I booked the cruise enticed by the prospect of visiting two great rivers.I was not alone in that.
The destinations are rare enough not to warrant an option on the web site drop down dialogue box which is why I have used 'blank'
Naively I failed to do any research both before booking and subsequently so I only have myself to blame when Cruise and Maritime Voyages cleverly wrote just before Christmas warning that 'political uncertainty' in Venezuela meant there was a chance we would not sail into Puerto Ordaz. Note not that we would not sail to Venezuela just that we might not.
I ignored the warning but was still shocked to be told after embarkation we would not be going.
We were told an alternative Caribbean route to include Grenada had been arranged and Richard Sykes the efficient Cruise Director had the nerve to say....believe me I have been to Puerto Ordaz and Grenada is a much nicer place.
That excellent example of professional 'spin' is what makes me uncomfortable with Cruise and Maritime Voyages business model particularly when subsequently there was another excuse and we did not put into Grenada.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages are run on the 'Ryan Air' business model and by that I mean a low attractive base price then everything else chargeable right down to bottled water at £2.20p,laundry £1 a handkerchief,in cabin service and Internet access.
Shore excursions are very expensive as are all drinks.
The medical room is a separate franchised profit centre as is the photo unit.
The pool a really nice deep pool with a deep and shallow end was emptied of water most days of the cruise (I was told the reasons but still missed use of the facility)
To many reasons for saying no (including no hot drinks before 7am most days).
It is all about money these days I guess.
Grenada was taken off the itinerary as it was claimed the weather was to bad to put in there....hhhhmm.
We had to leave Porta Del Garda early because of adverse weather (the story put about was so alarmist that one of the guests took fright and flew home) the reality was sunshine and a flat calm crossing.
As with the loss of Grenada the fact that the Marco Polo then had to cruise slowly to burn up the land time lost adds weight to the theory that decisions are made for financial reasons saving berthing fees and fuel.
The Amazon estuary ? my god it is huge 150 miles wide and I was excited standing on the deck as we made our approach.
Great until I realised we were not sailing into the Amazon at all but Marajo Bay (well alright then the Amazon Estuary) never mind I thought we will continue West and then up the Breves Channel.
Wrong! the next day we sailed back East into the Atlantic Ocean around the sublime Marajo Island before turning West again into the main Amazon stem still more than 80 miles wide at that point.
Then we set off at a rate of knots Westerly until we reached Manaus which is not on the Amazon at all but the north bank of the wonderful river Negra.
I said earlier do research.
To late now the Amazon of my boyhood dreams is not what I saw
We travelled 900 miles West into a huge river system (more than 1000 tributaries and 12 major rivers), navigable as far West as Iquitos in Peru we got as far as Manaus and because of the distance there and back we went like the clappers yes we saw some major cities but more than half of the transit was in the dark and I saw nothing of this wonderful river until the dawn.
And yet and yet perhaps Amazon 'discovery' is the right description. More than 130 different birds were authenticated by the knowledgeable cruisers,river dolphins(both types),flying fish,caimans, butterflies and moths of brilliant hues in abundance and perhaps most perfect of all the sublime Regina Lily with thanks to one of the Dutch cruisers I now know the Amazon tribal legend associated with the plant.
I said at the beginning of this piece it was a wonderful cruise and so it was.
I love the Marco Polo
A sturdy Russian Ice breaker originally she has been much modified over the years and is for me a 'proper' ship that I felt comfortable with.
The crew were without exception polite and helpful,our cabin was kept in perfect order,the food varied and enjoyable.
The ship was kept immaculately clean
Entertainment ? well that is a personal preference issue
For me for a small ship the standard was surprisingly high and all presentations showed real commitment too please.
Over amplified ?..well maybe but certainly exuberant
The cruise director Richard Sykes worked like a trooper was always approachable a real asset to the cruise experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed all three of the lecturers on board.
Each a distinct 'personality' added enormously to my pleasure in the cruise.
Tony Rice proved a wonder with a camera as well as sharing his oceanic knowledge so freely.
Unselfishly he has made more than 100 of his wonderful wild life images available to the cruisers what better souvenir ?
Steve Ragnell on listening to my disappointment that he had to cancel his lecture on Wolfe and the battle for Quebec sat me down and ran through the whole thing for me in his time...fabulous.
I also have him to thank for one of the highlights (for me) of the cruise
He has a fine tenor voice and a love of Captain James Cook and sea shanties.
Steve organised a number of cruisers into a choir and they then gave us a concert singing lustily a number of sea shanties. I loved that.
Stephen Smith patiently told me to mend my ways and evolve while listening to my complaint that he missed Charles Penrose (he of the laughing policeman fame)
Marco Polo was running full (cleverly Cruise and Maritime Voyages had merged the following cruise with a similar itinerary to be made by the sister ship Countess) a lean mean money making machine eh ? there were issues of space and some friction when cups and food ran out and/or tables were not available.
Mostly the cruisers were a joy to spend time with and I have learned a lot from many of them.
There are exceptions (a personal view) one upsetting incident involved the berating of a lady cruiser who was enjoying an early morning walk on deck.
Out jumped a large male cruiser complaining that she was keeping his wife awake and he 'was going to do something about it'
(Where I was bought up shouting at an unescorted lady was a hanging offence)
Well he did and 'walking' was added to the standard jogging and power walking (I would be first to agree they are antisocial activities early) excluded activities before 8am. I hope he can live with himself.
There were also 'problems' with the reserving of tables in open seating areas for the meeting room accommodation on Marco Polo running full could not keep up with demand.
In the main though there was lots of good humour and give and take which made the cruise such a pleasure.
I would close by saying if small ship cruising suits your style then look no further that Cruise and Maritime Voyages.
Yes there are issues but the standard overall is more than acceptable.