Marella Cruises

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Marella Cruises fleet

Review of Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises (renamed in 2018 from "Thomson Cruises", tui.co.uk/cruise) is a "TUI Group"-owned and "TUI UK and Ireland"-operated British cruise line, that offers low-price voyages in Europe, Caribbean, and Asia. The company's older vessels are chartered from Holland America Line and Celestyal Cruises. Marella's new fleet consists of TUI-owned ships formerly owned and operated by Royal Caribbean and TUI Cruises.

In late-April 2020 was officially announced that the liner Marella Celebration will be retired (either sold or scrapped) after 15 years of service with Thomson-Marella UK. The ship was scheduled to be homeported in Dubrovnik Croatia (June through October 2020, and May through October 2021), in Limassol Cyprus (Nov-Dec 2020, and March-April 2021) and in Dubai UAE (Dec 2020 through March 2021). All these voyages (which are still listed at CruiseMapper) were cancelled.

In mid-October 2021, TUI announced that Mein Schiff Herz will be transferred in 2023 to Marella's fleet. Following a drydock refurbishment, the boat will be renamed "Marella Voyager", starting operations for Marella on June 3, 2023.

Company history

Initially, Thomson Cruises (UK company) started operations in 1973, but due to rising fuel costs, its passenger shipping operations were terminated in 1976. Thomson restarted cruise shipping in 1995. Marella Cruises is a very popular brand on the British travel market. It was established in 1965 as a division of UK's largest tour operator and travel agency Thomson Holidays (now TUI UK). Thomson Holidays was a subsidiary of Thomson Corporation (1989-2008 defunct). Marella's parent company (TUI Group) owns hotels, the companies TUI Cruises, Marella Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, and the travel brands International Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions. The company also owns aircraft and the airlines Corsair International (France), TUI Airways (UK), TUI fly Nordic (Sweden), TUI fly Belgium, TUI fly Deutschland, TUI fly Netherlands.

Thomson Marella Cruises logo

Two Greek ocean liners were chartered by Thomson in 1973, but the company failed to capture the audience, like other cruise lines of the 1970s. Operations were restarted in 1995 after Thomson chartered the liner Sapphire (originally named MS Italia, built 1965, scrapped 2010) from Louis Cruise Lines (now Celestyal Cruises). Soon the company chartered other ocean liners, among which Island Breeze (RMS Transvaal Castle, 1961-2003), Topaz (RMS Empress of Britain, 1955-2008), The Emerald (SS Santa Rosa, 1958-2012).

Thomson Cruises aimed an effect on the British market just like Carnival did in the USA. Package holidays had already been very popular in the UK, and the company wanted the same for cruising. Despite the aging ships, Thomson Cruises attracted an ever-increasing number of first-time UK cruisers with affordable fares and presence of company's travel agencies across Britain. In the 1990s, Thomson started operations as a budget cruise line and improved its product becoming more successful in the UK by improving amenities, ships and services, and introducing a wider range of itineraries.

Royal Caribbean sold its stake in Island Cruises to TUI Travel (Thomson's parent company) in 2008. In 2009 Island Star left the fleet and joined the Spanish brand of Royal Caribbean - Pullmantur. Island Escape joined Thomson fleet in 2009 and continued to offer informal cruises to the UK source market. Thomson Dream (Marella Dream) joined the fleet in spring 2010 being long-term chartered from Costa Cruises.

In March 2015, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) announced they had agreed to sell Splendour of the Seas to TUI in the second quarter of 2016. TUI would lease the vessel to Thomson Cruises in order to replace Island Escape. In May 2015, TUI Group announced plans for Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2 (now Mein Schiff Herz) to be transferred to Thomson over the next few years. Shiff 1 (renamed Marella Explorer) entered Marella's fleet in 2017. In October 2015, Thomson's Island Cruises brand was discontinued after its only ship MS Island Escape (now Ocean Gala) completed its last voyage with Thomson.

For FY2017, company's turnover was GBP 502 million, with EBITA (earnings-before-interest-taxes-depreciation-amortization) GBP 86,5 million and total number of served passengers 308,000 (101,7% occupancy). For FY2018 (fiscal year), TUI Group's earnings (from the 3 cruise brands - TUI, Marella, and Hapag-Lloyd) increased by 10,7% - to EUR 901,9 million. Company's turnover was EUR 324 million (26,8% increase over 2017). Group's average daily rates increased to EUR 178 euro (TUI, up from EUR 173), EUR 141 (Marella, up from EUR 131) and EUR 615 (Hapag-Lloyd, up from EUR 594).

