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A Christmas Cruise in Covid Times

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    A Christmas Cruise in Covid Times

    After 21 months of non cruising I couldn’t help searching through the late December cruises for 2021. It has been a regular thing over the years, to book a ‘stocking filler’ cruise, typically the week leading up to Christmas itself, as this can be a real steal pricewise to slot in that final cruise before end of year.
    But whilst the Pandemic is still with us, if I was going to do anything it would almost certainly be a complete package Marella 7 night fly cruise, somewhere in Europe. I had almost given up the search, as most of what was on offer were places I had done times over and a long haul was out of the question for a number reasons, Covid being just one of them.
    Then mid October, Marella decided to reposition one of their ships from The Caribbean to base in Malaga for the winter season. The Med in December would not normally be my first choice, but when I looked at the opening prices, especially Christmas itself, it became a no brainer.
    We teamed up with the Bradbury’s to make it the mini-est of mini forum cruises, and feeling more confident with three jabs in my arm decided a short cruise was worth a punt, but by mid November a new variant of Covid, Omicron became a new threat to foreign travel, making it necessary for tests prior to flight both ways, plus a further test within 48 hours of return to the UK. Add to this the insistence of proof of travel insurance, including cruise cover, proof of three vaccination certificates, plus online form filling for the airline, country of entry and every other man and dog, making the whole process a logistical nightmare. I felt a nervous wreck before even packing our suitcases.
    So here we go, too late to cancel or switch as we are outside the 28 day free to cancel amnesty. It’s a 7 night cruise out of Malaga, flying out of BHX on the 23rd of December on Marella Explorer 2, a ship I have enjoyed a few times in the past as Celebrity Century.
    As we only live 20 minutes from BHX, a taxi is de’rigueur and less cost than on site parking for us. It’s just the whole palaver of the covid testing that leaves me with a boat load of trepidation at both airport, cruise terminal and pre travel back to the UK.
    We allowed an additional hour to the normal two hours before departure in anticipation, or should that be dread of what might or might not be in store for us.

    At the TUI Self Checkin Bag Drop queue, a member of staff walked around checking everyone’s passports, boarding pass and 3 jab vaccination docs, we placed our bags on the scales for a luggage label, wrapped the label around the handle and took the bags to the conveyor belt. Very straight forward, very efficient.

    Once on the aircraft, the Captain made it very clear that masks would be worn throughout the flight, except for eating and drinking.

    At Malaga airport, passport control was a breeze, then on to have our temperature taken and the QR code scanned from our Spanish entry certs. Grabbed our cases from the carousel and took them to an awaiting coach for transfer to the ship, our cases from there being taken directly to our cabin.

    Cruise checkin was very efficient, queuing time ten minutes, passports, boarding cards, credit card details, photograph, plus a cursory glance at those documents and insurance certificates we had spent hours of stress and heartache worrying about the week previous.

    Over to the next desk for our cruise cards and it was onwards up the walkway to ‘climb aboard’. From coach to ship took about twenty minutes, That’s all right by me.

    We were directed immediately to the Theatre where a Safety Video was playing on continuous loop. Once watched you had your cruise card scanned on the way out as proof of visit. From there you went to your Muster Station where once again your cruise card was scanned as proof of visit. All very well managed IMO.

    At this time of year, and in this part of the world, I would normally choose an Oceanview cabin as a Balcony seems pointless in the expected temperatures, but with Covid and the opportunity to bring some fresh air into the cabin, I had second thoughts. With the opening prices for this cruise being unbelievably low for a Christmas cruise, I thought, what the hell, I chose a high end Balcony on deck 10, a former Celebrity Concierge cabin. The cabin appeared slightly larger than the average balcony cabin, with a deeper veranda than most of the new builds, with room for two chairs, a large table and room to stretch your legs. The shower was a good size with a ‘real’ glass door. The pudding bowl sink threw the water straight out the other side if you opened the tap too quickly. Something I managed to do on just about every occasion.

    P1050947 by Wilba Cruise, on Flickr

    P1050949 by Wilba Cruise, on Flickr

    P1050955 by Wilba Cruise, on Flickr

    Mrs Bradbury on the other hand booked the largest cabin on the ship, The Royal Suite. I will leave it to her give her opinion on that.

    Prior to sailing, the Captain made a public address regarding Covid safety, making very clear that masks would be worn at all times when moving around the ship, no exceptions except to those who could show medical proof. Anyone who failed to comply would be removed from the ship! If you had not attended the safety video or your muster station , you had twenty minutes to do so or your cruise card would be suspended.

