Skip to Content

I Took an All-Inclusive Weekend Cruise – It Was Eye-Opening (Not For Everyone!)

I recently took an all-inclusive weekend cruise on one of the oldest and smallest cruise ships around.

The ship I sailed on started her life with Celebrity Cruises and now is a completely adult-only ship where everything – including alcohol – is included.

Check out the itinerary on the Marella website here (affiliate link)

Being adult-only was one of the things that first attracted me to this cruise. I wanted to cruise with my friend and because of her work, we had to stick to the school holidays.

When I saw this short 4-night cruise sailing from Spain advertised from £600 ($740) I thought this would be perfect, as the sailing was over the Bank Holiday Easter Weekend

In reality, as with most cruises, I did end up paying more than that. 

I knew that this cruise might turn into a bit of a “booze cruise” given the unlimited alcohol. I wasn’t sure if 4 days would be long enough – and as this would be my friend’s first cruise as an adult, I hoped that my choice wouldn’t let her down.

Some of the reviews made it sound awful – as they always do.

We flew to Palma in Majorca to board the ship. All of our transfers and flights were included with the cruise fare.

As soon as we got off the plane we were met by the Marella representative and put on our coach, it was very easy and our suitcases were taken from the bus to the ship for us.

We boarded the ship at 8pm – which wasn’t ideal as it did feel like we were missing that first day – but because the flights came with the cruise there wasn’t much that we could do about that.

I did meet people on the ship who had been onboard since 2 pm- which I was very envious about – but we were just very excited to get onboard by this point. 

The ship was Marella Explorer 2 – she started her life as the Celebrity Century way back in 1995. She’s than half the size of the current biggest cruise ship in the world.

There aren’t many cruise ships this old still sailing so I was interested to see if she would feel her age. I’d booked a quirky cabin too – which you don’t find on modern cruise ships. 

When we walked into the ship we decided to head straight up the stairs to find our cabin. The main thing on our minds at this point was food because we’d been travelling since lunchtime but we wanted to drop off our bags first.

It was certainly was strange having our first look at the ship in the dark but each bar that we passed was decorated in a completely different theme to the last – which I really liked.

I don’t have a great sense of direction and I need things to have very obvious themes so I know what they are. For example, if you said you’d meet me in the golf bar on this ship, there would be no confusion. 

Heading up to the buffet, I was impressed with the layout and the design. The buffet actually goes all the way around the back of the ship and it was here that we got our first glimpse of the included drinks.

As standard Marella includes beer, wine, soft drinks and some cocktails in every bar. Like with most things that are ‘all-inclusive’ they don’t include everything – but I did decide pre-cruise to upgrade to the premium all-inclusive package.

This means that you get more choice of cocktails and better spirits but the key difference for me is that you can get cans of soda instead of just fountain soda. The upgrade was just £12 a day so I thought “You know what, I’ll treat myself.”

Some of the big American cruise lines charge $100 or more a day for their top drinks packages so £12/$14 a day to upgrade my drinks package didn’t seem bad at all.

Marella drinks cart on the pool deck.

I had some pizza, chips and veg in the buffet and it was alright – nothing to write home about – but it was okay. It filled a pizza-sized hole I had in my stomach and for that, I was very grateful. 

I knew that there was another pizza restaurant onboard that I wanted to try, as well as the main dining room, the Italian restaurant, and the Snack Shack by the pool. There was Tapas and other places to eat too.

I knew I was only onboard for four days so would have to make a conscious effort to eat in each place. 

Wandering around the ship in the dark was so exciting. (I say in the dark, I mean it was dark outside they did have the lights on inside the ship of course.) 

It was already pretty late at this point but we decided to go to the Squid and Anchor pub. It was around now that I realised that the stage of this bar was right under my cabin. I didn’t know yet how annoying that would be – even though I can sleep through almost anything. 

It was busy in the lounge – very busy – and I did wonder if the whole cruise would be like this. I was expecting it to be a bit of a party cruise, after all, it was an all-inclusive weekend cruise – but I hoped that we would be able to get seats to take part in the things that we did want to do.

I have cruised with Marella before and I am a big fan of their theatre shows and the general live music that they have around the ships.

I’ve actually taken two 90s-themed cruises with Marella where we dressed up every day in different costumes, those cruises were so much fun and I was able to introduce a few friends to cruising who have cruised since. 

Find out more about my last Marella “themed cruise” here:

I hoped that we would come back here later to do things like the gameshows and trivia, I didn’t know yet about my favourite entertainment which is called “Karaoke Roulette” – but more about that later. 

