enough. That wasn’t TUI’s fault and couldn’t be helped. However, TUI knew about the cancellation before we boarded the bus and yet instead of taking us to another sight on the island, or just giving us our money back, they drove us to a very shabby, crowded aquarium. It took 20 minutes to look around, after which we had to hang around a shopping centre for two hours to await our ride back to the ship. This was by no means an equivalent to going on a cable car sightseeing trip. We were offered some money back for this fiasco but I would rather have ditched the excursion altogether.
The cruise itself was marred by a well-publicised incident that led to several of the ports being cancelled. One night, the captain (who came across as somewhat aloof and unsympathetic) announced that there had been a fire in one of the engine rooms. The damage meant that the ship couldn’t make a decent speed and so three ports of call were cancelled: Cambodia, Malacca and Koh Samui. This meant additional (boring) days at sea.
The incident has received some unfavourable press coverage.
It turns out that the Discovery has suffered similar problems before.
In addition to abandoning some ports of call, some of the organised trips had to be shortened. The timing for our Bangkok trip was rescheduled. We were told at destination services that cutting the trip by two hours would have no impact on the quality of the excursion. This turned out to be untrue. We set out at 6am and after a long journey into the city, we were rushed around a temple complex and then whisked away to a grubby restaurant on the river before being bussed back to port just in time for departure. We didn’t see much of Bangkok, some temples were missed out and there was no exploration of the canals as promised. All in all, it was a stressful and unpleasant experience. Even though they did not provide the trip we paid for, TUI have refused to compensate us.
To be fair, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The trips to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon were all very good; the guides were knowledgeable and the restaurants in the latter two were of particularly high quality. In addition, due to the engine problem a return stop in Singapore was added, which was welcome as it is a really nice place. We managed to see a lot of the city on our two DIY trips via the metro. But it should have been the same for Bangkok, Malacca, Koh Samui and Cambodia.
Along with most customers, we had booked this cruise purely because it was stopping at locations that we were unlikely ever to visit any other way. But it turns out that TUI’s policy is that they make no guarantees about visiting specific ports and they reserve the right to change the published itinerary at any point, without compensating their customers. If you think about it, this is very odd. After all, you wouldn’t pay a taxi driver for taking you round and round the M25 if you had booked him to take you to the airport, would you?
The bottom line is that we did not get the holiday that was advertised and for which we paid TUI a significant amount of money. So, take this as a warning. Regardless of what cruise you think you are booking with TUI/Marella, you could end up just pootling around the ocean and not actually going anywhere!
We have been offered a £250 refund but this is nowhere near sufficient compensation given the huge amount of money the holiday cost.
All in all, I can’t help concluding that TUI is desperate to squeeze as much money out of its customers as it can, while providing as little service as possible. Moreover, the Marella Discovery is badly managed, prone to worrying engine problems and is staffed by some of the least able TUI employees.
We’ve been on TUI/Marella cruises for many years. We know it is cruising at the lower end of the market and there have always been minor grumbles but, generally, the positives have always outweighed any negatives. After this experience, though, we couldn’t recommend them to anyone anymore and we intend to upgrade to a more professional, honest and reliable cruise company next time.
Our cabin on the Discovery was slightly larger than the smallest available, in order to accommodate three adults. It suffered from the usual toilet blockages and weak shower but was otherwise adequate for a two week stay. This is just as well, since we ended up staying on board for somewhat longer than expected due to a fire in the engine room that impacted the itinerary.