As an experienced travellers and cruisers, we selected this cruise because the itinerary looked interesting; the dates suited, it looked good value and to try CMV and Tilbury.
This is a review of a nine night cruise from Tilbury on the Cruise and Maritime (CMV) ship Marco Polo. Our now considerable experience of travelling has included cruises with P&O, Thomson and SAGA. We are English, fit and in our seventies. In addition to the appealing itinerary and date, we selected this CMV cruise because it was child free, sailed from a fairly local port and looked good value.
The following sections are under the headings advised by CruiseCritic and also show our CruiseCritic ratings. Below that are further sections commenting on the other CruiseCritic ratings.
Travel to Port of Embarkation
Our Rating - Terrible
Tilbury terminal entrance and car park are poorly sign posted and there is a lengthy one-way-system to negotiate between the two. On first booking, we received directions to drive to the ship. When our tickets arrived, only six days before we sailed (despite my prompting), they had a parking ticket for the wrong car and new directions to a car park, about a mile from the ship, to pick up a shuttle bus. A corrected parking ticket was sent after two more complaints.
The drive to Tilbury was about two hours and easy but then our problems really started. When we eventually found the unmarked car park, we were told that there was no shuttle bus. After a ‘phone call, the attendant re-directed us back round the one-way-system. These directions were also wrong and on arrival at a barrier we were directed a third time round the one-way-system to the Tilbury Terminal where there was a long queue of traffic. A second CMV ship, Columbus, was leaving the terminal an hour before our 5pm departure and this seemed to be more than the small terminal could cope with.
Eventually, we were pointed to a space to park in but this was not the end of the problems. There was no help with our luggage and it took some time to find where to take it. After carrying and depositing the luggage, it then took more questions to find where we should go. When we found the right doorway, we were handed health forms to fill in and pointed to a small, crowded room with no unoccupied seats. It was now way past our boarding time of 2pm and we had not eaten or drunk anything since breakfast. There was no indication of when we might get on the ship, whether there would be anything available on board or where our next meal was coming from.
Fortunately, about half an hour later and after more queuing, we were allowed to walk on to the ship, our cases were already outside our cabin and the on-board buffet was still serving lunch.
We had booked through Iglu so the initial delay in receiving incorrect tickets may have been caused by Iglu or CMV. The repeated misdirections and delays were entirely unnecessary and of CMV’s making.
Before we could unpack and settle in, we had to do the lifeboat drill. This was easily the longest and most frustrating version of this “requirement” we have endured. It started reasonably, gathering in the “muster” lounge for a lengthy lecture. We were then asked to put on the lifebelts and walk in single file, with hands on the shoulder in front, on a complex march through the ships corridors and stairs to a lifeboat. We then stood outside for several minutes until eventually allowed to leave and find our way back through the crowds.
Our Rating - Poor
A review of the cabin is in CruiseCritic’s separate section.
Marco Polo is, by a small margin, the smallest and the second oldest cruise ship we have been on.
It was originally Aleksandr Pushkin built in East Germany in 1965 with greater hull strength and stability than usual. This, plus stabilisers and a deep draught do seem to help it ride heavy seas better than most small cruise ships. Marco Polo’s refits and refurbishments have kept it reasonably up-to-date but the age shows, notably in the cabins (see separate section) and the passage ways where structural beams of all sizes run across the floors to trip the unwary.
Internally, Marco Polo appears clean and smart. There are no worn carpets or furnishings, no chipped paint and cleaning, as on other ships, is constant. There are sanitizers where there is food plus staff with spray-guns. Most passengers comply willingly and there was very little coughing or sneezing on board. Look a little deeper, however, and things are not quite so good. Paint was smeared on windows and dirt could be found in obscure places like the bottom of the toothbrush glass holders in our “bathroom”. There were also occasional smells in the public toilets but we did not experience smells elsewhere on the ship.
There are eight passenger decks, less than most ships and most facilities (bars, lounges, restaurants etc) are fairly close, so getting around is relatively easy. The main restaurant is on deck six (Atlantic). Almost all the other public spaces are two decks up on deck eight (Magellan).
