6 Fundamental Difference Between P&O Cruises and Marella

If you are considering a cruise with either P&O Cruises or Marella Cruises you may be wondering how they compare to each other. I’ve been on multiple cruises with the two cruise lines and in this post we will cover the biggest differences between the two cruise lines.

What is the difference between P&O Cruises and Marella Cruises?

P&O Cruises offer a more traditional cruising experience than Marella. P&O have formal nights, enforced dress codes and set dining times whereas Marella have a more relaxed flexible approach to cruising. Marella focus on an all inclusive pricing structure which include drinks whereas P&O do not. There are also differences in itineraries offered and the ships themselves. 

Difference #1 (P&O & Marella): Formal Nights

Cruises with P&O provide a more traditional cruising experience than that of cruises with Marella. P&O Cruises have formal nights and dress codes which the majority of guests follow. Marella provide a more relaxed experience but do still have formal nights of sorts.

Marella Cruises Dress Code What To Wear

P&O Cruises – Formal Nights

On all P&O cruises you’ll find formal nights, often referred to as ‘black tie’ or ‘gala nights’. During a typical 7 night cruise you’ll usually find two of these nights, the dress code is below:

Our Gala Evenings, or Black Tie nights, offer a chance to get dressed to the nines in glamorous evening wear. Don your favourite cocktail dress, tuxedo, ball gown or dinner jacket, or alternatively a dark business suit and tie.

During my P&O cruise I saw some incredible gowns and also military dress. Many P&O cruisers take the dress codes incredibly seriously and the dress codes are enforced. Guests not wanting to take part in the formal nights are able to eat in the buffet but not the main dining room.

Marella Cruises – Formal Nights

Marella do have formal nights of sorts but these are often referred to as ‘Dress to Impress’ nights. On Dress to Impress nights it feels more as though the dress code is a suggestion than an enforced rule. I personally love this more relaxed approach to dress codes and formal nights.

Dress codes on the Marella Celebration are a little more traditional than the Marella Explorer/Marella Explorer 2 or Marella Discovery/Marella Discovery 2. The dress code for the latter is as follows:

On Marella Discovery, Marella Discovery 2 and Marella Explorer, our Dress to Impress nights are also a great chance to get dressed up, but how dressy you go is completely up to you.

If guests don’t want to take part in the Dress to Impress nights there are a number of other places where guests can eat for free. You’ll find more about the included dining options later in the post.

Which One is Better? – Formal Nights

If you are somebody who is looking for a traditional cruising experience where other guests will adhere to formal night dress codes I’d recommend P&O cruises. If you want to be a little more relaxed when it comes to dining and dress codes I’d recommend Marella.

Formal Night Dress Code What to Wear

Difference #2 (P&O & Marella): Flexible/Fixed Dining

When cruising with P&O guests have the option to pick either fixed or flexible dining. Marella cruises have a fully flexible dining schedule and there is no option to dine at a set time.

P&O Cruises – Dining Times

P&O cruises offer freedom dining to guests that want the opportunity to be more flexible with when they eat. They also still offer fixed dining times for those who prefer a more traditional cruising experience. Freedom dining allows guests to dine anytime between 6.00pm and 9.30pm with no previous booking needed.

Guests that choose fixed dining will be able to choose from either a late or early seating. The early seating is usually around 6.30pm and the late seating around 8.30pm. Guests choosing this option often do so in order to be able to share a table with the same people each night.

I always opt for freedom dining given the choice but we still did manage to table share with a lovely group on my P&O cruise on Britannia. On the first night we sat on a table for 10 and had so much fun that we all met up again on the last night to see how our cruises had gone. If you do choose freedom dining it is still possible to share a table, if you’d like to, or to request a table alone if you just want to dine with the people that you’re cruising with.

Marella – Dining Times

Marella offer only flexible dining. When you want to eat you simply show up the restaurant and are then seated. No reservations are needed to dine in the main free restaurants although reservations are usually needed for the speciality restaurants.

I’ve cruised with Marella twice to date, with another coming up this year and I’ve never had to wait for a table when dining. That said, if you are a big group or eat at peak time (around 7pm) you may have to wait a little while for a table.

