This was our first cruise chosen for its interesting itinerary, the highlight being two days in St Petersburg. We imagined that our most enduring memories would be of the Russian Palaces, which are indeed magnificent, but the things that stand out in our minds at present are the unfailing courteousness of the crew on the Marco Polo and the enormous friendliness of our fellow passengers. As we sailed from Newcastle, this may have something to do with the fact that most people were from the North of England and Scotland which created a very convivial atmosphere.
As first time cruisers, we liked the idea of a relatively small, traditional ship with only 800 passengers. We had read reviews that the ship looked ‘tired’, but we did not find this to be the case. Our cabin was in pristine condition and kept spotlessly clean by the attendant Luis. The décor of the public areas was also of a high standard.
It has to be remembered that the Marco Polo is almost 50 years old, so you are sailing on a slice of maritime history. When berthed next to larger and more modern cruise ships, it had the appearance of a large private yacht with much more elegant lines than its modern counterparts.
As no one has a limitless budget, there are one or two things we would have liked to have known in advance, for instance, the cost of drinks. These turned out to be very reasonable, a premium gin and tonic costing £3.95 and only £3.00 during happy hour, whilst the ‘cocktail of the day’ was available at £3.10. The most economical way of buying wine for dinner is to go for a package – 6 bottles of very pleasant white, rose and red (in any combination) for £80 which provides a saving of around 30% in comparison with buying them individually.
Our criticisms are fairly minor – the dinner service was rather rushed and the quality of the food could have been better. Instead of having six courses every evening, CMV could consider having three or four of a higher standard. This would also mean that more time could be allowed between courses. We also heard some passenger complain of noise and vibration on the lower decks, so it may best to book a cabin higher up if these things are likely to irritate you.
We enjoyed the on-board entertainment, the highlights being the Russian evening of song and dance which was performed with real verve – perhaps because many cast members were from the Ukraine. There were also performances from Laurence Robinson, a very talented tenor.
In all of this, I think you have to consider ‘value for money’. It you want more sophisticated food or entertainment, then it could be a case of digging deeper into your pocket and booking on a more modern vessel. But if you do this you will be missing out on a lot of things which are unique to the Marco Polo, its fascinating history as a liner travelling between St Petersburg and Montreal in the Cold War era (there is very good on-board lecture about this), its small ship atmosphere and the deck arrangement at the stern of the vessel where everyone congregates in a party atmosphere.
In November, the ship goes in for another extensive refit which will extend its life by another five years, so book up now to enjoy this unique experience!