Ship To Shore: All Aboard - And It's OK To Snore!
Ship shape: The Marella Explorer2 in Ajaccio, Corsica
The soporific sound of two ladies snoring contentedly on waterbeds in the deep relaxation room left me in no doubt that Champneys spa on board the Marella Explorer2 was making a splash with its guests.
A high-energy person who seldom stops for breath and is unable to nod off even after the deepest of meditation sessions, I envy those who can effortlessly drift into slumber and wake up feeling on top of the world.
Also a great believer in the importance of first impressions, particularly in today’s fiercely competitive climate, the welcome and experience we received in the spa’s sumptuous thermal suite exceeded expectations from the moment we set foot in the spacious and elegant reception.
Switch off and sail away: Champneys relaxation room. Photo by Steve Hare
The facility’s contemporary design, enhanced by gold and cream furnishings and maximum light, exuded a calmness and tranquillity that lifted my mood and sense of wellbeing.
The spa boasts Marella’s only cruise ship with an indoor infinity pool, boosting relaxation with a natural wave effect and provides a social experience for passengers to chill and chat.
Wellbeing waves: the spa’s infinity pool
Stimulating the senses with varying temperatures to shake up and wake up the body, we sampled the two ‘experience’ showers - one with soft musical strains and light and the other with rain or a tropical mist. And when it all got too hot to handle, we cooled down with ice from an enormous feature glowing with a purple hue before repeating the therapeutic ritual.
More than skin deep
Cooling off: ice dispenser turns down the heat
Founded in 1925 on the philosophy that health, beauty and well being are inextricably intertwined, Champneys holistic approach is designed to rejuvenate both mind and body.
A plethora of wide-ranging treatments span men’s grooming experience, father and son personalised massages along with finishing touches such as a beard trim or chest wax. Tempting top to toe pampering include massages, hands and feet, hair, beauty and teeth whitening.
Looking and feeling washed out from a recent flu bout, I opted for a new skincare treatment, a diamond dermabrasion facial.
Luxuriating in the pampering from therapist Lauren from Leeds, my skin felt glowing and hydrated following the 80 minute session which fuses deeply exfoliating diamond dermabrasion with LED light therapy to smooth fine lines and improve skin radiance.
Radiance boost: Lauren applies the diamond dermabrasion facial
The session also included a soothing face, neck, shoulder, foot and hand massage - I wore a hand mask packed with nourishing cream which distinctly improved my skin.
Guests who also find it hard to switch off will be wowed by the relaxation room overlooking the ship’s bow. The panoramic sea views are perfect for whiling away the hours by daydreaming, reading - and feeling decadent doing absolutely nothing. In no time at all I was lulled into a luxurious sleep.
The spa’s venture with Marella Explorer2 follows the successful partnership sister ship Marella Explorer1 which cast off in 2018.
The latest edition to the Marella fleet, the Marella Explorer2 (formerly the Celebrity Century) marks its inaugural season as Marella’s first adults-only ship and, like all Marella cruises, it is all-inclusive.
Undergoing an extensive refurbishment, she set sail from Palma on April 2 this year to much fanfare and celebration. New venues include a clubhouse bar, The 19th Hole with two golf simulators, Flutes prosecco and champagne bar with a ‘Press for Bubbles’ service and a beach-themed Beach Cove.
As cruise aficionados who had become weary of badly behaved children running amok in buffet areas on other lines and commandeering swimming pools designed for adults, it was delicious to mingle with grown- ups of all age groups enjoying a Spring break in the Med.
The team at Champneys - a haven where busy schedules and deadlines are consigned to another world - includes general physician and aesthetic surgeon, Dr Claudia González.
Formula for success
Warm welcome: Champneys reception
Spa Manager Raj Dhariwal who runs the 14-strong team attributes the brand’s successful formula to its holistic approach and family values. She says: “Champneys is a family run business which has retained its family ethos as it continues to expand. Our close-knit team feel valued as part of the wider family and their commitment to, and passion for their roles, is noted by our guests.
“Mrs Dorothy Purdew OBE, who runs Champneys with her son Stephen - and has been instrumental in advancements in the spa industry - joined us for the inaugural cruise.