Which One is Better? – Dining Times

If you are somebody who would like a more traditional approach to dining with set dining times and table sharing I would recommend P&O cruises. If you are somebody who would like a more relaxed ‘eat when hungry’ approach then Marella would probably be a better fit. That said, P&O cruises are becoming increasingly flexible with their dining options and their new ship Iona will offer only freedom dining.

Marella Explorer Dining

Difference #3 (P&O & Marella): Ships

P&O Cruises have more ships than Marella and they are also all newer. The ships in the P&O Cruises fleet were built for P&O cruises but all of Marella’s ships were built for other cruise lines then sold to Marella.

P&O Cruises – Ships

P&O have 7 cruise ships at present, all were built after the year 2000. The cruise ships in the fleet do vary in size but generally speaking most are mid sized cruise ships which hold between 2000-3000 passengers each.

Vista Class – P&O Arcadia
Grand Class – P&O Azura and P&O Ventura
Royal Class – P&O Britannia (sister to Princess’s Royal Princess)
Iona Class – Iona
Sun Class – Oceana
Unclassed: Aurora

There are only two cruise ships belonging to P&O which are sister ships, meaning that they were built to the same design. These are P&O Azura and P&O Ventura built in 2008 and 2010.

p&o britannia kids

Marella Cruises – Ships

Marella currently have six cruise ships in their fleet, all of which were bought from other cruise lines. Marella Explorer and Marella Explorer 2 were originally built for Celebrity, Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2 were bought from Royal Caribbean and Marella Celebration and Marella Dream were bought from Holland America.

Marella Celebration: Previously Noordam for Holland America
Marella Dream: Previously Westerdam for Holland America

Marella Discovery and Marella Discovery 2: Previously Splendour of the Seas and Legend of the Seas for Royal Caribbean
Marella Explorer and Marella Explorer 2: Previously Celebrity Galaxy and Celebrity Century for Celebrity

All of the cruise ships in the Marella Cruises fleet were built before the year 2000. Marella Celebration is the oldest having been built in 1984 with the rest being built in the mid 90s.

Despite the age of the ships Marella have refurbished them to such a high standard that you would have no idea that the cruise ships were so old. Marella Celebration does appear more dated in her style as she’s from the 1980s but the rest of the fleet don’t show their age at all. I’ve cruised on both Marella Discovery and Marella Explorer and was very impressed with the design and styling of the ships.

Marella Explorer 90s Cruise

Which One is Better? – Ships

I don’t think either are particularly better, they’re just different. The styling on the P&O cruise ships tends to be a bit more traditional and reserved than Marella whose ships are quite colourful and bright. All ships in both fleets have their own charms!

Difference #4 (P&O & Marella): Included Drinks

Marella Cruises include a wide variety of drinks in their cruise fare whereas P&O cruises do not. P&O cruises have a standard cruise line model where as Marella Cruises promote an all inclusive pricing structure.

P&O Cruises – Included Drinks

As on all cruises there are some drinks which are included on P&O cruises. These include:

– Water in the buffet at all times
– Juices in the buffet at breakfast
– Tea/Coffee in the buffet at all times and also in the cabins (facilities in each cabin to make your own)
– Water with dinner in the main dining rooms

P&O cruises don’t include any alcohol or soft drinks in the cruise fare. Any drinks purchased in the bars onboard will be charged at a set price. The prices are similar to that that would be found in a bar or pub on land and drinks packages are available for those who want them. Drinks packages allow cruisers to pre pay in order to be able to have certain drinks onboard.

Marella Cruises – Included Drinks

Marella include a variety of drinks in their cruise fare. Both alcoholic and soft drinks are included in addition to all of the included drinks which P&O provide such as tea, coffee and water in the buffet.

Marella cruises include the following in the cruise fare:
– Draught Beers
– Wine
– Classic Cocktails
– Frozen Cocktails
– Mocktails
– Aperitifs, Liqueurs, Ports and Sherries
– Gins, Vodkas, Rums and Tequilas
– Whiskies and Brandies
– Sofa Drinks

For the full list check out this post here: Marella Cruises All Inclusive Drinks ListOpens in a new tab.


Marella’s ‘all inclusive’ drinks do not include all drinks available on the ship. There is a premium package which is available to buy at a cost of £50 per week. Personally I’d only recommend you do this if there is a particular drink you like which is missing from the all inclusive or if you like premium teas and coffees as these are only included on the premium. That said, £50 per week is incredibly cheap, on some cruise lines you’ll pay £50 per day for a similar package.