In March 2018, TUI Group announced that to Marella's fleet will be added Marella Explorer 2 (formerly SkySea Golden Era, initially Celebrity Century), with scheduled delivery in December 2018. The liner was previously operated by SkySea Cruise Line - Asian joint venture company (owned by the RCCL-Royal Caribbean and Ctrip International). SkySea was the first contemporary brand developed for the Chinese market. Operational between May 2015 - September 2018, the new cruise line handled nearly 300 voyages and around 0,5 million passengers.

Marella "cruise and stay" holiday package deals include hotel or apartment at the beginning or at the end of the voyage.

Onboard cuisine offers everything you can think about - from healthy options to exotic local specialties and culinary choices on offer. Daytime entertainment with Marella cruises is great for all members of the family. There are also different activities for children onboard and special children's menu for junior diners. You can relax each evening in the wide range of bars and lounges or enjoy first-class entertainment with singers and comedians.

Marella fly-cruise deals from the UK to the Caribbean are served by regional TUI Airways flights from UK airports (Cardiff, Doncaster Sheffield, East Midlands, Glasgow, Newcastle, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, London-Gatwick). Flights are to the company's Caribbean homeports Bridgetown Barbados and Montego Bay Jamaica. In 2019 were introduced "cruise-only flights" to Malaysia from Manchester Airport. The TUI Airways service (via Boeing 787 aircraft) connects to Langkawi Island - homeport for Marella's Far East Asia voyages. Such direct flights (TUI Airways) are also offered from London-Gatwick and Birmingham.

On select cruises, Marella offers free all-inclusive upgrades on fleet's older liners. The new vessels (Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2) offered these all-inclusive packages as standard fare inclusion. Since summer 2019, TUI's Marella brand operates with all-inclusive cruise deals fleetwide.

(Coronavirus crisis) passenger shipping pause 2020-2021

Due to the Coronavirus crisis, Marella suspended its entire fleet's passenger shipping operations (all liners) by cancelling all voyages with pre-scheduled departures in the period March 14, 2020, through late-June 2021.

Next are listed all Marella ships and their first departure dates/regions/homeports in 2021 - DISCOVERY (Sept 3/Mediterranean-Greece from Corfu/"Aegean Discovery"), DISCOVERY 2 (May 7, 2022/Mediterranean from Palma de Mallorca), EXPLORER (June 25/UK from Southampton), EXPLORER 2 (July 10/UK from Newcastle).

  • Marella's Caribbean 2021 program was cancelled, which affected the ships DISCOVERY (from Montego Bay Jamaica) and EXPLORER 2 (from Bridgetown Barbados).
  • DISCOVERY 2's Mediterranean 2021 program (Adriatic and Greek Islands from Corfu) was cancelled, and the ship restarts in May 2022.
  • DISCOVERY's 2021 homeporting in Palma de Mallorca was replaced with Corfu Greece.
  • Two Marella ships (Celebration, Dream) were sold and left the fleet. Marella Dream was originally planned to restart voyages on May 4, 2021. Marella Dream was originally planned to restart voyages on May 4, 2021.

All affected bookings received full refunds (100% monetary) or 110% in FCC (future cruise credit), including on prepurchased through Marella (TUI UK) packages and services. With rebooking, the fare paid is transferred to FCCs (110%). Holiday package bookings (cruise and land vacations) receive 120% refund (in FCC) or 100% cash refund. All refunds are received within 4 weeks prior to the original departure date.

Itinerary of Marella Cruises

With a large selection of destinations and itineraries, Marella Cruises may show you the whole world. With a variety of UK cruises with departures from Southampton, Newcastle and Harwich, fly-cruise holidays from a large number of airports (available departures from over twenty UK airports), Marella Cruises sail in the Red Sea and the Canary Islands during winter, the Mediterranean in summer. There are about a hundred different destinations to explore aboard Marella ships.