From bow to stern, these are as follows: Theatre (with a bar); Captain’s Club (main bar); Reception (starboard); Tour office (port); Palm garden (a starboard seating area); Shops (port); Columbus lounge (small bar); Library (starboard and small); Card room (port and small); Marco’s buffet restaurant plus an outside deck with pool, bar and food counter. One deck up from this lot on deck nine (Amundsen) are the promenade and Scott's bar. A further deck up on deck ten (Columbus) is a wellness centre (gym) and beauty salon. One final deck up on eleven (Navigator) is the sun deck with whirlpools.
The promenade goes round about two thirds of deck nine. At each end there are steps up to deck ten where you can walk round and back down to the prom. You can also walk all the way around deck ten but much of it is a narrow passage between the lifeboats and cabins.
The promenade is traditional teak and quite wide so should be good for sun bathing (in better weather) but anywhere near the middle, on either side, there is a constant loud noise presumably from the air conditioning system. There is similar noise in the centre of the Columbus lounge on deck eight.
As with other ships, all on-board spending is charged to a cruise card account which must be settled (by cash or card) on the last full day.
Our Rating - Average - just
Marco Polo has two main restaurants, the Waldorf on deck six and Marco’s buffet on deck eight. Both were fairly noisy and hectic. Outside Marco’s there is an additional fair-weather food counter. These three options are free. There is also the Fusion Indian restaurant behind the Waldorf on deck six. We did not try the Fusion which costs extra so none of my comments apply to this restaurant. Bar drinks, at additional cost (unless you buy a package) are wine-waiter served at lunch and dinner in the Waldorf and in the evening in Marco’s.
The evening meal in the Waldorf is the only time when formal dining, at an allocated table, with full waiter service occurs. There are no tables for two. Our request for a table for six was agreed in advance and a table allocation card was in our cabin on arrival. Despite this, we were initially allocated a table for eight but this was changed without problem. Joining us was one interesting couple and another ‘been everywhere and done everything’ dominating couple of the type so often found on cruises. Evening meals took a long time with noticeable gaps between the five courses - starter, soup, salad, main and desert followed by tea or coffee. The starters were small, little more than horderves and the sweet deserts were little bigger. There were also some oddities. When chicken tikka masala was on the menu, for example, it came with boiled rice, a portion of shredded cabbage and a popadom. No saag aloo or similar and no naan bread despite the chef being Indian.
At breakfast we were directed to the next table the waiters decided to fill so we landed up with different numbers of different people each time. Tea, coffee and juice were waiter served but everything else was self-service. The buffet arrangements were chaotic. Various tables were laid with different types of food and there were three queuing points for fresh cooked eggs and toast. The queues were often long and slow but when we finally got eggs they were good especially the omelets. This can not be said for the bacon which was very streaky, dry and hard (common with buffets) or the sausages which were mealy. We only saw hash browns once but there were pieces of roast potato. There was porridge and a good range of cold options (meet, cheese, fruit, bread and cereals) but again with oddities. All the prepared fruit, for example, was named “fruit compote” and none of these compotes included grapefruit although half grape-fruits in their skins were available.
Lunch arrangements were similar to breakfast but a little less chaotic. Tea and coffee were waiter served but then it was into the fray and hope you remembered where you were sitting.
Proper buffet counters here worked somewhat better than the Waldorf at breakfast and lunch and could be a lot quicker. It did, however, get very busy, especially at the beginning of meal times although there were quieter periods, usually towards the end of a meal time. There was no allocated seating. Most tables seated four but there were some tables for two. There was overflow space outside, around the pool and there was nothing to stop us wandering into the nearby Columbus Lounge or Palm Garden with plates of food but we did not need to resort to any of this. In fact, one of our most enjoyable and peaceful evening meals was at a table for two, next to a window in Marco’s.
Waiters were always on hand whipping away empty dishes almost before we finished.
Wine waiters wandered through Marco’s during dinner but it was difficult to spot them and even more difficult to get their attention. We did not see them at lunch time.
