Sail Date: May 2008
"Elegance & value, on board the sumptuously elegant Marco Polo, offering all the comforts of an excellent hotel, all meals, including morning coffee, and afternoon tea and cakes, are included in the great value price" So ... Read More
"Elegance & value, on board the sumptuously elegant Marco Polo, offering all the comforts of an excellent hotel, all meals, including morning coffee, and afternoon tea and cakes, are included in the great value price" So quoted the brochure from Newmarket Promotions, which I feel qualifies for attention under the Trades Description Act!! To be fair the cabin was comfortable, not luxurious. Bottled water was provided, and would be replaced if desired, for £1.95p. The cabin steward was excellent & very helpful. There were two restaurants, the "Waldorf", providing waiter service in the evenings, buffet service at breakfast and lunch times, providing a reasonable selection of dishes. Although somewhat cramped for space so choosing a seat was important to avoid disturbing other diners. The other "restaurant", the Bistro was somewhat akin to a motorway cafe, with tablecloths and napkins only being provided in the evenings! Again a reasonable selection of dishes to which one helped oneself. Morning coffee and tea and cakes could be had, on the open deck, adjacent to the Bistro, provided one was prepared to queue, mug in hand ,awaiting one's turn at the tea urn!! Spoons took the shape of a plastic twizzle stick. Alternatively one could be served in the lounge at the modest price of £1.45 per person!! The evening meals were nicely presented, with a choice of three or four dishes for each course, although it appeared, at times, that some of the more usual items were in short supply. Having ordered cheese and biscuits instead of a sweet, I received four one inch "squares" of cheese with one water biscuit! The latter I returned with the comment that somebody might be going without, but the comment was wasted as most of the staff seemed to have difficulty in understanding English. The majority it seems were from the Ukraine, well presented, polite, but lacking in sufficient training. The scenery and the weather were beyond compare, sadly the Marco Polo was not. Having cruised on three previous occasions, the Marco Polo still has a long way to go to justify the description of "elegance and value" as described in the brochure, and even further to meet their customers expectations. Good value for money? I leave other people to judge, but the fact that gratuities are included in the price would suggest that it is better to be safe than sorry!! At just under £2000.00 a weeks holiday in a five star hotel could be had. Perhaps next time!!. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2008
• Ship Info The ship has recently changed hands, and now has a majority or Ukrainian Staff onboard. The catering staff are German. The ship is in dire need of refurbishment. Carpets on staircases are threadbare. The whole feel of the ... Read More
• Ship Info The ship has recently changed hands, and now has a majority or Ukrainian Staff onboard. The catering staff are German. The ship is in dire need of refurbishment. Carpets on staircases are threadbare. The whole feel of the ship has changed dramatically since it was run by Orient Lines. The current management are not experienced, and there were often instances, where this inexperience showed through. The ship often sailed with a severe list to either Starboard or Port. The crew seldom were able to sail the ship at an even keel, which made it quite unpleasant. • Activities The activities on the ship are definitely aimed at the over 70 age group. Definitely not a ship for middle aged or younger people • Service There is a major problem with the understanding of the English language. The staff are willing, but do not understand what one is asking, so often get the request wrong. They are also quiet surly when questioned about anything. • Shore Excursions On the whole the Ports were interesting; The tours that we did, were good, except for the whisky tour of Highland Park Distilleries. This was poor. Despite the distillery undergoing major refurbishment, which prevented us being able to go into the room where the distilling took place, our tour guide was pathetic. He hardly understood the distilling process himself! The DVD which was shown to us to try and explain the distilling process was more interested in showing the scenery of the Orkney Islands, than the making of whisky. This visit should never have been offered, as the ship must have known that they would be under taking this major refurbishment of their plant at that time. In contrast the Glenmorangie tour was excellent. We also enjoyed the river cruise and scenic Dublin tour. The tendering process was not well managed. Often elderly and infirm people were boarded at times which caused major delays, instead of being boarded last. The competency of the staff was also brought into question on numerous occasions, and left us feeling very uneasy, should they be required to evacuate the ship in a real emergency. • Stateroom. These are aging, and in need of refurbishment. The cabin curtains do not close properly, so that you are woken up far too early with light coming through the window. The water in the showers, often fluctuated in temperature, so that one was either being "burnt" or frozen. On several occasions, we were without any water at all, and on the last few days, the water had a very unpleasant taste, and sometimes it was also discolored. Mattresses could also do with being replaced. The thermostatic controls in the rooms did not work. The rooms were either freezing cold or hot, and one was unable to alter this. The satellite TV was almost non existent. We only had Sky News, and this did not work for at least 60% of the time. The rooms were poorly sound proofed, so you could hear your neighbors in the adjoining cabin. • Dining On the whole, the food was nearly always luke warm when it arrived at the table. Despite meeting with the Hotel Director, this was not rectified over the whole trip. The lunches were very poor. The food was poorly presented, and very Germanic in its selection. • Entertainment The shows were quiet good, not as polished as on some of the other cruises we have done, but the overall quality of the performers was good. The resident band for dancing was poor. Entertainment • Public rooms The public rooms, were made very unpleasant, due to the fact that the Starboard side of the ship was designated "smoking". In such a small ship, this meant that even when you are sitting on the Port side, you have the terrible smell of smoke. The public rooms were also totally insufficient for the number of passengers on the ship. Invariably, you could never find a seat in either of the lounges, or in the buffet. Although the weather was not always great, on the odd sunny day, the swimming pool was never available to use. • Disembarkation. This is very slow - took well over 2 hours to get bags ashore before we could start disembarkation - again this would suggest and inexperience at managing this operation. All the bags had to be hand loaded off the ship! Overall, the current management have an awful lot to learn about running a slick enjoyable cruise. This is a ship to be avoided, until they get their act together. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2009
This was a 'budget' cruise ship and it certainly lived up to those expectations. We were not informed at the time of booking that this cruise started in Germany and would arrive in the UK with over 600 German passengers ... Read More
This was a 'budget' cruise ship and it certainly lived up to those expectations. We were not informed at the time of booking that this cruise started in Germany and would arrive in the UK with over 600 German passengers already on board and there would only be around 200 UK passengers on the cruise. Problems began at Tilbury when the 'disabled' and 'those with walking difficulties'were called for embarkation, but then kept standing for over half an hour whilst those in charge tried to get their act together. German passengers were allowed priority to disembark at Tilbury, although the purpose of the stop was for British passengers to embark. Once these folk had ascertained there was nothing of interest to see at Tilbury, many expected to push pass everyone embarking with hand luggage. The cabin was roomy but noisy. The ceiling and wall panels rattled with every ship movement and had to be wedged with cardboard. The curtains were difficult to close without leaving a gap (i.e. too small). The set of drawers and one wardrobe door would not stay closed and had to be wedged shut when on the move. The soundproofing was inadequate and conversation could be heard from neighbours. The satellite TV system only had German language channels (now there's a surprise!). Overall, This was hardly up to our expectations of a grade 12 twin cabin. There were two restaurants - The Waldorf and Marco's. Breakfast consisted of a cold, greasy fry-up on cold plates with orange juice that became weaker due to watering down as the cruise progressed. Tea and coffee were difficult to tell apart. The evening meal comprised of a choice of pasta, fish and pork/beef/veal on every night. No points given for imagination. Again, cold plates were the norm. The waiters were badly trained, over enthusiastic and took your half consumed food or drink away if you left them to get anything from the buffet. It was no real loss though!! Entertainment consisted of bingo, countdown, card making and other unmissable fun. The best entertainment was watching the Germans stuffing every bit of food in sight. The games in the games room were largely incomplete (e.g. one domino missing in the set, dice missing in another game and the 5 of spades in many of the packs of cards). Once we were underway in the Atlantic, the ship listed and rolled even in reasonable weather. Force 1-2 was Ok though. There was no Captain's welcome dinner or final dinner, just a welcome cocktail party where you were made to queue outside the lounge for ages while folk had their pictures taken with the captain on an individual basis. After 20 minutes of standing around, we couldn't be bothered..... All but one of the lifts were marked 'out of order' during bad weather. Those with walking difficulties had problems in getting to the restaurant. The one working lift was often comandeered by cabin staff whose used pass keys to bypass waiting passengers. Complaints were treated with the 'what do you expect me to do about it?' attitude. One passenger had a fatal heart. The body was removed in the middle of the disembarkation process in Antigua. Nice timing. The following day, a German jumped overboard (must have been the food!! Not enough of it, perhaps?) and caused us many hours delay whilst an investigation proceeded. We missed a port because of this inconsiderate individual throwing himself to the sharks. By now things had hotted up and one elderly English lady was drageed out of the lift by her hair by a German male who couldn't wait for the next lift. For one minute, it looked like another might be going overboard when no-one was looking!! Mixed passengers on the 'Rhum Runner' was a mistake as free booze was involved and a punch up between two passengers looked lightly when the words 'you ****ing Nazi' was heard coming from one 80+ year old. We were looking forward to Remembrance Sunday on board with anticipation. The berthing arrangements sometimes created a lengthy walk for those on Marco Polo to get ashore. Not so for those with Carnival Cruises and others which berthed next to the dock exit. We then we informed that Transocean Tours had gone bust..... Well what a Surprise!! Bad news was that they had been reincarnated as something else and would be taking bookings for...... wait for it..... 'The Caribbean' in February. Can't wait!! The places visited were very good, albeit with seemingly expensive tours. For example, one tour costing 55 Euros could be taken at the port for $30 US. You got your own personal guide too. The duty free on board was more expensive than UK supermarket prices. For example, 200 cigarettes on board cost 31.50 Euro, but could be bought in Martinique duty free for 15 Euro. Drinks on board were dearer than UK pub prices and a can of John Smiths Yorkshire p*ss was 2.70 Euro. The duty free shop with it's 200 Euro pullovers was visited when we needed a good laugh. All in all, a budget cruise and it shows. If you want a decent cruise AVOID this ship like the plague. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2010
My husband and I are new to cruising and our first cruise was on the Independence of the Seas and was a wonderful experience. Wanting to compare this experience to a smaller ship to see if there was a different atmosphere we booked onto ... Read More
My husband and I are new to cruising and our first cruise was on the Independence of the Seas and was a wonderful experience. Wanting to compare this experience to a smaller ship to see if there was a different atmosphere we booked onto the Marco Polo leaving Tilbury on 2nd January 2010. This proved to be a big mistake - the ship was so obviously overbooked, there were not enough sunbeds or outside chairs for the amount of passengers wanting to use them and we witnessed many tense confrontations where these were "reserved" with towels, blankets or books for well over the 30 mins allowed. Our first problem was with the safe which, having put our valuables in, refused to open. Eventually the whole safe had to be drilled out of the wall and a new one put in which we couldn't use till the glue dried. Next our shower consistently only gave us cold water and it was only thanks to our cabin steward that it got fixed at all. Then the air conditioning wouldn't work and again we had workmen in the cabin trying to fix it. The cabins are extremely small especially as we had the comparison with the Independence. The excursions from the ship were very expensive and we felt ripped off when we found we could do the same trips from the port at much lower prices. The alcoholic drinks on board were extremely expensive and what was worse they ran out of beer nearly a week away from the end of the cruise!! The water was not much better - foul stuff tasting of chlorine and if you couldn't bear it you could buy bottles at extortionate prices (£2.50 bottle), which meant at each port we were forced to go shopping for affordable water. By far the worst thing was that they allowed smoking in one of the bars which meant that place was somewhere we couldn't go and the rooms leading off this bar always smelt of cigarette smoke. The disembarkation was unbelievable - it took 3 hours of boredom whilst they tried to get all the luggage off the ship before we could get off ourselves - complete incompetence. The overall impression of the Marco Polo was of a tired old ship charging 4 star prices for a 3 star service, and we will not be repeating this experience ever. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
"You get what you pay for, don't you?" My parents never flew in a commercial aircraft on a scheduled flight. Their sole experience of taking to the skies was a twenty- minute spin around Worthing Pier (in a biplane) ... Read More
