Sara Macefield experiences the flagship of the newly rebranded Marella Cruises – formerly known as Thomson Cruises – following its multi-million pound refit
It’s been a year of sea change for the former Thomson Cruises. Not only has the line become Marella Cruises, but gained a new flagship in the summer when it welcomed TUI Discovery 2 – now renamed Marella Discovery 2.
The ship’s arrival has given a further boost to Marella Cruises’ bid to modernise its fleet and turn it into a stronger force to be reckoned with.
It’s a transformation that started in summer 2016 when Royal Caribbean International’s Splendour of the Seas joined as the then Thomson Cruises’ flagship and was renamed TUI Discovery (now Marella Discovery) at a glitzy celebration in Palma. This paved the way for former RCI stable-mate, Legend of the Seas, to follow in June as the line’s new flagship, bringing with it a host of fancy features not found on the line’s older vessels.
Marella Discovery 2 – Marella Cruises’ largest ship yet at 1,830 passengers – boasts an extended line-up of bars and restaurants, climbing wall and on-deck movie screen – clear markers of its American heritage.
There’s also a more up-to-date feel which comes from the airy atrium with its glass elevators and sweeping marble staircase, but a multi-million pound refit has clearly put the brand’s stamp on this ship.
While it is virtually a carbon copy of Marella Discovery, there are features that give the new addition its own persona which will appeal to couples of all ages, families and first-time cruisers.
One of the biggest differences is the Virtual Reality Experience, a fun new attraction that transports users into virtual worlds, from battling with space pirates to casting magical spells in a Harry Potter-style chamber.
Buried on Deck 3, it replaces the Break Out and Escape Room on Marella Discovery, and unlike that attraction (which carries a £10pp charge), it is complimentary. Next door is the Green Screen Experience, a photobooth with fun backdrops where users can pose for pictures.
While Marella Discovery 2 has electronic information boards and booking kiosks which first appeared on Marella Discovery, it has debuted a downloadable app called Navigate.
Not only does this enable passengers to monitor their onboard account and check entertainment schedules, they can book extras such as spa treatments, excursions and speciality restaurants.
Another bonus is that Navigate is free as it is hosted on the ship’s network and opens on any browser, so passengers don’t have to download it or pay for wi-fi to access it.
Away from techno frills, Marella Discovery 2’s cabins have been overhauled and modernised, helped by fresh new en suite facilities.
There are 918 cabins with balcony cabins accounting for 40 per cent, the highest proportion of any Marella ship, plus six ocean view staterooms, added during the refit, with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Marella Discovery 2 launched as an all-inclusive ship, which means that, in addition to gratuities, most drinks are included, too, apart from speciality coffees, selected cocktails and premium spirits.
Dining options are varied with five complimentary options and four speciality venues. The main restaurant, 47° – named after the latitude of the French shipyard where the vessel was built – is light and airy serving “traditional fare with a modern twist”, while upstairs on the balcony level is Gallery 47°. On Marella Discovery, this was an Italian restaurant, but has been scaled back and now offers the main dining menu or Italian alternative.
At £9.95pp, the Hot Stone dining option in The Glass House solarium, is the cheapest of the fee alternatives, but it’s worth paying extra at £19.95pp for the Kora La Asian restaurant. Its location overlooking the pool deck means the views alone justify the extra cost, though dishes like the hallmark duck and watermelon salad make it a cut above the ship’s other venues.
On a similar level is the Surf & Turf steakhouse, costing £24.95, which has more of a private club-style ambience along with an impressive line-up of succulent prime cuts.
Marella Cruises knows how to rock the boat when it comes to entertainment and Marella Discovery 2 is no different. The hub of its night-time scene is the Live Room where revellers sing along to classics belted out by live bands, while a pianist on the neon yellow grand piano leads rousing singalongs. When these venues run out of steam, the DJ at Bar Eleven spins into the early hours.
Anyone who’s cruised on Discovery will feel at home on Discovery 2. However, it will soon be followed by another duo, Mein Schiff 1, which joins as Marella Explorer next May, and Mein Schiff 2, whose name and arrival date have still to be confirmed. Both ships were built for RCI brand Celebrity Cruises and currently sail for Marella’s sister line, TUI Cruises, serving the German market.
A six-night Iconic Italia itinerary from Palma to Corfu on Marella Discovery 2, departing April 28, 2018, costs from £774pp.