Cruise Line Focus

Cruise line focus: Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises made a name for itself as Thomson Cruises, becoming known as the UK’s preeminent fun ship cruise line offering fly-cruise itineraries in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and (pre-COVID) Dubai.


Thomson Celebration (now Marella Celebration) in Dubai during her maiden Middle East cruise season.

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Formerly known as Thomson Cruises before the brand was purchased by TUI, Marella Cruises is the UK’s ‘fun ship’ cruise line, with a focus on resort-style cruising similar to AIDA Cruises in Germany.

It took this approach to differentiate itself from other dominant British cruise lines, namely P&O, the only other ‘mass market’ cruise operator in the UK.

Marella was established as Thomson Cruises in 1973, as a division of the largest travel agency and tour operator in Britain.

Marella Cruises history

Thomson had made itself the leading name in travel during the 1960s, with its own travel agencies, airlines and more.

The cruise division initially didn’t do very well though, and was discontinued in 1976. In 1995, however, with cruising having become more mainstream and accessible for the middle class, it tried again.

It chartered a small ship, The Sapphire, from Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines (now re-branded as Celestyal Cruises). This led to additional charter contracts for a variety of other ships, including Island Breeze from the now-defunct Premier Cruises, The Topaz from former Premier executive Paris Katsoufis, and another Louis ship, The Emerald.

Thomson wanted to emulate the success of Carnival Cruises in the US and it did this with highly competitive fares and a focus on carefree fun while aboard.

It took a major risk by appealing only to the fly-cruise market. To this day, the cruise line generally does not cruise roundtrip from any UK ports, but instead homeports in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and, more recently, the Middle East.

That changed post-COVID when the uncertain global travel market prompted Marella to begin offering UK-focused roundtrip itineraries from ports in England.

Marella Cruises

Marella has acquired several ships from its new parent company TUI and Royal Caribbean.

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Because Marella Cruises doesn’t own some of the ships it operates, there is often a lot of ship-swapping within its fleet.

For example, in 2008 when Royal Caribbean sold its stake in another U.K. line, Island Cruises, to Thomson Cruises’ parent company, TUI Travel, Island Star had to leave the fleet to join Royal Caribbean’s Spanish brand, Pullmantur, while Island Escape joined the Thomson fleet in spring 2009 to continue offering informal cruises to the British market.

Another chartered cruise ship, Thomson Dream, joined the line in 2010 from Costa Cruises, while Thomson Majesty joined in May 2012 as part of a ship swap that sent Thomson Destiny to Celestyal Cruises (formerly Louis Cruises).

Thomson Spirit is also owned by Celestyal Cruises and chartered to Thomson.

Marella Discovery

Marella Discovery formerly sailed as Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas.

In 2015, however, Thomson Cruises started buying its own ships. The first was Splendour of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean, which now sails as TUI Discovery.

The venerable cruise ship Island Escape was sold off to make way for the arrival of the much larger Discovery, which is now Marella’s flagship with 915 cabins (almost 40 percent with balconies) and a 1,832-passenger capacity.

When Royal Caribbean indicated to the industry its intention to sell off Splendour’s sister ship, Legend of the Seas, Marella snapped her up to. She now sails as Marella Discovery 2.

Marella Cruises is now looking to expand its fleet further, replacing older, smaller, cruise ships with larger more modern second-hand tonnage.

Marella Cruises Discovery Atrium

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TUI Cruises’ sister ships Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2 will leave the TUI fleet in 2018 and 2019 and become Marella cruise ships.

To make room for them in the fleet, Marella Majesty was phased out at the end of 2017. Marella Explorer joined the fleet in May, 2018, while Marella Explorer 2 was delivered in 2019.

These upgrades to the fleet have been made possible thanks to the merger between Thomson and TUI, creating one of the largest travel companies in the world, with the capital required to re-invest in the Marella Cruises product.

Marella Cruises Discovery Atrium Bar

Marella Cruises on-board lifestyle

Life on-board Marella Cruises is intended to be laid-back and uber-casual, its done this to appeal to families and young couples.

Each ship in the fleet has at least three dining rooms, while there are also some premium dining options for those who want to dress up and make the experience a bit more special.

Every ship also has a kids club, for children between the ages of 3 and 11-years-old, and there are nightly West End-style shows in the theatre, as well as more lively entertainment in the on-board nightclub.

Activities during the day mainly revolve around trivia-style games and sports tournaments.

The onboard experience can best be described as being somewhere between the traditional British cruise lines P&O and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines the and ultra-casual German line AIDA.

Marella Cruises dining room

Main dining room aboard Marella Discovery.

All four Marella ships offer open-seating dining in the main dining room and a casual buffet restaurant open for all meals.

All cruises feature just one formal night, during which the buffet restaurant is the only dining option where formal wear is not required.

Types of passengers on a Marella Cruise ship

Marella Cruises is popular with just about every kind of British cruise passenger. It is designed to appeal to people of all ages in the working and middle classes and is especially popular with first-time cruisers.

During the school holidays in the UK, the number of families and children on-board rises considerably as the ship’s are intended to be family-friendly and attract multi-generational groups.

Cruise ships in the Marella fleet:

Marella Discovery

Marella Discovery 2

Marella Explorer

Marella Explorer 2

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