"You get what you pay for, don't you?" My parents never flew in a commercial aircraft on a scheduled flight. Their sole experience of taking to the skies was a twenty- minute spin around Worthing Pier (in a biplane) sometime after World War 2. I myself have never witnessed a premier division football match, and only within the last year or two have I dipped my toe into cruising. Leaving things late seems to be a family trait. First for me in 2008 was the Queen Mary 2, transatlantic and with all the frills. Magic. Enter at a sedate pace from harbour left MS Marco Polo, late of the Soviet Navy. Now some cruise companies own their own vessels, train their own crews and are only beholden, when publicly owned at least, to their shareholders. Others such as Cruise and Maritime claim very few assets and simply lease a ship, lock stock and smoking funnel- captain, crew, the whole shebang. As with many other shipping operators, responsibility for vessels such as the Marco Polo involves complex and sometimes rapidly-changing ownership, and when Transoceanic went "belly up" late last year, Cruise and Maritime stepped into the breach and guaranteed a certain number of sailings to provide a continuity for Tilbury-based voyages. So our vessel of choice started life as one of five built in Germany for the Russian navy, all named after famous soviet poets. The Ms Marco Polo saw the light of day first as the Alexander Pushkin and after twenty- five years of heavy Baltic duty was just about ready for the knackers yard. Rescued in 1990 by an enterprising English entrepreneur, one Gerry Herrod (founder of Ocean Cruise Lines), she was divested of all her aging Russian garments and reduced to her steel underpants, a bare skeleton of raw metal. Painstakingly a Dutch engineer and a Japanese interior designer reconstructed her. From Ocean Cruise via Trans-Ocean and now Cruise and Maritime, the Ms Marco Polo has gathered a loyal following of travel agents, journalists and passengers alike. Still with her magnificent hull, ideal for an ice-battering Baltic patrol, her aesthetically satisfying and technically expert superstructure allows her to ride through comparatively narrow gaps, but as it is over forty years from this original refit, she is showing signs of rust and age. Now as MS Marco Polo she plies the Northern climes, the Amazon basin, and presently she is heading for North Africa, Spain, Portugal and France. With her loyal following aging alongside this elegant vessel, my only hope is that the whole lot of us don't disappear in a final last gasp bathed in a golden sunset somewhere off the Bay of Biscay. Carrying a compliment of about 800 passengers and 330 crew, by modern standards she might be deemed "small", "intimate" and "traditional" and she, and those who sale with an in her, are the subject of this report on C and M's "Iberian Highlights". Day 1. My arrival at Victoria Coach Station for the journey to Tilbury (£20 return) was marked by a growing unease as I saw what I assumed to be fellow passengers assembling at exit 1 and 2. At this point I gazed at the retreating back of my youngest son, who had helped me with cases to the station, and was tempted to scream "come back!" and do a runner ( a reaction later supported by two other passengers who like me were by now hiding behind pillars.) But then the party was called and the geriatric queue wound its way slowly towards the waiting coach. Still time to cut and run, or to join it? "Better join" said a voice in my head, "the money's already spent!." So join I did. At Tilbury we were shunted on board in double-quick time and immediately left to our own devices. Deprived by the coach journey of lunch, I wandered through the "buffet" facility with heavy heart having briefly tasted luke-warm, gelatinous and severely overcooked pasta. A foretaste of what is to come? Surely not. Day 2. Cherbourg, from whence The Titanic set out on her epic 1912 voyage. A hint of things to come, maybe? Here I realised, on waking to various announcements about coach party 720B and so on, that on a cruise such as this, one quickly becomes a second class citizen if you opt out of the guided tours organised by the company. Doing a quick calculation I reckon that every coach that leaves the ship for a 3-4 hour local excursion earns the company about £1000 profit, thus five coaches, seven ports of call etc., etc. So after coaches have struggled away in a wreath of diesel fumes, we lonely pariahs make our way onto the deserted quay to stand beneath a sign reading, "shuttle bus". Glancing down the pole I see resting at its foot a pile of steaming horse dung. Shuttle bus? Twenty minutes later we hear "clip clop, clip clop" noises in the distance followed by the sight of an ancient horse and carriage. Forty minutes beyond this we are proceeding at barely walking pace though an industrial estate and Carrefore carparks on a circuitous route into town (the main bridge being closed for repairs). Time just for a brief coffee followed by a geriatric jog back to the boat, narrowly avoiding second day abandonment on the dock. Day 3. At sea through the Bay of Biscay. Those of us unfortunates travelling alone are invited to a "singles meeting experience" at the upper deck bar. A desultory group of a baker's dozen or so, mainly women of an uncertain age, all congregate and proceed to eye each other up with varying degrees of embarrassment and/or distain. Our cruise representative, Leah who previously worked for The Disney Corporation, now clearly prefers brigades of the elderly rather than screaming children to deal with. Leah's "shadow" and future replacement, Lauren (28ish), enlivened matters just by being there and before long the group divided, amoeba-like and gratefully dispersed to continue with reading their Joanna Trollopes and John Grishams. Day three marked my decision to observe the behaviour of the (mainly eastern European) crew in their attitude towards the passengers. On the whole this seemed to comprise an awkward mixture of patronising condescension liberally laced with maternal/paternal concern. For example, on arrival at the Waldorf (!) dining area for lunch, where one was placed with others at random, unlike the designated and rigid sitting for evening dinner, I was seated at an empty table for ten and I was quickly followed into their seats by six or so others. As they were settling themselves around me the waiter handed me the menu, so saying, "and where is your other half?" This was probably the first time, on this voyage as a single traveller, that I was rendered literally speechless. As I gazed at him in incredulity he continued, upping the volume somewhat in the belief, I presumed, that I was hard of hearing. "You know, your better half, your WIFE!" By now we had the full attention of not just our table but adjoining ones as well. So raising my voice appropriately I replied, "she ran off with a lounge lizard from Dublin six years ago." Gasps and nervous laughter insured the lunch, for me at least, was short and sour. On reflection I can only think that the waiter thought my dinner neighbour of the previous night was actually my wife. But this was an outrageous assumption- I may have been gay, or recently widowed, and this incident reflected extremely badly on the training of at least one particular crewmember. On the evening of the third day came the formal "welcome" by the Captain and his Heads of Department in the Marco Polo lounge reserved mainly for live evening entertainment. A promised glass of champagne with the Captain turned out to be a forty-five minute wait clutching a cheap glass of sweet sparkly. Meanwhile our Captain/host dutifully shook hands- for the benefit of the ever-present photographer- with each and every member of the passenger list (singles excluded) at £4.99 a shot. After introducing his colleagues, all standing to attention and very deferential and most seeming to come from the same part of the former Soviet Union as himself (Croatia), he soon absented himself with the parting shot "if you have complaints make sure you contact one of them, not me!" Basil Fawlty in seaman's uniform sprung to mind at about this point in our high-seas adventure. My first taste of the live entertainment, "Venetian Nights" had all the appeal of an immediate elimination from the first round of 'X' Factor, enlivened by the sight of an elderly passenger projectile vomiting into the curtains bounding the stage arena. Was this a comment on the performances, I wondered? So it is about this time that the effects of seasick passengers seem to segue into he unmentionable norovisus. The virus is the bane of cruise operators as this highly contagious and violent combination of sickness and diarrhoea can sweep through the enclosed environment of a ship at sea like a forest fire. It must have been a nightmare in the below-decks hospital area to separate Bay of Biscay refugees from the genuinely ill. Soon the rumours were circulating, someone had died, three ambulances had arrived to meet the ship at Vigo, members of the crew were abandoning ship we are all doomed! What was certainly true, as the company issued no information to us about any of these rumours be they founded or unfounded, was that certain cabin windows were marked with a large taped white cross and their doors were sealed with substantial bands of sticky tape. And we are barely a third of the way through the cruise! Day 4: Vigo. Tanoy calls for all the moneyed passengers who had coaches booked for Saniago de Compostela leave us plebs facing a faulty gangplank and subsequent tardy arrival on the quay to see the two-hourly local shuttle bus disappearing in a cloud of diesel fumes. It is clearly the policy of cruise operators to keep passengers in the dark about available local bus services as an alternative to the scheduled coaches. Reason? They want you to book their expensive tours instead of helping you into town, even if all you want to do is just to potter around it. On this cruise there were tours ranging for £26-£70. A tidy source of additional income requiring merely the hiring of a local coach for half a day. Easy money, but as far as I'm concerned, a black mark to C and M. So for the rest of us a lengthy trek over concrete and macadam and then a vertiginous climb up and through a (literally) collapsing town. In Vigo many buildings seemed simply to have been abandoned and left, inwardly disintegrating and broken-toothed, to the elements. Occasionally a modern, and surely temporary rescue is attempted when the building is "faced" in cheap steel and glass. A practical expedient to keep things in place for perhaps another decade, but after that, what then? On return and at a basically inedible lunch of luke-warm plaice covered in brown sauce(?), one fellow passenger tells me why glasses and cutlery are snatched from us almost before they are finished with. Not it appears from pure zeal on behalf of the waiters, rather a severe lack of stock, hence the need to keep all utensils on a circuitous move- from table to mouth, mouth to dishwasher, dishwasher to table, etc., etc. After lunch, through a combination of exhaustion, hunger and boredom I find myself at reception making a late coach booking for the morrow: "Lisbon's Famous Sights". Day 5 Lisbon. A storm seemed to be following our progress down the Spanish coast and our arrival in Lisbon was marked by strong winds and horizontal rain. I raced to the comparative safety of the quayside coach, ready for almost any off-ship experiences. Our coach stopped for the obligatory twenty minutes at each spot designated to be of potential interest to the visitor with two hours to spend in town. In many cases our departure was entirely dependent on the gradual forward progression of the twenty or so charabancs ahead of us in the designated parking places. "Now we shall be stopping for ten minutes, enough for you to take a photograph" seemed to be the mantra of the morning. In the end you simply find yourself behaving like Japanese tourists in London, in, out, 'snap', on. Ah well, when in Lisbon.... Day 6: Cadiz. A night of furious rocking as if attempting to sleep on a motorised waterbed saw us, come the dawn, sailing majestically up to the magnificent city of Cadiz. Its proximity to the ocean meant that it was subject to frequent raids and sackings, mostly by us British. To realise that the total population numbers not much more than 100,000 souls, and that the prevailing feeling of friendliness, cleanliness and wonderful Mediterranean ambience of al fresco living adds immeasurably to the charm of its already exquisite architecture. Like Lisbon there is evidence of neglect of some great buildings, but the new lady mayor has apparently galvanised the local populace into action on many new renovation projects. Of all the many cities in Spain (specifically Andalucia) and Portugal , this is by far the one I would chose to live in, or return to soon. Earlier that day, over a perfectly ordinary dining-room breakfast, I counselled opinion from the sundry guests seated at my table. Without prejudice, two out of three would not choose to travel by C and M, and Marco Polo, again. Of the remaining third, ones who in my observation would not initiate let alone join in a table conversation, but when pressed for an answer would say, abruptly and hurriedly "It's alright, you get what you pay for, don't you?" I buttonholed, on the way back from the Cadiz city tour, one of the young English crewmembers, one Matthew Agg, to ask how he was enjoying his time with C and M. He told me he had worked previously for P and O who own their own ships. C and M basically charter the vessel along with 95% of the crew, without having any direct investment in Ms Marco Polo itself. This, according to Matt, means that there are some fundamental differences in the chain of command between people like him and Heads of Department up to, and including, the Captain himself. In fact he gave me the distinct impression that the Captain in our case was much more difficult to approach than would be the case the case with P and O and Cunard. However Matt was happy with the working conditions and very much liked the smaller ship, which gave him the chance of really getting to know both crew and passengers. He was full of praise for his employees and although I was tempted to feel that he was being naturally guarded in his remarks, his natural enthusiasm was infectious and from this point on I too started to see the positives as well as the negatives of the voyage. Day 7: Gibraltar and Tangier. Oh dear, Gib. next! In the quayside terminal building it announces its presence in sculptural form as a large, mud-coloured, bare and inhospitable rock. Which, I thought, it pretty much what it is. With rain teeming down four unfortunate tours headed for the sights (rock, monkeys) all hidden in masses of low cloud. Time to wander around this time capsule of old Britain unhassled and unaided. I was expecting to hate everything, but once one leaves the central drag of fish and chip shops and discount stores, there were indeed some pleasant sights to be seen. A Catholic Church opposite an Anglican Chapel, each doing good Sunday business along with the odd police car looking for all the world as if it had just