My daughter and I cruised for six nights, in late October 2015. This year is the 50th Anniversary for this remarkable and classic old ship and I was determined to enjoy a cruise on her during this celebratory year. This latest cruise was, in fact, my fifth aboard the Marco Polo and she retains her lofty status, in my opinion, as my favourite cruise ship. My wife and I are already booked to cruise on the Marco Polo again, in June 2016.
This cruise was a theme cruise, our theme being Comedy. There were special guests who either appeared in “An Audience With…..” style of chat show, or an individual cabaret performance. We were treated to: an audience with Jeffrey Holland (Hi Di Hi, Your Rang M’lord and others), and John Challis and Sue Holderness together (Boycie & Marlene from Only Fools And Horses and Green, Green Grass), plus Sue Hodge, in cabaret “Mimi & Me” (Mimi from ‘Ello, ‘Ello!) On the final afternoon there was a splendidly funny, Q&A session, with all four on stage together.
Our itinerary took us to Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Antwerp (Belgium), Honfleur, Rouen, and Le Havre (France), sailing from, and back to, Tilbury, on the River Thames. All ports which I have sailed into before, but an attractive itinerary because the cruise is not entirely an ocean cruise. Amsterdam is accessed via the North Sea Canal, connected to The North Sea at Ijmuiden locks. Antwerp is several hours sail down the River Scheldt, while Rouen is also several hours sail down the River Seine. Both Honfleur and Le Havre are situated on the Seine estuary, but on opposite sides. These river transits meant that there was far less “at sea” time, which some cruise passengers do not enjoy, mainly because they suffer with the ship’s movement. Also, there was the opportunity to see some very pleasant scenery whilst sailing back out from Rouen, during daylight hours.
The Marco Polo is a small ship when compared with the modern trend of building bigger, and bigger “floating resorts”. She is comfortable, with pleasant bars, two restaurants, (one being a self-service buffet style), and some nice outside deck space, with sun loungers etc. However, although we were blessed with some rather mild and sunny weather, for late October, the demand for sun loungers was not very great!
When cruising one needs to be careful about food consumption. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because there seems to be a virtual never-ending provision of it. When I started cruising eight years ago, I read a comment, well advice really, that one should try not to eat more than five meals a day! Laugh as you may, but after, breakfast, morning bouillon, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and late evening nibbles, some ships have 24 hour buffets – and you would be really surprised how well they are attended.
The Marco Polo offers dinner in two sittings, usually 6.00pm and 8.30pm, and your sitting is determined prior to embarking the ship. When booking you will be asked for your preference, but this is not a guarantee that you will be given your choice.
Accommodation comes in a wide variety of cabin grades, from inside (no window) cabins up to the more luxurious deluxe cabins (suites), and the cruise fare will be partly dictated by the standard of cabin that you decide upon. We were in a Category 12, Superior twin outside cabin (one of the upper range). This space included two large windows, twin beds, ample drawer and wardrobe space (even for a longer two weeks cruise!), dressing table/writing desk, two chairs, a small safe, and an en suite bathroom, with wash basin, toilet, and shower. All cabins on the ship include air conditioning, with individual temperature control.
The ship has a small shopping zone, card room, meeting/function room, spa, small library, and a number of bars. There are two main lounges, The Captain’s Club, where there is a resident classical duo who perform sets during the evening; and the Show Lounge, where the entertainment troupe perform shows most evenings. There will also be occasional guest performers, who may be vocalist, comedian, magician etc, who complement the on board show team. There is also a bar-cum-nightclub, Scott’s Bar, where a late night cabaret, featuring vocalists from the show team, and or the Cruise Director, takes place after the second show has completed.
The Marco Polo is operated by Cruise & Maritime Voyages CMV), a UK Based operator, who also operate, Astor, Azores, and Magellan (the newest addition to the fleet). All of these ships are fine, smaller ships – a style that is disappearing too rapidly, being replaced by vast ships that will accommodate three to six thousand passengers! Marco Polo has a capacity for around 800 passengers.
A slight tangent here – if you cruise with CMV, on any of their ships and you have Richard Sykes, as the Cruise Director, you will have hit the jackpot, big-time! He is a wonderful entertainer, and is always visible and willing to chat with passengers, despite having to manage the entire entertainment programme on board.
I know that many people cannot abide the thought of taking a cruise, whether it be due to cost, fear of mal-de-mer, changing location, or whatever. However, and I am sure you have guessed by now, I absolutely adore cruising. The moment I set foot on the gangway I feel the stresses of daily life drain away. I love that I only have to pack and unpack once, yet I can visit several destinations, even countries, in one trip. I can do as much or as little as I want, including going on shore excursions, that take me further afield, to learn and understand more about local people and life, or simply explore independently. I began cruising in 2007, and this coming weekend I embark on my 40th cruise. I cannot see me staying in a one centre holiday destination, for one week or more, ever again. As to cost – well, some years ago cruising may have been for the elite, and was expensive indeed. Today, though, the world of cruise is really affordable for all. with short two night breaks, stretching to 120 day world cruises. If you factor in the separate costs of taking on a multi-centre resort holiday, with connecting travel, food, accommodation, and entertainment, a cruise can be surprisingly less expensive.
As for the Marco Polo, I hope that she will continue to bring joyous travel experiences to many more passengers, for many more years. If so, I will go back for more, and more.