“Very ‘hands on’ and motivating, it was great to have her with us. We also put our success down to our affordability and we’re always looking to further enhance passengers’ experience with us.”
Spacious, airy with a great buzz, the ship, unlike others we’ve been on, never seems crowded - with an abundance of activities almost around clock. The crew appear genuinely committed to ensuring passengers have the time of their lives - whether they are cabin staff, the entertaining team or serving guests in the host of food and beverage bars, three main dining rooms or speciality restaurants - which I’d highly recommend.
The trio of speciality restaurants include the Kora La Pan-Asian Restaurant with its mouth-watering Chilean sea bass and delicious dishes created by Ian Pengelly, brainchild of London’s Ho restaurant. Our outstanding culinary experience was the Dining Club offering a high-end, fine dining for foodies in an elegant ambiance.
Savouring the seven-course food and wine pairing dinner, the pièce de résistance
for me was the sharing Explorer Dessert Sensation packed with sensations including crème glacée
and sorbet pops and salted caramel caviar. For a sugar addict, all the superlatives in the world are inadequate to describe the ultimate pudding - hats off to Master Chef, creator Bernard Cuiller.
Pièce de résistance: sharing Explorer Dessert Sensation
Entertainment is plentiful - courtesy of charismatic and affable cruise director Matthew Shaw. The theatre hosts two shows a night to accommodate diners’ preferences and performances include Zuma, a Latin extravaganza and pop icons.
When it comes to guest services, a special mention goes to Guest Relations Manager, Samantha Hale and her committed team who work tirelessly to consistently deliver a great experience.
When making a cruise your ‘home’ for a week or longer, having the right accommodation is key. Although we’ve mostly opted for cabins with a porthole or window, having a balcony elevates life at sea to the next level - literally - particularly in good weather. Sinking into a blissful slumber to the undulating waves and waking to the excitement of a new port from the balcony takes some beating.
While many cruise operators do a ‘hard-sell’ on buying their inflated tours, I applaud the fact that Marella (their tours are reasonably priced) encourage guests to explore for themselves - which as seasoned travellers we invariably do.
Packing in six stops in seven days, after setting sail from Palma, we visited the quaint Spanish fishing port of Palamos. Next was the picture-postcard French port of Ajaccio, birthplace of Napolean Bonaparte, where after a two mile walk, we were rewarded with beautiful vistas of the bay from a quiet restaurant with not a cruise passenger in sight.
Et tu, Brute? The tree marks the spot where Julius Ceaser was slain
Easter Friday we docked in Civitavecchia and boarded a train to the Eternal City, a magnet for tourists flocking from all corners of the world. We’d independently pre-booked what transpired to be a fabulous food and history tour starting in the pulsating and colourful Campo de’Fiori Square where we sampled pizza, artichokes and mouth-watering fresh pasta in venues popular with the locals. The tour also took in the Jewish quarter and its heart-rending background along with the historic spot where Julius Ceaser was assassinated by senators on the Ides of March.
Easter Saturday brought the excitement of Naples, where, unable to board a ferry for Capri due to the mayhem and magnitude of the crowds, we boarded a jetfoil with thongs of Italians to the beautiful volcanic island of Ischia. The final port of call on Easter Sunday before returning to Palma was the bustling port of Olbia, the gateway to Sardinia.
All guns blazing: the Marella Exlorer2 in Palamos, Spain
The aptly name ‘Treasures of the Mediterranean’ cruise certainly satiated the appetites of the get-up-and-go seeking travel experiences as well as those looking to join the ship’s tours or stay on board and maximise the facilities.
As we disembarked, the ship was fired up for new adventures and a new home in Naples as she sails into warmer climes and beautiful backdrops.
Champneys on Marella Discovery2 is open between 8am- 10pm, closing on sea days and final nights at 8pm.
Due to popular demand, particularly on seas days, it is advisable to visit the reception on the 11th floor and book treatments on boarding. Half and full spa day packages are available along with thermal suite day and cruise passes which can include access to private veranda cabanas.
For information on Marella Explorer2 cruises visit https://www.tui.co.uk/cruise/deals/marella-explorer-2
All photos by Steve Hare.