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Marella Explorer

galaxy_caldera

Galaxy in the Santorini caldera, 2007

Malcolm Oliver has posted on his blog that Mein Schiff 1 has left TUI Cruises (Germany) and is on its way to the UK. Once arrived (and having had some sort of refurbishment) it will sail as Marella Explorer, for Marella Cruises.

(Who?, I hear you ask… Well, I gather that ‘Marella Cruises’ is the new brand name for TUI Cruises UK, which in turn was the new brand name quite recently for Thomson Cruises. The Thomson travel empire was taken over by TUI (of Germany) some years ago, of course, and its operations (package holidays, travel agents, flights and the cruise line) were rebranded as TUI in recent years, including the cruise line, and I thought that this rebranding had gone well. In November 2017 however the cruise line was further re-branded ‘Marella’, and all the existing ships were renamed yet again. I have no idea why this was felt to be necessary…..)

But back to Marella Explorer. This ship has some history, of course. Originally put into service in 1996 as Galaxy, she sailed for Celebrity Cruises for more than 10 years. Celebrity Cruises were always promoted as an upmarket alternative to Royal Caribbean (the two lines were part of the same group) and when she first went into service in the mid-90s Galaxy was pretty much state of the art. Renamed in 2008 as ‘Celebrity Galaxy’ she was transferred a year later to TUI Cruises, a joint operation between TUI AG of Germany and the Royal Caribbean group. As part of the transfer she received a significant refit – most of the ocean view cabins were converted to balcony cabins by the addition of external balcony structures, the ship was completely refurbished, and made lighter and less formal in tone, to fit the different market that TUI was aiming for. This must have worked, as she has now sailed for TUI AG for 9 years, and has been joined by a further five ships, four of them new-builds. (The other old ship, Mein Schiff 2, was Galaxy’s sister-ship Mercury and received the same treatment as Galaxy). TUI Cruises have now decided that they want an all new-ship fleet – in additional to the existing four new builds there are a further three, larger, ships under contstruction. Mein Schiff 1 (ex-Galaxy) and 2 (ex-Mercury) are no longer required by TUI Cruises and are being handed over to Thomson – no, TUI UK – no, Marella! – as the largest ships in that fleet.

Marella Discovery will start her programme of cruises on May 19th, from Palma, after a short refit in Cadiz. Given the timescales of that refit I don’t think they will have made many changes to her – a paint job, a change in signage (presumably everything was in German while she sailed as Mein Schiff 1) and whatever else needed doing. I’m not seeing any great changes to the layout or style between how she’s been as Mein Schiff 1 and the images on the Marella Cruises site.

We sailed on Galaxy in her Celebrity days a couple of times, in 2006 and 2007. We had two very good cruises in the eastern Mediterranean; indeed, I can thank those cruises for starting my love for the Aegean and my (now deep) interest in the history of that area, from the Hellenistic period through the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. I’ve added a few pictures that I took of Galaxy in, I think, 2006. The deck picture will be recognisable in future, I think, but the interior pictures won’t – these are areas that were completely changed when she went to TUI Cruises in 2008.

The main pool deck won’t have changed much. The image of the open area with the seats was of a casual seating area at the stern on deck 11 – you could walk out to here past an enclosed pool (the Oasis pool?) from the buffet. It looks as if the Oasis pool has gone, and the whole area, both enclosed and open, will now be The Mediterranean casual eatery. In 2006 this open area was very popular, but in 2007 (our second cruise) the weather was much hotter and this area was largely deserted during the hours of daylight. Finally there’s the grand staircase down to the lower level of the main dining room. It looks from the deck plans as if that’s still there, but I imagine the decor is completely different today. It used to be very grand, and on formal nights elegantly-dressed ladies used to enter the MDR on deck 7 just so they could walk impressively down these stairs.

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