Marella's UK-Caribbean fly-cruise deals are via TUI Airways (sister-company, part of TUI Group). The packages include direct flights from the UK (London-Gatwick and Birmingham) to Melbourne Orlando Airport. Marella optionally offers “cruise and stay” packages with a choice of 18 different hotels in the Caribbean.

Marella cruise itinerary changes

Following the Coronavirus crisis, in mid-April 2021 Marella announced a new ex-UK 2021 summer program with itineraries leaving roundtrip from UK ports and mainly coastal cruising along Britain's coast.

Marella Explorer 1 was homeported in Southampton (starting June 25, 2021).

  • The 3-night "Sail the South Coast" (mini-cruise itinerary from Southampton) visits Dover and Portland.
  • The "Sail the Irish Sea" itinerary (starting August 2021) from Southampton visits Liverpool, Dublin, Cobh.
  • Scottish itineraries out of Southampton visit Invergordon, Leith (Edinburgh), Newcastle.
  • "A Taste of the West Coast" itinerary (one-way Southampton to Portland) visits Greenock, Belfast, Holyhead.

Marella Explorer 2 was homeported in Newcastle upon Tyne (starting July 10, 2021).

Marella Celebration (1984-built, former ms Noordam and Thomson Celebration) joined the fleet in 2005. During summer, the ship operated Adriatic Sea roundtrips out of Dubrovnik Croatia. During winter it offered Persian Gulf cruises from Dubai. For summer 2018, the ship was relocated to homeport Dubrovnik for an adults-only cruise program with full-day port stays in Bar, Korcula, Zadar, Venice, Trieste, Split. The ship also introduced 2 new 7-day itineraries, themed "Sail Three Seas" (Valletta Malta, Messina Sicily, Cephalonia Island, Igoumenitsa, Kotor) and "Greek Mystique" (Chania Crete, Piraeus-Athens, Kalamata, Corfu Island, Kotor).

  • In late-April 2020, Marella announced that the Celebration ship will be retired after 15 years of service with Thomson-Marella UK.
  • Marella Celebration was scheduled to be homeported in Dubrovnik Croatia (June through October 2020, and May through October 2021), in Limassol Cyprus (Nov-Dec 2020, and March-April 2021) and in Dubai UAE (Dec 2020 through March 2021). All these scheduled departures were cancelled. Among those were two repositioning cruises (via Suez Canal) visiting Singapore. Both relocation voyages ("Wonders of the Far East" and "Flavours of the Far East") were planned as 14-day itineraries featuring a late-night stay in Singapore.
  • Marella Celebration had also planned 3 new itineraries from homeports Limassol, Dubai and Dubrovnik. The 6-night "Ancient Adventure" (from Dubrovnik) visits Piraeus-Athens and Rhodes Island. The relocation voyages between Limassol and Dubai ("Continental Crossing" and "Arabia Awaits") visited Aqaba-Petra (Jordan) and Salalah (Oman).

Thomson Majesty (1992-built) joined the fleet in 2012 and operated roundtrips to Madeira and Canary Islands with departures from Tenerife and Gran Canaria. In 2018, the ship was sold to Mano Cruises and now operates as Crown Iris. Thomson Spirit (1983-built, former ms Nieuw Amsterdam, ms Patriot, ms Spirit), joined the fleet in 2003. The ship offered year-round European itineraries - Western Mediterranean (from Malaga and roundtrip Madeira) and Canary Islands (departures from Tenerife and Gran Canaria). Thomson Spirit's last cruise for Marella was scheduled for October 21, 2018.

Marella Dream (1986, fka MS Homeric, ms Westerdam, Costa Europa, Thomson Dream) joined the fleet in 2010 and left the fleet in 2020. During summer, the ship offered Eastern Mediterranean roundtrips from Corfu Greece. During winter it offered Caribbean roundtrips from Jamaica (Montego Bay), with Transatlantic repositioning crossings between the Caribbean and Europe.

  • On October 1, 2020, was announced the retirement (end of the charter) of the 34-year-old Marella Dream - after 10 years of service with Thomson-Marella UK (2010-2020). All Marella Dream cruises scheduled between May 4 and December 30, 2021 (37x itineraries) were cancelled. All Marella Dream Mediterranean 2021 voyages were transferred to Marella Discovery 1, which was rescheduled for homeporting in Palma de Mallorca Spain (instead of Port Canaveral USA). As result of the redeployment, Discovery 1's summer 2021 Caribbean voyages were all cancelled.

