If you’re looking for a quintessentially British cruise experience, look no further than these two UK cruise lines.

Though one is Norwegian-owned (Fred. Olsen), and the other is ultimately German-owned (Marella, formerly Thomson, part of the travel giant TUI), both wear their British credentials with pride, with British beers on tap in the onboard pubs, British entertainment on offer in the theatres, British food served in the restaurants and an almost entirely British passenger base.

However, there are a number of areas where these lines differ, not least in terms of demographics. While Fred. attracts a predominantly older (the average age is 67) crowd of couples, solos and groups, Marella is firmly aimed at the family sector and come school holidays the Marella ships (bar one, Marella Explorer 2), will be full of families.

The entertainment on Marella is pitched at a slightly younger age group, too, and the all-inclusive nature of the ships makes a difference when it comes to budgeting.

Marella’s most recent ships are also a little younger than the classic vessels operated by Fred. Olsen and have more features onboard such as climbing walls, an outdoor movie screen and multiple dining venues.

So if you are struggling to decide between the two, read our comparison of Fred. Olsen vs Marella Cruises and hopefully we can help you make the right choice!


Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Offers a traditional and comfortable British cruise experience for 55+ adults

Marella Cruises

Offers a British cruise experience somewhere between upmarket and traditional, attracting families, first timers and couples in equal measure


Who are you going to meet?

Friends Enjoying Drinks in the Neptune Lounge (Photo: Fred Olsen)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • Elderly Brits, with an average age of 67
  • Some multi-genertional groups in school holidays

Fred. Olsen Cruise Line Forums


Marella Cruises

Marella Spirit (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Mainly families during school holidays
  • Couples, aged 55+ the rest of the year

Marella Cruises Forums


Where are they based, and where do they go?

Iquitos (Photo:Jess Kraft/Shutterstock)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • The four-ship Fred. Olsen fleet is based out of five regional UK departure ports: Braemar in Southampton, Balmoral in Newcastle and Edinburgh (Rosyth), Black Watch in Liverpool, and Boudicca in Dover

  • Itineraries are many and varied, with ships travelling to 277 destinations in 90 countries, covering 104 areas of scenic cruising, including up rivers (Amazon, Guadalquivir), to the Baltic, Canary Islands and the Caribbean, and even the occasional "Mystery Cruise".

  • The line operates a comprehensive fly-cruise program, mainly on Boudicca, with a few departures for Braemar, visiting, Asia, Australia, Africa and the Caribbean.

• There’s also a range of short-break cruises, and winter cruises to Norway in search of the Northern Lights.

Marella Cruises

Great Stirrup Cay (Photo:Roman Stetsyk/Shutterstock)

  • The ships are primarily Mediterranean, Adriatic in summer and the Caribbean in winter; although Marella Explorer sails in summer from Newcastle to Norway and the Baltic Sea.
  • Marella Discovery operates a season in the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and southeast Asia.
  • Newcastle aside, Marella’s cruises are all fly-cruise, with departures from 28 U.K. airports, a big selling point for anybody not based in the south east.

What's the accommodation like?

Superior Suite (Grade SS) on Board Braemar (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

  • Ships average 40 years old, thus cabins tend to vary slightly in measurement and layout, as there was no pre-fabricated ship construction when they were originally constructed.
  • Rooms have a "classic" feel, with dark woods and thick carpets.
  • Limited higher-grade and balcony cabins, but the line has added an extra 27 Terrace Balcony Suites on Boudicca and Black Watch
  • Fred. Olsen’s ships have a handful of single cabins as by nature, the line attracts a lot of single travellers.

Marella Cruises

Marella Discovery's Deluxe Balcony (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Marella's fleet is really in two halves -- the older, smaller ships -- Dream and Celebration -- and the four bigger (relatively) newer ships -- Marella Discovery 1 and 2 and Marella Explorer 1 and 2
  • The line has done a great job transforming the newer ships, and their addition has seen a large number of balcony cabins added to the fleet.
  • The larger ships have also meant a wider variety of cabins, including suites and interconnecting rooms for families or groups of friends.
  • Marella offers a few single cabins and also embarks on tactical promotions from time to time, with zero or reduced single supplements.

What are the dining options?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Fred Olsen's Boudicca, Tintagel Restaurant (Photo: Fred Olsen)

  • Fixed-time dining in the evenings, but also the flexible option to dine in the Palms cafe (Brigadoon on Black Watch and the Secret Garden Café on Boudicca)

  • On Balmoral and Black Watch, an outdoor grill area is converted into an alfresco "pop-up" alternative restaurant called Poolside.

