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P&O Cruises vs Marella – 6 HUGE Differences

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.

Emma cruises and Arvia
P&O’s biggest cruise ship, Arvia

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

P&O have formal nights and enforced dress codes. The smaller, older ships have set dining times.

Marella has a more relaxed, flexible approach to cruising.

P&O Cruises’ older ships offer a more traditional cruising experience. Their newer, larger ships Arvia and Iona are less formal and more family-orientated.

Marella focuses on an All-inclusive pricing structure that includes 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 on P&O’s older ships provide a more traditional cruising experience than cruises with Marella.

The new P&O ships Arvia and Iona are less traditional – but still have formal or “Celebration” nights, and dress codes which the majority of guests follow.

Marella provides a more relaxed experience but does still have formal nights of sorts. These are called “Dress to Impress” nights.

Marella Cruises Dress Code What To Wear
Marella Cruises Dress Code Examples From our Facebook Group

P&O Cruises – Formal Nights

On all P&O cruises, you’ll find formal nights, often referred to as “Celebration Nights.” During a typical 7-night cruise, you’ll usually find at least one of these nights.

Formal evenings
Celebration Nights give you the option to put your most fashionable foot forward. Elegance is the order of the evening… a chance to wow everyone with a favourite cocktail dress, tuxedo, ball gown, DJ, or a suit, jacket and tie. You may also wear formal national dress or military uniform. Again, whatever style preference, simply join in the mood and chic of the evening.

P&O Cruises

During my P&O cruises, I’ve seen 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 can eat in the buffet but not the main dining room.

When I sailed onboard P&O’s Arvia, I was asked to leave a bar as it was just after 6 pm and I was wearing shorts! There was no one else in the bar – but rules are rules…

Find out about that incident in the video below:

On all cruises, it is possible to avoid the formal nights if you’d like to. To learn more about that, check out this post below:

You Can Skip Formal Nights on a Cruise – Here’s How

Marella Cruises – Formal Nights

Marella does 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 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 they don’t need to go to the main dining room, they can eat elsewhere.

Who Would Prefer Which? – 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 often have the option to pick either fixed or flexible dining.

If you are sailing on P&O’s biggest, newest ships – Iona and Arvia – all dining is flexible.

Marella Cruises has a fully flexible dining schedule and there is no option to dine at a set time.

P&O CruisesMarella
DiningFixed and FlexibleAlways Flexible

P&O Cruises – Dining Times

P&O Cruises offer “Freedom Dining” to guests who want the opportunity to be more flexible with when they eat.

They also still offer fixed dining times on the older ships for those who prefer a more traditional cruising experience.

Freedom Dining allows guests to dine anytime between 6.00 pm and 9.30 pm with no prior booking needed.

p&o britannia main dining room lunch food baguette chips
P&O Britannia Main Dining Room Lunch

Guests who choose fixed dining will be able to choose from either late or early seating.

The early seating is usually around 6.30 pm and the late seating is around 8.30 pm.

Guests choosing this option often do so to be able to share a table with the same people each night.

I always opt for Freedom Dining given the choice. We did table share with a lovely group on my P&O cruise on Britannia. On the first night, we sat at 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 possible to share a table, if you’d like to – request a table alone if you just want to dine with the people that you’re cruising with.

Marella – Dining Times

Marella offers only flexible dining. When you want to eat you simply show up at the restaurant and are then seated.

No reservations are needed to dine in the main free restaurants although reservations are usually needed for the Specialty Restaurants.

I’ve cruised with Marella many times, and I’ve never yet had to wait for a table when dining.

That said, if you are a big group or eat at peak time (around 7 pm) you may have to wait for a table.

Who Would Prefer Which? – 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 older ships.

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 newest ships Iona and Arvia offer only freedom dining.

Marella Explorer Dining
Marella Explorer

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 and then sold to Marella.

P&O Cruises – Ships

P&O has 7 cruise ships at present, all were built after the year 2000.

The cruise ships in the fleet do vary in size but the majority are mid-sized cruise ships that hold between 2000-3000 passengers each.

