This was our first cruise on Marco Polo and having read many reviews before sailing, I had a good idea of what to expect. This review is divided into two parts because we effectively had two half-cruises of 6 night each, due to s serious outbreak of norovirus on the ship. The two experiences were so different that I will list the 'normal service' part first and then outline the 'reduced service' later.
Here are the 'plus' points:
The cruise began well and embarkation was painless and efficient. Our Grade 12 cabin (upgraded from grade 8 by CMV 2 weeks before we sailed) was spacious, comfy and well-appointed. Our cabin steward was Burmese and absolutely charming, nothing was too much trouble.The crew greet you as you move around the ship, a pleasant surprise and a contrast to some reviewers experiences of a po-faced brigade. Meals in the Waldorf were well-presented for the most part and served hot. I preferred the buffet-style evening dinners in Marco's Bistro, where the staff were very friendly. In the evening the staff put cloths on the tables and the atmosphere then in the Bistro is very pleasant and unhurried, unlike the bustle of the Waldorf. The buffet breakfasts were satisfactory, with the menu items being slightly varied each day. The fruit selection was very good and attracively presented.
The evening dress code was suggested but not noticeably enforced anywhere, and in Marco's Bistro there was no intimation of anybody having to comply. The ship's entertainment was varied and the classical Carmen Duo very good indeed. The hot tubs, during the time they were operational, were excellent (we used them 3 times). There are towels provided in your cabin for use in the tubs or pool, separate from the bathroom towels. Independent passengers are allowed off the ship first at ports of call, except at tender ports, which made a refreshing change from other ships we have cruised on. The Jade wellness centre lived up to expectations and is highly recommended. The early-morning tea station has muffins and plain rolls for the 'early birds' between 0630-0730 as well as the teas & coffees offered. In addition the the usual teas, Marco Polo serves 'Eilles' herbal teas of high quality; the Rooibos and Peppermint varieities being the nicest I had ever tasted!
Lifeboat Drill was taken very seriously, with the passengers lined up for inspection on the boat deck.
Now for a few 'minus' points:
Our cruise had a cruise director called Matt Dallen. He absolutely loved the sound of his own voice and I suspected that he went to sleep at night with an endless-loop tape of it playing to himself. Unfortunately, he made most of the daily announcements (rather than the Captain, against normal custom & practice) and I soon grew tired of hearing it. We only heard the Captain once on the P.A. during the whole cruise. At least it dispelled the myth that there wasn't actually a Captain on board! The ship has no separate cinema and so the selection of films shown is limited, shown in the Marco Polo Lounge.
There is plenty of deck space on MP but not many steamer chairs on the upper decks. The wine at dinner is expensive if bought by the glass; we do not drink very much alcohol and the prices charged helped us to stay sober. At breakfast, the Marmalade is of poor quality and if you want Marmite it has to be asked for specially. The Waldorf restaurant has a cramped appearance; there is plenty of elbow room but not much space between the tables and the waiters often struggle to pass between the chairs.
Due to a very serious outbreak of Norovirus on our cruise, whilst in St Petersburg, the second half of the cruise was made under virtually siege conditions and very different from the first half. If you are unfortunate enough to be on MP when there is an outbreak of Norovirus, this is what you can expect:
A coded announcement calling all the crew to the 'Halls of Residence' - that was the first sign that something was amiss. Soon afterward a full announcement was made on the P.A. outlining the measures implemented to try and contain the outbreak, which were chiefly as below:
NO hot tubs, swimming pool, card room, gym, library, conference room, bistro meals, deck meals, self-service tea/coffee, earlybird bites or internet room. All public WCs will be closed meaning that you have to use your cabin WC at all times. All meals are served in the restaurant and 'afternoon tea' is cancelled for the duration. The tea/coffee station/s remain open but you are served by the staff. You will get repetitive announcements about deep-cleans and hygiene practices. Norovirus becomes the main topic of conversation at dinner and generally around the ship, which is not the most appealing of subjects! Should you be unfortunate enough to catch it yourself, 2 days confinement in your cabin for you and your companion will be enforced. Meals are brought to you but they are bland and unappetizing. We were fortunate to avoid actually catching the virus, but the effects of it were felt by all on board and especially the hard-working crew members who had to carry out the deep-cleans on top of their normal duties. For our trouble, CMV generously gave an allowance of £100 per cabin off of the shipboard account and a genuine 10% (off best available price) discount for a future cruise. We have booked to sail again on MP in May 2014 so it will be interesting to compare it with the 2013 experience.