Essex-based Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) offers classic cruising in its truest sense, providing a traditional seagoing experience on a fleet of older ships. The line is known for its competitive prices and the wide variety of British departure ports from which it sails. It has a pretty loyal following; some cruises carry as many as 40 percent repeaters.
Keeping up with the comings and goings of the CMV fleet can be confusing. There are currently four ships, although one, the 600-passenger Astor, only offers one voyage to Australia, where it spends the winter, and one back to the U.K; it's on charter elsewhere all summer. Similarly, don't expect to see much more of the 550-passenger Astoria, which retires in 2017 after a farewell season from Tilbury to the Norwegian fjords and round-Britain.
The 800-passenger Marco Polo, a grand old dame that turned 50 in 2015, and the longest-serving ship for the line, sails from a wide variety of British ports on a mixture of long and short cruises, including some long-haul. The 1,250-passenger Magellan, which joined the fleet in 2015 and offers a slightly more contemporary experience, is also doing its first world cruise before operating summer 2017 out of a variety of British ports.
Then there's Columbus, joining the fleet in June this year and a familiar sight in British waters as she sailed as P&O's old Arcadia and then the original Ocean Village before being acquired by P&O Australia and named Pacific Pearl. The ship, to be renamed Columbus, is due a facelift before commencing a long season out of Tilbury and, in 2018, a world cruise. Columbus carries 1,400 passengers, but has 64 balcony cabins and 150 cabins designated for solo occupancy.
None of these ships has gimmicks and gadgets but you will explore a rich variety of places in the company of like-minded passengers, mainly Brits, at prices that won’t break the bank.
1. Classic cruising on ships that actually look like ships
CMV's fleet of four small and medium-sized ships embodies comfortable, almost old-fashioned cruising. Each ship is different in vintage and capacity but on all of them, expect traditional features like wide corridors and expansive wooden decks. Dinner is the traditional two-sitting arrangement and formal nights are a bit smarter than others, but not the whole performance of black tie. Daytime activities are, again, very old school, from quizzes and bingo to knitting circles and deck quoits, as opposed to surf simulators and 4D cinemas. Evening entertainment is energetic song-and-dance routines -- but the snobbish might call it a touch end-of-the-pier.
On the downside, there are very few cabins with balconies and bathrooms are on the basic side.
2. You can sail from 11 U.K. ports
CMV's ships sail from 11 U.K. ports, many of them served by barely anybody else; only rival Fred. Olsen comes close. Marco Polo will sail from Cardiff in 2017 to Norway and France, while other turnaround ports include Newport, Belfast, Dublin, Bristol, Newcastle and home port, London Tilbury. There are cruises from Hull, Dundee, Greenock and Cardiff -- but in the south, nothing from Southampton or Dover. The bonus of all of these, of course, is that there's no need to board an aircraft, or to make the long trek to the southern ports.
CMV is also a great way to take a slow boat to Australia, on Astor. The line also offers a rare opportunity, for those who don't like flying, to sail as far as the Caribbean, the east coast of the U.S. and the Amazon.
3. Embark on a price-busting, bite-size world cruise
The company's first foray into world cruising is in 2017, with the 120-day voyage on Magellan broken into multiple sectors and a chance to sail London-Sydney or Sydney-London, or to board in Auckland, Singapore or Hong Kong. Columbus will operate a 121-night world voyage in 2018, also broken down into bite-sized chunks for maximum flexibility.
4. Ambitious destinations
CMV is the ideal line for cruisers who want the excitement of visiting far-flung destinations without flying. There are cruises from Hull to Greenland; Liverpool to Canada for the autumn colours; Bristol Avonmouth to the Amazon; and a 35-night Caribbean voyage, also from Bristol Avonmouth, which includes two calls in Cuba.
5. Sterling prices onboard -- and they're pretty reasonable
With all bar drinks and excursions priced in sterling, there's no need to worry about currency fluctuations. Prices onboard are pretty competitive, too; expect pub prices for drinks. In fact, on Magellan, you can enjoy pub prices in an actual pub as the ship has emerged from its latest refit with the new Taverner's Pub, serving Spitfire, Fosters and Double Stout on tap.
The all-inclusive drinks package is £17 per person, per day -- good value if you like a cocktail and are happy with house wine for dinner. Crew tips are either £5 or £4 per person, per day, depending on the length of the cruise.
6. It's one of the few lines to sail to northern Norway in winter
Always longed to see the northern lights? CMV is one of just a handful of lines venturing to northern Norway in winter in search of the aurora borealis. Whatever disadvantages there may be to the long, dark days and the chill of the Arctic winter, these 'Land of the Northern Lights' voyages have an excellent track record of sightings and when you're not aurora-chasing, you can be driving huskies, visiting reindeer herders and learning about the local culture. The cruises, from London Tilbury, go all the way up to Honningsvag at the North Cape, where the chances of a light show are greatest.
7. You can try a one-night cruise for the price of dinner
For less than the price of a meal in a moderately good restaurant, you can test the water with a one-night cruise from a selection of British ports, among them Newcastle and Greenock. The fare includes the usual full-board, entertainment and late-night disco (these cruises tend to have a party atmosphere) and coach services are offered at reasonable prices back to the starting point. These sample cruises are a great way to see if you might like life on the ocean waves and, worst case, it's a night out. More substantial mini-cruises go to Ireland, Amsterdam and Hamburg, again, with fares way lower than you'd pay for a city break.
8. There are famous faces
CMV offers quite a variety of themed cruises and recently rolled out a boatload of soap stars from "Corrie", "EastEnders" and "Emmerdale" for an entire voyage themed around soap operas. This is part of an ongoing programme of special guests, which include real British classics -- stars from Carry On films; actors from Dad's Army; and presenters from Antiques Roadshow; and even Blue Peter. The line offers occasional musical themes, too, not least a Pop Legends cruise featuring The Dreamers, The Cheatles (work that one out) and The Swinging Blue Jeans. Other big names include Eurovision winner Dana; The Bachelors; and comedian Jimmy Cricket.
9. Amazing BOGOF deals
Probably more than any other cruise line, CMV throws out incredible offers on a regular basis. Buy One, Get One Free deals are typical; only the first occupant of the cabin pays, so effectively, you can divide one person's fare by two and cruise at half price. What's more, long haul cruises often include free flights, or a generous flight credit if you're making your own way to the ship.
10. They even target multigenerational groups
The arrival of Columbus means the line can offer a bit more flexibility and two multigenerational cruises have been introduced for 2017, to Norway and the Canary Islands, offering very competitive pricing if you squeeze four into a cabin. There are no kids' facilities on board, as such, but the ship promises to be informal and relaxed and as both voyages are in school holidays, there are bound to be other families on board.