The two largest P&O ships, Arvia and Iona, hold between 5000 – 6000 passengers.

Vista Class – P&O Arcadia
Grand Class – P&O Azura and P&O Ventura
Royal Class – P&O Britannia
Excel Class – Iona and Arvia
Sun Class – Oceana
World Class: Aurora

P&O have “Sister ships” – meaning ships that were built to the same design.

  • P&O’s Azura and P&O Ventura were built in 2008 and 2010
  • P&O’s Iona and Arvia were built in 2020 and 2022
p&o britannia Norway
P&O’s Britannia in Norway

Marella Cruises – Ships

Marella currently has five 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.

Their newest ship (which is also their largest) Marella Voyager joined the fleet in 2023

  • 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
  • Marella Voyager: Previously Celebrity Mercury, Mein Schiff 2 and then Mein Schiff Herz for Tui

All of the cruise ships in the Marella Cruises fleet were built before the year 2000.

Find out more about the ships in Marella’s fleet in the article below:

Marella Cruises, Ships by Size – Photo Guide and Reviews

Watch my review of Marella Explorer here:

Despite their age, Marella ships have been refurbished to such a high standard that you would have no idea that the ships are all over 20 years old.

I’ve cruised on both Marella Discovery’s and both Marella Explorers – and was very impressed with the design and styling of the ships.

Marella Explorer 90s Cruise
Marella Explorer

Who Would Prefer Which? – Ships

The styling on the P&O cruise ships tends to be a bit more traditional and tasteful than – Marella whose ships are quite colourful and bright.

I stayed in my favourite inside cabin ever onboard P&O’s Iona. Find out what I liked about it so much here:

All ships in both fleets have their own charms! Lovers of tradition may prefer P&O’s older ships whereas families and younger cruises may prefer Marellas Ships or P&O’s Iona or Arvia.

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 whereas Marella Cruises promote an all-inclusive pricing structure.

P&O CruisesMarella
DrinksPay as You goAll Inclusive

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 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 to be able to have certain drinks onboard.

To learn more about how much drinks cost on a cruise, check out this post:

How Much Do Drinks Cost on Cruise Ships? Menus and Comparisons

Marella Cruises – Included Drinks

Marella includes 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 provides 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
– Soft Drinks

For the full list check out this post here:

 Marella Cruises All Inclusive Drinks List

Exclusions

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 an extra cost.

Marella Cruises All Inclusive Drinks
Marella Drinks Examples Outside Theatre – just help yourself, its included.

I’d only recommend you do this if there is a particular drink you like that is missing from the all-inclusive or if you like premium teas and coffees as these are only included in the premium package.

At the time of writing, it is only £10 per person per day to upgrade to Premium Drinks. This is very reasonable, compared to the big American Cruiselines.

As Both P&O and Marella are British Cruise Lines, no additional service charges are added to drinks or drinks packages purchased. On American cruise lines (like Celebrity for example) you are charged a 20% service charge on any drinks or drinks packages you buy.

Who Would Prefer Which? – Included Drinks

If you’d enjoy a cruise with drinks included in the cruise fare then Marella may be the best fit for you.

If you would prefer to “pay as you go” for what you actually drink, and have a lower cruise fare – P&O may be the better option.

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.

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

Marella Cruises offers more variety in cruise itineraries than P&O Cruises – but P&O Cruises offers ‘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 cruises worldwide – including places like Asia.

P&O CruisesMarella
ItinerariesMany From The UKMostly Outside of UK

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 offer Baltic cruises. These are usually 14 nights long and cruise from Southampton to Finland 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 Answered

Baltic Cruise StockHolm Cruise Tips
Stockholm on a Baltic Cruise

British Isles

I have been on two British Isles cruises and they were 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 went.

We visited Liverpool, Loch Ness, Dublin, Belfast and lots of other places which I’d never seen before.

We cruised in summer both times and amazingly we had sunshine almost every day!

loch ness British isles cruise Loch Ness
British Isles Cruise – Loch Ness

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.

I took a Christmas Cruise to the Canary Islands from the UK on P&O’s Ventura. The weather was very rough! Find out all about that cruise here:

Caribbean

P&O offer many 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.

