Marella Discovery 2 to head East!

Its now an established rite of passage for Marella to send one of its ships to Singapore for the winter to offer their British Clientele, the holiday of a lifetime to places such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, with repositioning trips via the Suez Canal (in normal times) taking in Sri Lanka, India, and Jordan. 

This past winter it was the turn of Marella Discovery 2 to head east. I am a huge fan of both Marella Discovery and Discovery 2 having taken previous cruises on both ships both in the Mediterranean and last summer with the Discovery around the east coast of America and the Bahamas. 

Designed for speed and with a stronger than usual hull form and powerful engines, these ships are about as close to Ocean Liners as is possible to get. When new they were operated by Royal Caribbean and were unusual in that they were planned to operate global exploration cruises and indeed they both spent time operating out of Singapore under the names Splendor of the Seas and Legend of the Seas. 

The Marella product has evolved over the years. The line now operates exclusively as an all-inclusive offering with drinks and tips included in the fare, as are flights from the UK aboard sister company TUI Airways aircraft, in the case of the Singapore flights these operate from London Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester using 787-8 and 787-9 aircraft. Outbound the flights take around 12.5 hours and inbound 13.5 to 14 hours. 

Cruises operate back-to-back in so much as you spend 2 weeks on the ship with half the passengers leaving the ship after the first week of your cruise and another group joining to start their cruise after your first week. What this means is that only half the passenger load requires flying out and back each week. Given the distance travelled it certainly would not make any sense to take only a week cruise and the way the itineraries are mapped, there are three sea days in the first week and only one in the second week meaning one very relaxed and one very hectic week.

For our cruise we opted to fly from London Gatwick. We live in Scotland, but Tui do not fly from our local airport to Singapore which meant we have to take a domestic flight down to London. The flight leaves late in the evening, so we had the full day to make the journey. 

Transfers at Singapore are faultless and the check in process smooth. Once onboard it was clear that the ship needed some maintenance, both on the outdoor decks and in some areas like the restaurant. Some cabins exhibit a dark, outdated, and gloomy decor. That being said, on the sister ship Marella Discovery, the cabins are undergoing a restyling, so it is hoped that the same will be done on the Discovery 2 After all she is almost 30 years old. 

That said, the passenger facilities are generally very good and the basic design of the ship remains impressive with a large multi deck atrium topped by a glass roof, the restaurant boasts double height floor to ceiling windows and the show lounge is to my mind one of the best at sea, even if it too has peeling wall panels. 

Dining onboard the ship is far less of an event than it used to be. The menu presented in the evening in the main dining room for example has been reduced to a selection of seven starters and seven main dishes, five of each change daily but the style of cuisine is very repetitive with one fish, one chicken, one pasta and one beef dish. Portion sizes are quite small. Dessert menus are only presented after you have had your main course so you can gauge how hungry or otherwise you are. I found the cheese (the same selection every night) to be good. There does not seem to be a filter coffee service any more at lunch or dinner, but the usual array of assorted coffees can be ordered individually. 

The speciality steakhouse, sushi and Asian restaurants fill up very quickly so early booking is advised. At the evening as well as the main dining room there is of course the large buffet restaurant and the Glass House serves tapas and assorted pizza and pasta dishes, all cooked to order.  The drinks selection across the ship is good with beers, wines, spirits, and cocktails available all day. At show time there is a large table at the entrance to the theatre filled with drinks for one to take on the way in. 

The show team aboard Marella work extremely hard performing 6 nights a week with a guest act from the UK on the other night. The show team were superb, and the shows were excellent on this cruise, certainly the best I have seen on Marella. Other entertainment on board is a mix of quizzes and bands or solo artists. It works, but it’s not exactly something extraordinary, especially during sea days, there’s not much to do. There are no guest speakers, no destination talks, no noteworthy films scheduled; it’s about drinking at the bar or lounging on a deck chair.

The cruise really is about the ports of call however and I was extremely impressed by the organised tours that I took. Without exception, the well informed and wonderfully friendly hosts spoke excellent English and gave a very thorough overview of the destination and all the places we visited from temples to markets, mangroves to tropical islands, there was so much to see, and the trips really do pack a lot in. So much so that they really are not for the faint hearted particularly in the week you visit Malaysia and Phuket.

Memories were certainly made. Vietnam surprised me the most, it was joyous, it felt very cosmopolitan and bustling particularly in Ho Chi Min City which was a modern metropolis attracting blue chip companies to build vast skyscrapers. Singapore was spotlessly clean and its transport system efficient. The ship berths at the cruise terminal adjacent to the largest mall in Singapore with a huge assortment of international shops and local ones too. Malaysia is wonderful; Kuala Lumpur is another excellent city and Langkawi with its Geoforest park full of mangroves with eagles soaring overhead and monkeys on the shore really was quite something. 

Bangkok was a feast for the senses and certainly an up coming city. As it was Chinese New Year when we were there the place was full of colourful banners, street markets and huge dragons everywhere, it was great to see. 

As mentioned, the cruise is two different itineraries back-to-back with the ship spending 2 nights in Singapore in between which gives one plenty of time to explore this fantastic city. We comfortably managed to get to all the places we wanted to including the botanical gardens complete with natural rainforest, the huge Singapore flyer big wheel and the vast and spectacular gardens by the sea. 

It surprised me how few international cruise ships visit the area. We were the only cruise ship on most of our ports of call. The weather was very hot and quite humid but not unpleasant, certainly a vast difference in climate from the cold UK winter we left behand, and indeed came back to. 

The ship is having to route around South Africa for her return to Europe for her summer season operating out of Palma de Mallorca due to continued attacks on shipping heading to the Suez Canal. This has truncated the ships operating season in Singapore by several weeks and the long passage will be made without passengers. She is due back in Singapore in October for another season sailing in what have become my favourite cruising waters. It is a long way to go, and its certainly not the type of cruise one would take regularly. The ship was full both weeks of our cruise with the planes each way equally full. 

Having sailed Marella now nine times, I know the product well. It works, it is not particularly cheap these days and the choice of food etc is notably inferior to past trips but for a seamless door to door holiday, no one can beat Marella. 

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Christopher Brindle