completed its morning M25 duties. All this together with spacious squares, decent sized trees and lush vegetation, alongside red pillar-boxes and helmeted bobbies- plus the cheapest Camel Lights in Europe! Still locked into day eight, we set sail at lunchtime amid squalls, scudding clouds and rain-lashed decks towards the topknot of north Africa- exotic Tangiers. With barely four hours to "do" the whole place it smacks rather of "if it's Thursday it must be Belgium". As we pull into dock I see a series of hastily erected stalls all lined up on the quayside flogging the usual dodgy mixture of handbags, cheap leather belts, kaftans and assorted colourful riff-raff. Astonishingly many passengers choose to make do with this as their only taste of Tangiers, but I decided, thank God, to invest this time in a coach tour of the city and environs, with a highlight walking through the medina and Kasbah. Here are some of this extraordinary city's oldest parts, a rabbit warren of narrow passageways, some a mere eighteen inches wide. No wonder Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Betty Hutton all chose Tangiers as a welcoming haven in their stormy lives. Now this mantle has passed to Marrakech, home to Hollywood stars and starlets, nestling conveniently at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. However to my mind Tangiers is by for the more attractive place, resting on cool hills and surrounded by lush green forests. A magnetic, magic place indeed, and all packed into four hurried hours, before it is back to the boat. Day 8: Portimao, Portugal. Now we come, so to speak, to the fag end of the cruise. Having "done" Gib and Tangiers in barely a day, we turn tail and race up the coast to Portimao where we have a so-called "anchorage point" waiting for us where tender craft will ferry us to the shore. In fact our designated mooring point seems to be marked by a single buoy bobbing some mile or so offshore and with a swell rapidly rising from four to eight feet within minutes of our arrival. A creaking of pulleys announces that one of our emergency lifeboats is being awkwardly cranked into the sea and with heavy hearts we, hanging over the ship's rails, realise that it is to be in our own escape craft that any expedition to the distance shore will be achieved. After about an hour of shouting, pulling on ropes and general water-based cabaret antics, it is perfectly clear to all that our elderly and infirm passengers would tumble one after the other into the ocean if they were to attempt any manoeuvre from gangplank to lifeboat. Then comes the inevitable announcement that we are to amuse ourselves for the rest of the day and that all excursions are hereby cancelled. A general scrum age for the sun-lounges soon ended in a patchwork quilt of broiling British flesh necessitating a retreat to the inner lounge and the comfort of a draft Becks (£2.80). Day 9: At Sea. The nine remaining singles assembled, courtesy of Passenger Liaison Services, for an early lunch together and presumably "catch up". Wine was there waiting on the table, which was generally and tacitly acknowledged to be a nice gesture from the management until it became clear that it had to be paid for (£20 per bottle for the red, £25 for the white). So we retreated to our heavily chlorinated water and I suggested that we took the round table "temperature" of our feelings about the voyage thus far. On a scale of 1-10 the votes ranged from 1 to 7 with a mean average of exactly 4.1. Specific complaints roughly in order of length and strength of comments were as follows: 1. Poor food, frequently served luke-warm or even cold. 2. Hurried and overpriced on-shore tours. 3. Drastically bad inter-cabin sound insulation. 4. Overcrowding of on-board facilities, especially during days at sea. 5. Cessation of free hot drinks by 8.30pm. 6. Surly and unhelpful staff attitudes. 7. Overpriced bar items. 8. Constant circulation of photographers leading to overselling of prints being the subject of a revolving display in public areas. 9. No attempt to relay via the ships GPS systems world news on any kind of regular basis. 10. Age and condition of vessel. One of our group said that the previous evening he had been obliged to lock his cabin door as a result of a violent altercation in the corridor concerning TV noise levels, not in adjacent but in opposing cabins. This escalated to a physical confrontation, which had to be broken up by crewmembers. Only by asking these kinds of questions of fellow travellers did I mange to piece together a proper picture of the voyage as a whole, which apparently included the decamping of some of the crew at Cadiz as a result of poor working conditions, along with some unhappy passengers too. It appears there was an unexpected death on board as well, and three ambulances were seen to be waiting for us at one of our ports of call. And were we briefly stuck on the mud in Gibralter? There was certainly a great deal of muddy water-churning and unexpected delay in leaving. Day 10. Gijon, Spain. Just time to stretch ones legs before another 48-hour rush for home. I sensed a general feeling of deflation and dissatisfaction amongst many of the passengers alongside a strong desire for a speedy return to home and beauty. Apart from providing a brief unrocking base for a short walk, Gjon seems to have nothing whatsoever to recommend it at all. Day 11: Last Day. I spoke this morning with a lady who had paid (for herself and her husband) a total of £3000 for the voyage, who was understandably furious to find late bookers has expended merely a third of this at the last minute for similar cabins and facilities. When asked how she rated the whole experience she replied, 2/10. She also mentioned that the questionnaire issued to all passengers for comments carried the chance of a "free cruise" draw if posted into the reception box by 8.0pm. She was making sure she popped hers into the box well after 8.00 so saying, "I wouldn't go again with C and M even if it was free!" Facilities on Board A small and inadequately stocked library comprising four arms-chairs (constantly filled) and a single desk, with books locked up at most times. Some recent-ish "House and Garden" type magazines, which appeared to "walk" swiftly from the shelves. Nearby a card room of similar size used occasionally for craft-type activities, which again stretched the available space beyond sensible limits. On the upper deck tucked somewhere under the eaves a stuffy and hot Internet Room. My one attempt to log-on involved a complicated and completely impossible to initiate password system. Get a Blackberry! Spa/Hairdressing/Massage. All untested by yours truly, but one middle-aged guest very pleased with her on-board hairdo. Quite a number of passengers have returned to the Marco Polo for this cruise as a result of previous experiences when the ship was under different managements, and almost without exception the consensus was that C a M fell far short by comparison. It seems that cost cutting by a very cost-conscious regime is contributing in large measure to customer dissatisfaction. However, for the first time cruisers I spoke to, with no points of comparison, such issues wee not raised. Entertainment C and M prides itself on a nightly range of live entertainment in two venues, and certainly some passengers were favourably impressed by this fact alone. Others complained that a recent change of management had left the entertainment basically the same, with the exception of a new Cruise Director. In this respect the present incumbent faired badly by comparison with his predecessor, and was generally considered to be both cocky and aloof, an awkward combination for someone of (at best) modest abilities. The nightly performances of popular middle-of-the-road music (Andrew Lloyd Webber et al) ranged from round one losers from X Factor, to really quite accomplished. Voices were above mere competent, and 4-6 lithe and possibly classically trained dancers in a range of skimpy costumes kept the front row (wheelchair accessible) seats well filled. An orchestra of 6-7 accomplished musicians helped the atmosphere no end, and their native eastern European repertoire was supplement by quite a few American standards, which they clearly liked playing a lot. So an overall seven out of ten on this score. Overview The Marco Polo in its current guise is basically a ship appealing to a solid working-class passenger compliment. And before readers throw up their hands in horror at the word "class" I should point out that it is precisely this which forms a very strong element in most kinds of cruise, be it in the observation or in the breach. As passengers we are housed and often fed in a tier system based on an ability to pay (or not) and even the uniforms of crew and the hierarchy of command supports the idea that we slot into a class appropriate to our wealth and station in life. If you want to be treated like a Hollywood star of the 30s, take a Princess Grill cruise on the Queen Mary 2, transatlantic. If you want to swig lager with beer-bellies from up North, Marco Polo is your ship. So this is assuredly a "value for money" cruise with the emphasis firmly on the budget-conscious. One of the problems facing C and M is that they attempt to present a Cunard or P and O type front, whilst behind the scenes cut-price catering in conjunction with staff clearly unused to British social mores mean they are failing to actually satisfy either end of the spectrum. This together with a compliment of passengers, who looked like the walking wounded from the Napoleonic Wars, means that you have to be on guard to prevent yourself simply falling in and becoming one of them and ending up being carted off in a wheelchair. One passenger who has already told me that the toast at breakfast had been a severe test of his remaining molars put it like this. "Look straight ahead, slightly above the heads of all the others, avoid eye contact, eat sparingly and carefully, bring plenty of booze on board and enjoy the ports of call". I say amen to that and if you can, leave the Zimmer frame at Tilbury. Ah well, with erupting volcanoes, I guess it wasn't so bad after all. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
"You get what you pay for, don't you?" My parents never flew in a commercial aircraft on a scheduled flight. Their sole experience of taking to the skies was a twenty- minute spin around Worthing Pier (in a biplane) ... Read More
"You get what you pay for, don't you?" My parents never flew in a commercial aircraft on a scheduled flight. Their sole experience of taking to the skies was a twenty- minute spin around Worthing Pier (in a biplane) sometime after World War 2. I myself have never witnessed a premier division football match, and only within the last year or two have I dipped my toe into cruising. Leaving things late seems to be a family trait. First for me in 2008 was the Queen Mary 2, transatlantic and with all the frills. Magic. Enter at a sedate pace from harbour left MS Marco Polo, late of the Soviet Navy. Now some cruise companies own their own vessels, train their own crews and are only beholden, when publicly owned at least, to their shareholders. Others such as Cruise and Maritime claim very few assets and simply lease a ship, lock stock and smoking funnel- captain, crew, the whole shebang. As with many other shipping operators, responsibility for vessels such as the Marco Polo involves complex and sometimes rapidly-changing ownership, and when Transoceanic went "belly up" late last year, Cruise and Maritime stepped into the breach and guaranteed a certain number of sailings to provide a continuity for Tilbury-based voyages. So our vessel of choice started life as one of five built in Germany for the Russian navy, all named after famous soviet poets. The Ms Marco Polo saw the light of day first as the Alexander Pushkin and after twenty- five years of heavy Baltic duty was just about ready for the knackers yard. Rescued in 1990 by an enterprising English entrepreneur, one Gerry Herrod (founder of Ocean Cruise Lines), she was divested of all her aging Russian garments and reduced to her steel underpants, a bare skeleton of raw metal. Painstakingly a Dutch engineer and a Japanese interior designer reconstructed her. From Ocean Cruise via Trans-Ocean and now Cruise and Maritime, the Ms Marco Polo has gathered a loyal following of travel agents, journalists and passengers alike. Still with her magnificent hull, ideal for an ice-battering Baltic patrol, her aesthetically satisfying and technically expert superstructure allows her to ride through comparatively narrow gaps, but as it is over forty years from this original refit, she is showing signs of rust and age. Now as MS Marco Polo she plies the Northern climes, the Amazon basin, and presently she is heading for North Africa, Spain, Portugal and France. With her loyal following aging alongside this elegant vessel, my only hope is that the whole lot of us don't disappear in a final last gasp bathed in a golden sunset somewhere off the Bay of Biscay. Carrying a compliment of about 800 passengers and 330 crew, by modern standards she might be deemed "small", "intimate" and "traditional" and she, and those who sale with an in her, are the subject of this report on C and M's "Iberian Highlights". Day 1. My arrival at Victoria Coach Station for the journey to Tilbury (£20 return) was marked by a growing unease as I saw what I assumed to be fellow passengers assembling at exit 1 and 2. At this point I gazed at the retreating back of my youngest son, who had helped me with cases to the station, and was tempted to scream "come back!" and do a runner ( a reaction later supported by two other passengers who like me were by now hiding behind pillars.) But then the party was called and the geriatric queue wound its way slowly towards the waiting coach. Still time to cut and run, or to join it? "Better join" said a voice in my head, "the money's already spent!." So join I did. At Tilbury we were shunted on board in double-quick time and immediately left to our own devices. Deprived by the coach journey of lunch, I wandered through the "buffet" facility with heavy heart having briefly tasted luke-warm, gelatinous and severely overcooked pasta. A foretaste of what is to come? Surely not. Day 2. Cherbourg, from whence The Titanic set out on her epic 1912 voyage. A hint of things to come, maybe? Here I realised, on waking to various announcements about coach party 720B and so on, that on a cruise such as this, one quickly becomes a second class citizen if you opt out of the guided tours organised by the company. Doing a quick calculation I reckon that every coach that leaves the ship for a 3-4 hour local excursion earns the company about £1000 profit, thus five coaches, seven ports of call etc., etc. So after coaches have struggled away in a wreath of diesel fumes, we lonely pariahs make our way onto the deserted quay to stand beneath a sign reading, "shuttle bus". Glancing down the pole I see resting at its foot a pile of steaming horse dung. Shuttle bus? Twenty minutes later we hear "clip clop, clip clop" noises in the distance followed by the sight of an ancient horse and carriage. Forty minutes beyond this we are proceeding at barely walking pace though