Having been to the presentation by Cruise & Maritime Voyages at the Celtic Manor near Newport, it became clear that maybe we should try one cruise after all, and their ship Marco Polo was an obvious choice – smaller, less impersonal than the huge ships designed for ocean travel, and best of all, new sailings from Cardiff and Newport in South Wales. With just a little pressure from me, husband Leslie agreed and we booked for the France, Spain and Portugal 10-day trip from Cardiff.
As we usually only take hand-luggage, we were a bit phased by the need for a suitcase each. Of course, it didn’t take long to fill them up, especially with all the outfits for lounging about/ visiting local towns on day trips/ informal (that is, jacket and tie for the men and a nice little dress for the ladies)/ grand formal wear for two evenings over the 10-day cruise. Armed with documents, passports and a coloured luggage label, we joined the ship at Cardiff Docks (see later comments).
The Marco Polo is a smaller cruise ship, with lots of smaller bar areas as well as the comfy lounge bar, a library, show lounge and both a buffet restaurant and more formal restaurant where tables are allocated based on your stated preference when booking. We were right to go for a table with 6 people rather than just the two of us, or maybe four people, as we had a great set of people to chat with over dinner. We were also happy choosing the early sitting at 6.00pm rather than 8.00pm, leaving plenty of time for the show and a visit to the bar.
There are a couple of hot tubs on the top sun deck and three other sun areas aft (at the rear) of the boat plus an outdoor pool, albeit tiny and very cold! Our cabin was comfortable with plenty of cupboard space and a decent-sized shower room.
The staff were lovely, friendly and helpful, and food was excellent. Our waiter in the restaurant, Baptist, was very funny, helpful with choices and very efficient as was our wine waitress who soon knew what drinks we preferred with the meal! Great choice of menu and more than enough if you chose from every option. There was also a wide range of foods to choose from in the buffet restaurant, with plenty of choice if you are vegetarian. The only complaint we heard was a woman at breakfast who complained that the dinner plates were not big enough – “how are you supposed to get all the baked beans on top?” – then piled up food on two (yes, two) plates!
What did we like about our first cruise?
- Our cabin, our room steward who serviced the room 3 times a day.
- The food, staff and the main lounge bar.
- You can choose a drinks package within the first 24 hours of the trip – which includes almost all the drinks (included branded ones) including cocktails and wine with the meal as part of the package. This is definitely worth it as you know exactly what your drinks bill will be at the end, although it does encourage you to drink more than you would if you were paying separately for each drink, especially as many people worked their way through a substantial list of cocktails.
- It is a no-cash system so everything extra is charged to your account, but this was basically the professional photographs and some odd bits we bought from the shop.
- Before the trip, you are told how the account works and that tips can be paid through your on-board account. We think this is an excellent idea as you do not have to think about it during the voyage, and it means that all staff are included not just those front-of-house.
- Account details are printed out the day before departure so that you have time to check everything. It is all in sterling and your credit card is charge very late on the last night.
What were we not so keen on?
- Getting to Cardiff docks is tricky if you are using a taxi from the city centre as not all drivers know how to get to this part of the docks – it has been a long time since boats went from there apparently. This should improve now as more ships are due to sail from Cardiff.
- Extra security checks (which is fine) meant long queues, but once through scanning, it was easy on the ship and our cases were already outside our cabin.
- Leaving the ship was not as smooth as we would have liked, again due to the fact that Cardiff is a new departure port for cruise ships. We docked at 3.00am so we booked a taxi in advance to collect us at 5.15am for our train at 6.40am. Taxi firms kept saying they couldn’t find us (even though you can see the ship from 20 miles away!), and we finally got one at 6.20am.
- Finally, we encountered some rough sea in the Bay of Biscay which took some getting used to as novices.
So, we are not yet entirely convinced cruising is for us! Maybe a bigger ship? Maybe a river cruise would be better as no significant tidal swell plus the chance to leave the ship every day?
But for those who love cruising, or want to try it out for the first time, Cruise & Maritime Voyages gives you the opportunity to enjoy a smaller, friendlier ship experience on the Marco Polo, leaving from regional ports of Newport and Cardiff.
Please be advised that Cruise & Maritime Voyages has now ceased trading. For more information, please visit www.cruiseandmaritime.com