    We downloaded the Tui Navigate app, which uses the ships onboard network at no cost to the user. This is essential as there are no menus in the restaurants. These and everything else you need to know or use is on the app. The good thing is you can read the menus for every eatery before deciding where to eat.

    After a well earned afternoon nap, we made our way to the MDR which is split into two halves. Port side is Latitude 32, which is conventional cruise food, the other half is Vista, an Italian themed menu. The first night we opted for conventional. The food was OK, but nothing to write home about, the red cabernet sauvignon on the other hand was excellent, which was freely poured whenever the glass was down to one third.

    First night onboard after a 3am taxi pick up meant for an early night, so we walked through the atrium to the Champagne Bar, ‘Flutes’ where I sunk two double Baileys on top of many red wine top ups to reach the cabin in an induced coma.

    Day 2 Christmas Eve Gibraltar

    What a change in weather! Grey, overcast and pouring with rain. Having been here three times before, albeit the last being around 25 years ago, I doubt if I have missed much, same old apes, same old duty free shops, same old cable car.

    Tonight we ate in Vista, the Italian which was pretty good, the menu here changes every three days, so another visit is on the cards, the red wine flow meter still working at full speed.

    The show in the Broadway theatre was a Latino themed song and dance routine. The band were excellent, ably backed by two girls and a boy vocalist, plus an eight piece dance troupe. An Argentine Tango did somewhat steal the show IMO.

    P1050920 by Wilba Cruise, on Flickr

    P1050957 by Wilba Cruise, on Flickr

    Day 3 Christmas Day At Sea

    The only sea day of the cruise, and the sun is shining. No Father Christmas as this was an Adult Only sailing. Naturally there was a morning Carol Service, Christmas themed quizzes, and the only night of the cruise with a first and second sitting in the MDR.

    I’ll let you guess what was on the menu, although I chose Roast Beef, which according to comments I heard, was the better choice. We had the crackers, paper hats and a choir on the staircase to complete the occasion.

    The theatre show was a guest performer Andrew Browning, a George Michael tribute act. I can’t comment as I did not attend. Not my scene.

    More to follow folks…………….Wilba

    A friend has emailed telling me about her Caribbean cruise on Marella. She gave a good review, but said that bar service was very slow. They were tested daily on board.
    Queen Victoria - Mediterranean Explorer

    2019 -
    NCL Getaway - Norway and Iceland
    Adventure of the Seas - Fall Foliage

    2020 -
    Jewel of the Seas - Abu Dhabi & Dubai
    Magellan - Panama Canal


      What a New Year treat, a Wilba cruise blog. Looking forward to the next instalment.


        Originally posted by Blondie, Oxford View Post
        What a New Year treat, a Wilba cruise blog. Looking forward to the next instalment.
        Too true and seemingly with no enforced stopover as a guest of a Spanish hotel!


          Originally posted by Yogini, Waterlooville View Post
          A friend has emailed telling me about her Caribbean cruise on Marella. She gave a good review, but said that bar service was very slow. They were tested daily on board.
          Bar service on this cruise was exemplary. It felt like there were more staff than passengers in some bars..........Wilba


            Thanks Wilba for a great review, or part of (hopefully). Good to hear that your flight and boarding experiences went well, if only you could have known that in advance!

            Thanks for the photos and also to see that the cabin had a good set of hooks and shelves. Very useful.

            Re the plentiful wine top ups, was there a drinks package included or a paid extra?


              Good review. Well done for braving all the testing & stress involved with travel! Hope you enjoyed the rest of the cruise.

              We enjoyed our summer Marella UK cruise, they really did make sure we followed the Covid guidelines.

              Just disappointed that I can't see any UK cruises for this year with Marella for those who don't want to fly or be dumped off a ship in foreign territory.


                Thanks for the review, I look forward to the next episodes. Century was one of our favourite Celebrity ships, just the right size and more character than newer vessels.



                  Pleased you enjoyed your cruise Wilba. Looking forward to reading the next installment. We are flying home from Malaga tomorrow. So good to get some Spanish sunshine.


                    As usual another great read Looking forward to the next one ,


                      No test at port?


                        So lovely to read a positive cruise review. Our next ( and first for 3 years) booked cruise will hopefully happen and we're booked in Marella Discovery for June and we can't wait .
                        BIG SHIPS, little ships, small world


                          Thanks for reviewing. It sounds like once the hoops have been jumped through, you are enjoying yourselves. Looking to the next instalment.



                            Fantastic, sounds perfect, looking forward to hearing more ..............................................Caro l


                              Great to be able to enjoy a comprehensive review again.


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