I am new to cruising and read with some alarm the reviews on here, so I want to do a thorough and balanced review so you know whats in store and give some tips. Get a cup of tea now as its a long one! I booked the cruise through Iglu.com as a anniversary present to my (russian) husband. We are both in our early 30's. We were in a distinct minority age wise!
We had paid for a inner cabin but was upgraded to a cat 9 for free, the cabin is basic with twin beds and the bathroom reminded me of a airplane loo at first. I like luxury so I thought I would hate it but was very wrong, its comfortable and kept spotlessly clean by our cabin steward twice a day. a plate of fruit was brought every day. Our cabin steward was very friendly and chatty which I liked.
The public areas are very stylish and we spent time in three bars, preferring the columbus lounge as the bar steward Viktor and the two waiters, Marco and Cecily were fun and friendly. If you don't like that then the captains club have more reserved waiters. All are very attentive and the cocktail list is amazing. There is often a cocktail of the day for £2.50 but the prices were cheaper than most bars. Soft drinks and Mineral water are expensive by comparison. I recommend taking a brita filter if you want non chlorine tasting water as this will be cheaper. We didn't bother with Scotts bar which reminded me of an 80's nightclub, but it seemed very popular.
The food seems to attract the biggest criticism on here so will say this. Breakfast at both restaurants is really good with a hot and continental range. I heard some people say the eggs were cold but didnt find this personally. The buffet style meals at Marcos seemed popular but I didn't always like the choices preferring to dine at the Waldorf instead. The food is good but is dated in style and cooking method. Again it reminds me of restaurants in the 80's but the same time it was quality but it is not winning any Michelin stars. It pains me to write this though as we had no complaints otherwise. There was a pirates and Italian themed night which were fun and the food was amazing. The two gala nights were also excellent and we were invited to the captains table on the first night which was a real treat.
The onboard itinerary is clearly geared towards its mature following with quizzes, old fashioned game shows (Mr & Mrs), crafts etc. That said, it has a really good fitness programme and I spent most of my time with a book or in the gym. This suited me. I also loved the music by Carmen (violin and Piano) who dedicated a song to me on our anniversary and Freedom (Piano and sax/clarinet/flute) who were excellent performers. I didn't see any of the west-end style shows but they were always packed out.
The ports were interesting but there was not nearly enough time spent at each port. Stockholm was only 3 hours but we saw plenty. We only went on one cruise excursion which was fun but seemed expensive for what we got (Rostock Revealed). I will add that we missed the announcement and the ship organised a catch up taxi which shows the level of great service you can expect. In Russia, We went to Marina S Wilson for a private tour of St Petersburg which was well worth it. Visas came through no problem. The cruise trips in Russia seemed poorly organised and the ballet group missed half the ballet and were made to sit on the stairs. I would recommend going to a Russian federation approved operator as it will be better value and you will see more. There was no pressure to buy excursions and these certainly generated the most complaints on the ship.
My main bugbear was some other cruisers. The majority of people were lovely and sociable but there was a few that were aggressive towards staff and downright racist and sexist at times. Some people considered (unjustified) moaning an Olympic sport. The staff deal with this with good humour. There were also smokers who would light up as you were eating outside which got me into an argument on the first day. I would liked to see smoking outside scotts bar only and in the evenings after food. But it is not as bad as some places.
Finally, buy the celebration package. we had a lovely champagne breakfast and private candlelit dinner which was out of this world and were treated like royalty by the staff. We would definitely go back to the Marco polo for the way we were treated.