Cruising the Adriatic Coast on the Marella Explorer

Five countries in seven memorable days.  Cruises are a fantastic way to see the world and we picked the Marella Explorer cruise which would allow us to experience multiple countries and ports in a single holiday on their Adriatic Explorer itinerary.

Marella is the cruise line from TUI aimed at the British market, and our ship, the 1,924-passenger Explorer was full of activities and entertainment for all ages.

We loved the itinerary, the wide range of restaurants and facilities on-board which ensured that it offered something for all ages. The dress code on board is relaxed and smart – no shorts for dinner, but no tuxedo evenings either – so it’s great for families.

What we really liked about a Marella cruise was the fact that everything from flight to transfers was taken care of which differs from a lot of the other cruise lines.  Being able to fly from our local airport was another bonus and the fact that Marella offers an all-inclusive cruise ensured that we had no tips or service charges to worry about when we checked out.

Here’s what we experienced on the Marella Adriatic Explorer cruise, and why we would highly recommend it for your next family holiday:

Day 1 – Corfu, Greece

We’re starting in Corfu, it was great being able to fly from our local airport with TUI straight to Corfu.  It was so well organised and once we had touched down, collected our baggage,  and a short bus transfer later we were at the port ready to embark on our first family cruise.

The ship didn’t leave until just before midnight but as our flight from the UK was not due to land until early evening, we didn’t get a chance to explore this part of Greece, but we had enough to explore on the Marella Explorer to keep us busy.

Our two interconnecting large balcony rooms were perfect for a family and after the sail away, we had the first taste of the culinary delights onboard at one of the inclusive restaurants Vista.

Day 2 – At Sea

This is our only day at sea, and gives us the chance to check out the wide range of family friendly facilities and activities on-board.  The adventure golf and pool is an instant hit with the girls and once we knew they were entertained we were able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything the cruise had to offer over the next 7 days.

Day 3 – Koper, Slovenia

After sailing the length of the Adriatic we arrive at our first destination Koper, Slovenia.  We explore the cobbled streets of its medieval centre which has many Venetian influenced landmarks such as the Praetorian Palace for a quick look before our coach leaves on our first excursion.

We booked it through the Marella Navigator app and visited the vast underground network of caverns and tunnels at Slovenia’s Postojna Cave, which are amazing and well worth visiting.

This was one of the excursion highlights of our cruise for Holly as we boarded a train and travelled deep underground on the 5km narrow-gauge railway.  This railway is the longest of its kind in the world and takes us into the heart of the caves for a 90 minute tour which is also home to a unique pink blind salamander.

We wish we had more time in Slovenia as it was such a beautiful country, but we are already planning a return trip to their capital Ljubljana in the future.

Back on board we enjoyed freshly made pizza and pasta at the Mediterranean restaurant for lunch before heading back into Koper, which was a 5 minute walk from the ship.  That evening, we had another excellent dinner at the Latitude 53 restaurant before having fun at the silent disco, the girls loved this one.

Day 4 – Trieste, Italy

One of my personal favourites was Trieste in Italy, and I’m so glad we did this instead of spending the majority of the day on a coach visiting Venice.  Trieste is a hidden gem for most UK tourists, located in the North East corner of Italy, close to the Slovenian border.

Like Venice it has its own Canal Grande, lined with cafes, restaurants and small boats but without the crowds.  The architecture in the city is spectacular and one of the most spectacular is the main square of  Trieste, Piazza Unità d’Italia.

There was so much to see and do here, from seeing Roman amphitheatres to good shopping, plus it had an Eataly, one of our favourite Italian restaurants to dine and shop at.  Back on-board we take in the stunning Adriatic coastline especially at sunset and enjoy dining in Latitude for the Gala evening.

Day 5 – Split, Croatia

Split, the second-largest city in Croatia and the largest on the Croatian coast is our next stop.   In Split, where we booked a stadium tour of Hadjuk Split FC on the outskirts of the city and made use of Uber in Croatia for the first time.

Back in the city we stepped back in time at the Diocletian palace of the Romans which dates back to 300AD and exploring this historic port city.  When the girls came across Froggyland in the city they couldn’t resist visiting, this is one of the weirdest museums you will ever visit but they loved it.

In this hot weather the lure of the pools on the Marella Explorer was hard to ignore and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and cooling down from the Croatian sunshine.  As we set sail for our next adventure, one of my favourite things to do is watching the stars in the night sky from our balcony, it’s so peaceful and the skies are so clear.

Day 6 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Waking up each morning with an incredible view of a new destination is one of my many highlights each day on board the Marella Explorer.

Today, we are in the city of Dubrovnik, known for its distinctive old town which has been awarded an UNESCO world heritage site.  The main cruise port here is located in the Gruz area and approximately 3km away from the old town, so its too far to walk in the summer heat.

We booked tickets for the Dubrovnik Cable Car online and called an Uber to pick us up from the cruise terminal.  The cable car is one of the best ways to have a birds eye view of this stunning fortified city and its coastline.  The girls loved it and brought back memories of our recent cable car ride in Funchal, Madeira.

At the summit there is a restaurant and three different viewing heights , each offering their own vantage unique points for some great photos.  We spot a zip line at the summit which provides a unique way to see the city and the girls really wanted to do it – but like most things post pandemic, it needed to be booked online in advance.

The exit from the return leg of the cable car is a short walk from the entrance to one of the gates to the Old Town.  We didn’t book a city tour but found that a self-guided tour using Google Maps worked really well, taking in lots of the sights of one of the most beautiful cities we have visited.

Holly found the Onofrio fountains the perfect place to cool down from the heat before heading through the iconic Pile Gate to the West Pier – both iconic Game of Throne locations along with the Jesuit stairs, famous for being the walk of shame.