Outside the Squid and Anchor pub, we found the Coffee Port – this is a kind of speciality coffee area where things do cost extra unless you have the premium package.

It was closed at this time but I saw jars of cookies on the side, so I knew I’d have to come back for those in the morning.

Their cookies are £2 and absolutely worth every penny – I did find included cookies as well. 

Coffee Port – £2 cookies

We didn’t sail away until around midnight and our cabin was very very noisy – not just noisy from the stage below – but also because the deck directly below our cabin was a smoking area. People would be chatting out there – and when we sailed away the whole ship shook like nothing I’ve ever experienced!

Find out more about our unusual cabin here:

I’m happy to say that after this first-night things did get quieter – either that or we got more used to the noise. 

There was still so much of the ship that we hadn’t seen when we decided to call it a night, I hadn’t seen any of the outside spaces, the promenade or Atrium. I hadn’t found the dining room or theatre – I’d estimate I’d seen about 20% of the ship when I went to bed this first night.

I knew we would have lots of time to explore the next day. 

Our cruise was taking us to Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona in Spain. I was hoping that we would see some sunshine, but we were travelling in March so there were no guarantees.

Check out the itinerary on the Marella website here (affiliate link)

We didn’t arrive in Alicante until mid-day so that gave us lots of time to explore the ship.

We headed up to the buffet for breakfast which was very conveniently just two decks up from us. I had my usual breakfast and we went outside to see what the weather was like.

We found a lovely big open deck area outside the buffet and heading up the stairs we found another massive area at the top. 

It was very very windy so we didn’t spend too much time on the top deck but we found things like the mini golf and the pools.

On more modern cruise ships you’ll occasionally find things like go-karts or surf simulators on the top decks of ships – but back in 1995 mini golf was very exciting. It still is I think…

I often find that older ships have more outside space per person for just sitting around – and this ship definitely had that. We never had any trouble getting a seat up on the higher decks – even when the sun came out. 

By the pool, we found this sparkly blue sign which is always great for photos and a couple of places where we could get food.

We would sometimes pick up little cookies from the Snack Shack and bring those back to our cabin.

On the side they have little beach huts and serve things like Fish and Chips and Burgers. On the other side, they had some sandwiches and a little grab-and-go sandwich place.

I will say I wasn’t a big fan of the sandwiches here, I had one that was a bit damp – I think just from condensation and the way it was wrapped up though – it didn’t fall in a puddle or anything… 

Despite it not really being very warm during our cruise the pool deck was used a lot. Almost everybody onboard this cruise was from Britain and we do love to sit out in the sunshine when it appears. 

They would play games by the pool and because the cruise is all-inclusive they have drinks carts full of included drinks which you can just get any time.

I did read one review that described the pool as ‘Butlin-esque at best’ – which did make me laugh. 

It’s a weird one but I guess “Butlins” is a Britishism. They’re a chain of holiday parks in the UK where you usually stay in a caravan or a lodge, they’re aimed mostly at families and when that person described it as ‘Butlinesque’ I think they meant like a casually organised loud entertainment kind of way.

Our cruise was adult-only so that was totally different, but I do see the similarity in other ways – which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask. 

Sometimes we would queue up for the bar or order with a waiter who was wandering around, but if we just wanted to pick up a glass of Pepsi the drinks carts were perfect. Marella are mostly a Coke cruise line, but they do have Pepsi sometimes too. 

Also up high was the Indigo Bar. Here there is a little clue about the past life of the ship.

The lounge is massive with windows on all sides, there’s a dance floor and this tended to be pretty relaxed in the evenings. On one side there were a few casino machines and tables, and this is the clue about the ship’s past life.

When the ship was owned by Celebrity the American cruise line, the casino was the area that now is the cafe – it was much much bigger and right in the heart of the ship.

When the British line Marella bought it they took out the casino and just put a few machines up here. That’s pretty common and I’ve seen it on other British ships too.

I recently took a little trip on Ambassador’s “Ambience” and they changed the casino into a pub – which is perhaps the most British thing ever. 

It could only be more British if they’d made it into a Wetherspoons, personally, I’d be a big fan of that! 

Before heading off the ship we decided to head to the main dining room for lunch. This is one of my favourite areas on the ship with the big windows and the grand staircases. 

Main dining room

All of the food in this main dining room is included in the cruise fare. There aren’t any set dining times, you just show up and are seated.

