We have been on the Marco Polo twice before, when she belonged to Orient Lines. The last time we sailed on her was in January 2006, on an unforgettable expedition to Antarctica.
We saw this 5-day cruise advertised in the local paper and, because we remembered the Marco Polo with affection and the price was very good, we decided to book, particularly since it was departing from Newcastle which is only half an hour away from us.
Having read some of the scathing reviews here, I can only ask what the moaners expected. First of all, Cruise & Maritime Voyages is a budget cruise line and doesn't pretend to be otherwise. Secondly, the Marco Polo is an elderly lady indeed, having been built in 1965. Therefore she has no balcony cabins and lacks the (so-called) mod-cons you'll find on the newer, mammoth, 'plastic' cruise ships. However, she has clean and classic lines, wooden decks and portholes, cascading rear decks with excellent views, and friendly and attentive staff.
We had booked a standard outside cabin but found ourselves upgraded to a Superior Plus twin ocean view on Deck 9 (Amundsen Deck). The cabin (602) is right at the front overlooking the bow, so our window was looking in the direction of travel, instead of a side-on view of the sea. As we were high up the ship and at the front we did not get any noise from the engine and enjoyed a good night's sleep each night.
The cabin, although very clean and comfortable, was plainly furnished and had "no frills". There was loads of wardrobe and drawer space, twin beds, a chair and an old-fashioned (i.e. CRT) television. The selection of mini-toiletries, i.e. shampoo, shower gel and body lotion, was a cheapish brand and you don't get a chocolate on your pillow at night. Nonetheless our cabin stewardess kept the place immaculate and was very friendly.
We tended to eat breakfast and lunch in the self-service Raffles buffet, and dinner in the main Waldorf restaurant. I have to say that the food in the restaurant was much better than that in the buffet, which tended to be unimaginative and repetitive. Also, as other reviewers have mentioned, there seemed to be an ongoing problem with there not being enough crockery and cutlery to cater for everyone; several times they ran out of coffee mugs, cereal bowls and knives or spoons, and you'd have to wait around for the kitchen staff to bring some more. This only occurred in the self-service buffet on Deck 8; the food and service in the main restaurant (Waldorf) were excellent.
We found the entertainment to be surprisingly good for a small ship; the entertainment team turned their hands to everything from participating in the musical cabarets, to being quiz masters/mistresses, to game-show hosts to excursion couriers. They were a real friendly bunch. The musical performances in the Marco Polo Lounge included tributes to Abba and Queen, excerpts from West End musicals, and their own version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The nightly game shows in Scott's Bar included Catchphrase, the Weakest Link, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Mr & Mrs. They were really good fun and it was a lively crowd that congregated in Scott's Bar each night. The bar is situated on Deck 9 Aft and the doors open onto the outside deck which affords fantastic views and lets in a welcome sea breeze.
We were blessed with weather that would have rivalled that on the Med. The 5-day cruise, which took us to Kirkwall (Orkney), Stornoway (Isle of Lewis), Ullapool and Invergordon, never saw a cloud in the sky and Ullapool clocked the hottest place in the UK when we were there, with a temperature of 28 Celsius. Obviously the cruise line can't control the weather, but it really made the holiday.
This was our 30th cruise and it just so happened that the Captain on the Marco Polo, Georgios Antonellos, was the same captain we'd had on our very first cruise 24 years ago. We spotted him out on the bridge wing and told him this fact and he was tickled pink that we'd remembered him from the "Starship Royale" way back in 1988. He took us on a tour of the bridge and asked us which cabin we were staying in.
Later that evening we returned to our cabin to find a bowl of fruit, some smoked salmon canapes along with a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. A card peeping from the fruit bowl was inscribed "With Compliments" and signed "Captain G. Antonellos". What a lovely, thoughtful touch and really the icing on the cake.
We've travelled with the more fashionable cruise lines such as Azamara Club Cruise, Cunard and Holland America, so we didn't expect much from Cruise & Maritime or the little old Marco Polo. But the whole experience surpassed all of our expectations and turned out to be a really enjoyable trip with excellent entertainment.
We'd definitely cruise with CMV and Marco Polo again.