As it's very wet and windy outside, I seem to have a bit of time on my hands so thought I would report on our recent cruise on Marella Discovery.
Our cruises over the last couple of years have been very port intensive (thank you, Azamara in the main and Emerald Waterways) so when we saw that the itinerary for this two week trip would allow us to tick off two bucket list visits (transit of the Suez Canal and visiting Petra in Jordan) whilst offering plenty of relaxing sea days in between, we decided it was definitely for us.
Having previously sailed on Discovery II, we were aware that Marella's Grand Suites offer generous accommodation at a value for money, all inclusive price. No disappointment there, then, I love to be outdoors but need to be very careful in the sun, so sea days spent mainly on the well proportioned balcony suited me, whilst finding a sunbed for one proved much easier for my wife than if we were searching for two together.
The early morning (06.00hrs) flight from Birmingham was testing but checking in was pretty well organised, though the layout at Naples Airport meant we seemed to walk miles trundling our luggage to where the coaches were parked and ready to whisk us off to the ship. With priority boarding, we were in our suite in no time and luggage followed swiftly, allowing us to spend the whole afternoon and early evening in Naples itself. We visited the San Carlo Opera House and the amazing Bourbon Tunnel underneath the City.
The food on board, in general, was very good - not Azamara standard but, hey, we were not paying Azamara prices. We dined in all of the venues available (not all at once, you understand) and found the Speciality venues to also be good value. Surf and Turf steak house, Kora La for Asian cuisine and a super experience watching our chef prepare our Sushi in the Sushi Bar added variety to the Main Dining Room, the Italian Gallery 47 and The Glass House options. Breakfast invariably involved a brief visit to the Buffet Restaurant on the deck immediately above our suite to pick up food to eat in the privacy of our balcony, though we did tend to eat lunch in the Buffet Restaurant itself.
We had pre-paid for the Premium Drinks package and found that, as on Discovery II, this met our needs very nicely.
The entertainment was pretty good, with an excellent in house team supplemented by a Comedy Magician, a Singer Comedian (they overworked this guy a bit too much), a very good Dance Couple and two Classical/Crossover Singers. Much of the daytime entertainment thankfully passed me by as I was either reading, doing my beloved Killer Sudoku, or snoozing on the balcony. I did participate in the odd table tennis competition (with "odd" being the most appropriate word) and we deck walked a fair bit, using the well equipped gym on the odd occasion it was too windy for walking the track on deck ten. Being regular social dancers, we dropped in to the evening dance sessions most evenings before dinner but didn't do much dancing as the floor in the Atrium was, as usual, too small but was also very sticky. I invariably wear dance shoes in an evening on cruise ships but the suede soles made it almost impossible to move on this particular floor. I think they had put down a non-slip surface to avoid accidents but non-slip is exactly what you do not want on a dance floor!! No matter, the bar tenders in the Atrium soon knew exactly how my wife likes her Margaritas and I, my Pernod and water.
In preparation for our two full days docked in Aqaba, Jordan, I had done a lot of internet research and we had concluded that, to maximise our time, a private 2 day tour was likely to be the best solution to avoiding tedious hours on a coach and in a large group. Booked through an agency called Petra Nights Tours, we could not have been more pleased with our trip. We were picked up at the quayside in Aqaba at 08.00hrs on day 1 by our driver, Osama and, with a brief coffee stop offering fantastic views over the mountainous terrain, we dropped our bit of luggage at our hotel, the excellent Petra Guest House Hotel at around 11.00hrs and were introduced to Sammy, our guide for the next 4 hours through the amazing Petra site. Despite all the walking and my wife's dodgy knee, we returned for the candlelit Petra By Night experience that evening. According to her Fitbit, she walked some 28,000 steps that day. The evening was rounded off with a couple of drinks in the Cave Bar at the Hotel - converted from a 2,000 year old tomb.
Osama collected us from the Hotel at 07.00 hrs the following morning and transported us to Wadi Rum for an unforgettable 3 hour private Jeep Tour through this awe inspiring landscape, followed by lunch. The climb up a massive sand dune to admire the views, dragging a wife with an increasingly dodgy knee, just about finished me off but what an amazing experience.
Back in Aqaba in plenty of time to board before the evening sailing, Osama gave us a brief driving tour of his beloved city before dropping us back at the quayside. He invited us to his wedding next year but, as we explained, we still have so many places to see and a diminishing amount of time in which to see them. The one word that sticks in my mind from our 2 day experience in Jordan is "Welcome". We heard it said on so many occasions.
Sailing down the Red Sea, we picked up our security escorts for peace of mind through the possibly risky bits into the Gulf of Aden but then had not one but two unplanned calls due to medical emergencies, one into Djibouti, the other into Salalah. This meant we were considerably delayed in docking in Fujairah but our flights from Dubai were re-arranged and I was subsequently grateful for the decision to take out late return insurance when booking my airport parking. We were able to remain in our suite until 17.00hrs on the day of departure, then to have a relaxing final dinner on board before our airport transfer. Well done to TUI and Marella.
All in all, we enjoyed a great holiday. Would we sail with Marella again? Most certainly, we would consider them - but they have to be going where we want to go.
Next stop - Japan in April!!