Dubai

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.

Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is one of the most popular cruise destinations with several different routes being offered.

P&O Cruises offers 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.

Sagrada Familia In Barcelona

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, the service was wonderful, 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 tips

North America and Canada

There are a few itineraries offered by P&O to North America and Canada.

At the time of writing all sail from and return to the UK – and are 35 nights long.

Northern Europe

Cruises to Northern Europe are very popular with P&O Cruises because 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!

emma cruises bolette fred olsen

World Cruises

P&O Cruises offer world cruises and portions of world cruises to guests wanting to just see part of the world.

A 99-night world cruise with P&O would likely set you back around £10,000.

Marella – Itineraries Offered

Marella cruises worldwide and occasionally has ships that cruise from the UK.

Asia

Marella has a high percentage of their itineraries in Asia. I Have taken two Asian cruises and it remains my favourite cruise destination – so far!

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.

Find out about my latest Asia Cruise, and the wonderful places I visited onboard Royal Caribbeans Spectrum of the Seas here:

Baltics

Marella sometimes offers 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 several excursions on our cruise including a bike tour where we got absolutely soaked…

Canary Islands

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

Caribbean

Almost all Caribbean cruises with Marella are 7 nights long and require you to fly to the Caribbean to start your cruise.

Marella offers 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.

Mediterranean

Marella offers Mediterranean cruises in both the East and the West of the Med.

The majority are 7 night itineraries and require you to fly to the Mediterranean to join them.

I took an “Intensive Spanish” cruise with Marella – my first fly cruise after the Covid Pandemic.

The paperwork needed was a nightmare, but the cruise itself was wonderful – and an absolute bargain.

Find out all about that cruise in this video:

North Africa and the Middle East

Marella offers a lot of itineraries in this part of the world. The Middle East has become increasingly popular in recent years and Marella has 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.

North America

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

Who Would Prefer Which? – Itineraries

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 next:

7 HUGE Differences Between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean

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

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

P&O CruisesMarella
EntertainmentRelaxedLively

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 Marella’s.

That said, there is plenty going on during the day on a P&O cruise.

P&O do have activities like trivia, live music, and lots more throughout the day

In the evening there are shows in the theatre. The newer ships Arvia and Iona have bars with live entertainment all over the ship.

They also have exclusive small, more intimate venues which can be booked free of charge like the 710 Club.

Marella

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 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 favorite cruise lines.

The Marella show team doesn’t put on full Broadway-style shows like some of the big American cruise lines, but every night of our 14-night Baltic cruise we had a different production in the theatre, all of which I really enjoyed.

As the Marella ships are quite small there’s no need to book theatre seats as you would on some of the bigger American cruise ships – and onboard P&O’s Iona and Arvia

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 took a 90s-themed cruise with Marella which was SO much fun. It was quite unlike any other cruise I have been on! Find out why below:

Who Would Prefer P&O Cruises?

Fans of a traditional cruise experience may prefer P&O’s older ships.

P&O cruises offer traditional dress codes, fixed dining and events like meeting the captain on the older ships, and even Arivia and Iona have “Celebration Nights” where you can dress to impress.

A P&O cruise would suit a person who enjoys a relaxing cruise as the daily schedule isn’t as busy as on other cruise lines like Marella.

A P&O cruise is a great option for those wanting to cruise from the UK, as they offer a variety of itineraries and cruises of varying lengths.

Who Would Prefer Marella Cruises?

Cruisers who want a more relaxed experience with lots included in the cruise fare may prefer a Marella cruise.

The atmosphere onboard is generally busier than a P&O cruise so a Marella cruise may be a better fit for young adults.

Marella sails around a variety of destinations across the world so may better suit passengers who are happy to fly to meet the ship.

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Before You Go

Find out what to wear on a P&O cruise in the article below:

What to Wear on a P&O Cruise – 39 Examples and Enforcement

If you enjoy cruising with the big American cruise lines, you might like Marella! Find out why here:

Like Cruising With American Cruise Lines? You May Enjoy Marella Cruises

Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources

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