an industrial estate and Carrefore carparks on a circuitous route into town (the main bridge being closed for repairs). Time just for a brief coffee followed by a geriatric jog back to the boat, narrowly avoiding second day abandonment on the dock. Day 3. At sea through the Bay of Biscay. Those of us unfortunates travelling alone are invited to a "singles meeting experience" at the upper deck bar. A desultory group of a baker's dozen or so, mainly women of an uncertain age, all congregate and proceed to eye each other up with varying degrees of embarrassment and/or distain. Our cruise representative, Leah who previously worked for The Disney Corporation, now clearly prefers brigades of the elderly rather than screaming children to deal with. Leah's "shadow" and future replacement, Lauren (28ish), enlivened matters just by being there and before long the group divided, amoeba-like and gratefully dispersed to continue with reading their Joanna Trollopes and John Grishams. Day three marked my decision to observe the behaviour of the (mainly eastern European) crew in their attitude towards the passengers. On the whole this seemed to comprise an awkward mixture of patronising condescension liberally laced with maternal/paternal concern. For example, on arrival at the Waldorf (!) dining area for lunch, where one was placed with others at random, unlike the designated and rigid sitting for evening dinner, I was seated at an empty table for ten and I was quickly followed into their seats by six or so others. As they were settling themselves around me the waiter handed me the menu, so saying, "and where is your other half?" This was probably the first time, on this voyage as a single traveller, that I was rendered literally speechless. As I gazed at him in incredulity he continued, upping the volume somewhat in the belief, I presumed, that I was hard of hearing. "You know, your better half, your WIFE!" By now we had the full attention of not just our table but adjoining ones as well. So raising my voice appropriately I replied, "she ran off with a lounge lizard from Dublin six years ago." Gasps and nervous laughter insured the lunch, for me at least, was short and sour. On reflection I can only think that the waiter thought my dinner neighbour of the previous night was actually my wife. But this was an outrageous assumption- I may have been gay, or recently widowed, and this incident reflected extremely badly on the training of at least one particular crewmember. On the evening of the third day came the formal "welcome" by the Captain and his Heads of Department in the Marco Polo lounge reserved mainly for live evening entertainment. A promised glass of champagne with the Captain turned out to be a forty-five minute wait clutching a cheap glass of sweet sparkly. Meanwhile our Captain/host dutifully shook hands- for the benefit of the ever-present photographer- with each and every member of the passenger list (singles excluded) at £4.99 a shot. After introducing his colleagues, all standing to attention and very deferential and most seeming to come from the same part of the former Soviet Union as himself (Croatia), he soon absented himself with the parting shot "if you have complaints make sure you contact one of them, not me!" Basil Fawlty in seaman's uniform sprung to mind at about this point in our high-seas adventure. My first taste of the live entertainment, "Venetian Nights" had all the appeal of an immediate elimination from the first round of 'X' Factor, enlivened by the sight of an elderly passenger projectile vomiting into the curtains bounding the stage arena. Was this a comment on the performances, I wondered? So it is about this time that the effects of seasick passengers seem to segue into he unmentionable norovisus. The virus is the bane of cruise operators as this highly contagious and violent combination of sickness and diarrhoea can sweep through the enclosed environment of a ship at sea like a forest fire. It must have been a nightmare in the below-decks hospital area to separate Bay of Biscay refugees from the genuinely ill. Soon the rumours were circulating, someone had died, three ambulances had arrived to meet the ship at Vigo, members of the crew were abandoning ship we are all doomed! What was certainly true, as the company issued no information to us about any of these rumours be they founded or unfounded, was that certain cabin windows were marked with a large taped white cross and their doors were sealed with substantial bands of sticky tape. And we are barely a third of the way through the cruise! Day 4: Vigo. Tanoy calls for all the moneyed passengers who had coaches booked for Saniago de Compostela leave us plebs facing a faulty gangplank and subsequent tardy arrival on the quay to see the two-hourly local shuttle bus disappearing in a cloud of diesel fumes. It is clearly the policy of cruise operators to keep passengers in the dark about available local bus services as an alternative to the scheduled coaches. Reason? They want you to book their expensive tours instead of helping you into town, even if all you want to do is just to potter around it. On this cruise there were tours ranging for £26-£70. A tidy source of additional income requiring merely the hiring of a local coach for half a day. Easy money, but as far as I'm concerned, a black mark to C and M. So for the rest of us a lengthy trek over concrete and macadam and then a vertiginous climb up and through a (literally) collapsing town. In Vigo many buildings seemed simply to have been abandoned and left, inwardly disintegrating and broken-toothed, to the elements. Occasionally a modern, and surely temporary rescue is attempted when the building is "faced" in cheap steel and glass. A practical expedient to keep things in place for perhaps another decade, but after that, what then? On return and at a basically inedible lunch of luke-warm plaice covered in brown sauce(?), one fellow passenger tells me why glasses and cutlery are snatched from us almost before they are finished with. Not it appears from pure zeal on behalf of the waiters, rather a severe lack of stock, hence the need to keep all utensils on a circuitous move- from table to mouth, mouth to dishwasher, dishwasher to table, etc., etc. After lunch, through a combination of exhaustion, hunger and boredom I find myself at reception making a late coach booking for the morrow: "Lisbon's Famous Sights". Day 5 Lisbon. A storm seemed to be following our progress down the Spanish coast and our arrival in Lisbon was marked by strong winds and horizontal rain. I raced to the comparative safety of the quayside coach, ready for almost any off-ship experiences. Our coach stopped for the obligatory twenty minutes at each spot designated to be of potential interest to the visitor with two hours to spend in town. In many cases our departure was entirely dependent on the gradual forward progression of the twenty or so charabancs ahead of us in the designated parking places. "Now we shall be stopping for ten minutes, enough for you to take a photograph" seemed to be the mantra of the morning. In the end you simply find yourself behaving like Japanese tourists in London, in, out, 'snap', on. Ah well, when in Lisbon.... Day 6: Cadiz. A night of furious rocking as if attempting to sleep on a motorised waterbed saw us, come the dawn, sailing majestically up to the magnificent city of Cadiz. Its proximity to the ocean meant that it was subject to frequent raids and sackings, mostly by us British. To realise that the total population numbers not much more than 100,000 souls, and that the prevailing feeling of friendliness, cleanliness and wonderful Mediterranean ambience of al fresco living adds immeasurably to the charm of its already exquisite architecture. Like Lisbon there is evidence of neglect of some great buildings, but the new lady mayor has apparently galvanised the local populace into action on many new renovation projects. Of all the many cities in Spain (specifically Andalucia) and Portugal , this is by far the one I would chose to live in, or return to soon. Earlier that day, over a perfectly ordinary dining-room breakfast, I counselled opinion from the sundry guests seated at my table. Without prejudice, two out of three would not choose to travel by C and M, and Marco Polo, again. Of the remaining third, ones who in my observation would not initiate let alone join in a table conversation, but when pressed for an answer would say, abruptly and hurriedly "It's alright, you get what you pay for, don't you?" I buttonholed, on the way back from the Cadiz city tour, one of the young English crewmembers, one Matthew Agg, to ask how he was enjoying his time with C and M. He told me he had worked previously for P and O who own their own ships. C and M basically charter the vessel along with 95% of the crew, without having any direct investment in Ms Marco Polo itself. This, according to Matt, means that there are some fundamental differences in the chain of command between people like him and Heads of Department up to, and including, the Captain himself. In fact he gave me the distinct impression that the Captain in our case was much more difficult to approach than would be the case the case with P and O and Cunard. However Matt was happy with the working conditions and very much liked the smaller ship, which gave him the chance of really getting to know both crew and passengers. He was full of praise for his employees and although I was tempted to feel that he was being naturally guarded in his remarks, his natural enthusiasm was infectious and from this point on I too started to see the positives as well as the negatives of the voyage. Day 7: Gibraltar and Tangier. Oh dear, Gib. next! In the quayside terminal building it announces its presence in sculptural form as a large, mud-coloured, bare and inhospitable rock. Which, I thought, it pretty much what it is. With rain teeming down four unfortunate tours headed for the sights (rock, monkeys) all hidden in masses of low cloud. Time to wander around this time capsule of old Britain unhassled and unaided. I was expecting to hate everything, but once one leaves the central drag of fish and chip shops and discount stores, there were indeed some pleasant sights to be seen. A Catholic Church opposite an Anglican Chapel, each doing good Sunday business along with the odd police car looking for all the world as if it had just completed its morning M25 duties. All this together with spacious squares, decent sized trees and lush vegetation, alongside red pillar-boxes and helmeted bobbies- plus the cheapest Camel Lights in Europe! Still locked into day eight, we set sail at lunchtime amid squalls, scudding clouds and rain-lashed decks towards the topknot of north Africa- exotic Tangiers. With barely four hours to "do" the whole place it smacks rather of "if it's Thursday it must be Belgium". As we pull into dock I see a series of hastily erected stalls all lined up on the quayside flogging the usual dodgy mixture of handbags, cheap leather belts, kaftans and assorted colourful riff-raff. Astonishingly many passengers choose to make do with this as their only taste of Tangiers, but I decided, thank God, to invest this time in a coach tour of the city and environs, with a highlight walking through the medina and Kasbah. Here are some of this extraordinary city's oldest parts, a rabbit warren of narrow passageways, some a mere eighteen inches wide. No wonder Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Betty Hutton all chose Tangiers as a welcoming haven in their stormy lives. Now this mantle has passed to Marrakech, home to Hollywood stars and starlets, nestling conveniently at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. However to my mind Tangiers is by for the more attractive place, resting on cool hills and surrounded by lush green forests. A magnetic, magic place indeed, and all packed into four hurried hours, before it is back to the boat. Day 8: Portimao, Portugal. Now we come, so to speak, to the fag end of the cruise. Having "done" Gib and Tangiers in barely a day, we turn tail and race up the coast to Portimao where we have a so-called "anchorage point" waiting for us where tender craft will ferry us to the shore. In fact our designated mooring point seems to be marked by a single buoy bobbing some mile or so offshore and with a swell rapidly rising from four to eight feet within minutes of our arrival. A creaking of pulleys announces that one of our emergency lifeboats is being awkwardly cranked into the sea and with heavy hearts we, hanging over the ship's rails, realise that it is to be in our own escape craft that any expedition to the distance shore will be achieved. After about an hour of shouting, pulling on ropes and general water-based cabaret antics, it is perfectly clear to all that our elderly and infirm passengers would tumble one after the other into the ocean if they were to attempt any manoeuvre from gangplank to lifeboat. Then comes the inevitable announcement that we are to amuse ourselves for the rest of the day and that all excursions are hereby cancelled. A general scrum age for the sun-lounges soon ended in a patchwork quilt of broiling British flesh necessitating a retreat to the inner lounge and the comfort of a draft Becks (£2.80). Day 9: At Sea. The nine remaining singles assembled, courtesy of Passenger Liaison Services, for an early lunch together and presumably "catch up". Wine was there waiting on the table, which was generally and tacitly acknowledged to be a nice gesture from the management until it became clear that it had to be paid for (£20 per bottle for the red, £25 for the white). So we retreated to our heavily chlorinated water and I suggested that we took the round table "temperature" of our feelings about the voyage thus far. On a scale of 1-10 the votes ranged from 1 to 7 with a mean average of exactly 4.1. Specific complaints roughly in order of length and strength of comments were as follows: 1. Poor food, frequently served luke-warm or even cold. 2. Hurried and overpriced on-shore tours. 3. Drastically bad inter-cabin sound insulation. 4. Overcrowding of on-board facilities, especially during days at sea. 5. Cessation of free hot drinks by 8.30pm. 6. Surly and unhelpful staff attitudes. 7. Overpriced bar items. 8. Constant circulation of photographers leading to overselling of prints being the subject of a revolving display in public areas. 9. No attempt to relay via the ships GPS systems world news on any kind of regular basis. 