We ate in this main dining room for dinner twice as well as lunch, and we also ate in the Italian part of the restaurant which is also included – but has a different menu.

We only had to wait for dinner once – and that was when we arrived at 8pm. We had to wait 40 minutes which wasn’t terrible because they gave us a little buzzer and we just had an included drink in a bar while we waited.

Normally I eat around 6 and we never had to wait at that time.

The food was okay – it was nothing that I couldn’t cook myself. I don’t think anybody would describe Marella’s food as being particularly gourmet – but we never had any issues.

I also loved being able to see the menus on the app beforehand and there was lots of choice.

You can tell Marella are on the more budget end with the food because you’ll pick a bread roll instead of being given the basket like on other lines. You can ask for as much bread as you want though, of course. 

We wandered into Alicante and found some blue skies, it was windy but we didn’t care – it was just amazing to be able to wear shorts. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for our stop in Valencia. 

We bought a shuttle bus ticket from Marella for £6 return, which I thought was a bargain.

We were actually there on Easter Sunday so a lot of things were closed – but we still had a lovely day looking at random pieces of art and even in the rain Valencia looked great. The reflections were so pretty but my shoes didn’t fare too well

We made it back to the ship in time for Bingo. Bingo isn’t something I normally do when I cruise but my friend wanted to – so I thought I’d be brave and give it a go.

I actually find Bingo very stressful – I almost don’t want to win because I don’t want to have to shout out -but I was surprised to see that the prize for the cruise was £500. That’s definitely worth shouting out for.

It was busy in Squid and Anchor for bingo and then trivia, but we did manage to get a seat.

This cruise was definitely at full capacity, but we still managed to do everything we wanted to do. Sometimes we would just have to sit off to the side by the bar, which was totally fine. 

Marella are an interesting cruise line in that they have a lot of non-cruise passengers. People who normally do all-inclusive hotels holidays with Tui – but have come across to the world of cruising with Marella – part of the Tui group.

They did gameshows in here like “Who wants to be a Marellaionare” which is a brilliant pun on the “Who wants to be a Millionaire gameshow – and my personal favourite, Karaoke Roulette.

It’s just like regular karaoke apart from you don’t know what song you will be given. It’s usually whatever is funniest – so if they have a young girl singing they’ll give her a song normally sung by a boy band, for example. 

One person was given “Gangnam Style” to sing which is almost entirely in Korean – and she did amazingly. It was great fun to watch – and I stress watch.

For me this is what this cruise was about, just relaxing with my friend. Everybody seemed to be having a great time which was really nice to see. Marella definitely aren’t a traditional or formal cruise line but they are good fun. 

We went to the Italian restaurant for dinner and the service was slower than normal. That’s kind of to be expected on a short 4-day cruise, I’m not sure why exactly but shorter cruises are always busier than longer ones.

I suppose it’s that people want to make the most out of their cruise so they are always out everywhere.

I did see a sign when I was flying out to meet the ship which made me laugh. It said “Please, if you have checked in go straight through security. There is NO strike but they are working very slowly.” I appreciate the honesty there! 

The service was definitely slower than it had been on my other Marella cruises generally but it definitely wasn’t for a lack of trying, the crew were so friendly and were running around everywhere.

We weren’t ever in any great rush and we’d normally find that if one bar was overly busy the other bars wouldn’t be – so we would just walk to the next one to get a drink if we didn’t want to wait.

The drinks were unlimited of course so I’m sure that makes people drink more than on other lines. Having said that, I didn’t see any worse behaviour than on any other cruise.

My friend told me to make sure that I tell you how friendly and lovely the crew were. Everybody we had the pleasure to meet was brilliant. 

There was a nice mix of ages on our cruise, I saw people celebrating their 30th birthdays and 50ths and 60ths.

Because this cruise was adult-only there were of course no kids or teenagers, Marella aren’t an entirely adult-only cruise line but this ship the Explorer 2 is adult-only always.

Random Monkeys by the Coffee Port

Almost everybody on this cruise was British and that wasn’t a surprise to me. Until recently, it’s been very difficult for people outside of the UK to book a Marella cruise because their systems didn’t accept non-UK credit cards.

The last I heard from Marella is that this has been fixed now – so we might see more non-brits onboard in future. You can research Marella cruise deals in the link below:

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

I knew that I wanted to go to the theatre a couple of times on this cruise. I’m a big fan of the theatre on land and always try to go when I can.