For lunch, we dined at Gradska kavana Arsenal restaurant which unknown to us as we walked through its doors to cool down from the midday heat was that alone with its great food it also offered some of the most picturesque views of the harbour and castle walls.

After lunch we took the girls to the new selfie museum and spent nearly an hour here as the kids personal photographer whilst they had great fun creating new photos for their social feeds.

For great ice cream, check out Peppino’s – we came across this walking toward the Ploce gate as we made our way out of the old town – not only was it delicious, it also helped us all cool down.

Back on ship, the girls head to their favourite spot, the pool for the afternoon and had fun playing table tennis and golf.  Dinner was back at our favourite restaurant, Vista and Chloe was pleased as she managed to get a unique Pandora cruise ship charm at their special shopping evening.

Day 7 – Kotor, Montenegro

Having left Croatia behind, we have an early morning sail into Kotor.  The Gulf of Kotor, is one of the most indented parts of the Adriatic Sea and is often referred to as the southern-most fjord in Europe, although it is in fact a submerged river canyon.  The fjord on the way into Kotor was worth getting up early for (6am), the scenery is spectacular and one of those moments you can’t miss.

Hot drinks and snacks were provided on deck by the crew and it was surprising just how many other guests had got up early to take in these views.  With another three cruise ships arriving in Kotor meant that we had to get a tender for the first time for the 5 minute journey to get into the port, which was a fun experience.

The UNESCO old town of Kotor is a well preserved medieval town with gorgeous views in every direction.  We entered the old town through one of its three gates and what strikes you as you walk into its main square is just how beautiful Kotor is.  With glistening cobblestone streets, its iconic clock tower and stunning architecture we couldn’t wait to explore.

Similar to Dubrovnik, Kotor also had city walls that encircle the city which we walked on providing great views of its streets, coastline and cats which Kotor is famous for.  Holly loved seeing them and there is even a museum dedicated to the cats here and we learnt that they are a good luck symbol of Montenegro.

One of the excursions that we had arranged that the girls we really looking forward to was being able to kayak in Kotor Bay and it didn’t disappoint.  Seeing their faces light up as they kayaked around this stunning bay was one of the many memorable moments we have had on this Marella adventure.

We stopped for drinks next to where we kayaked at a stunning little restaurant called Little Bay with views over Kotor beach and the bay, before we walked back into the town to pick up some of the unique souvenirs we had spotted in the morning.

With its meandering, maze like streets its easy to get lost but around each corner was another store to check out, our favourites being the colourful lamps and handcrafted Christmas ornaments or the Bazaar built into a section of the city walls.

A popular option for tourists is to hike up the ancient stone pathway of 1355 steps to Kotor Fortress in the mountains above Kotor, which provides great views of the old town and the bay.  With temperatures in the mid 30’s and possible thunderstorms we gave this 50 minute hike a miss and headed back to the ship for afternoon tea.

Sail away was a little earlier today at 4pm and for the first time onboard we encountered a storm, but took cover under our balcony to watch the sail back into Ionian waters.  For our last evening meal we returned to Latitude, one of our favourites not only for the great food but also the excellent service.  After dinner we enjoyed the live band Collective in the lounge bar before heading to the theatre to watch the last live show of our cruise.

Day 8 – Corfu, Greece

With a flight in the evening, we have a full day to enjoy the sunshine.  What is unique on a Marella cruise, compared to other cruise lines where you have to disembark early in the morning is that you are able to use the ships full facilities and restaurants until the TUI coach picks you up to take you to the airport.

We managed to get a late check-out cabin and skipped an excursion into Corfu old town to spend the last day of our cruise, chilling by the pools and taking in the last of the sunshine and gorgeous views from what has been one of the most memorable holidays we have done as a family.


We were unsure if cruising was right for us before we went and it was an expensive gamble for a family holiday.  However our experience with Marella on their Explorer ship changed our perception of cruising and we are so glad we booked it, we are already planning to cruise again next year.



  1. Great tips, thanks. This sounds like your whole family enjoyed this trip. We are taking a family cruise 11 of us 4 families with Marella in August.

  2. Thank you, an interesting and informative read.
    We are going on that ship in July , with same itinerary apart from Ravenna, instead of Trieste.
    Liked the fact that with our late departure from Corfu, we have the option to remain on board and use facilities instead of hanging around the airport for hours.

  3. Very well written, and love the tips and photos. Your family seemed to have a wonderful time. We have just booked this trip this morning so this has really gotten us excited. Thanks so much for sharing! Hx

  4. This is brilliant, we are going on this exact cruise this year our very first cruise and this information is perfect. I do have one question if you don’t mind. Did you book the stadium tour in Split before you went on the cruise? I am struggling to find a website to book tickets and I know my son Would love to go to the stadium. Also was it a long journey to the stadium? Expensive? Thank you

  5. Brilliant and very helpful review.
    It’s good to know when you can walk to the destinations from the boat, rather than book an unnecessary (and often expensive) tour.
    Did the ship provide maps of the towns?

  6. Hi. We are considering this same trip. Can you please advise upon your cabin number and did you think it was the best side for inland views whilst in port. Thanks

  7. Thank you for a very informative description of trips & ship. We are going on this trip in September to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Could you give a little more advise, is very far to walk from the ship into Kotor Slovenia or do you require a taxi ?

  8. Thank you for such a comprehensive review and for all the interesting and valuable information!
    We enjoyed our first Marella cruise last year around the Western Mediterranean and have been keen to embark on others, so this has been really helpful. We are now going to book this for our 30th wedding anniversay next May!

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