We drove straight into the London Cruise Terminal and immediately unloaded our cases to the waiting porters before driving the 400 metres or so to the long-stay car park -- a covered parking area. Whilst it would have been as quick to walk we were transported back to the main terminal by mini-bus. Cruise & Maritime schedule their check-in times based on cabin number and we were told to report at 12:15. We were about 30 mins early and were directed to the lounge where refreshments were available. Promptly at 12:15 we were called to check-in and in less than 30 minutes we were on board and being led to our cabin. Our luggage was waiting when we arrived.
We were late booking and the main criteria we applied was an un-obstructed view. We were allocated a "superior plus cabin on deck 7. It was on the small side but had plenty of storage an adequate shower-room and was clean, bright and airy. A recent review said that a room with a view was a waste on money because the windows were very small and were very dirty. Our window was large and clean and the outside was cleaned regularly throughout the week.
Lunch was only available in Marco's Bistro. As we dislike walking around with our food seeking out a table we located an outside table by the pool and took it in turns to collect our food. As piscaparians (veggie plus fish) there was only two hot choices but also an abundant selection of salads and, after we started eating, we also discovered a poolside pizza bar which would have met our dietary requirements.
Marco Polo set sail at 2:30 and we were hoping to see Southend Pier as we travelled up the Thames Estuary but a comprehensive SOLAS drill caused us to miss it. We assembled at our muster stations for a full roll-call before being taken to our lifeboat stations for further instruction. It was the most detailed drill we have experienced since our first cruise some 20 years ago when we actually had to get into the lifeboats.
Having cruised on Marco Polo last October we soon found our way around this very small and friendly ship and we spent a relaxing afternoon doing not very much at all until we settled into one of the bars, being entertained by a jazz duo before joining our six table guests for our second sitting dinner in the Waldorf Restaurant. I can never decide if only nice friendly people cruise or if we have always been lucky with our table guests on our various cruises but again we had been perfectly matched.
The meal was a pleasant 5 course affair and everyone seemed to be satisfied. There was only one vegetarian choice which wasn't to my liking but an alternative was quickly offered.
The evening was rounded off with a visit to the show in the Marco Polo Lounge -- a song and dance presentation with a live band. We intended to follow this up with the live sixties cabaret in Scotts Bar but the need for sleep took the better of us.
The first night in our cabin highlighted one of the few problems with Marco Polo -- the wafer thin walls. We did not experience this last time when we were upgrade to a deluxe cabin. We spent a while listening to a detailed report of what the couple in the cabin next to had spent in the bar before they bid one another goodnight and silence, interrupted occasionally by some plumbing noises, reigned.
There was no need for an early call the next morning -- our neighbours on the other side switched the television news on at 7.30 promptly. This pattern followed for the remainder of the cruise but it is amazing how quickly the body gets used to ignoring surrounding sounds!
Our first port of call was Honfleur and after the mayhem of a cafeteria breakfast in Marcos Bistro we took the free shuttle into town and had a pleasant stroll in the sunshine before returning for lunch. We again tried the Bistro, which was far less busy than at breakfast time but for the rest of the cruise we elected to use the formal restaurant for all our meals. I have seen Marco Polo criticised for its policy of filling tables in order rather than allowing "freedom seating". Whilst, like most, we would have naturally sat on a table on our own we were very happy to be forced to meet other people and were again amazed at how many nice people choose to cruise on Marco Polo.
After lunch we were torn between the healthy option of a brisk walk into town or join in the afternoon's organised activities and decided to stay on board. We entered the afternoon quiz and realised that we should have done the walk -- only 8 out of 20 for us!
It was only day two but our lifestyle was quickly settling into pattern that was going to stay for the next 7 days. A coffee in the lounge -- so much nicer than the free stuff that is available all day in the Bistro, a drink before dinner, ( a couple on the "happy hour" days, a pleasant meal, a well produced show and a failed attempt to join in the late night entertainment. Some commented on the high price of drinks but Â£3.70 for gin and tonic. Â£1.80 for cappucino and Â£15 for a bottle of house wine
seemed reasonable to us.
Day 3 was our first sea day and we woke to a very bouncy ride even though we were yet to reach the Bay of Biscay. Fortunately the wind dropped and things settled down. A very comprehensive programme of entertainment was on offer. We attended two very interesting lectures -- one about Chelsea Flower show, and one about wine. We entered the quiz, 17/20 this time but still 2 points off the leaders and the 39 points in Countdown -- thankfully again off the leader board so we avoided the Conundrum. On many cruise ships it is on sea days that you realise how many people are on board and seating is at a premium. Despite reading a review recently that said there was very little comfortable seating on board and that it was being "reserved" with coats and bags, we saw no evidence of this, were always able to get a seat and were pleasantly surprised at amount of open space.
The evening saw the first formal night and virtually everyone on board dressed for the occasion (or stayed in their cabins). Everyone that we spoke to was very satisfied with the meal. The evening show was an excellent presentation of Joseph - undoubtedly the best of many such productions that we have seen over the years.
Day 4 was to be St de Luz but we awoke to heavy swells and we were unable to use the tenders to get to shore. After a morning of waiting, day 4 became another sea day. The entertainments team arranged additional afternoon entertainment including a Treasure Hunt. Anthea Guthrie, the Chelsea Flower Show lecturer offered to host an informal garden chat and whilst she expected half a dozen gardeners to sit round a table for a chat she was greeted with the main lounge full to capacity with gardeners wanting tips. She very professionally presented a 50 minute Gardeners Question time which could probably have gone for the rest of the afternoon if the room wasn't required for other activities.
After three musical shows tonight's show was an evening of magical mayhem provided by the very competent cruise director.
Day 5 was Le Verdon. The weather was wet but we used the free shuttle to go into town for a short stroll. The town was disappointing -- like a minor UK seaside resort in January with everything
locked up but the exercise did us good. This evening's show was a classical performance from the on-board duo. Excellent again. More entertainment followed but, again, we only heard later how good it was.
Day 6 was Brest and we chose an organised coach trip. As expensive as ever but our knowledgeable guide explained the history of this part of Brittany as we visited some of the sights in our very full five hour trip.
The evening show was a guest comedian -- judging by the response of the audience he was good but stand-up comedy has never been our thing and losing an hour's sleep stopped us from going to the Blues Brothers Tribute.
Day 7 was our final port day and it was back to the UK in the form of St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Going ashore by tender, being Easter Sunday, the town was very quiet but some people visited the Castle, some circumnavigated the Island for Â£1 on the local bus. Those that stayed on board had a full day on entertainment. This was our second formal evening, linked with a farewell evening with the officers. The evening show was a rock and roll tribute and was again excellent.
Day 8 was a full day at sea as we returned to Tilbury. Another full day of activities was arranged and the main problem was finding enough time to fit the meals in. The rough weather made it impossible to use the outside spaces but, although it seemed busier than on the first sea day, it was still not overcrowded.
Day 9 saw us docking in Tilbury, dead on time at 7:00 am. We were asked to vacate our cabins before breakfast and leave our hand luggage in one of the lounges. Disembarkation started about 8:30 and before 9:30 we were driving out of the car park.
Could we fault the holiday? Probably only the thin walls which it is very difficult to do anything about.
Would we travel with Cruise and Maritime again -- definitely yes.