Marella Discovery 1 (1996, former "Splendour of the Seas" and "Thomson Discovery") joined the fleet in 2016. The ship offers year-round Western Mediterranean roundtrips from Palma de Mallorca.

  • Marella Discovery had scheduled homeporting in Port Canaveral in summer 2021, offering 4 new itineraries with 11x call ports. A total of 26 seasonal sailings were offered (May 2 through October 24, 2021) leaving from Port Canaveral's Cruise Terminal 5.
  • "American Dream" and "Big Apple Adventure" itineraries featured an overnight in NYC.
  • The "Sunshine States and Sands" itinerary visits Miami, Grand Turk Island, Amber Cove Dominicana, Key West Florida.
  • The "Floridian Favorites" itinerary (7- or 14-night roundtrips) features an overnight in Tampa and visits Nassau.
  • A music-themed voyage (17-day "Sunshine and Jazz"/from Bridgetown to Port Canaveral) visits Charlotte Amalie (St Thomas Island USVI), San Juan (Puerto Rico), New Orleans, Tampa, Key West, Miami.
  • The 4 new itineraries also can be extended with cruise-and-hotel packages in Orlando City. Marella Discovery was scheduled to visit Charleston, NYC, Bahamas (Freeport, Nassau), Norfolk, Key West FL, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, NOLA-New Orleans.
  • However, this Caribbean program was replaced with homeporting in Bridgetown Barbados (Nov 2021-April 2022) while the Port Canaveral homeporting season was rescheduled for 2023 summer.
  • In summer 2022, Marella Discovery is to be homeported in Palma de Mallorca (Majorca Island, Balearic Spain) with a special itinerary sailing from Barbados to Palma, visiting the Azores.

Marella Discovery 2 (1995, formerly "Legend of the Seas" / Royal Caribbean and "TUI Discovery 2"), joined the fleet in Spring 2017. The ship operates Mediterranean cruises (leaving from Malaga Spain) and Canary Islands cruises (out of Tenerife to ports in the Canaries, Morocco, and Madeira).

Marella Explorer (1996, formerly Mein Schiff 1, initially "Celebrity Galaxy") started operations in 2018, with 7-day Western Mediterranean cruises leaving roundtrip from homeport Palma De Mallorca Spain and visiting popular French Riviera ports in France. In 2020 winter, the ship is sailing a 6-night Magic of the Mediterranean cruise from Corfu.

Marella Explorer 2 (1995, formerly "SkySea Golden Era", initially "Celebrity Century") starts operations in April 2019 with 7-day Mediterranean itineraries leaving roundtrip from homeport Naples (Italy). For winter 2019-2020, the ship is deployed to the Caribbean and homeported in Bridgetown (Barbados). In 2020 winter, it sails a 14-night Atlantic Explorer out of Malaga to Barbados.

Marella Voyager (1997, currently "Mein Schiff Herz", initially "Celebrity Mercury") joins Marella's fleet in 2023. Following a drydock, the boat will be renamed "Marella Voyager", with Maiden Voyage for Marella leaving on June 3, 2023.

New call ports added for winter 2020 are Gatun Lake (Panama Canal) with its vast wildlife and hidden islands, Kingston Jamaica (Port Royal - called "wickedest city on earth" because of the pirates once anchoring there) and Samana, Dominican Republic. Along with these new ports, Marella returns to the popular North African ports Alexandria Egypt and Casablanca Morocco, and to Cyprus (with Marella Celebration and Marella Dream cruising to Limassol).

In summer 2021, Marella Discovery 1 was planned for homeporting in the USA (Port Canaveral, Orlando Florida) and offering 4 new Caribbean itineraries with a total of 11 different call ports and 26 departures (in the period May 2 through October 24, 2021). Due to the Coronavirus crisis, the ship's Caribbean deployment was cancelled and replaced with Europe-Mediterranean.

NOTE: Due to the Coronavirus/COVID pandemic, the largest cruise line in the UK, Marella Cruises, announced it was due to commence its summer 2020 program in July with 3 of its 5 ships, "should it be safe to set sail".

