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Review of Marco Polo and its Easter Cruise, April 2, 2012

Author: F.G. Westgate
Date of Trip: April 2012

My wife and I are quite experienced cruisers on a variety of American cruise ships and on River boat cruises. This review is of our experience and is a critique of the Easter cruise and of the Marco Polo ship itself.

As other reviews in Cruise Critic have outlined the history of the Marco Polo I will not dwell on that except to reiterate that the Marco Polo is quite an old ship, having been built in 1965 in East Germany. It was named the Alexander Pushkin and was the flagship of five sister ships owned by the Baltic shipping Co. They sailed from Leningrad to Montreal until the late seventies It changed ownership a few times and sailed out of Australia for a time. From 1991-93 it was renovated and refurbished in Greece at a cost of $60 million and was then named the Marco Polo under the Orient Line. Her ownership changed a few times but she still has the original huge diesel engines. It is assuring to know that the ship was built to stand any sort of weather it is likely to encounter for its hull is strengthened to deal with ice.

This cruise left from Tilbury docks at the mouth of the Thames and there was a bus that was organized to take passengers to the ship leaving from Victoria Stn. in London. But we were staying in North London and there were six of us in our party comprised of my wife and myself and two of our children with their spouses. So it seemed appropriate to get a taxi to take us there and back for £127. each way. The trip took about an hour. Boarding the ship was arranged according to your cabin number and we were scheduled to board at 12.15 P.M. However we had to wait in the port lounge until about 1.15 P.M. When things got moving everything went smoothly. There was no shortage of staff and we were quickly escorted to our cabins to which our suitcases had been delivered.

The impression of our cabin was that it was very small and had twin beds which were the narrowest I have ever seen. As is usual, the toilet with wash room and shower was small and very cramped but everything was clean and compact. Interestingly, the toilet was not the usual suction machine but flushed like a house toilet There was ample drawer space and lockers and a safe for valuables. The Samsung TV worked with 5 or so channels.

We went for lunch to the Marco Bistro cafeteria to find it was crammed and difficult to find a seat, either inside or out on deck beside the pool.

At 3.30 p.m. there was the usual first day life boat drill and this was very well organized. The main complaint was that we stood outside on the deck for a lot longer than necessary after the drill, before we were dismissed.

I found that we were scheduled to have dinner at the late sitting, when we had reserved the early sitting. So I went to see the maitre d’ who quickly and politely changed our seating to a nice table at the early sitting.

That evening we had dinner in the Waldorf restaurant with fast and courteous service. The wines and drinks were fairly expensive but within the usual range of prices for Cruise ships. There was a good selection of wines. As we like a glass of wine with our meals I found it best to buy the special of 6 bottles from the wine steward for £80.

There are no specialty restaurants on this ship which are becoming popular on many cruise ships. These restaurants charge a premium of $25 or more and I think should be superfluous as the food should be of high enough quality that one should not have to pay extra for a good meal.

The entertainment that evening was in the lounge and was a song and dance routine. The quality of the band, singers and dancers was high.

The size of the lounge seemed a little small for the number of passengers and so nearly every seat was taken and one had to get there early.

It was a lovely clear evening and it was a smooth motionless crossing of the English channel. I did notice that the engines were a bit noisy. This was not a problem for us as we were on the 7th, (Pacific) deck but those on the lower decks did grumble about it.

Our first dock was at Honfleur. This is a lovely small port in France and the home of Camembert cheese and Calvados, apple brandy. Complimentary bus shuttle service into town was provided by the port which ran every few minutes.

For breakfast in the Waldorf restaurant there was a good selection of food, which was buffet style but one could order things not seen in the buffet. I ordered kippers and they were very good..

In the Bistro cafe, I did notice that there were no cloth napkins and there were no trays. I have heard that many ships are doing away with trays as this greatly reduces food consumption and waste. So not a bad thing, but one misses the convenience of having a tray to carry your dishes. Juices seem to be at a premium and are only available at breakfast.

The next day we were at sea all day and at first there were large swells that made getting about difficult. Fortunately the sea settled down and later on in the day it was much better. There were quite a few activities arranged for the passengers, with the library open, the fitness center, various contests, a lecturer etc. It was the first cruise we have been on that did not have bridge games organized with an instructor, but it is the shortest cruise we have taken.

This was the night of the Captain’s cocktail party and a formal night. It was very similar to that on other cruise ships with your picture taken beside the Captain, the senior staff was introduced and a glass of champagne and a hors d’oeuvre offered.

I was pleased to see that about 85% of the male passengers were in proper formal wear, some others were in dark suits and a small smattering in brown shoes and not so formal wear.

I estimated that 80-90% of the passengers on this cruise were over the age of 70 yrs and I saw no passengers in their teens or twenties and of course no children. I would say that 90% were English.

We anchored off St. Jean de Luz the next morning. This is near Biarritz, San Sebastian, the Spanish border and the Basque country. Tours had been arranged but there were 2 meter swells at the ship’s side that made getting on and off the tenders hazardous. Many alternatives were considered and waiting for a few hours did not improve the conditions. Therefore getting ashore was abandoned.

All ship activities are cancelled when in port but this was soon remedied and a new schedule of events was arranged and printed to keep the passengers happy and occupied.

We next traveled over night along the French coast to Le Verdon. There, we were able to tie up to a dock. It was a foggy rainy cold morning but the rain stopped by noon. This is at the mouth of the Gironde estuary so is the port for Bordeaux and is in the Medoc wine country. Passengers are not allowed to walk in this restricted secure port area. But complimentary shuttle buses were provided which ran every 15 min. to the nearby resort town of Sourlac sur mer (in Aquitaine province). However that shuttle bus dropped the passengers off at a car park which was about 1/4 mile from the town center so it meant quite a walk for the older passengers and many did not get off but stayed on the bus to go back to the ship. That evening the entertainment was a Classical concert by the Carmen Duo which were two young ladies from the Ukraine, one playing the violin and the other the piano and they were superb.

Our next stop was in the harbor of Brest, in Brittany where we anchored and one got ashore by tender. But, at 1415 hrs. the ship tied up at the pier and stayed there until departure at 7.p.m. A bus was arranged as a shuttle to the city. We did not find this to be a worth while stop and did not get off the bus.

The following morning, we were anchored in the Bay of St. Peter Port, Guernsey and passengers could get to land by tenders from 8.a.m. untll the last tender at 5.p.m. This is a nice port and island and being Easter Sunday many stores etc. were closed. A good way to see Guernsey is to take the local bus for an hour’s drive around the island for £1 each. That night was another Captain’s cocktail party and it was Formal dress code.

The next day we were at sea all day and there were plenty of activities scheduled. As is usual all luggage was to be placed outside the cabin door by midnight. Departure was by code colors on the luggage.

This has been a fairly detailed description of the cruise and the ship so it should help each reader to make their own assessment. My ratings out of 5 stars would be:

Boarding and disembarkation = 4 1/2*.
Cabins = 4*.
Meals and food offered = 4*.
Cabin Staff and food service = 4 1/2*
Entertainment. = 4 1/2*.
Itinerary and port choice.= 3 *.

Value for the price paid for the cruise.
This would depend on how much you paid for your cabin. If you were to have bought your ticket after they began discounting the cruise you got excellent value for your money. But if you bought the ticket some months before your rating would only be so so. Also if your cabin happened to be on the lowest deck and you could not sleep because of the noise of the motors you would not be very happy.

The staff was helpful and pleasant and there was no pressure on the passengers to buy pictures, tours or drinks etc. The entertainment was very good to excellent. Our experience was that we enjoyed the cruise and would recommend it.

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