Which is better? – Included Drinks

I much prefer the all inclusive pricing structure of Marella Cruises. I don’t drink very much alcohol but still found that I saved lots of money by not having to pay for my drinks. It is of course a personal preference if you’d enjoy a cruise with drinks included or would prefer to pay as you go for what you actually drink.

Difference #5 (P&O & Marella): Itineraries Offered

Marella cruises offer more variety in cruise itineraries than P&O Cruises but P&O cruises offer ‘no fly’ cruises to a lot of the world from the UK. P&O tend to focus their cruises around Europe and the Caribbean whereas Marella cruise world wide including places like Asia.

P&O Cruises – Itineraries Offered

At any one time a high proportion of the P&O Cruises fleet are cruising from the UK. If you are in the UK and are wanting to cruise without flying your best bet is probably P&O Cruises.

Baltic Cruises

P&O do offer Baltic cruises. These are usually 14 nights long and cruise from Southampton to Russia and back. It is possible to take shorter Baltic cruises but passengers usually have to fly to another port to start their cruise, usually Copenhagen or Amsterdam. To learn more about cruising the Baltics, including when to go and what to pack, check out this link: Baltic Cruise Tips – Your Biggest Questions AnsweredOpens in a new tab.

Baltic Cruise StockHolm Cruise Tips

British Isles

I have been one on British Isles cruise and it was brilliant. I’m from England so a British Isles cruise wasn’t an itinerary that I had ever considered but I’m so glad that I did. We visited loch ness, giants causeway, Dublin and lots of other places which I’d never seen before. We cruised in summer and amazingly we had sunshine almost every day!

Canary Islands

Canary Island itineraries with P&O Cruises are very popular. There are two ways you can take a Canary Islands cruise, you can either fly to the Canary Islands and take a looped cruise, or you can cruise from the UK down to the Canary Islands. The first option usually is around a 7 night itinerary and the latter around 14 nights.


P&O offer a number of Caribbean cruises, primarily to the Southern Caribbean. It is possible to cruise to the Caribbean from the UK or flying to the Caribbean to take the cruise is another option. Most Caribbean cruise itineraries with P&O are around 14 nights in length.


There are a few itineraries which see guests cruising to Dubai. The middle east as a travel destination has increased in popularity recently and as a result has seen an increase in the number of cruises there. The shortest itineraries offered in this part of the world are 7 nights but the majority are longer.


The Mediterranean is one of the most popular cruise destinations with a number of different routes being offered. P&O Cruises offer some fly cruises to the Mediterranean and also some longer cruises from the UK. The typical length of a fly cruise is around 7 nights with a non fly version being 14 or longer.

Norway and Iceland

P&O offer many Norwegian Fjords and Iceland itineraries from the UK. I took a Norwegian Cruise with P&O Cruises onboard Britannia which was amazing. The food was great, service great, we saw some amazing places and I LOVED my cabin. To learn more about cruising the Norwegian Fjords, including where to go, what to do and what to pack, check out this post: Norwegian Fjords Cruise 2020: 32 tipsOpens in a new tab.

North America and Canada

There are a few itineraries offered by P&O to North America and Canada. At the time of writing this there are only three cruises making this journey. All of which cruise from the UK and are over 20 nights long.

Northern Europe

Cruises to Northern Europe are very popular with P&O Cruises due to the fact that they cruise so often out of the UK. It is possible to take short taster cruises which are 3-5 nights long, or longer cruises between 7-14 nights. The weather in Northern Europe is very unpredictable so whenever you go, make sure you pack a coat!

Copenhagen Northern Europe Cruise P&O

World Cruises

P&O Cruises offer world cruises and portions of world cruises to guests wanting to just see a smaller part of the world. A three month world cruise with P&O would likely set you back around £10,000.

Marella – Itineraries Offered

Marella cruise worldwide and occasionally have ships that cruise from the UK.