In summer 2020, Marella Explorer was scheduled to set sail from Corfu Island (Kerkyra, Greece), while Marella Explorer 2 was due to sail from the UK and Marella Discovery from Palma de Mallorca (Majorca Island, Spain) as originally planned.

Marella Discovery 2 was expected to recommence cruises in winter 2020 and no longer operating from homeport Naples. Marella Dream is no longer due to sail out of Palma de Mallorca as she returns to service in summer 2021.

The cruise line has also announced important changes to its itinerary program:

For winter 2020, Discovery 2 is to be homeported in Cyprus, setting sail from March 24, 2021, and replacing the itineraries Marella Celebration was scheduled to sail. The itinerary change means that Marella Cruises is no longer offering its Asia & the Middle-East voyages. Clients that were due to sail from Cyprus on Celebration during March-April are upgraded to Marella Discovery 2 at no additional cost.

Marella Cruises' Discovery is no longer sailing her December-January journeys from Jamaica. The ship is officially setting sail on February 3, 2021, with a repositioning voyage from Malaga to Jamaica prior to continuing her Caribbean program from Jamaica as scheduled on February 16, 2021.

No changes are planned for Marella Explorer and Marella Explorer 2. Explorer 2 is still to be homeported in Barbados and Explorer 1 is still to be homeported in the Canaries. For Marella's summer 2021 program, Explorer 2 is no longer to be homeported in Naples, meaning the ship is due to replace the itineraries of Marella Celebration from Dubrovnik. Customers booked on Celebration from Dubrovnik were upgraded to Explorer 2 at no extra cost.

Marella Cruises 2021-2022 winter program

Marella Discovery 1 is homeported in Bridgetown Barbados (starting December 2021) and operates new itineraries visiting St Thomas USVI (Charlotte Amalie), Saint Croix USVI (Frederiksted), Puerto Rico (San Juan), Guadeloupe (Pointe-a-Pitre) and St Vincent Island (Kingstown).

Marella Discovery 2 cruises in Asia 2022 (2x itineraries) - "The Lights of the Orients" (Hong Kong roundtrip) and "Eastern Experience" (Singapore roundtrip), with maiden port calls in Manila (Philippines), Muara (Brunei) and Danang (Vietnam).

Marella's Dream and Explorer ships are homeported in Tenerife (since November 2021) and visit Canary Islands (La Palma, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria) and Madeira (Funchal overnight). New call port in the Canaries is Playa Blanca (Lanzarote) with overnight stays.

In 2021, Marella Discovery repositions from Port Canaveral (Florida USA) via Canada (Saint John NB, Charlotte Town Prince Edward Island, Quebec City, Saguenay Quebec, Sept-Iles Quebec). The voyage ends in Bridgetown Barbados (October 24).

Marella Explorer 2's itinerary "Flavour of the Caribbean" visits Cuba with an overnight in Havana. Special 2021 itineraries are the repositioning cruises themed as "Arabian Sunrise" (Sri Lanka, Mumbai, Oman) and the "East Coast Adventure" (Transatlantic crossing to Canada, with Boston MA overnight).

Marella Cruises to Cuba from Jamaica

Marella Cruises offered Cuba cruises with roundtrip departures from Jamaica (Montego Bay) on the ship Marella Dream. Itineraries started in 2017. The first cruise was on January 31 (7-night / 8-day to Grand Cayman Island, Havana Cuba, and Cozumel Mexico). In 2020, two Marella ships (Celebration, Dream) were sold and left the fleet. Marella Dream was originally planned to restart voyages on May 4, 2021.

The list of passenger shipping lines offering cruises to Cuba included:

Note: According to the current Cuban law, US citizens of Cuban origin (born in Cuba) are not allowed to visit the island country (including on cruise ships). Regardless of their US citizenship status, Cuban-born Americans were denied booking on cruise itineraries visiting ports in Cuba. However, the situation changed in April 2016, after Carnival Corporation negotiated with the Cuban government for allowing ships with Cuban-born passengers, as such US citizens are allowed to visit the country on USA-Cuba charter flights. The Carnival-fathom line started Miami to Cuba cruises in May 2016.

Alaska Airlines offers regular nonstop flights to Havana from Los Angeles (California USA). An 80-min ling JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) to Havana costs less than USD 100. Previously, air travel from the USA to Cuba was thought charter flights only.

Marella Cruises related cruise news

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