The reason for choosing this cruise was our strong desire to visit Spitzbergen. W We had twice been to the North Cape of Norway but wanted to go still further north. MS Marco Polo enabled us to do so at a reasonable price, below the usual going rate for Spitzbergen. Having read mixed reviews our expectations were not particularly high. One has to be realistic, one was not for this price going to get five star luxury but in fact we were pleasantly surprised. The good impression was from the outset when we had a fast and friendly check-in which compared well with previous cruise experiences.
We had a comfortable cabin with plenty of storage space. It was always immaculately clean, as was the ship as a whole. Generally we were very satisfied with the amenities and the all public areas. meals were almost unfailingly of a high quality. Dinner was waiter served in the Waldorf restaurant whilst for lunch we generally went for the buffet. I would in particular commend the inventive and very tasty soups.
Except for one young madam, staff were invariably helpful. It is true that for the mainly East European waiting staff poker faces tended to be the order of the day (though I would exempt the Ukrainian waiter who served us at dinner time). There was a range of activities and entertainment. Much of that was not for us - making hessian bags is not really our thing - but some of the Evening entertainment was good and the husband and wife team who the Cruise and Assistant Director did a very good job, they themselves being versatile entertainers.
One cannot really blame the cruise line for some of the fellow passengers. The clientele was an ageing one with most probably older still than we ourselves, who are sixtysomethings. But some of these oldies, walking sticks and all, could show the stereotypical German tourist how to get to the sunbeds first. For dinner there was fixed seating and we were on a large table with seven others. On a Rhine cruise a couple of years previous there had been free seating and I'd felt this to be a bit impersonal - one might find oneself perched at the end of a table otherwise occupied by a group of friends. But one of our tour guides defended this arrangement and recalled a cruise where by the end she could have murdered a woman she'd been obliged to share a table with. I rather felt like that about a boorish old boy on our table who moaned about everything but to whom others on the table deferred. We did though meet some really nice people on this cruise.
We were blessed with fine weather and saw some wonderful scenery. Spitzbergen certainly didn't disappoint. Shore excursions were quite expensive but Norway is an expensive country - those in the Faroes and Orkney were noticeably cheaper. We did not book an excursion in Tromso as we had been there before and could find our own way around. We also didn't avail ourselves of the tour to the north Cape, since we'd been there twice, instead having a very pleasant day in Honningsvag. We did five tours in all and I'd rate them highly, most very highly.
All in all a great experience.