The food on offer was very similar, if not identical, to that in the Waldorf. At breakfast there was a single station for fresh cooked eggs but it was almost impossible to find toast.
On each side of Marco’s there are self-service hot drink and cold drink machines. A wide variety of teas and coffees are available with hot milk or cold skimmed milk all in reasonable sized mugs. These machines are free and available up to eleven at night. We and others frequently carried mugs of tea, coffee and milk the length of deck eight and down to our cabin. The coffee available in the bars may be a little better and only cost £1.80 but came in small cups.
Outside Marco’s a small food counter served burger (or similar) and chips. Although outside, this was open most, if not every day of our nine days in October in northern Europe. It appeared to be the only place on the ship to serve chips. They were never an option on the restaurant menus - another oddity and a shame as they were good chips. More than once, I collected food from Marco’s buffet, then went outside to get chips and then went back inside to eat.
This was available only in Marco’s and was disappointing. It was entirely self-service meaning that we needed to queue to get tea from the machine and then queue again for cakes etc from the buffet. Savoury options were reasonable but cakes were not the best. Apple strudel, for example, had about the right apple filling mix but was round and on a very hard short pastry base.
Late Night Snacks
These were a major disappointment. What was advertised as a buffet in all lounges was actually a waiter wandering round with a very limited selection of horderves. They were even smaller and less appetising than SAGA’s similar offerings which at least did not claim to be a buffet.
These were reasonably extended with breakfast usually available from 6am to 10am. Lunch from noon to 2pm and dinner from 5:45 to 10:30.
Overall food experience
Our last meal, effectively a beef Sunday roast was excellent and the quality of most of the food was good. Better than we got with Thomson but not as good as P&O or SAGA. Similar can be said about the service. It was difficult to fault but was not quite as good as P&O or SAGA possibly because many were less than fluent in English.
Our Rating - Poor
This part of our review covers CruiseCritic’s “Enrichment Activities” and “Fitness & Recreation” ratings topics.
There were activities but that was not what were were looking for or expecting from this cruise. There was a wellness centre and a beauty salon on deck ten (Columbus). There were also frequent quizzes and invitations to activities (table tennis, knitting etc) many of which were unmanaged, just suggestions that passengers met, for example, to play bridge. We attended a tours presentation which seemed little more than verbal instructions on how to fill in an application form.
Our Rating - Very Good
Our real rating would only be good but this is not a CruiseCritic option. All the staff seemed to be foreign, mostly eastern European and there was often difficulty in being understood. They were, however, faultlessly helpful and friendly.
This ship has no launderette and irons are not allowed although some ignored this restriction. The laundry service, which we did not use, charges £1.70 to iron a shirt or £2.50 to wash and iron. A dress is £2.50 or £3.75 and trousers are £1.85 or £3.75.
We did not try cabin service either, which looked a little pricey although continental breakfast appeared to be free.
Our Rating - Poor
The “orchestra” (really a small band) and the singing, dancing troupe were probably not much different from those on other ships. A couple of the singers were not bad and the dancing was energetic. They performed nightly in the theatre. Members of the troupe also performed late at night in Scott’s bar. They called this cabaret but it was really just singing to recorded music.
In addition there were classical and pop duos and a guest evening appearances from Lee Carroll (comedian), Savannah Shepherd (soprano) and a bagpipe band. The young soprano was good but sang to recorded music and the band was good if you like bagpipes.
The classical duo comprised piano and violin and played evening spots in the Captain’s Club. The pianist read the music, not always accurately and played with little feeling. The violinist was better but did not join the pianist every night.
The Excelsior (pop) duo comprised a keyboard player and singer. They also played evening spots but in Scott’s bar. The keyboard was supported by recorded or automatic backing and played ballroom dance sessions as well as popular songs from the 1930’s to date. He was sometimes joined by a girl singer, somewhat in the Cilla Black mode with good soft and not so good harsh notes. The keyboard player sang too with a pleasant high pitched voice but with a heavy accent. Only once did we hear both of them singing in the same song.
There was no daytime entertainment. The grand pianos in most bars were not played. The earliest entertainment was the single performance from the soprano at 4:15.
