MARCO POLO : 7 to 17 July 2011
Round Great Britain from Tilbury, London
Boarding & disembarking : Excellent - the boat was ready for boarding at the specified time and luggage was handled efficiently. On return to Tilbury we disembarked on time - luggage was ready for collection.
Parking : Easy (£9per day). Arrive - unload to porters at terminal - park 1 minute away - shuttle bus back. On return - collect luggage - load into shuttle bus.
Itinerary and timing : Excellent - this 10 day cruise travelled all of the first day and overnight for the first stop at Invergordon (just north of Inverness). For the subsequent days it sailed evening to morning ensuring long day stops at Kirkwall in the Orkneys - Stornaway in the Hebrides - Tobormory on the Isle of Mull - Dublin - St Marys in the Scilly Isles - Gurnsey - and HonFleur on the French coast.
Crew : Mainly Greek officers (of whom passengers saw little). Waiters and other "above decks" staff - seemed mainly east European, the balance being Asian. While the east Europeans were polite and helpful, their manner often seemed forced and unnatural. The Asians were usually smiling and seemed to enjoy what they were doing. Our east European chambermaid did a splendid job and was always cheery and smiling. Staff at Reception, Trip etc desks were pleasant & helpful.
Cleanliness : High standards. Our cabin was very well maintained and restaurants, corridors etc were clean and well presented.
Cabin : Standard cabin on Baltic Deck (outside with two portholes). Compact and in good order with adequate wardrobe & storage space, a small safe and narrow but comfortable twin beds set at 90o. Thin walls - air con OK - fair bit of engine etc noise. Bathroom with compact shower (with curtain), good sized handbasin and lavatory - soaps and smellies provided. Chambermaid looked after us very well.
Food : Disappointing - only adequate. Waldorf Dining Room attractive and well laid out though crowded. Comprehensive buffet breakfast offered all that was needed and did not vary. But awful toast - thin bread like warm rusks!! Pleasant waiter service for 5 or 6 course dinner (two sittings) - decent choice each evening - fancy descriptions, small portions and nicely presented but not all that well cooked - mainly we suspect because of the number being served at the same time. Fish tended to be overcooked, but the lamb hock served one evening was superb.
Marco's Bistro is casual and more of a canteen - self service for breakfast and dinner though with reduced choice.
Drinks : Dinner wines over priced - house wine about £15 with others starting around £20. Other drinks in restaurants and around the ship were reasonably priced. Complimentary coffee & teas were available most of the day (self service).
Going ashore : Where it was possible to walk ashore a regular bus shuttle service took passengers to & from the town. When moored offshore the ship's tenders (lifeboats) provided a regular shuttle service. Both services worked well though tenders got crowded.
Trips We did three trips (each approaching £40pp) and were satisfied. Coach drivers and couriers were pleasant and informative.
Entertainment : We only took in some of the evening shows in the two venues and enjoyed them. The entertainers clearly enjoyed their work, were competent and produced a varied programme. Dance opportunities were very limited (other than a bit of "bopping" on the small dance floor in the Scott's Bar). Given the age profile of passengers more ballroom dancing (both in the evening and during the day) would have been appreciated.
Facilities : As this is a small ship able to get into relatively inaccessible places we did not expect too many facilities. As we were blessed with mainly very good weather and flat seas throughout we did not need them. There seems to be just about adequate indoor seating in several locations for the rainy days and a small library and card/games room - also a very small gym (mainly used by crew) and a small ping pong etc room. The small (outdoor) swimming pool is surrounded by relaxing passengers on good weather days, and hot tubs are available on the upper deck. And, of course, there are a few shops!
Difficulties encountered : Only one problem marred the trip. This involved the return to the ship by shuttle bus from Dublin. Some crew were allowed shore leave at the various stops and they travelled with passengers on the bus or tender shuttles. In Dublin several crew and many passengers were waiting for the return bus. After quite a scrum both crew and passengers filled the (two deck) bus.
Young and fit crew took seats while elderly passengers were left to stand. Two young crewmen did not appreciate me telling them to give their seats to passengers, but reluctantly did so. We took this up with an officer who said the standing order was that staff should always give seats to passengers. We were assured that this would be brought to the Captain's attention, and that action would be taken. I was promised feed-back but have received nothing so I assume nothing has been done.
As non-smokers we were concerned about smoking being permitted in one outside aft area but it was a not a major problem.
Summary : We are only occasional cruisers and this one did exactly what it offered. We wanted to sample hard-to-see places around UK - and we did. We were very lucky to have amazingly good weather with lots of time spent in the sun on the open aft decks, met pleasant and interesting folk and thoroughly enjoyed the trip. But we wonder how enjoyable it would have been in bad weather (the ship bounced around a bit on the return trip up the Channel), and how enjoyable the experience would have been if restricted to spending far more time indoors. I suspect we would have gone mad. Reasonable value for money.
Our tips for future passengers : In Tobermory the distillery shop has its whiskys at sensible prices - try Black Bottle - a lovely blend for just £13. And try the good coffee on the terrace of the Western Isles Hotel with its super view over the harbour. In Gurnsey the 7 & 7a service bus leaves St Peter Port and travels for over an hour round the perimeter of the island for just £1!!!! Best value ever!! HonFleur is lovely so spend the time in the town (especially if it is market day).
Will we use the Marco Polo again? : Probably not.