Just back from a failed mission to see the Northern Lights.
This was our first time on Marco Polo and unless they have a very special offer it will be our last.
My wife had just celebrated her 60th 2 days before departure, and it was our wedding anniversary on the day after sailing so this was a special treat for her. I booked a "Celebration Package" at £175 before we departed and ordered flowers for the cabin. The flowers were waiting for us and were good value for money in my opinion. The package consisted of a Candlelight meal for two, A cocktail each in the Captains Club, a £50 voucher for the Duty Free or Boutique, a Portrait Photo, and a Champagne Breakfast. I spoke to customer services when booking this and they were very vague about how this would be provided and where the 2 meals would take place. As it happens, the Candlelight Meal took place in the card room (closed for that evening) and the breakfast in a corner of the Waldorf Resturant. The Marco Polo team got this absolutely spot on and I thank them for that. The only fly in that ointment was dealing with the ships photographers in order to get a portrait done. It was done eventually but like most of the photographs taken it looked amaturish to say the least, though to be fair, these days most ships photographers have no idea how to take a decent picture.
Anyway, back to the Marco Polo. She is dated, and on a cruise where not much time is likely to be spent outside, has little to offer the modern passenger. My wife's parents would have recognised her from their crusies in the 1970's (they didn't sail on her but did similar cruises). I doubt that little has changed. The bars and lounges were often full with people just reading (a few played Bean Bag Bowls) or chatting in small groups. There was no background music other than once or twice a day a 30 minute session from on of the 2 resident "Duo's" took place. This was either a classical pianist (with or without the accompaning violinist) or the slightlier more up-to-date pair who played 60's stuff or Jazz.
The shows from the resident troupe were hit and miss. They all tried hard but often missed the high standard that was claimed, and this could be down to trying to have a 9 week cycle rather than a 2 week cycle on the shows meaning they were constantly rehersing new stuff rather than perfecting the shows.
We had a guest comedian, and guest Tenor, and a couple of lecturers, again a tired and old -fashioned format. In fact the most entertaining thing was the Comedian, the Tenor and the ex-copper (on of the lecturers) running around playing schoolboy pranks on each other.
Other than that, there was a craft class, calligraphy lessons, ballroom dance class and some game shows. I'm sorry, but to attend a game show/quiz entitled "Name that Tune" where the Cruise Director splits the bar into 2 teams and appoints a captain for each team and then rewards only those captains with a Marco Polo goody bag and cocktail, is not entertainment.
Waldorf Resturant. This is the waiter service eatery. "Fine Dining". The quality was quite good, although the portions were very small. Early sitting diners were lucky as they could top up at the Bistro. Wine was expensive as usual on cruises. The water offered was undrinkable - tainted with some chemical or other. So the only option was to buy the over-priced bottled water (£2.20).
The Bistro was the self-service eatery and was often full to overflowing. The food was much the same as the Waldorf, but in buffet format, with the usual implications. there was a "live" cooking station some nights which was very good.
The bistro was the place where the complimentary Tea and Coffee was available (also there was a station on the aft deck by the pool). Of the 2 stations in the bistro, only one was ever open at a time and the one by the pool was purely random. There was often a problem with providing sufficient mugs to keep up with demand.
Staff. The staff were all very friendly (well maybe with one or two exceptions) so could not fault them. they work very hard and they seem to take a pride in their work. The officers on the other hand seemed a bit stand offish, except for Julie the Customer Service Manager. She even cracked better jokes than the comedian at times.
Cabins. We were on deck 6 (same level as the Waldorf) around mid-ships, in an outside cabin with 2 portholes. The cabin was small but clean and comfortable. There was a little bit of engine type noise, but it was not a major issue. What was annoying was the need to vacate the cabin an hour or more before the ship had even arrives back at Tilbury.
Overall. We thought the embarkation was carried out well. We used the Express Disembarkation option when leaving, mainly because we just wanted off the ship as quickly as possible. The ship has seen better days and needs some work on it. (ceiling panel on the aft deck came loose in the high winds for instance). Better facilities are needed for when the weather restricts access to parts of the ship. The Theatre need better accoustics and sound system - lots if feedback and reverb when singers hit high notes tends to spoil the perfomance. Communication and management attitudes need to be improved as well.
The cruise itself. We were unlucky. The previous cruise had good weather, saw the Northern Lights and was a success by all accounts. We had poor weather from the moment we reached Amsterdam right through to just before arriving back. If the day started sunny, it was raining by evening and every night there was almost 100% cloud cover. If we were in open sea, it was rough. 8 metre waves, force 6, 7, 8, even force 9. In the Fjords it was different. Nice and calm most of the time.
The scenery was brilliant. Some places were almost magical. Some you wondered why we stopped there.
Alta for instance is a one horse (or raindeer) town. The only reason for the long stay there is to sell overnight stays in the Ice Hotel (£320 per person) and to run Husky rides and Snowmobile trips. The town has little to offer although we did enjoy the visit to the "Cathedral". the Ice Hotel (2 hour tour) was well worth it, such a spectacular construction.
Narvik was unfortunate as we had not booked anything and were planning on taking the cable car up the mountain. This was closed due to high winds so it was down to the War Museum and the shops for us.
Bergen was interesting and would be worth a return visit. Tromso disappointed us. The information was that it's cathederal was closed in the morning but open in the afternoon. However, it turned out that this was incorrect and it was open in the morning, and it was closed early afternoon for a tour from the ship. As we would not have had time to visit it when it reopened due to our departure time, we made do with another visit to a shopping centre, only to find on our return that the ship was going to stay the night due to high winds, high seas and generally terrible weather in other words it was unsafe to leave at mornal time.This was relayed to passengers too late for us to do anything, although we did find out that the officers knew of a couple of places worth them going ashore in a group for.
Recomended things to do ashore.
1. The Ice Hotel at Alta is worth the visit.
2. Bergen - take the Fenicular to the top and take a walk aroung the pathways up there. It is a magical place.
3. Narvik. If you want to do the railway excursion - book your tickets online (about £8 per person return), don't do it from the ship.