10. Age and condition of vessel. One of our group said that the previous evening he had been obliged to lock his cabin door as a result of a violent altercation in the corridor concerning TV noise levels, not in adjacent but in opposing cabins. This escalated to a physical confrontation, which had to be broken up by crewmembers. Only by asking these kinds of questions of fellow travellers did I mange to piece together a proper picture of the voyage as a whole, which apparently included the decamping of some of the crew at Cadiz as a result of poor working conditions, along with some unhappy passengers too. It appears there was an unexpected death on board as well, and three ambulances were seen to be waiting for us at one of our ports of call. And were we briefly stuck on the mud in Gibralter? There was certainly a great deal of muddy water-churning and unexpected delay in leaving. Day 10. Gijon, Spain. Just time to stretch ones legs before another 48-hour rush for home. I sensed a general feeling of deflation and dissatisfaction amongst many of the passengers alongside a strong desire for a speedy return to home and beauty. Apart from providing a brief unrocking base for a short walk, Gjon seems to have nothing whatsoever to recommend it at all. Day 11: Last Day. I spoke this morning with a lady who had paid (for herself and her husband) a total of £3000 for the voyage, who was understandably furious to find late bookers has expended merely a third of this at the last minute for similar cabins and facilities. When asked how she rated the whole experience she replied, 2/10. She also mentioned that the questionnaire issued to all passengers for comments carried the chance of a "free cruise" draw if posted into the reception box by 8.0pm. She was making sure she popped hers into the box well after 8.00 so saying, "I wouldn't go again with C and M even if it was free!" Facilities on Board A small and inadequately stocked library comprising four arms-chairs (constantly filled) and a single desk, with books locked up at most times. Some recent-ish "House and Garden" type magazines, which appeared to "walk" swiftly from the shelves. Nearby a card room of similar size used occasionally for craft-type activities, which again stretched the available space beyond sensible limits. On the upper deck tucked somewhere under the eaves a stuffy and hot Internet Room. My one attempt to log-on involved a complicated and completely impossible to initiate password system. Get a Blackberry! Spa/Hairdressing/Massage. All untested by yours truly, but one middle-aged guest very pleased with her on-board hairdo. Quite a number of passengers have returned to the Marco Polo for this cruise as a result of previous experiences when the ship was under different managements, and almost without exception the consensus was that C a M fell far short by comparison. It seems that cost cutting by a very cost-conscious regime is contributing in large measure to customer dissatisfaction. However, for the first time cruisers I spoke to, with no points of comparison, such issues wee not raised. Entertainment C and M prides itself on a nightly range of live entertainment in two venues, and certainly some passengers were favourably impressed by this fact alone. Others complained that a recent change of management had left the entertainment basically the same, with the exception of a new Cruise Director. In this respect the present incumbent faired badly by comparison with his predecessor, and was generally considered to be both cocky and aloof, an awkward combination for someone of (at best) modest abilities. The nightly performances of popular middle-of-the-road music (Andrew Lloyd Webber et al) ranged from round one losers from X Factor, to really quite accomplished. Voices were above mere competent, and 4-6 lithe and possibly classically trained dancers in a range of skimpy costumes kept the front row (wheelchair accessible) seats well filled. An orchestra of 6-7 accomplished musicians helped the atmosphere no end, and their native eastern European repertoire was supplement by quite a few American standards, which they clearly liked playing a lot. So an overall seven out of ten on this score. Overview The Marco Polo in its current guise is basically a ship appealing to a solid working-class passenger compliment. And before readers throw up their hands in horror at the word "class" I should point out that it is precisely this which forms a very strong element in most kinds of cruise, be it in the observation or in the breach. As passengers we are housed and often fed in a tier system based on an ability to pay (or not) and even the uniforms of crew and the hierarchy of command supports the idea that we slot into a class appropriate to our wealth and station in life. If you want to be treated like a Hollywood star of the 30s, take a Princess Grill cruise on the Queen Mary 2, transatlantic. If you want to swig lager with beer-bellies from up North, Marco Polo is your ship. So this is assuredly a "value for money" cruise with the emphasis firmly on the budget-conscious. One of the problems facing C and M is that they attempt to present a Cunard or P and O type front, whilst behind the scenes cut-price catering in conjunction with staff clearly unused to British social mores mean they are failing to actually satisfy either end of the spectrum. This together with a compliment of passengers, who looked like the walking wounded from the Napoleonic Wars, means that you have to be on guard to prevent yourself simply falling in and becoming one of them and ending up being carted off in a wheelchair. One passenger who has already told me that the toast at breakfast had been a severe test of his remaining molars put it like this. "Look straight ahead, slightly above the heads of all the others, avoid eye contact, eat sparingly and carefully, bring plenty of booze on board and enjoy the ports of call". I say amen to that and if you can, leave the Zimmer frame at Tilbury. Ah well, with erupting volcanoes, I guess it wasn't so bad after all. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
Having seen this ship from the outside we were surprised at the nice inside re-furbishment. The cabin was small but we expected that. The bars and restaurnts were pleasantly decorated and spacious. We were slightly surprised when the ... Read More
Having seen this ship from the outside we were surprised at the nice inside re-furbishment. The cabin was small but we expected that. The bars and restaurnts were pleasantly decorated and spacious. We were slightly surprised when the buffet advertised was a few slices of Pizza and curled up sandwiches, however they tasted OK, although the delivery of the food and the conditions it was kept in left a little to be desired. The bar staff were efficient and drinks flowed. When we set sail it was with a little concern that the ship took about 35 feet of pierside out as she hit it!! We wondered why we were going so far up the Thames!! The evening got underway and then we nmet the waiting staff in the restaurant. They were curt unhelpful and very poor in service. They did not want to serve that was for sure!! The meal was tep-id, small and we were wondering if the bread would go around to keep us full until the morning..............the men were hungry!! The cheese was very warm and sweaty!! We enjoyed the entertainment though and the show was top notch stuff, we were very surprised and went noff to bed thinking that perhaps the restaurant would improve. It didn't!! Thank goodness it was only 3 days............what a shame though as with the nice interior, good entertainment if they ditched the waiting staff and improved the food it we would have considerd it again. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2011
To be fair right from the start, there is nothing wrong with the ship itself - it seems well kept and clean - decks areas are well maintained and bright and clean, public areas are well decorated, clean bright, and pleasant, and the cabins ... Read More
To be fair right from the start, there is nothing wrong with the ship itself - it seems well kept and clean - decks areas are well maintained and bright and clean, public areas are well decorated, clean bright, and pleasant, and the cabins (ours at least) are clean and well maintained (see first point below however).The itinerary also was well chosen and enjoyable - all our trips were extremely enjoyable, seemed well organised, and were not outrageously expensive.So whats the problem(s)? A number of points which cumulatively completely ruined our cruise, as follows ;-1. BEDS. The mattresses on our beds were so ridiculously hard that a nights sleep of any sort was next to impossible - we prefer a firm mattress, but these were police cell grad or worse. Each morning we rose feeling dor tired and with aches all over our bodies - this itself was enough to make the cruise miserable.2. FOOD. Without going into great detail the food was very poor and clearly down to a price - more like school canteen standard (and that's being kind). To make this worse the staff seemed to think that we were all in an eating race - each finished plate was whipped away as the last fork-full was in the mouth, and the next course was there (we were on the second sitting so there was no need for this). We've never eaten a meal so quickly, and asking then to slow down just meant that your food stood in the holding area for longer and thus arrived colder (apart from the ice cream which arrive melted).A complaint about the food produced the restaurant manager who (unusually) had a good command of English and mouthed apologies and soothing assurances of better to come - however nothing changed proving that he had no authority to make changes, no ability to do so,or no desire to do so (all all three).Evidence of this was that as the week progressed it got increasingly difficult to obtain a table in the alternative buffet restaurant as more and more guests seemed to be attempting to escape the main restaurant. Just why they have formal nights escapes me, as this presupposes that dinner is an experience to look forward to, rather than to be tolerated as an unfortunate necessity for life. My wife summed it up beautifully - "the first holiday that I've ever had and not put on weight".3. STAFF. Whilst the deck staff are in the main pleasant with a reasonable command of English, the same cannot be said of the restaurant and bar staff (with a few notable exceptions). They are unhelpful, sometimes to the point of rudeness, with a very basic knowledge of our language, and when asked for anything or questioned, quite aggressive in their refusal.At breakfast and lunch (open sittings) we were not asked or invited to sit at a particular table - we were told to - yes really ! A request for an alternative table was either completely ignored or bluntly refused.The only way to communicate with the staff would seem that the guests should have a good knowledge of Russian, Estonian, Latvian, and Polish. Did I just say "guests"? Not sure if anyone's ever told them that that's what we are.4. DRINKS. The wine list is ludicrously over-priced (you can drink cheaper on Cunard) - I resent being asked to pay these prices for quite mediocre wines. as an example the cheapest bottle of wine on the list is the house red, which is a really quite poor wine at the unbelievable price of £14-90p !A glass of wine in the bars which was listed on the price list as "25cl" tended to vary in amount according to who was serving it, and always less than that as far as we could see.TO SUM UP. The whole ship seems to be run for the convenience of the cruise line and the staff, rather than for the convenience of the paying guests.OUR RECOMMENDATION. If you are looking for a cheap cruise, forget Marco Polo - go instead for Fred Olsen (preferably Balmoral) - they are not much more expensive but the staff are helpful and understand English, the food's good and served properly, the drinks are very reasonably priced, and you can get a good nights sleep. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2011
Hi, we have just returned from a Marco Polo cruise of the fjords in Norway, which were beautiful.We have travelled on Cunard and Thomsons cruises in the past, so we have a bit of an idea about different standards.Marco is a small vessel, ... Read More
Hi, we have just returned from a Marco Polo cruise of the fjords in Norway, which were beautiful.We have travelled on Cunard and Thomsons cruises in the past, so we have a bit of an idea about different standards.Marco is a small vessel, holding around 800 passengers, our outside cabin was small and nothing special, clean however, but just like an overnight ferry to Holland or somewhere, not luxury at all. It was noisy and vibrated a lot, possibly as the ship is so small? The entertainment wasn't bad to be honest.The atmosphere is very casual, a little too casual to be honest, and only 2 formal nights, where a tuxedo wasn't required.The food was fairly awful to be honest, one night, an Indian theme, was fine, all the other food was poor, the coffee was dreadful, and the breakfast was sub standard.We met some nice people though, as we were shoved on a table for 8, after requesting a table for 2! we also requested an early sitting, and a double bed, we got neither.Overall, not a luxury cruise by a long shot, just like a channel ferry, we will go to the fjords again, but not on this ship! Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
We cruised on the Marco Polo about 5 years ago when it was owned by Orient Lines. It was obviously not top class, but quite acceptable for the price. Now under Cruise and Maritime (Story Cruise Ltd), it has clearly gone downhill. ... Read More
We cruised on the Marco Polo about 5 years ago when it was owned by Orient Lines. It was obviously not top class, but quite acceptable for the price. Now under Cruise and Maritime (Story Cruise Ltd), it has clearly gone downhill. The same moderate cabins with their very poor soundproofing exist, but the standard of the food has markedly fallen. Breakfast and lunch for us are generally just fruit and salad, but the choice and quality of both were minimal. Dinner is therefore important to us and our food of choice is fish. Here the quality of the fish and its cooking were uniformly abysmal. Cleanliness on board also left a lot to be desired and constantly searching for a clean glass or a cup without brown stained cracks was not very encouraging! Service from our cabin and dining room waiting staff was excellent, though many of the crew (largely eastern European), wandering about the bars and restaurants looked thoroughly bored - not unreasonable, but they should try to hide their boredom! The lack of interest extended to the (Greek) Captain who never spoke to us apart from a few words at his welcome cocktail party. The cruise was a circumnavigation of Britain, obviously passing many interesting features both on the mainland and nearby islands. With a few very minor exceptions from the Cruise Director, none of these highlights were ever mentioned. A typical example of the many 'silences' was leaving Tobermory with a superb view of the westernmost point of the British mainland near the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point, with the Cuillin Hills of Skye in the background towering above the islands of Eigg, Muck and Rum. This total lack of interest in the cruise was in particular stark contrast to an earlier cruise on Balmoral (Fred Olsen) where the (Norwegian) captain was constantly on the intercom talking excitedly about what could be seen around us. Now, some people may not be interested in their surroundings, but for many people, such as us who choose cruises based on their itinerary, the 'oversight' was inexcusable. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2011
You always wonder what a ship will be like before a cruise. Having seen the prices and ports of call for the Marco Polo, we weren't sure if an old ship was for us. Therefore, we jumped at the chance for an evening dinner, ... Read More
