I live in Zimbabwe and was contacted by my parents to see if I would like to accompany them on a British Isles cruise. Personally I would have chosen somewhere more exotic but was willing to give it a go. Knowing nothing about other ships or destinations I would now say that no-one should rule out Britain as a cruise because we visited 7 wonderful places (sadly our 8th was cancelled due to high winds but it gave us a valued extra day on the ship!). In a wet British summer we were very fortunate that we had no rain at all for the duration of the cruise and that obviously helped. Orkney, Scilly and Honfleur were particularly special visits but Invergordon, Tobermory, Dublin and Guernsey were no let down either. I would love to go back to any of them for a longer stay.
At each destination there was a good variety of excursions on offer. They are not cheap but on reflection I would suggest that on the whole they are a fair value for money and certainly I found the guides friendly and knowledgeable. Each trip was a memorable experience. At each place it was possible to go ashore on your own mission and shuttle buses, where required, (or tenders) were provided free of charge which I felt was a good service. Some might suggest that there is nothing to do at Invergordon but I would say it is worth a morning visit to the museum, church and to see the town murals. At other stops such as Guernsey and Scilly, I opted for a morning or afternoon excursion and used the rest of the day to do my own thing.
As for the ship, the Marco Polo, I loved it. It certainly offered all that I would have wanted and expected. The cabin was very comfortable and had enough space for my needs but to be honest I spent very little time there. The shower was particularly good I thought! And I cannot speak highly enough of my cabin steward who was friendly, highly attentive but not at all intrusive or overly familiar. Indeed the whole crew were most impressive. I cannot find fault with the service they gave. I would say the same of the cruise director and his team also. My only criticism is that their presentation of shore excursions might have been more fluent. There was great attention to detail and on a couple of occasions I spotted something slightly amiss and both were dealt with immediately. The daily programme leaflet was highly informative and the news bulletins and puzzle sheets also much appreciated.
Everyone wants to know about the food! I ate all my suppers in the Waldorf Restaurant. The tables seem close together but in fact it is not a problem. The food, I believe, was top quality. It had smart French or Italian names but for the most part it was not too fancy which I mean as a compliment. It was all good quality without fail and - again I say this as a compliment - the courses were not too large which meant you could have several, if not all, without feeling bloated at the end. Each evening was different. I am not someone who would rate himself as a culinary expert nor someone who eats out with any regularity but I certainly looked forward to what was on offer and found the evening meal a highlight, partly for the food and partly because all 8 of us on the table got on well.
Other meals I ate in Marco's bistro. Again I was very happy with what was on offer. It would be easy to eat more than you need! Breakfast offered excellent variety for continental or traditional British style and the self service lunches had many hot and cold dishes to choose from. And I mustn't forget the lovely afternoon teas. I also appreciated the availability at pretty much all hours of the day of tea (many flavours to choose from) and coffee to help yourself. Marco's could get a little busy at breakfast or lunch but only once did it seem so crowded that we opted for lunch in the Waldorf itself which simply took a little longer at it is waiter service there but made a pleasant change.
I was also very impressed by the entertainment. I would not have missed the evening show for anything. I have never been to a west end production so I can't compare but I thought the show team was wonderful. Even, one evening, when the ship was rolling quite considerably, I don't think the dancers missed a step. The pianists and vocalists in the bars and lounges were talented and appropriate. During the day there also seemed a fair amount on offer though I only attended the 20 question quiz sessions which seemed to attract a faithful audience.
A couple of footnotes are that embarkation and disembarkation could not have been easier. Also the public announcement system was totally audible, not overused and each prepared announcement was always clear and well expressed.
I should say that the Marco Polo obviously aims at a more elderly market. At 48 I was almost the youngest passenger. Clearly this should be born in mind when selecting the Marco Polo as a cruise ship and my judgements in the ratings are based on that. If you want a "wild" trip, don't go for the Marco Polo. For a leisurely, interesting one that can be as busy and full as you wish I cannot speak too highly of my experience.
I have no other cruise experience but would jump at the chance of another Marco Polo cruise if I had the opportunity. Maybe it is worth saying that my parents were also first time cruisers and have themselves booked Marco Polo to tour the Norwegan fjords in May. Well done Cruise and Maritime and Marco Polo.