The theatre itself is very impressive split over two levels. The seats are the bench-style seating that I love and there are tables for your drinks.

Free Drinks available outside of the theatre on Marella ships

They actually have tables set up with drinks on them as you walk into the theatre because it’s all-inclusive they don’t have to scan your cruise card or anything, they can just give you the drink. 

The first show we watched was soul music and the second -I am having trouble thinking of the words to explain – it was a show about misfits in a circus, think Greatest Showman kind of vibes.

The singers and the dancers were fantastic, and there were lots of costumes and set pieces to keep me interested. There isn’t any booking of shows or anything on Marella Cruises, you just show up and sit down.

Information about the show and other things will be in the daily schedule, which is delivered to your cabin in the evening.

They have a section where you can pay to add a message in the daily schedule. Way back in 2018 I had my own message there. I did a charity head shave on the stage of the theatre. You can watch that below – it seems like like forever ago.

I always prefer theatre shows that have a bit of a story rather than just people singing song after song so these shows suited me nicely.

Whenever I cruise I play a game called “How many days did it take for me to hear the Greatest Showman soundtrack?” – and on this cruise, it was just 2 – which is pretty fast!

We only had one day in Barcelona and wanted to make the most of it. We decided to get the cruise bus that stops outside all of the cruise terminals to get into town, and then we got on the hop-on hop-off bus.

If you’ve not been to Barcelona it’s probably a lot bigger than you imagine and the bus is my favourite way to cover a lot of ground fast.

You can find out more about visiting Barcelona here:

Everything You Need to Know About Cruising From Barcelona (Location, Transport and More) 

There are a lot of different hop-on-hop-off bus companies in Barcelona and it did catch me out. A lovely lady handed me a map, and then I got on the bus, I’d prebooked my tickets online as it was cheaper and when I was on the bus my friend and I were listening to the audio and trying to follow the map.

The bus didn’t seem to be going anywhere that it was meant to – and it wasn’t until it said ‘this is the stop for the blue route’ that we realised we had done something wrong.

Our map only had a green and red route! Turns out the map I was given was for the other bus company entirely, it’s okay though I just googled the right bus map, and we were back on track. 

Back on the ship we headed to the included pizzeria, Nonnas pizza. Here we could have pasta freshly made for us or we could grab pizza from the buffet. I decided to do that.

Again the pizza was okay but it wasn’t any different from any pizza I could cook in my oven at home. If you go in the evening, they do make the pizzas to order but lunch is more buffet style.

It was nice to have the option of somewhere else to eat because we needed fuel to carry on exploring the ship!

In the Coffee Port, I found this cow and it was here that our mascot Captain Hudson met a few friends.

There was a puzzle here too with one piece missing which must have been so annoying for whoever finished it! Or thought they finished it… 

The cow wouldn’t have been here before Marella bought the ship but I think the random Monkeys might have been. The ship was such an interesting mix of old and new. 

In the middle of the ship was this Atrium that was split over a few levels. The reception desk was at the bottom with a bar above it and looking at this area I don’t think you’d know that the ship was from 1995.

Nothing here really is from 1995 though, it’s just the skeleton of the ship, she’s had an almost full facelift. Odd little things around the ship though like the doors on some of the public bathrooms did give away the age. I guess “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

The basic price of this cruise per person was £655 ($810) per person for 4 nights including the flights, transfers, all the food and drinks.

That price is based on two sharing a cabin. I decided to pay an extra £206 ($250) per person to upgrade to a balcony cabin and also added on £45 ($55) for the premium all-inclusive package.

This brought my total to £906 ($1120). Considering that included the flights, transfers, drinks and food I don’t think that was too bad, it definitely wasn’t a budget trip but we were also cruising at peak time. 

Normally, when I cruise, I save money by not picking my specific cabin location. I didn’t do that this time because there was a quirky cabin that I really wanted to try.

Check out the itinerary on the Marella website here (affiliate link)

Find out why I normally pick guaranteed cabins here:

I Always Book Guaranteed Cabins on Cruise Ships – (Photo Examples, Regrets & More)

This cabin had a layout I’ve never seen in a cabin before and we had a few issues with things like air conditioning and the noise from the smoking area below that we weren’t prepared for.

The smoking area directly below our balcony.

Before You Go

Find out why your next cruise should be in the Mediterranean here:

7 Reasons Why Your Next Cruise Should be in The Mediterranean

Learn all about the drinks included on your Marella cruise below:

Marella Cruises All Inclusive Drinks List (and Menus)

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.