You always wonder what a ship will be like before a cruise. Having seen the prices and ports of call for the Marco Polo, we weren't sure if an old ship was for us. Therefore, we jumped at the chance for an evening dinner, entertainment and overnight stay. Whilst for this event they had restricted numbers to around 400, about half of full capacity, clearly the terminal at Tilbury couldn't cope. The cattle market approach together with mis-information given out by checking-in staff and a PA that you could hardly hear, filled us with trepidation. Once we arrived onboard, we were shown to our cabin. We were on Deck 5. Fortunately, we only had hand luggage. Otherwise dragging large cases over bulkheads would not have been appreciated. The corridor absolutely stunk of diesel fuel and I wonder how passengers could cope with this day in and day out. Our cabin was spacious, but very well 'used'. There were two portholes. However, to see out of them would have required certain mounteneering skills. There were only 3 channels on the old TV and they seemed to be videos on a loop system, forever repeating themselves. Given that the ship was only half full, it was very clostophobic in the bars etc. Not helped by low ceilngs and no empty seats. The food was, at best 3* or below. The entertainment, a take off of We Will Rock You, was more Pontins than West End. If you needed the loo, queuing was essential, unless you were up for a walk around the ship. For the evening meal we were allocated tables pre-embarkation. However, this system was abandoned for breakfast, when it was every man/woman for themselves. You had to queue to get a table and while you were in the scrum for food, they gave your table to another set of guests. There was no queuing system for obtaining your food or obvious area to stand while you watched guests infiltrating the scrum. They were keen for you to leave the ship but there was only a girl shouting out your Visitors Card number to someone trying to find your name on a manual list and then making a handwritten mark. All made for very long queues. This was supposed to be a Showcase to encourage future bookings. Whilst, undoubtebly, the cabins on the higher decks were better, save for one super waiter called Constantine, the rest of the crew hardly made you feel like travelling with them in the future. I'd say that they well and truely shot themselves in both feet. How they could possibly cope with nearly 800 guests is beyond my belief. Thank goodness our next cruise is NOW on a 5* ship and not a poor pretender. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2012
This was my first cruise apart from transatlantic on QM2. Boarding. Chaotic. Urged to arrive at allotted time then changed to first come first served with no explanation. Later found this was due to cleaning because of Norovirus outbreak. ... Read More
This was my first cruise apart from transatlantic on QM2. Boarding. Chaotic. Urged to arrive at allotted time then changed to first come first served with no explanation. Later found this was due to cleaning because of Norovirus outbreak. (But why did that matter?) Cabin. I booked what was described as a double more suitable for a single, whatever that means. It was the same as most other designated doubles on my deck. ie small. Only 4 drawers and 8 hangers for 45 days. No British socket. Old style TV on pedestal taking up already limited space. People walking past window could see in if a light was on. This applied to the best suites. I asked my stewardess when the Safety drill was. She showed me how to open the safe! So much for English speaking crew. She was very hard working and helpful when I managed to explain a problem. Perhaps her East European upbringing accounted for her scared look. Restaurant. Noisy. Cramped.I had to pull my chair in so that waiters could get by. Opening the pretentious menu encroached on the place settings either side. Ceiling so low you feared for waiters heads. Service very good. The company(8) at the table made the trip. I hope I didn't spoil theirs. Marcos Bistro. Small. Crowded. Hot. Appeared to be so far from kitchen that food and cutlery etc kept running out despite a stream of willing waiters. Soft drink station had fruit juice only at breakfast. Only water the rest of the day. The Tea/Coffee stations were refilled from a bucket. You had to check that mugs were clean and not chipped. Food. There was always a fair choice but I saw the same tinned fruit salad at three meals a day every day I looked. Shortage of fresh fruit. Ran out of Marmite! The outside "barbecue" was good but meant queuing. Drinks. Bar prices - ok. Wine. Very expensive. Pretty awful at all prices I was willing to pay. Marco Polo Lounge. Unfit for purpose. Eight pillars plus four at the side of the stage, alternate high and low rows of seat, ceiling so low it covered the top of the cinema screen if sitting at the back. Less than half the audience could get a clear sight line. Dreadful acoustics. Shows. Lots of song and dance themed to pop eras or artists. Amazing variety for a long cruise. Really quite professional seeing as most of them seemed to double as deckhands and tour escorts. Dress code. Widely ignored. I saw a cardigan on a formal night. No-one could explain the difference between informal and casual. Decks. No chance of a bed after 8:30 despite constant requests not to leave towels. Power walking circuit on deck 10 but so narrow past the boats that there was a one-way system. Some area somewhere always seemed to be closed for painting. Several nasty engineering related smells. Pool deck makes a lovely all round venue for a show but seating and avoiding smokers a problem. A great memory was the Caribbean farewell party with a steel band and the sunset in the background. Shore time. Information sketchy and deliberately(?) inaccurate. The existence of banks and ATMs, actually available everywhere except the Amazonian village, was positively denied in some cases. The on board exchange rate deserves the attention of the police. The maps provided were almost useless. No scale, orientation or landmarks or any indication of where the boat might be. Calling 1 1/2 miles a 20 minute walk is a bit optimistic. I suppose that statistically one day ashore in seven will be a Sunday with everything shut but accurate warning should have been possible. Tenders. Very amateur handling. Knots tying was a wonder to behold. When one ran aground, the shore hand pulled the next boat into the same spot with the inevitable result. The passengers loved it. Misc. Library tiny and only open even to return books when the librarian (very helpful) was not engaged elsewhere. Gym. I couldn't raise weights above my head without hitting the ceiling. There were recesses for the heads of people on treadmills. Reception. I lost three travel mugs, one covered in pictures of my family. I was told by other passengers that other cruise lines would have put out a call over the tannoy for something so obviously of personal value but not one was ever found. The breakdown. All power lost for 12 hours and partial for a further day. Blamed on rain getting in to the main power distribution board. V. worrying when you are crossing the Atlantic. Every one was without water, even to flush toilets, for 12 hours. After that it varied. I was without a/c or ventilation - no cabins have opening windows - for 36 hours in a temperature of over 30C. Some inside cabins were without lights. C&M response. A free bottle of house wine and permission to use the mineral water in your cabin. Overall. Seeing the Amazon was great. The crew were wonderful and most passengers fun to meet. But the Marco Polo is badly overcrowded and the facilities and organisation are completely unable to cope. There were some loyal followers, though perhaps fewer after this experience. The general view I heard was - never again. I agree. If you want to go then hurry she surely can't stay in business long. As to cruising in general. Probably never again. A cruise seems to consist of three days at sea, three queues and three hours looking through a coach window. Meeting people is the only real plus. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2012
Probably easier for people if I use a bullet point system. First the GOOD: # WEATHER FANTASTIC # CALM SEAS # MAGNIFICENT SCENERY # GREAT COMPANY AT TABLE Much of what we enjoyed on this trip did not relate/rely on the ship. The ... Read More
Probably easier for people if I use a bullet point system. First the GOOD: # WEATHER FANTASTIC # CALM SEAS # MAGNIFICENT SCENERY # GREAT COMPANY AT TABLE Much of what we enjoyed on this trip did not relate/rely on the ship. The Marco Polo is an old ship and much smaller that most. As a result entertainment is limited and the boat is claustophobic. Do not know what this would be like on a long cruise as the cabins are small and ours was on the second top deck with a view. Food improved as the cruise went on. Courses are small but there are plenty of them. We tended to dine formally as it is a bit of a cafeteria in Marco's. However, the tables in the DR are very close together which makes movement very difficult especially for the less mobile passengers. This particular cruise did have an elderly feel to it. If you want something a bit less twee then do not go on this one. THE BAD # rushed dining - they serve you very quickly which is not necessary on a cruise. # pushy staff - maybe it was just us but our waiter was pushy when it came to nominations for best staff member. We were actually still eating and I was talking when he interrupted me to inform us that we should vote for him! ( we didn't) Obviously there is pressure to be selected but a less aggressive service style and a bit more civility would pay dividends. # pressure to buy dvd/photos/cocktails etc. Everything is geared to buy, buy , buy. We have a camera thank you and can take our own photies. All in all we went on this cruise to see Norway which we did. We are not cruisers and cannot see ourselves going again. By their very nature cruises have to be organised and cruise companies have to make profits. I felt that, as cruie virgins, we were at a distinct disadvantage as to perks/costs etc. Also a cruise with an age range of 65+ carries its fair share of rude,old people who think that age in itself allows them to be pushy and ignorant. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
It is hard to categorise the Marco Polo. It is certainly not Cunard. We went on the ship as it offered an interesting two night trip to Amsterdam. We were upgraded before we left. Tilbury is interesting. We parked away from the Terminal to ... Read More
It is hard to categorise the Marco Polo. It is certainly not Cunard. We went on the ship as it offered an interesting two night trip to Amsterdam. We were upgraded before we left. Tilbury is interesting. We parked away from the Terminal to a not particularly well signposted timber warehouse a few hundred yards away and were bussed back. Odd it felt but it was under cover. The transit bus said it all with a sign at the door "no smoking, no alcohol, no greasy foods". The ship was eclectic. Clean throughout and furnishings were acceptable although its ancient heritage was obvious. Meals were adequate, just. Breakfast poor in the restaurant and self service with bacon like shoe leather and toast over crunchy. One evening meal good, one poor and the plated meal displays to help you choose enabled comparison of quantities (the display was more generous). The bars were always crowded and a lot (I mean a lot) of drink was consumed. The North Sea was bumpy and my wife had an interesting debate with reception in trying to extract some (chargeable) travel pills. They (the seasoned sailors) said it was not very bumpy. Were they trying to prove me wrong or declare I am a wimp? They did a remarkably efficient drill before sailing and the entertainment was pretty good. So if you like Queen or Roll and Roll era hits and dressing up in life jackets this is just the cruise for you The crew is mostly Eastern European with a degree of sternness often apparent or was it a lost in translation. The crew were on their last trip of the season The disappointment was the theft of two dress watches form our case when left out to be off loaded or during the process. This has never happened to us before. Although they were not Rolexes, they did have some worth. I did inform Cruise and Maritime because I felt they should be aware although I was not expecting them to compensate. I had no reply. So, apart from the theft, and some high spots (like our table companions) it was pretty mediocre and this is how I expected it to be before we went. It will have been a treat for the rather large number of keen smokers and drinkers as the duty free shop was popular, so much so that good nature deserted some travellers as they pushed and shoved in the queue. So, as I started, Cunard it was not. However in fairness to cross the channel it was a million times better than a ferry so it is in a category of its own. It does a 42 day trip to the Amazon in January. Now that is for the brave. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
My wife and I had booked a cruise to the Amazon for January 2014 on The Marco Polo and then booked the Mediterranean Gold on the Marco Polo to see what the ship was like . The ship,crew and entertainment was good but the food was awful, ... Read More
My wife and I had booked a cruise to the Amazon for January 2014 on The Marco Polo and then booked the Mediterranean Gold on the Marco Polo to see what the ship was like . The ship,crew and entertainment was good but the food was awful, for breakfast you had to ask for Weetabix in the Bistro and it came from a standard multi pack from a naked hand so much for hygiene,the sausages were vile to say the least and the bacon was served up in a large steel bowl which meant it was all stuck together and difficult to pick up, omelette's and scrambled egg were all made from powdered egg and the fried eggs looked revolting. We were on a table for eight people in the Waldorf Restaurant table 67 and by the third night there were only two people using it as the food was tasteless and bland and the meat was tough or undercooked that the six other people used the Bistro which was slightly better. I lived on soup and brown rolls and salad for the remainder of the cruise. One passenger was so disgusted by the food she tried to get a flight from Palma to the U.K. The Amazon Cruise is now in doubt and we may cancel because of the food. I do not know who wrote the review for the Marco Polo Restaurants food as it is far from the high standards of P&O or Princess cruises. I have had better food in Transport Cafes and Works Canteens Read Less
Sail Date: October 2013
This was our first cruise and we had received so many positive comments from regular cruisers on the pleasures of cruising that we thought we should give it a try. The Northern Lights was the main reason we chose the Marco Polo and had we ... Read More