Marella have a high percentage of their itineraries in Asia. I took an Asian cruise a couple of years ago and it remains to this date the best cruise that I have ever been on. Cruising to Asia is a little more difficult than other parts of the world due to things like visas but it’s definitely worth doing. If you are considering a cruise to Asia make sure you check out this post to find out what you should pack, when you should go and lots more:

7 Asia Cruise Tips, Packing, Visas & More


Marella offer 14 night Baltic cruises from the UK. I took a Baltic cruise with Marella onboard the Marella Discovery and it was brilliant. One thing that I particularly liked about Marella was that the prices of excursions were very reasonable. We took a number of excursions on our cruise including a bike tour where we got SOAKED.

Canary Islands

Marella do offer some Canary Island itineraries. All itineraries offered here are fly cruises and usually are between 7-10 days in duration. Marella offer ‘cruise and stay’ options on almost all of their cruises.


Almost all Caribbean cruises with Marella are 7 nights long and require you to fly to the Caribbean to start your cruise.
Marella offer LOTS of Caribbean cruise itineraries and they visit a wide variety of ports including:

Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao Island, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad And Tobago, Turks And Caicos Islands, Bahamas.


Marella offer Mediterranean cruises in both the east and the west. The majority are 7 night itineraries and require you to fly to the Mediterranean to join them.

Norwegian Fjords

Marella offer a number of Norwegian Fjords cruise itineraries cruising from the UK. There are also itineraries offered to Iceland and the Arctic. The cruises offered are 7-14 nights in length and almost always cruise from the UK. To learn more about visiting the Norwegian Fjords, including when to go for the best weather, check out this post: Norwegian Fjords Cruise Guide, Month by Month.Opens in a new tab.

North Africa and Middle East – Marella offer a lot of itineraries in this part of the world. The middle east has become increasingly popular in recent years and Marella have really expanded their offerings here to accommodate this. Most cruises in this part of the world are 7-14 nights and all require you to fly to meet the cruise ship.

Norwegian Fjords Cruise Marella

North America

There are a few Marella itineraries which visit places like New York but these are few and far between.

Which One is Better?

If you are somebody who would like to cruise from the UK, P&O Cruises offers guests the chance to cruise all over the world without flying. Their ships regularly cruise across the Atlantic and it’s possible to visit a lot of Europe this way. If you would prefer to fly and as a result have a greater number of itinerary options available to you then Marella may be a better fit.

If you’re more used to cruising with American cruise lines, check out this comparison between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean:

7 HUGE Differences Between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean

Difference #6 (P&O & Marella): Onboard Entertainment

P&O Cruises offer a more relaxed cruising experience with less on the daily schedule than cruise lines like Marella.

P&O Cruises

In my experience of cruising with P&O Cruises and Marella I found that P&O ships were a little quieter than that of Marella’s. That said, there is plenty going on during the day on a P&O cruise. The evening entertainment in the theatre is amazing and I had the best week relaxing on my balcony watching the Norwegian Fjords go by. P&O do have activities like trivia, live music and lots more throughout the day.


Marella cruises tend to have a busier schedule with activities like gameshows and quizzes taking place every hour or so. All activities on the daily schedule are optional and so you really are free to do as much or as little as you’d like.

As far as evening entertainment goes Marella are one of my favourite cruise lines. The Marella show team don’t put on full broadway style shows like some of the big American cruise lines, but every night of our 14 night cruise we had a different productions in the theatre, all of which I really enjoyed. As the Marella ships are quite small theres no need to book theatre seats as you would on some of the bigger American cruise lines. You’ll also be offered some of those included drinks as you sit down to watch the show, what could be better than that?

I recently took a 90s themed cruise with Marella which was SO much fun.

Which One is Better?

Personally I prefer the entertainment style of Marella but many people love the opportunity to relax on P&O cruise ships. This is totally a personal preference. If you’re somebody who wants to relax with a bit of live music and maybe a theatre show after dinner I’d recommend P&O cruises. If you like being able to wander around a cruise ship and find events going on everywhere, I’d recommend Marella.

Where To Next?

There is not a lot that I love more than going on a cruise, meeting new friends and realising that I paid considerably less that everybody else for the exact same cruise.

Finding and booking a cruise is no easy task. I’ve been able to cruise for as little as $50 per night and I regularly save over 75% compared to advertised brochure prices. You can do it too!

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Emma Le Teace

Hey, I'm Emma, an award-winning cruise blogger, and YouTuber. I share cruise tips, tours, and videos on this website to help you master cruising on a budget. You can learn more here: About Me.

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