Sailing North on the Marco Polo

Cruise News editor Sam Ballard was invited by Cruise & Maritime Voyages to sail from Tilbury, north to Leith and beyond. Here’s his report from the first few days at sea…

Despite having lived in this country all my life, I am ashamed to say I have rarely ventured north of the UK border – and even on those rare occasions that I have stepped foot into Scotland, I have never explored beyond the country’s two main hubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow. I fear that I’m not alone in this confession and when the opportunity arose to see more of the British Isles (and beyond) I jumped at the chance.

Invited by Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) to sail on the 800-passenger Marco Polo for a cruise calling at Leith, the Faroe Islands, Stornoway and the Orkney Islands, was an intriguing prospect. My knowledge of these destinations is minimal, yet the industry trends confirm that cruises to the British Isles are enjoying a surge in popularity right now. To many, myself included, there seems to be a disparity between what the public wants and what the industry knows.

Our first stop included a tour of the magnificent Royal Britannia
Our first stop included a tour of the magnificent Royal Britannia

Arriving in Tilbury on Saturday we embark onto the sold out voyage. The vessel, which was built in 1965, is sailing what equates to two cruises; the majority of people checking in with us in London are only on for one night – thanks to a Groupon offer – and will disembark in Edinburgh. There the cruise will take on its Scottish contingent and sail north to the Faroe Islands. The only reason this is worth noting is that it brings the age and feel of the cruise down dramatically. For a cruise line which is known for having an average age of above 65, this certainly reduces it. And as a result the cruise has a far different feel to how it would usually operate.

We depart Tilbury at around midday. From the historic terminal we will sail until 4:00pm on Sunday, when we dock at Edinburgh’s Port of Leith. Ships the size of the Marco Polo aren’t traditionally made for entire days at sea, and the vessel doesn’t have an abundance of activities onboard, however it copes remarkably well. Entertainment is provided and the ship also has three bars, a library, gym and decent outdoor deck space. This is never going to be the ship that does weekly shuttle runs between Fort Lauderdale and the Caribbean – but enough facilities are provided to ensure that this is not a problem.

The dining room onboard the Britannia
The dining room onboard the Britannia

When we arrive in Leith we are taken ashore and walked to the Royal Britannia, the Queen’s decommissioned yacht, which was installed in its current home in 1997. The vessel forms part of a visitor attraction in the port and is the best example of the efforts that are going into regenerating the area. The entrance to the ship is through a new shopping centre which sits on the quayside and starts from the deck and works its way down, right through to the bowels of the vessel. The entire experience is one that is remarkably well put together. The tour guide is knowledgeable and friendly and shows off the grandeur of the royal family’s sea-faring residence in a respectable and admirable manner. As a point of history this attraction is fascinating – especially given its maritime relevance – one that ensures it will hold an interest for a majority of those onboard Marco Polo.

After the visit we go back onboard the ship and have dinner in one of the ship’s two restaurants. There is a choice for each meal between the more formal Waldorf restaurant and the casual Marco’s. The ship doesn’t leave Edinburgh until 1:00am so it is a great opportunity for us to go into the city and see it at night.

Tomorrow we arrive at the Faroe Islands and I have absolutely no idea what to expect.

Read part two here.

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