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Marella Discovery docked in St. Croix in the Caribbean (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

Just Back from Marella Discovery — What It's Like to Sail with Marella Cruises in the Caribbean

Marella Discovery docked in St. Croix in the Caribbean (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)
Contributor
Kerry Spencer

Last updated
Apr 16, 2024

Read time
9 min read

"Look, mummy, a shark!" My six-year-old shouted as we gently paddled off Buck Island, a small uninhabited island 1.5 miles north of St. Croix, as a nonchalant lemon shark swam between us.

Buck Island is a National Monument, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it is breathtakingly beautiful — with pristine powder-white sand and intense turquoise water. Lemon sharks are endemic (and perfectly harmless), breeding off the island's north shore. They are among the 250 fish species found here, including nurse sharks and endangered leatherback turtles.

I'd never heard of this protected reef-fringed island, or indeed lemon sharks, until a week earlier, yet here we were, submerged in bath-warm water on day five of a seven-night "Tropical Shores" voyage with Marella Cruises.

We sailed at the tail end of Marella Discovery's winter 2023/24 Caribbean season, before the ship spends summer in the Mediterranean. Setting sail from Barbados, our voyage took us to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Dominica and St. Vincent, before returning to Barbados.

This was my first time sailing on Marella Discovery, a ship that is fast approaching a milestone thirty years. Entering service in 1996 for Royal Caribbean, this 1,830-passenger ship has been a much-loved part of TUI's Marella fleet since 2017.

Here's a flavour of what it's like to sail aboard Marella Discovery — and what makes this itinerary so great.

"Tropical Shores" is a Fantastic Island-Hopping Itinerary

The dazzling Buck Island, 1.5 miles north of St. Croix in the USVI (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

I loved the seven-night "Tropical Shores" itinerary, one that can be combined with the line's "Cocktails and Coconuts" voyage to form a 14-night cruise. The itinerary offers a blend of diverse ports, including more well-known spots, such as San Juan in Puerto Rico and Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, with the more rustic St. Vincent and Dominica.

Marella introduced 50 new shore tours in the Caribbean for the 2023/2024 winter season, including our sold-out Buck Island snorkelling trip, with a further 10-15 new tours being added for the 2024/2025. This gives repeat Marella Caribbean cruisers, of which there were many on our voyage, plenty of new shore experiences to offer something new.

We visited the famous Magens Bay Beach in St. Thomas and whizzed to Buck Island for our extraordinary snorkelling experience off St Croix the next day (where we also saw turtles, parrotfish, lobster and fanciful coral). We bathed in the sun-dappled watering hole of Jaco Falls before visiting a coconut beach in Dominica and took a catamaran to the delicious waters of Princess Margaret Beach in Bequia in the Grenadines. Our voyage felt like a true island-hopping adventure, giving passengers a wonderful flavour of a rich array of Caribbean islands.

Marella Discovery's Pool Deck is a Buzzy Affair

Marella Discovery's buzzy Pool Deck (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

Sailing at 98-percent capacity and with the Caribbean sunshine beating down, Marella Discovery's Pool Deck was a thronging space on our April voyage. Two elevated hot tubs flank a rectangle saltwater pool, with rows of blue sun loungers quickly snagged around the pool area.

It's busy, often boozy, with music pumping and poolside entertainment such as trivia as passengers sunbathe, mingle and splash in the pool. If you're looking for a fly-and-flop holiday — this is the place to do it on Marella Discovery.

The Glass House is a Serene Day-to-Night Space

Marella Discovery's indoor pool, The Glass House doubles as a dining venue (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

The ship's second saltwater pool and two further hot tubs are under a retractable glass roof at The Glass House and it was my favourite space onboard.

The Glass House has a more refined feel, much like a health club pool area with nicer decking and white shutters decorating the space. Sun loungers are plusher and there are lovely cabanas with thinly veiled privacy curtains. It's also a much calmer space than the Pool Deck, while still benefitting from the sun pouring in through the glass roof. I wasn't the only one who enjoyed this spot onboard, with most loungers and cabanas taken by 9 a.m.

The Glass House is an adults-only space between 2-5pm and I appreciate that some passengers do not always want to be around children. This rule offers a nice solution that means families with kids can use the space for much of the day and adults wanting a more tranquil experience — sans the company of kids — can better enjoy the space, too.

Marella Discovery is a Big Hit With Kids

Sebastian stands at the food counter onboard Marella Discovery (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

Though M Club is showing some signs of wear and tear, it is well-equipped with books, toys and games. The highlight for kids is the fun entertainment programme, with activities such as carnival parties, circus tricks, trivia, painting and movie nights, plus fun themes such as Heroes vs. Villains.

Six-year-old Sebastian thoroughly enjoyed his time onboard Marella Discovery (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

My son, Sebastian, attended two kids club sessions, and he thoroughly enjoyed mixing with the other children and joining in with the organised activities. Outside of the kids' club, there's a generously sized mini-golf course, climbing wall and table tennis that kids loved on our sailing, plus an extra-fee Escape Room that is more suited to older kids.

