It is hard to believe I am sailing through the Mediterranean on the newest ship in the Marella Cruises’ fleet because everywhere I look there are hostile space aliens.
I am in a desperate fight to the death with inter-galactic pirates and shooting lasers, and I watch with satisfaction as they explode into balls of flame.
Most of my fellow passengers on the Marella Discovery 2 are enjoying a far more relaxing day than I am – stretched out on sun-beds around the pool deck, catching a movie on the big outdoor screen or enjoying a massage at the ship’s Oceans Spa.
But I am totally hooked on the new headline draw, the Virtual Reality Experience, housed in a small studio buried deep down on deck 3.
This replaces the Break Out & Escape Room on sister ship Marella Discovery and, if my experience is anything to go by, looks set to be a sure-fire hit.
Enthused by my space battles, I move on to a magical Harry Potter-type experience where a bubbling cauldron casts magical spells that conjure up clouds of delicately-fluttering butterflies; propel me skywards like a giant; and magic away gravity to make every object weightless.
In excitement, I grab everything within reach and throw it as hard as I can. It is fabulous fun but it is only when I crash into the wall while enthusiastically flailing around that I am catapulted back to reality with a surprising jolt; and hastily wrench off the headset to regain my bearings.
It is time to calm down, so I pop into another studio room offering a “Green Screen Experience” where I pose in a photo booth loaded with fun backdrops that instantly transport me to a tropical beach, the ship’s climbing wall or under the waves and swimming with fishes.
Like the Virtual Reality Experiences, it is a new feature and complimentary, with shots emailed directly to passengers, enabling them to show-off to friends and followers on social media by posting them online.
Technology is playing a key role on this new ship. Not only does Marella Discovery 2 have electronic information boards and booking kiosks introduced on Marella Discovery but it is debuting a downloadable app called Navigate which lets me monitor my onboard account and check entertainment schedules, among other things.
This new piece of techno wizardry comes into its own for booking extras such as spa treatments, excursions and speciality restaurants.
Another bonus is that it is complimentary as it is hosted on the ship’s own network so will open on any browser. This means I do not have to download it or pay for Wi-Fi to access it.
This is all part of Marella’s bid to modernise its fleet – a process that started in summer 2016 when Royal Caribbean International’s Splendour of the Seas joined as
the new flagship of the then Thomson Cruises (before the line changed its name to Marella Cruises last October).
It was renamed Tui Discovery (now Marella Discovery), and paved the way for former RCI stable-mate, Legend of the Seas, to follow last June as Tui Discovery 2 (now Marella Discovery 2), bringing with it more bars and restaurants, and fancy features that include a climbing wall and on-deck movie screen not found on the line’s more traditional, older vessels.
Following a six-week, multimillion-pound refit, the 1,830-passenger vessel emerged as a virtual carbon copy of its sister ship, with a similar distinctive contemporary style, evident from the moment you walk aboard into the light and airy atrium, with glass elevators, a sweeping marble staircase and glass and chrome glitz.
Its 915 cabins have also undergone an overhaul, emerging with a more modern look and feel, helped by fresh new en suite facilities. There are even six extra ocean view cabins, which
have been added, with floor to ceiling windows.
Anyone who has previously cruised on Discovery will feel at home on Discovery 2, with its additional attractions appealing to couples of all ages, families and first-time cruisers.
During my four-night sailing from Malaga to Barcelona, I go ashore in Marseille, where I join a tour to the fishing port turned beach resort of Cassis, whose picturesque surroundings retain a local feel thanks to locals’ efforts to ban the mega-yachts that swamp St Tropez and Cannes.
“We are like St Tropez but without the snobbism,” says our guide proudly, as we stroll along the cobbled, pedestrianised streets and soak up the local ambience.
It is easy to while away the hours here, browsing in the swish boutiques and savouring the catch of the day at one of the waterfront restaurants.
But back onboard there is plenty of opportunity to eat well, too, and my favourite is the Asian Kora La restaurant, both for its excellent vantage point overlooking the main deck with views out to sea, and delicious treats that include popcorn prawns, curries prepared to each diner’s personal preference and succulent duck and watermelon salad.
If you want to eat here, it will set you back £19.95pp but it is worth it. Nearby is speciality steakhouse Surf & Turf, costing a little more at £24.95pp but still a treat with its gentleman’s club ambience and selection of prime cuts.
Of the five complimentary dining options the main restaurant is 47°, so named because this is the latitude of the French shipyard where Discovery 2 was built. It is light and airy, serving “traditional fare with a modern twist” while upstairs on the balcony level is Gallery 47°.
On Discovery, this was an Italian restaurant but has been scaled back and now offers the main dining menu or Italian alternative.
When it comes to after-dinner entertainment, Marella knows how to rock the boat, and I find myself spoilt for choice.
The hub of Discovery 2’s night-time scene is the Live Room, where I join crowds enraptured by singers belting out Abba and Motown classics that propel everyone to their feet, while a pianist on the neon yellow grand piano leads rousing sing-songs from the enthusiastic crowd.
Upstairs at Bar Eleven a live DJ keeps the beat going by spinning the latest sounds long after everywhere else has closed, and with Discovery 2 being all-inclusive, I do not have
to worry about ramping up the bar bill either.
It is a combination that seals this ship’s winning appeal.
Book it: A seven-night Adriatic Explorer round-trip sailing from Corfu on Marella Discovery 2, including calls at Venice, Split and Dubrovnik and departing on May 25, costs from £1,292pp with flights.