This was our first cruise and we had received so many positive comments from regular cruisers on the pleasures of cruising that we thought we should give it a try. The Northern Lights was the main reason we chose the Marco Polo and had we not seen them, the whole episode would have been a complete disaster. The ship is looking somewhat tired with the carpets for example in many of the public lounges showing extensive wear. The food was of an adequate standard but nothing to write home about and the cost of a glass of wine with your meal was extortionate at £5.00. Fortunately our cabin was of a fairly good standard, being larger than some hotel rooms and had quite surprising level of wardrobe and drawer space. Our Stewardess was magnificent and maintained a very high level of service throughout the cruise. The shore excursions were somewhat of a rip off, they were expensive for what you actually received and had we done our homework before sailing, we would have made our own arrangements. Experienced cruisers on board went ashore independently and used the shuttle buses, from what they told us, they had a far better view of Norway than we did. Entertainment on board was "Butlins at Sea" - dire!! I have been told on many occasions that this cruise should not jaundice our opinion of cruises in general and that compared to other ships, this was a poor example. I hope they are correct because if I thought for one minute that this was the standard expected, I wouldn't go near another cruise no matter what the price. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2013
Just back from a trip to the Northern Lights. My second cruise with this company and what a change from the first. And the change is not good. The staff seems to have been cut back by half, the food is much worse, and the entertainment ... Read More
Just back from a trip to the Northern Lights. My second cruise with this company and what a change from the first. And the change is not good. The staff seems to have been cut back by half, the food is much worse, and the entertainment has hardly changed. We did have a passable comedy magician and a half decent actress doing a form of Shirley Valentine. We also had two lecturers, one good and one excellent but we also had this weirdo who was Matt Monros daughter, did a one hour chat with the cruise director, largely incoherently, and apparantly actually got paid!!! From chatting to staff I find out that the problem is that the company was taken over by a German/Greek company this summer. They have cut back on staff, cut wages and have began by closing the Essex office and sacking the people who knew all the decent acts, performers and lecturers. The result is that they have little or no idea what they are doing and care only about profit. Mark my words, it will get worse and the ship it seems is also suffering from a fall in standards. I lost FIVE nights sleep due to hammering, drilling, grinding and other repair noises from the engine area between midnight and 4.00am. What a way to treat passengers!!!!! On my last cruise with CMV they were a great, friendly company who cared about their passengers. Now, due to the change of ownership, they care only about their passengers wallets. There is still hope for CMV but only if they go back to their old standards SOON. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2013
our first ever cruise .. for a retirement treat and covering both Christmas and New Year heading for the some winter sun. shortly after leaving tilbury we were told to expect bad weather . no warnings could have predicted what we had to ... Read More
our first ever cruise .. for a retirement treat and covering both Christmas and New Year heading for the some winter sun. shortly after leaving tilbury we were told to expect bad weather . no warnings could have predicted what we had to endure.. and to top it all the sea sickness tablets were £1 each.. and sold without original packaging . putting the weather aside. this was not my idea of cruising .. second rate food.. cutlery and crockery .. poor décor on the ship . Shower curtains that did not do a satisfactory job of preventing water from flooding the bathroom floor. they clung to your body instead of hanging over the base of the shower., cheap towels that had seen their best. hardly any decorations for Christmas .. and certainly no Christmas , New year celebrations , thank goodness for madeira's fireworks, other wise all our days and evening were the same .. back to the weather .. the captain knew we were going into bad weather but there was nothing done to prevent accidents and to protect the safety of passengers and crew. tables were not fastened down. chairs were light weight and sitting smooth floors in some of the lounges. when the ship rocked these chairs and other heavy items that were not secured to the floor moved, causing injury to passengers. our cabins had furniture that again was not properly secured . our chest of drawers tipped over during a violent storm one night . we were fortunate that it was during the night as we were not up and about in our room. after it had been secured the drawers continued to open and close with every movement of the ship. When we were able to leave our cabins , the entertainment can only be described as Butlin's rejects.. A magician that wouldn't be able to trick a school child. was a highlight of two evening's entertainment Day time activities consisted of quizzes , quoits , and the "highlight "? chucking beanbags into a waste paper bin.. too much excitement . oh and the prizes ... who could resist competing for a MARCO POLO book mark ?? Talking of books, when did the library last purchase some up to date reference books , or indeed a recent novel?? This was an expensive holiday with budget accommodation , food and entertainment sorry but a HUGE DISSAPOINTMENT Read Less
Sail Date: December 2013
Having been on the identical cruise two years ago we were really looking forward to it. So much so we invited another couple to join us. On the plus side: - the embarkation seemed to be much better organised than the scrum of two years ... Read More
Having been on the identical cruise two years ago we were really looking forward to it. So much so we invited another couple to join us. On the plus side: - the embarkation seemed to be much better organised than the scrum of two years ago; - the acoustics in our cabin was much better than before but this was probably just luck. On the negative: - total disorganisation in the main bar area; single barman completely overran; waiters queuing to get served and many many disgruntled customers; - warm cocktails and house white wine so disgusting you could not drink it; - food in the main restaurant poor quality and haphazard service; the British cold meat served as a starter was a total joke and insult to patrons; - house white wine looks of reputable quality (Spanish) but in my opinion it is off and has been stored incorrectly - yellow in the glass; the red house is 11% abv and extremely mediocre. One night I bought the Montepulciano and this was corked - the wine waiter had no idea what I was on about. - generally the staff seemed lack any sort of teamwork; surly to each other! - the lifeboat drill was nothing like as detailed as with the previous Russian Captain. We will not go back on the Marco Polo. Principal reason is the thought of going on a longer cruise with such terrible wine and poor food.   Read Less
Sail Date: October 2014
Emabarkation from Tilbury is convenient but the long-stay carpark was a bus ride from the terminal and the timed embarkation plans went awry due to late docking of the previous trip. Our cabin (a junior suite) was spacious but the ... Read More
Emabarkation from Tilbury is convenient but the long-stay carpark was a bus ride from the terminal and the timed embarkation plans went awry due to late docking of the previous trip. Our cabin (a junior suite) was spacious but the bizarrely sloping floor made going to the en-suite at night an interesting trek in a heavy sea! The plumbing left a lot to be desired as the shower temperature control was erratic, and water emptied from the basin regurgitated in the bath with accompanying black particles and an unpleasant smell. The bath towels are small and in need of renewing as they are very thin. Marco's Bistro for casual dining was always crowded so although the food was generally much hotter than in the main restaurant it was difficult to find a seat. The food generally was good if over salty for many tastes, and the soups and fresh fruit were always of a high standard. It seems very poor in this day and age not to have water dispending stations freely available, the tap water in the cabin is described as drinkable but was highly chlorinated and frequently a faint brown colour. The entertainment was reasonable and the cruise director was always helpful and polite. The daily news sheet was informative and the information given about our ports of call both at talks and on a handout was helpfull. The excursions on our cruise were not helped by inclement weather, landslips or by the delays caused by the boat being stuck on a mudbank in Leknes harbour in the Lofoten islands for several hours. The Captain admitted it was his responsibility as he had not taken the advice of the Norwegian pilot. Many passengers were badly affected by a 'flu/cough bug and had to remain in their cabins for several days, it would have been much less irritating if the old films that were broadcast daily had specific details of the time for each restart, as this was one's sole entertainment in the cabin! The stewards were as helpful as possible and shoulld be commended for their care when people were stuck in their cabins. We were pleased that the Northern Lights were visible from the deck one evening so one of our reasons for going on this cruise was attained. The Marco Polo lounge where the evening shows and daily lectures were held has many restricted sightlines and when seen in daylight was obviously dirty with a thick layer of dust on the stage lights and a similar layer stuck to the foam of the air-conditioning system. This became apparent on the last day when all 800 passengrs had to find somewhere to sit as we had to leave our cabins by 7.00 am even though we were not scheduled to start dis-embarkation until 9.00am. A major advantage of the Junior suite was that we were among the first people off the ship, others were due to have to wait until 10.30am a very long time to hang around. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2015
The Marco Polo is sadly beginning to show its age. The ship is small compared to most other cruise ships and with 900 passengers on board somewhat overcrowded.The ship rolls continuously from side to side and in the Atlantic swell it ... Read More
The Marco Polo is sadly beginning to show its age. The ship is small compared to most other cruise ships and with 900 passengers on board somewhat overcrowded.The ship rolls continuously from side to side and in the Atlantic swell it pitches as well which does not make for comfort. During the good weather when passengers were able to sit and eat outside, the buffet facilities and the lounges coped, but as soon as the weather changed it was difficult to find a seat at breakfast or lunch and in the lounge. The food is unimaginative and somewhat repetitive, however the names for the dishes are very imaginative. In the Bistro there is always a fish dish (usually in a butter sauce), two meat dishes, and a pasta dish with something stirred through it. There are salads, although at times the lettuce was very poor, and the cucumber had seen better days (most of them in an over efficient cooler). There were usually composite salads made of pasta with meat etc. which made one think of yesterday's left overs. The vegetarian meal was often just a vegetable, not a well planned menu with protein. These meals are repeated in the Waldorf Restaurant with waiter service. There is no drinks package. A glass of wine (250ml) costs £5 and the bottle (750ml) costs £15. Other more expensive options are available. The bar services are outsourced and the staff sometimes repeatedly ask if you want a drink. When in port there is very little information available for those passengers not booked on tours (these vary in price from (£39 - £69 per person) and town maps are generally not available. The cabins are adequate, but the beds are small, very narrow and not particularly long. Entertainment is provided by a small dedicated team of talented singers and dancers accompanied by the Marco Polo Band, which is first class. There is not a show every evening and sometimes shows are repeated. When films are shown, the screen is very small and the sound is bad. The crew are mainly Eastern European and work very hard. They are an asset to the ship, and speaking from personal experience, the medical care, although expensive, is first class. There is a very good programme of painting and art activities and and guest lecturers who speak on the Amazon and wild life. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2015
CMV Marco Polo P500 Cruise March 2015 (review delayed due to poor response by CMV to valid complaints). This cruise was advertised as an “Eclipse and Northern Lights Spectacular” and we should have known that things were not quite ... Read More
CMV Marco Polo P500 Cruise March 2015 (review delayed due to poor response by CMV to valid complaints). This cruise was advertised as an “Eclipse and Northern Lights Spectacular” and we should have known that things were not quite right when the invoice had the correct dates but the wrong days of the week. Generally we found the food quality, cabins and staff helpfulness much better than we had anticipated from previous CC postings. Maybe we were lucky that the seas were kind from Tilbury to Reykjavik and the vessel was reasonably stable both ways. In general we found the Marco Polo was very pleasant considering the age of the vessel. The areas that could benefit improvement were the scanning of passengers on and off the vessel and the labor-intensive handling of luggage, both of which were certainly dated. The unfortunate problems lie with the planning. The docking location in the Faroe Islands was changed from Torshavn to Kollafjordur. Although this was less convenient, CMV finally offered a free bus service to Torshavn but the additional travel time was not appreciated. More disturbing was the change in leaving Reykjavik from 6 PM Monday to 6 AM Monday, especially as it was not clearly pointed out and came as a surprise to some passengers. This was probably a typo. Several passengers complained about this change and were given all sorts of tales about the port not having docking space but the fact remains that there was insufficient time to reach Invergordon unless the Marco Polo left early Monday morning. The main problem with this cruise was that it was advertised as “Eclipse and Northern Lights Spectacular” and it failed miserably on both these counts. The cruise was first advertised about two years before the eclipse and after quickly becoming fully booked CMV decided to add their newly acquired Magellan to attempt to view the eclipse. A total eclipse of the sun is a spectacular event that can last from a few seconds to about seven and a half minutes. Clear skies are essential and we understood that we only had about a 40 percent chance at best for this eclipse. What we did not anticipate is that CMV appeared to have no clear understanding of viewing a solar eclipse. Although CMV denies aiming for the point of maximum eclipse, a live plot of the Marco Polo course shows no deviation to seek clear skies. Many other vessels were able take the weather conditions into account and to at least see a partial if not a total eclipse. Unfortunately all the Marco Polo passengers experienced was a sudden darkening of a very cloudy sky with many not understanding what they had missed. CMV was more concerned in trying to video the Marco Polo and the Magellan cruising together rather than attempting to view totality! The Northern Lights experience was equally frustrating. Five coach loads of passengers were taken from the ship (where the moon was visible) to a dark site that was so clouded that no glimmer of the moon was present. Northern Lights tours by local companies were cancelled due to the poor viewing conditions and those from the Marco Polo should also have been cancelled. Complaints to CMV regarding the Marco Polo P500 cruise not living up to the two main advertised attractions were fruitless. Responses to specific complaints were miserably slow to non-existent. What has been learned is that any complaints to CMV regarding non-performance should be made while still aboard the vessel. Although one hopes it will not be necessary any future cruise complaints will be made before the end of the voyage irrespective of the cruise line. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2015