Port & Shore Excursions
Our Rating - Average
We had worked out in advance how to see the interesting sights without booking relatively expensive ship’s excursions.
Our plan worked well here. Marco Polo docked almost alongside the Royal Yacht, the entrance to which is in a shopping complex also containing Debenhams and an M&S food-hall. We did this lot in the morning and the well organised Britannia tour, with audio guides, was well worth the £14 entrance fee. In the afternoon we tried a Majestic bus tour of Edinburgh, also with an audio tour and at a similar price. It was hop-on-hop-off but we stayed on and it was still interesting enough, conveniently dropping us off at the ship.
Klaksvik and Torshavn, Faroes
In both of these ports we just took the free shuttle-but into town and wandered round. Klaksvic is small but both had visitor centres. It was interesting enough to see the scenery and how the remote Faroese live. The CMV excursions on offer probably would not have been much more interesting.
Unfortunately, this was cancelled for the all too common seas too high for tenders reason and the ship sailed to the next stop.
We arrived here a day early but too late in the morning for the single 10am Stagecoach bus tour we had planned. In the morning we took the free shuttle bus to town and visited the impressive Cathedral and a museum located just over the road. Both interesting and both free. Fortunately, on the previous day, we had been able to book the afternoon CMV tour 113002 to Skara Brae, Skaill House and the Ring of Brodgar. This cost £51 each but included the £6 ticket price for Skara Brae and the house, both worth seeing. We then were taken to Ring of Brodgar and had time to struggle around this ‘Stonehenge’ in high winds and poring rain. The tour also passed the Ness of Brodgar (site of the current archaeological revelations) and Scapa Flow although we did not see any Churchill Barriers. Our guide was knowledgable and spoke almost all the time during the coach transfers as well as at the sites. Although not cheep, the excursion was reasonable value, especially as, having missed the bus, there was probably no other way we could have seen even a few of the sights.
This port was added as we had missed Lerwick. It was no compensation. There is little to see, the church was closed and the museum was just a random collection of old things. It was, however, a pleasant enough town in which to stretch the legs. There were CMV tours to places like Inverness where we have already been.
Our Rating - Very Good
We managed to get up, take a quiet breakfast and return to our cabin, all before 7am, the time we were asked to vacate. The usual wait to disembark did not seem as bad as on other ships. We had comfortable seats in the Captain’s Lounge and the tea and coffee machines (in Marco’s) were working. There was a bit of a queue to get off when our “colour” was called but the worst part was trying to find our cases in the several groups scattered all around the large hall. Our four cases (we overpacked) were each in a different area, so it took a considerable time to spot them. Having done that, it was only a short walk with a trolley to our car and we were on our way by about 9am.
The following sections are our explanations for our other CruiseCritic ratings.
Our Rating - Average
A daily programme was delivered to our cabin, usually during the preceding evening. This was about as good as on other ships but often had inaccuracies. “Britain Today” a two sheet, eight page, ships daily newspaper was available, free, from reception. This included press association news plus some international news and a crossword.
There were two formal nights on the first and last full days, both at sea. The first included the usual ‘photo with the captain and a small glass of sparkling wine. This was followed by a brief presentation of the captain and top crew in the theatre. It was all OK but not as good as the “cocktail parties” offered by other cruise lines.
The majority conformed to the dress code but it was not enforced. On formal nights there were some men without ties and even some trainers. On informal nights, there were one or two men in shorts in restaurants.
Most passengers were English with an average age probably in the seventies. There were a lot of walking sticks and some mobility scooters though overall, they seemed somewhat more mobile than SAGA passengers. There were some younger passengers including a fair number from the USA. All seemed happy, polite and well behaved. We heard no complaints and the only issue was one passenger in Marco’s who claimed the seat we sat in was hers “but I forgot to put my bag there”! There were plenty of other seats at the time.
There was queuing, sometimes, to get off or on the ship and at the buffets in both restaurants but these usually did not take long and there was no queuing for the theatre or elsewhere.
