I've tried very hard to make the following review truthful and objective for the benefit of future passengers. My wife and I had never cruised before but all-in-all we quite enjoyed our experience on board m.v. Marco Polo, but personally speaking I'll be in no rush to repeat it.
The embarkation process in Tilbury was slick and fast. Our taxi was able to pull up right outside the Cruise Terminal and the labeled luggage was whisked away by the baggage handlers. The longish check-in queue inside the terminal moved remarkably quickly and we were soon shown to our cabin and reunited with our luggage.
Lunch in Marco's Bistro left a lot to be desired that day and on each day of the cruise there after. The ambiance in Marco's is that of an overcrowded chain store cafeteria, with a food selection to match. We played hunt the table/chair that day and at lunch- and tea-times in Marco's every day thereafter, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the fact that weather conditions often precluded guests from making use of the outside table and chairs. The situation each mealtime was not helped by the obvious reluctance of guests to relinquish their table/chairs once they had finished their meal, a situation that the staff did nothing to address.
My wife and opted to take our breakfast and dinners in the Waldorf restaurant. What a contrast to Marco's! The ambiance was excellent. Guests were shown to the first available seats for breakfast, and helped themselves from a perfectly adequate hotel-style buffet, but if you're fussy about your sausages and bacon forget it! Fried eggs and omelets were first rate though. Guests have reserved seating for the dinner service and are waited upon by a friendly and efficient waiting team who rarely put a foot wrong. Dinners comprised five courses (six on formal nights) and generally speaking were tasty, varied and beautifully presented. The ship puts a great deal of empathise on the Dress Code of the day, Casual = anything except shorts and vests; Informal = trousers and jackets with or without ties; and Formal = Dinner Jackets (although lounge suits with ties are acceptable. In common with the majority I was happy to conform and duly dragged a largish suit bag on-board. A minority however ignored the code absolutely, which I felt was unacceptable. On Informal and Formal days these people should be politely directed to the self-service Bistro. If the ship has a rule it ought to be enforced!
There are a number of help-yourself tea & coffee stations around the ship but we found these to be frankly dreadful. The water was insufficiently hot to brew a decent cup from the tea-bags provided and in any case tasted flat and stale. The coffee was unpredictable, sometimes recognizable as coffee but often not. The alternative was to order (and pay for) waitress served tea and coffee in the lounges. Much better but expensive.
The Marco Polo is not a big ship and it was crowded. After two days at sea it did begin to get a little claustrophobic. We had a superior outside cabin WITH WINDOWS - although all we could see out of them was the bottom of a life-boat - but I'm 6 foot 5 inches tall and I found the cabin to be very cramped. The beds sloped into the middle of the room due I'm sure to people using the beds as seats when watching TV. And for a guy my size the shower was quite frankly a bad joke!
The Marc Polo is an adults-only ship and anyone who has experienced a Warners Historic Hotel break in the UK will feel right at home. Walking sticks, elbow-crutches and mobility aids abound and we felt that most of the on-board entertainment - bingo, quizzes, deck-quoits, bean-bag bowls etc - was directed at people older my wife and I (late 60's). That said my wife enjoyed the handicraft lessons and I took in a couple of interesting lectures. The top deck features a quite well-equipped gym and outdoor Jacuzzi but unsurprisingly these facilities seemed to be little used. Performances in the theater and in the Scott's Bar nightclub were enthusiastic and entertaining if not West-End quality but once again we had to play hunt-the-seat and argue with the many people who insist that "there's someone sitting here" when in fact their cruise-companions were still in the cabin or drinking in the lounge.
My biggest gripe however is with the on-board tipping policy. So-called "gratuities" are charged to your on-board account at the flat rate of Â£10 per day per couple. That's got nothing to do with tipping, it's simply a staff wage supplement! True you can opt out of this levy but only by completing a form on receipt of your on-board account at the end of the cruise, which we decided not to do. And we still felt we needed to recognise the hard work and service provided by our cabin steward and restaurant team. Why on earth doesn't the company simply add a further Â£10 per day per couple to the ticket price if it needs to supplement its payroll, and leave tipping to the ABSOLUTE DISCRETION of the guests?
An finally, the de-embarkation process on board and in the terminal was as slick and efficient as we'd come to expect and trust me, much, MUCH less stressful than any airport I've ever been in.