Having sailed with virtually every cruise line in the world, from ultra-luxury to entry level products, Cruise News managing editor Ernie Skalsky was invited by Cruise & Maritime to sail with them for five days. How would it stand up? He gives his candid review below…
At 22,080 tons the 850-passenger Marco Polo is certainly small by today’s standards. The ship was built in the sixties as one of five for the Russian/Ukrainian fleet and started life as the Alexander Pushkin. Over the years the vessel has changed hands several times and is now owned by a Greek firm who charter the vessel to Germany’s Transocean Tours, who in turn sub-charter the vessel to Cruise & Maritime in the UK. Originally built for transatlantic travel, with a strengthened hull and huge storage spaces for long voyages, the Marco Polo still has the classical ocean liner features it was originally decorated with. The vessel has undergone many refits and upgrades over time with the last multi-million dollar upgrade undertaken as recently as 2009.
In all honesty, I went onboard the Marco Polo with mixed emotions. I was unsure whether the experience, on such a small, old vessel, would stand up to many of the other off erings currently on the market. My fears, however, were quickly abated, and my eyes opened to the unique product Cruise & Maritime has on its hands. One is so used to the new ships and their multi-storey atriums, large public spaces and large outdoor decks, that to travel on a small ship, built decades ago, conjured up images of a none-too-favourable ideal: all of the stuff y tradition with none of the glitz and glamour that naturally accompanies it. Travelling on the Marco Polo completely changed my perception, not only of what the product delivers but what great value it off ers to the thousands of cruise passengers who cruise with Cruise & Maritime each year. What the ship lacked in hardware was more than made up by superb quality of service throughout by the three hundred plus dedicated crew.
The line attracts a more mature British traveller, looking for the ‘home away from home’ cruise experience, which is not only good, but also aff ordable. The product certainly delivers that and much, more. And, with the ship was booked to capacity, one got a good feel for the overall service standards guests enjoy when they travel on a Cruise & Maritime product. Many of the crew members have been with the company for a number of years and it is clearly evident that they not only enjoy their jobs but are absolutely committed to providing the best holiday experience for the line’s guests. The staff were focused on keeping the vessel in ship shape condition, which was evident throughout the ship, not only in the cabins but also all public areas.
Everywhere was spotlessly clean. With an old ship one expects to see evidence of wear and tear. Again, this was not the case with the Marco Polo. All areas, seating and general furnishings were all meticulously maintained. The ship today is in fact in far better shape than it was some 15 years ago when it was a regular visitor to Australia – where I hail from – when it was with Orient Lines.
I also took the opportunity to speak to anumber of guests while on board and when questioned why they selected this cruise and ship, the attractive pricing, their preference to travel on an adults only smaller ship with fewer passengers and availability of shorter cruise options from a convenient departure port was a common response. Many have returned to the line for a second or third cruise.
We departed from Tilbury with the embarkation process went smoothly. The line’s port personnel handled the process efficiently whisking passengers onboard with relative ease. I was immediately surprised to see the spaciousness of the public areas, particularly for a ship of this size. As the cruise got into full swing, with passengers enjoying the facilities onboard throughout the day and evening, the ship never appeared crowded, with adequate seating available in the bars and the entertainment venues throughout the five night voyage.
The cuisine was also excellent. For a product which is seen by many as entry level, the food was as good, if not better, than what I had enjoyed on other much higher rated lines. Both breakfast and lunch were served at the self-serve casual Marco’s Bistro or the full-service Waldorf restaurant. It is worth pointing out here that Marco’s Bistro can get very busy at peak times so it can be difficult to get a table. The overflow of guests were sat at tables on the pool deck where pizzas and daily specials are served. This works well if the weather is fine, however if not I would avoid peak times or use the Waldorf which off ers an express lunch or full service for those who wish to have a leisurely lunch.
Dinner was off ered at the Marco’s Bistro for guests looking for a casual dining experience and for those seeking a more formal affair could dine at the full-service Waldorf restaurant over two sittings. The evening meals off ered a choice of entrees, soups, salads and a choice of at least three main courses followed by a selection of deserts or a cheese platter, coff ee or tea. The choice of wines and alcoholic beverages was wide and well-priced throughout the ship, reflecting prices not dissimilar to what is available in the more sophisticated pubs throughout UK. The Marco Polo accommodation offers only inside or outside cabins, there are no balcony cabins available on board. The inside and outside cabins generally provide fixed twin beds which are unable to be configured into a double bed. Only a few cabins are available with fi xed double beds. The ship’s corridors are narrow and therefore the vessel is unsuitable for clients confined to a wheelchair or with restricted mobility. Lifts to all floors are available for the elderly and less mobile clients.
Our cabin was a comfortable outside twin cabin, with ample storage and plenty of hanging space in the wardrobe, a pleasant bathroom and TV with many channels available. A safe is available in every cabin and each room is serviced twice daily. The entertainment provided throughout the day was varied, it included quizzes, cabaret shows in the evenings, ballroom dancing and live music and dancing in Scott’s Bar late into the evening.
Agents who have clients looking for a great value cruise holiday, excellent service on a small and intimate ship would certainly not make a mistake by directing them to a Cruise & Maritime experience. I expect high standards when I travel and the Marco Polo more than met my expectations, in fact it exceeded them on most fronts. However, if clients are looking for grand cabaret shows, lively night clubs with neon lights and large pool and deck areas, the Cruise & Maritime product is not for them and they should be directed to a much larger vessel.
The cruise visited Amsterdam, Rouen and Antwerp and made an unscheduled stop at the intimate French fi shing town of Honfleur. If you want to see as much as possible at each port, it is highly recommended you join one of the scheduled Cruise & Maritime shore excursions which focus on the must-visit sites at each stop. In our case all ports visited were close to the heart of each city and many guests chose to tour independently.
In ports such as Amsterdam, Rouen and Antwerp there is so much to see in such a limited time that guests are advised to carefully research what is available to see and select the sites they want to see prior to departure. Once in the destination see the selected sites fi rst to avoid disappointment.
Time permitting they can then stroll and see other vantage points. Trying to do it all is simply not possible in the time available in each destination. In 2013 the Marco Polo will sail from London Tilbury and Edinburgh Leith while the Discovery will have cruises from Bristol Avonmouth, Liverpool, Hull and Harwich.
Extremely attractive base commission of 12.5% is available on all bookings.