Our Rating - Average
The public rooms are listed under “Ship Information” above. Here are details about the main rooms. They are all on deck eight (Magellan) except for Scott's bar which is on deck nine (Amundsen). There was never a problem finding a comfortable seat in any of the public rooms.
Marco Polo Lounge
This is the theatre. It is a single story and rises towards the back (which is at the bow of the ship), helping the view of the stage. The seating is comfortable, on wide corridors, on which further seating is placed. If occupied, this further seating can block the view. At the rear is a bar from which waiters serve seated patrons. This bar was only open when there is a stage event.
This is the main bar and was open early morning till late. It stretches the width of the ship and is nearly as large as the theatre. There is a small central stage, opposite the bar, where evening classical music was played. Innocuous piped music played at other times. A small dance floor was unused. The comfortable seating is similar to the theatre with sofas around the edges and small arm chairs around small tables elsewhere.
This is a smaller seating area, midships, on the starboard side. There is a piano which was not played. The seating was cushioned but less comfortable wicker chairs. There is no bar but there is wine water service from the adjoining Columbus lounge.
This small bar has similar seating to the Captain’s Club. There are no windows in this bar and much of it was spoiled by a constant loud hum, presumably from the air conditioning system. The bar was open till late from 10am when at sea and 2pm when in a port.
This is the late night venue. It is one deck up from the other rooms, has similar comfortable seating to the Captain’s Lounge and was open all day but the bar did not open till 1pm when at sea or 2pm when in a port. There is a dance floor plus two stages, one used by the pop duo and the other for late night cabaret. During the day, this was probably the most peaceful public part of the ship.
In addition to the bars in the public rooms there is one outside Marco's buffet, next to the pool. Bar staff were reasonably attentive but their system sometimes resulted in long delays before the drinks arrived. Waiters took orders from us and other tables and delivered these to the barman who mixed drinks and made coffee while the waiter processed the preceding orders through the till, delivered them with receipts for signature, collected another set of orders and took these to the barman. After this, with luck, the waiter processed our drinks through the till and delivered them. It all worked well if you were not in a hurry. Going to a bar got the drinks quicker but there was still a wait for a waiter to arrive and work the till.
Value for Money
Our Rating - Average
CMV cruises look good value. They cost less than most and a lot less than some but as they say, you get what you pay for. It is easy to see where some of the savings are made.
First, Marco Polo and I believe CMV’s other ships, are quite small and old, so they do not have the facilities of newer, larger competitors. There is only one speciality restaurant and no high deck panoramic lounge but these are small prices to pay.
Second, the crew are nearly all foreign which should not matter except that many have limited fluency in English. For us, this was just a little frustrating at times but not a problem.
Third, there were no little extras. No sail-away party and meet the captain evening was just one glass of wine. The evening buffet did not exist. There were no nuts or nibbles at the bars and no chocolates on the pillow.
Fourth, all the greenery and floral displays were artificial.
Fifth, although there were free shuttle-buses in ports, there were no free tours.
Sixth, the cabin, a premium ocean view, was smaller and less well fitted than similar cabins on other ships.
The CMV premium drinks package for two of us at £368 was good value. Bitburger beer was £3.30 for a short pint and the wine was £3.20 to £5.60 with cocktails costing more. Our bar bills would have totalled five pence less than the cost of the package but we also had wine with most lunches and dinners plus a complimentary bottle of wine in the cabin and the gratuities covered, which otherwise would have been automatically charged at £63 each. Despite this package, we were charged £2.80 for a bottle of water opened in the cabin.
Overall it was fair value for money but we would sooner pay a little more for higher standards.
Our Overall Rating - Average
This cruise rates only just above poor. After a disastrous start, detailed above, much of our experience was good but not quite as good as other cruise lines offer. Even Thomson Spirit which did not impress, had a better cabin. Fellow passengers were a decent lot. Not too stuffy nor too scruffy. Old but not infirm and with a sprinkling of youth. The atmosphere on board was relaxed and friendly. In marked contrast to embarkation, disembarkation worked well, although even here, our experience was marred by needless scattering of our luggage. The itinerary was as expected but we only got to three of the four interesting island groups. Read Less