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View from abroad: Marella Explorer 2’s Mediterranean Gems

In this ongoing series, the CTN team report back from their trips on the high seas: in this edition, editor Colette Doyle samples Marella Cruises’ Mediterranean Gems itinerary on board Marella Explorer 2.

Day 4

While the passengers on board Explorer 2 are a homogenous lot, there are no fewer than 45 different nationalities working as crew. They all seem to interact really well with the guests; the atmosphere is incredibly friendly, with everyone calling out salutations as they pass by, I imagine it must be what it’s like to live in a village (albeit one that changes location every day).

I get chatting to a few of the crew: Aleksandra is from the Ukraine and presides over the drinks station on the pool deck. Like the other staff members, she is unfailingly polite; despite the fact that some guests clearly want to get value for money when it comes to their all-inclusive packages, the atmosphere is never rowdy and good-natured banter fills the air.

Guests have the chance to be pampered on board at the soothing oasis that is Champneys Spa

Renata from Macedonia is another lady I encounter on my tour of the ship. She has been working at sea as a hairdresser for the past ten years or so, ever since she got divorced. She works at the Champneys salon, a shimmering gold oasis of tranquility located on deck 11. She tells me that some passengers are put off using the salon as they fear that such a well-known name means that it will be too expensive, but prices are fairly reasonable here compared to similar on-land facilities, meaning that it’s a great way to experience the iconic brand without having to schlep all the way to the home counties.

The ship is continuing its voyage, but alas it is time for me to disembark having enjoyed an extremely pleasant few days. Since I haven’t quite managed to sample all of the ship’s numerous amenities (Indigo night club and the Surf & Turf restaurant eluded me, plus I only got half way through the cocktail list) I leave with one thought at the forefront of my mind: how soon can I arrange to get back on board?

Day 3

When in Rome as they say, so as the ship sails into Italy I decide it’s time to try out Marella Explorer 2’s Italian dining experience, Vista. This is the first floor section of the main waiter service restaurant, Latitude 53, and it offers a choice of regional Italian dishes

Before I tuck into the main event, I nibble on a tasty tomato bruschetta served with shavings of Pecorino cheese. I resolve to swear off yet another dessert, but when I’m told they have a mash-up of two of my favourites, Tiramisu and Key Lime pie, then I can no longer resist. It comes as part of a tempting trio alongside the original and a white chocolate variation, and I must confess to trying all three.

It’s not all rich, heavy fare on board though, there are plenty of healthy choices on offer, including nutritious boxed salads at the Snack Shack on the pool deck, so there’s no need to come on as a passenger and roll off as cargo.

Marella Explorer 2, dining
Crab Bisque is one of the many sumptuous dish options on board

Day 2

There are plenty of activities on offer to stave off ennui on sea days, including poker, comedy, a music quiz, golfing (on a simulator at the 19th Hole bar, you can envisage playing at some of the world’s best courses) bingo and crafts, and that evening I decide to go along to watch a show at the theatre.

Revive is a steampunk-powered musical extravaganza that seamlessly blends the tale of a lost theatrical troupe, Le Théâtre des Ombres, or Theatre of the Shadows, with modern-day music from a variety of artists, including Queen and the Beach Boys. The overall effect is mesmerising, accompanied by some well-executed choreography and dazzling aerial displays.

Rome, Italy
The beautiful city of Rome is one of the ports of call

 

During Marella Explorer 2’s sojourn in Italy, guests who can bear to tear themselves away from all the ship has to offer can enjoy such excursions as Classical Sights & Vatican City in Rome, Florence & Pisa from Livorno and the Emerald Coast in Sardinia.

Along with friendly crew, experiences of the culinary kind also await guests here: a seven-course wine and food pairing menu is on offer for £45 per person at the Dining Club. For £10 less you can sample the standard menu, which changes every week so that passengers who are on board for a fortnight can enjoy some variety.

This is seriously good food served with panache: I opt for the rosewood-smoked king prawn cocktail, which arrives beautifully presented. My main is that steakhouse classic, Tournedos Rossini, which comes with foie gras. I’m feeling full by the time it comes to dessert, but I know I simply must try the Madagascan vanilla soufflé – and I am glad I did, its deliciously creamy texture is as light as air and twice as sweet.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel on a fair few cruise lines, but back in my cabin amid all the regular marketing material for excursions and room service, I spy something that I haven’t seen elsewhere: a ‘smiletinerary’.

This light-hearted pamphlet offers a range of happiness-related suggestions, from the beverage-based: grab a “Grin & Tonic” at the bar, to the health-conscious: enjoy a ‘smiletox’ from roaming massage therapists and the downright silly: ‘random acts of smileness’ involves a passenger receiving a surprise gift on being spotted smiling by a crew member . Still, I suppose that on a fun-packed floating holiday resort like this, everyone has plenty to smile about.

 

Day 1 

I confess that I have a vested interest in seeing how things operate aboard a Marella cruise. Parent company, German-owned behemoth Tui, acquired Thomson Holidays back in 2000, but 11 years before that yours truly worked for them for one season as a rep on the rambunctious Costa del Sol.

My accommodation  on board is a Grand Suite and it’s as impressive as the name sounds: plush and spacious with dark wood panelling,  thoughtfully chosen objets d’art, a full complement of Clarins’ toiletries, and a generously proportioned lounge area.

There’s also a sweeping outside area, more like a terrace than a balcony, with room for sun loungers and a table and chairs, plus – my favourite – a bath plus a separate shower cubicle. Then there’s a fantastic walk-in wardrobe that would leave Sex & The City’s Carrie seriously envious.

A plate of fruit greets me on arrival – I’m not really a healthy eater, but this is the kind of fruit I love: ripe, juicy strawberries naughtily covered in two kinds of chocolate.

Marella’s new 1,814-passenger ship, Explorer 2, debuted in April this year

The good food theme continues later when I visit Asian fusion restaurant Kora La, the brainchild of chef Ian Pengelley, who has taken the name of a mountain pass in the Himalayas and used it as a metaphor for a place where various Asian influences – including Indian, Thai and Vietnamese – blend.

Genial host Nic Spanoudes, the ship’s GM, explains that it’s relatively easy to cater for passengers on board this particular line as they’re almost exclusively British, meaning that the F&B team know exactly what they like. And since there’s nothing the Brits like more than a tasty curry, Kora La offers a tempting variety, each served as spicy (or indeed mild) as you like.

And it’s good value, too: Nic notes that it’s only £25 per person extra to dine here, way cheaper than you’d pay on dry land. There’s all kind of speciality dining outlets on board, including a steakhouse, fine dining and Italian and I intend to use my time on board to discover them all – purely in the interests of research, of course.

For more information on Marella Explorer 2 cruises, visit tui.co.uk/cruise.

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