We found mealtimes a breeze. Sebastian would often eat off the regular menus, but there is an always available kids menu that is the same for each venue and servers would go out of their way to chat to Sebastian and ask if he was ready for his obligatory ice cream.

Marella Discovery's Included Dining Options Are Hit & Miss

A tasty plant-based taco dish onboard Marella Discovery (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

Marella Discovery has several dining venues, including five inclusive options: Islands buffet; 47°, the main dining room; 47, an Italian restaurant on the upper level of the main dining room; The Glass House for casual dining and Snack Shack for poolside fast food.

From watery poached eggs that turned into a puddle on my plate to a powder-based mashed potato, we sadly found much of the ship's included dining on the underwhelming side. There were exceptions — including a beautifully-cooked porchetta stuffed with fennel and garlic in a rind of crispy fat at 47 — but quality was typically inconsistent.

Another dining hit worth shouting about, 47°'s lunchtime cauliflower, avocado and chickpea tacos were crammed with flavour. I’d love to see more dishes like this — healthy, imaginative and satisfyingly tasty — on menus.

Speciality Restaurants Are Excellent Value

Entrance to Kora La and Sushi Bar on Marella Discovery (Photo: Kerry Spencer)

The ship's extra-fee restaurants — Kora La, Sushi Bar and Surf & Turf, plus a supplementary section of The Glass House menu in the evenings — offer excellent value for money.

For £15.95pp at the Sushi Bar you can dine on a feast of sushi rolls, sashimi, nigiri, dim sum and a dessert that sits somewhere just above the quality of, say, Yo Sushi! We dined at Surf & Turf Steakhouse, which is the most expensive of the ship's extra fee restaurants at £33.45pp, which is still excellent value for a starter, main course, three sides and dessert.

We ordered a sharing plate of tasty seafood to start followed by a flavourful sirloin steak served medium-rare, just as requested, and we couldn't get enough of the lobster mac and cheese side dish.

The Glass House's extra-fee skewers menu is a triumph, too, with tender Iberico pork a highlight, as is the deliciously creamy gelato at the Coffee Port — for just £2.50 for a colossal portion.

Marella Discovery is in Great Shape as the Ship Approaches 30

Looking down into Marella Discovery's glitzy Atrium (Photo: Kerry Spencer)

Marella Discovery is a solid mid-sized ship and I love that there are some nice bold designs, such as the glitzy Atrium and showy gold theme in the theatre.

This 28-year-old ship feel a little tired in some areas — including the Pool Deck hot tubs and the sauna, and there is no escaping the yellowing hardware in cabin corridors. But much of this is to be expected for a ship that was built in 1996 and Marella is doing a great job of keeping areas refreshed.

The last refurb took place in November 2022 when cabins and Islands buffet were updated. Our aft-facing Junior Suite (8082) felt almost box fresh, for example, with a new and modern bathroom and sleek interior fitout. Nothing about our cabin gave away the ship's age. We were big fans of our Junior Suite's deep balcony, kitted with sun loungers and a table and chairs. Though we were less a fan of the matchbox size TV and tiny safe, which felt almost as old as the ship.

There is a Diverse Crowd on Marella Discovery in the Caribbean

Marella Discovery docked in Dominica (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

This is my fourth Marella cruise and my first since 2019 and I saw a far more diverse crowd of passengers on Marella Discovery than I have in the past. There were naturally more families with children because our sailing fell during the Easter holidays, but there were plenty of twentysomething couples, including honeymooners, several same-sex couples, a forty-something solo traveller among a raft of singles and many multi-generational groups, including one celebrating a grandmother's 80th birthday.

I love that during our one-week cruise I met so many different types of travellers among this buzzy and fun crowd.

It's worth noting that Marella holds informal LGBTQIA+ meet ups onboard, along with a well-attended programme of solo events, including a coffee meet up, a hosted lunch and dinner and farewell drinks.

Who Will Enjoy Marella Discovery?

Sebastian enjoying lunch at 47°, Marella Discovery main dining room (Photo: Kerry Spencer/Cruise Critic)

Marella Discovery feels like a warm home-away-from-home. Cabins are stocked with kettles and Yorkshire Tea (of which I am now a convert). There is HP Sauce and Twinings at the buffet and main dining room, along with fish and chips and a lovely extra-fee afternoon tea at 47° if you enjoy a more decadent British pastime.

Marella Discovery has all the home comforts, with a huge dollop of fun in the sun, too. The food is not the best you'll find at sea, and you may want to splurge on the speciality restaurants, but they're inexpensive and well worth it.

If you're not concerned with whizzbang amenities and prefer the intimacy of a medium-size ship, you're going to enjoy Marella Discovery. Marella's inclusions are excellent (chartered flights, transfers and luggage taken care of, tips and drinks), too, and make for a seamless fly-cruise holiday.

Marella Discovery will sail Mediterranean itineraries from May 6 – November 4, before returning to the Caribbean for the 2024/2025 season.

Publish date April 15, 2024
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