  • All four ships have a Grill for alternative, fee-based dining, featuring steaks and seafood.

Marella Cruises

Hot Stone Dining on Marella Discovery 2 (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Varies by ship: Some offer open seating in a main dining room, others fixed-time dining only with a casual buffet option.
  • The line has significantly improved its dining quality and options, both for fee and for free, including a pan-Asian restaurant -- Kora La; a surf and turf restaurant, the main dining room and a sushi bar.

What's each line's idea of fun?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Fred Olsen Cruises Main Pool (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • Onboard pastimes include Bridge, shuffleboard and quoits.
  • Onboard enrichment program including such activities as participating in a radio broadcast, gardening, wine appreciation, history classes, wildlife-watching, painting classes and expert lecturers
  • All ships have two pools and spa facilities.
  • The line has also added "Rigid Inflatable Boats" to the fleet, allowing for soft adventure pursuits

Marella Cruises

Marella Explorer’s Main Pool (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Onboard sports options include paddle tennis, five-a-side football and basketball. All ships have outdoor pools and spa facilities, and the newer ships even feature climbing walls and outdoor cinema screens.
  • Marella Explorer and Marella Explorer 2 each has an extensive spa run by Champneys, the first seagoing venture for the Company.
  • Lido Deck fun includes impromptu sessions of "Mr & Mrs" and "Family Feud".
  • Indoor fun includes bingo and quizzes.

What's the nighttime entertainment like?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Glitz and Glam on Fred Olsen (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • Theater entertainment includes revue shows from the onboard performers, comedians and magicians.
  • Lightly attended after-hours discos
  • Daily ballroom dancing sessions with dance hosts on every cruise.
  • One or two formal nights per week, on which men are expected to wear a jacket and tie and black tie is encouraged.

Marella Cruises

Marella Celebration Theater (Photo: Marella)

  • Theatre entertainment on the newer ships includes outstanding variety and quality of shows; as well as comedians, ventriloquists and magicians.
  • Nightly entertainment, including live music, quizzes and karaoke, is centred on pubs and lounges.
  • No strict formal nights, just the occasional ‘dress to impress’ evening, which can be interpreted as you wish.

How well are families catered for?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Friends Enjoying the Scenery on Board Cruise (Photo: Fred Olsen Cruises)

  • No activities or kids venues except during holiday time when the ships offer the Little Skippers children's club during peak school holidays, with a range of activities, from pizza-making in the Galley to treasure hunts around the ships

  • Fred. Olsen has targeted multi-generational family cruising, and it is common to find larger families of various ages onboard during school holidays

Marella Cruises

Marella Cruises for Families (Photo: Marella Cruises)

  • Newly-launched M Club includes activities for children up to 11 and for teenagers
  • Marella Discovery, Discovery 2 and Explorer offer ‘babytainment’ for under-threes accompanied by an adult.
  • Daytime kids activities include arts and crafts, superhero theme parties, treasure hunts and behind-the-scenes tours that even pay visits to the bridge.
  • Evening kids fun includes talent shows, mini-discos and pyjama parties.
  • Family-friendly shore excursions are offered from all ships except the adults-only Marella Explorer 2.
  • Probably the better choice for families with teenagers as there’s more to do, and better nightlife.

How does pricing compare?

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Black Watch

  • Good value fares reflect the size, quality and age of the ships.
  • Daily tips are suggested at £5 per person, per day.
  • Bar prices are the same as or less than you'd pay on land.
  • A drinks package includes a variety of soft and alcoholic beverages for £19 per person, per day on cruises of four nighhts or longer.

Marella Cruises

Marella Explorer

  • Prices tend to be lower than those from the bigger US-based cruise lines with airfare included as Marella is part of the giant TUI holiday company which has its own airline.
  • All ships are all-inclusive for drinks and tips from 2019.

Fred. Olsen vs. Marella Cruises: The Bottom Line

  • If you are of a certain age (55+), mainly British and enjoy classic cruising in "country house" style with imaginative, destination-focused itineraries, then Fred. Olsen is the cruise line for you.
  • If you are a family or a 40-something couple ready to give cruising a try and looking for a bright, contemporary, lively ship, go for Marella Cruises.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Reviews

Marella Cruise Reviews