We chose this cruise, having been on Marco Polo three times before, for the two new locations, never visited before, of Jersey and Guernsey, on the itinerary. The disappointment that we could not call at either port was considerable, all ... Read More
We chose this cruise, having been on Marco Polo three times before, for the two new locations, never visited before, of Jersey and Guernsey, on the itinerary. The disappointment that we could not call at either port was considerable, all the more as the alternative berths secured at the last minute were Cherbourg and Rouen. We visited both of these last year and were in no hurry to repeat the experience. Instead of being an interesting cruise it was 'same old same old' and we felt that we had been conned into booking a cruise which turned out to be a different, and poorer, one. Compounding this I was unhappy the weather in Amsterdam, Bruges and Cherbourg was so horrible: wet and windy. I had a bad cough from almost the beginning, which got progressively worse throughout the six dreary days at sea. Inner cabin, gets very claustrophobic but where you'd think they might upgrade regular customers, who spend a thousand quid in six days, mostly on alcohol and cigarettes, none of which I indulge in, unfortunately it's the non-spenders who get the best treatment. Having said that, the Marco Polo is a fine ship, the staff are good and the entertainment is not at all bad. Food OK on the whole but I barely ate anything, not feeling too good. We avoided the Waldorf restaurant, deciding after three earlier cruises aboard there was nothing to be gained from sitting at a table with strangers at a set time when instead we could grab a bite in Marco's bistro, at a table for two, when it suited us. Shame they only put one of the soups on available in the Waldorf, but apart from this it's pretty much the same food. Continental breakfast in bed is a nice touch, but after four days I couldn't eat any breakfast anywhere. Room service for other food is available, at a price, and this was OK when we had it before. The cabin stewards work very hard it seems to keep the cabins nice and fresh and make the beds twice a day. Not feeling well I needed to rest a lot, but found the cabin steward banging on the door for one thing or another a constant stress. You could never truly relax. The ship is full of old people, so i suppose the evening game show ('Mr and Mrs', God help us, 'Play Your Cards Right' or 'Blankety Blank') was to be expected. It is annoying how much so many of them hog the available tables, well before an appointed mealtime, usually to get the best window seats, yet so few ever seem to buy anything. It's like endless mugs of coffee and tea with these people, and a frightful scrum for the free glass of wine offered one night (I think in compensation for missing the Channel islands out altogether). Shuttle buses are good, compared to other cruise lines. P and O and Fred Olsen are a disgrace in this regard. They are also free, which must please the penny-pinching majority on this ship. Waiting to get off the ship is a nightmare, every time. Unless you have the better cabins. Fed up with waiting for our colour of luggage label to be called we decided to wing it and got off anyway. So glad to be home. But I would wholeheartedly recommend the Marco Polo. It's still one of the best small ships out there, and if you don't get ill and can keep your costs down (unlike my boozer of a partner) you are onto a winner. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2015
Good Points: I was very impressed with the porters that met us as we got out of the taxi, before we had finished paying the driver a very helpful and polite young man had our bags out of the car, on a trolley and was whisking them away, ... Read More
Good Points: I was very impressed with the porters that met us as we got out of the taxi, before we had finished paying the driver a very helpful and polite young man had our bags out of the car, on a trolley and was whisking them away, all we had to do was get on the ship. I liked the fact that we were meet at the boarding point and escorted to our cabins. I have not experienced this when travelling with P&O or Costa. Alexander who serviced our cabin was very polite and helpful. Excursion: The organised tour of Amsterdam. The guide was informative and I found out things that I doubt would be in the normal guide books. I have been on some tours and the guide just talks and talks but this lady was informative, knowledgeable and friendly and for the price we paid it was worth every penny, especially as we didn't have to join the queue for the Anne Frank Museum. The two ladies on the shore excursion desk were helpful, polite and always smiling. Bar staff/ Drinks waiters: We only drank in the Marco Lounge and Scott's Bar but we found the staff to be very friendly, efficient and always looking around to see if anyone was waiting to be served. Now the reasons why I would not go on the Marco Polo ever again. Our Accommodation: We knew our cabin was not going to be luxurious or come with a balcony but we did look at the pictures on the site and it showed two layouts a room with two single beds that form a sort of L shape with some space for a chair and the other shows two beds parallel with room for a chair; at the end of one bed a cabinet with a TV at the other a chair by a cabinet. Our beds were parallel to each other with a cabinet between them at the end of my bed was the wardrobe and at the foot of the other was the toilet/ shower room. There was not enough space for both of us to be in between the beds at the same time and if we both sat on our beds our legs/ knees knocked together. The TV was on a shelf above the foot of one of the beds; to view it we both had to sit on my bed. The TV was old and outdated. Channel 1 & 2 often showed 'no signal', Channel 3 showed a rerun of 'Some Mothers do have them", 'Stephen Fry in America' and a nature programme amongst other things but by the end of the week I couldn't watch them a third time. If you turned the volume up too high on channel 3 there was a buzzing noise. The walls of the room were so thin I could hear the conversations of the couple in the next room. There were six hangers in one wardrobe the sort you would expect to find, wooden and detachable from the rail, in the other wardrobe was half a dozen plastic hangers obviously left by previous occupants. For two persons on a seven day trip there was not enough storage or hangers. There was no place to put our suitcase unless we stood it up in the wardrobe, standing it up would have messed up our clothes so we had to put it by the doors of the wardrobe making the room even more cramp. No tea & coffee facilities but you would have to be a miracle worker to find a place to put the kettle/ cups. The beds were hard and uncomfortable and one of the beds sagged in the middle; the pillows were thin and gave no comfort or support. The towels were thin and rough, if I had known this I would have brought towels from home. Portholes - To view out the portholes we had to stand but it was hardly worth it as each day we arrived at a port all we could see was the wall of the quay, later on the ship would rise but that meant the port staff could look down into our cabin, so a lot of the time we kept the curtains closed. We were on deck 4 - and from the noise we had to endure we assume that the engine room was directly below us. Every night was a disturbed sleep due to the banging. On the last night I went to bed at 00:15 but was still awake at 06:00 because of the noise. Food: The first night we dined in the restaurant. When we booked our trip we requested a table for two but were told the minimum was for a table of 4 on our first night we were seated on a table of 6. We prefer to have a table for 2 but was told that the minimum seating was for four persons, I saw couples in pairs in the restaurant. We ate in the Marco Bistro and I was not impressed. Breakfast - Poached eggs were rubbery and hard, mushrooms must have come from a can, sautéed diced potatoes were cold and undercooked, the bacon was either overcooked to the point it was hard but most of the time it looked undercooked; it sat in a tray swimming in fat. You would think that the food sitting under the lights and on the hot plate would have been hot, not the case, warm. Lunch/ Dinner - No real taste, vegetables and potatoes were always under cooked. The food was not appealing so a lot of the time I resorted to just eating the cold meats with some bread rolls. Late night snack - Samosa with hardly any filling, meatballs that were cold and greasy and one member of staff advised me not to take the veggie option one night as it was horrible; he was right. Tea/ Coffee - no facilities in our room so you had to go to the Marco Bistro for tea/ coffee. The coffee was in a big urn it didn't taste very nice and never came out hot, always warm. Afternoon tea - boring and unappealing. You didn't even get a pot of tea, just a member of staff with a jug of water, who would fill up the cup to the top leaving no room for the milk or the tea bag. Hygiene/ Cleanliness: You have staff waiting with hand sanitiser and there are also sanitisers just as you enter the bistro and where you pick up your dinner plate. I watched several staff collect plates from a table and either give the table a quick 1/2 swipe or just not bother to clean the table at all. Entertainment: We watched the musical show on the first night and we watched the 60's show, both enjoyable but the rest of the week was a let down. Comedian: I only saw him once, after my first experience I decided I was not going to see him again when it was advertised for later in the week. I appreciate that the other entertainment was organised to take into account the age group that made up the majority of the passengers but for a person below the retirement age there was not much to do, unless you like 'bean bag bowling', 'chair exercise' or bingo. Based on the above we will not be travelling on the Marco Polo again. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
We booked this cruise on the itinerary leaving from Leith and returning to Leith, which meant we could be off the boat and home by 1200 hours. The itinerary showed four calls Toreshaven where we would dock, Lerwick where we would dock, ... Read More
We booked this cruise on the itinerary leaving from Leith and returning to Leith, which meant we could be off the boat and home by 1200 hours. The itinerary showed four calls Toreshaven where we would dock, Lerwick where we would dock, Stonehaven where we would lie at anchor and finally Kirkwall where we would dock. We knew the boat was old so expectations were not high; in fact comfort wise we were surprised how good it was. On Sunday morning we duly arrive at Leith no ship it is in Rosyth due to a small technical problems everyone is bussed to Rosyth ah well these things happen on board we are told that the ship will be returning to Rosyth due to the tides strange? Off we go Due to commitments on our return date I spoke to the shore excursion people about getting off quickly upon our return no problem come back later in the week each time being given instructions what to do but to come back later eventually tried to arrange express departure only to be told this was no good as there were no busses to take us to Leith and the quickest way was to use a gold ticket eventually we got off the ship onto a bus where we were told that a bus had gone to Leith half an hour earlier, to add insult to it we were left sitting on the bus for 20 minutes as the bus could accommodate 2 more people. hey it is what it is Monday morning go for coffee at 06.15 yeah you can have coffee but there is no milk it's locked in a cupboard and the supervisor has the key no one can find the supervisor. Eventually turns up 07.00. Later in the week can't have a quiz because all the equipment is locked away and no one knows where the key is. By now we have read a new itinerary showing we are not docking in Lerwick or Kirkwall but are going to anchor and being tendered ashore guess what becomes a bit bouncy now we aren't going to Lerwick as it is too rough to get off onto tenders instead we will go to Ullapool. This ship has never docked at Lerwick why not tell people in the initial intinerary details as there were lots of people who a tender was not an option for. The dining room was very crowed as was the Marco Polo bistro big queues for breakfast and lunch eventually having to sit outside in very windy conditions, the quality of the food at best could be described as average. I have read other comments about the staff some were very good whilst some never smiled and seemed totally disinterested in what passengers wanted. To cap it all the girl from shore excursions desk supervising the disembarkation of passengers onto busses was moaning about the amount of luggage passengers had as we had only been away for 6 days not a good advert. I understand that it was not an expensive cruise but for us it appeared to be exactly what we were looking for however all it has done is convinced us that we won't be going with this cruise company again it could have been so much better with a little bit of effort and the company did not mess people about, I know that the company will go on telling people it has got a 95% satisfaction rate what we saw questions this as I most people we spoke too were not happy Read Less
Marco Polo Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.0 3.7
Dining 3.0 3.5
Entertainment 3.0 3.6
Public Rooms 4.0 3.8
Fitness Recreation 3.0 3.2
Family 1.0 3.2
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.4
Enrichment 4.0 3.2
Service 4.0 3.9
Value For Money 5.0 3.6
Rates 4.0 3.6

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