MARCO POLO- ANTARCTICAWhy would anyone want to spend a week in the cold turbulent waters of Drake's Passage and the Antarctic Ocean? The answer.....an eight day cruise to Antarctic aboard the Marco Polo. We've just returned from an eight day adventure to the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the Marco Polo, a 22,000 ton ship with an excellent staff of European Officers and a Philippino crew of cabin stewards, waiters, bus boys. We had heard good things about the ship and crew and now add our positive feelings to those we had heard before our voyage.
Cruise Package......The Marco Polo plies the waters of Antarctica yearly in the austral summer months of late December, January and February. The cruise package, including eight exciting fun filled days cruising and visiting four different Antarctic locations, began January 17th with a charter flight from Miami to Ushuaia, Argentina.
Charter Flight......We did not take the charter from Miami to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, which Orient Lines includes as part of the Antarctica Peninsula package, as we had decided to spend two weeks in South America prior to the cruise. We, therefore, cannot comment first hand on the flight. We did hear, however, that it was quite acceptable for a charter flight.
Embarkation......Boarding the Marco Polo on January 19th in Ushuaia, Argentina, the Southernmost city in the world, was fast and surprisingly casual. Following lunch at Cafe Ideal, a friendly pleasant and historic restaurant located on San Martin, Ushuaia's main shopping and dinning street, we arrived at the ship, took our bags out of the cab, dropped them at the gangplank, and walked onto the ship. No tickets checked, no questionnaires to fill out. It was so simple we were a bit taken back. Although this was our first cruise on the Marco Polo, we were able to proceed to our cabin quickly and easily as the amicable crew was quite helpful in giving directions.
Our cabin, 435 on Main Deck, was a Superior Deluxe Oceanview. We found it to be quite roomy and comfortable. Although we had to pack for both the heat of Rio and Buenos Aires, and the cold of Antarctica, there was sufficient closet and drawer space to handle all our clothes.....we even had one drawer to spare. Our two large windows were wonderful. We looked out continually to view the incredibly spectacular views. The white marbled bathroom was well laid out with a tub/shower and adequate space for toiletries. One note of caution, during rough seas be careful as you navigate the foot high step from the cabin into the bathroom as a slip or trip could be quite harmful. About the ship......Small as cruise ships go, the Marco Polo weighs only 22,000 tons versus the 100,000 tons plus of the giants now sailing the seas. However, from our standpoint, it was just right for the Antarctic. Depending upon who answered our question, we were told there were between 350 and 425 passengers on board, approximately half the number normally aboard for non-Antarctic cruises. The smaller number for the Antarctic is necessary because environmental concerns limit the number of people allowed ashore at any one time to 100. A full compliment of passengers would have made it impossible to go ashore as often as we did in the four days in Antarctic waters. The Marco Polo is the refurbished version of the Alexandr Pushkin, a Russian reinforced hull vessel built in East Germany in 1967. Although our cruise was classified as an "expedition," she is definitely classy and comfortable. We were glad she was not only a fun ship but a good "sea boat" during the 30-40 foot swells and 70+ MPH wind we encountered in Drake's Passage on our return to Ushuaia. The $60 million spent to completely rebuild the Pushkin in Greece in the early 90's turned her into a spacious and stable, clean and comfortable, and very tastefully decorated liner. With her reinforced hull, she is totally suited to sail the Antarctic. There are other expedition ships which visit Antarctica, but having seen their size and style while docked in Ushuaia, there is no question we made the right decision. If you want to visit "The White Continent" in comfort, with excellent food, shows and service, have wonderful rides to the shore in zodiacs driven by experienced and informed drivers, and enjoy lectures on Antarctica given by highly qualified lecturers, The Marco Polo is truly the way to go.
The Public Rooms......were quite tastefully done and never seemed crowded. In addition to the main dinning room, the Seven Seas Restaurant, and Raffles, the cafeteria/buffet styled dinning area, one can enjoy the Charleston Club for dancing and music, the Polo Lounge for drinks and conversation, the card room, the library, the Internet area for sending but not receiving email, the casino, which seemed to be empty most of the time, or the relaxing Palm Court. Should you be in need of a massage, haircut or styling, you can avail yourself of the beauty salon....or if a workout is in your plans, there is a health club available. Although the health club is modest in size, it is definitely sufficient for the mostly 60 plus age group found on Antarctic cruises. For anyone interested in a bit of "congenial conviviality," both alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks were available in the Polo Lounge, the Palm Court, and Le Bar, the intimate casino bar.
The ships main showroom, The Ambassador Lounge, was pleasant and surprisingly comfortable with divans, chairs and ample legroom. It was the home of the entertainment aboard which we found very good. This was a bit of a surprise as we had heard the entertainment was marginal. Nightly entertainment, which included two Broadway type shows, was provided by a very competent cast of singers and dancers, magicians, jokesters and talented musicians. For a cruise ship not noted for its entertainment, we were quite pleased with the talent and shows.
The pursers office and the excursion desk area in the very modest main lobby were quite sufficient and again never seemed to be crowded.
The Crew......of European officers and Philippino cabin stewards and wait staff reflected what must be a happy environment. We found the cabin stewards and the wait staff to be extremely efficient, cheerful and helpful. It is hard to understand how they can be so good and so cheerful when you realize they work 12 to 16 hour days and spend months without a day off. Kudos to Orient Lines for hiring, training and maintaining such a wonderful crew.
Cabins.......As is true with all cruise ships, a myriad of cabins are available. In order to acquaint ourselves with all the sizes and styles, we asked to take a tour of the various types of cabins. We found all categories, from Standard Inside to Deluxe Suites, to be tastefully decorated and sufficient in necessities. Except for the two Deluxe Suites, most cabins have two lower beds, some of which convert to queen size. Most have showers which seemed larger than on other ships on which we have sailed. All had ample closet and drawer space. As the seas can get rough, a suggestion would be to book a midship cabin on a mid or lower deck. If "mal de mer" isn't a problem, any cabin on any deck which suites your pocketbook and needs would surely be satisfactory.
Food.....We are not gourmets but do enjoy a well prepared and presented meal. We were quite pleased with our dinning experiences on the Marco Polo. We ate most of our morning meals in Raffles. The buffet was usual cruise line buffet fare of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, ham, bread, rolls, etc. A similar menu is also offered in the morning hours via room service. There was a group of Japanese passengers on the cruise and they were able to partake in typical Japanese breakfasts. We don't know, however, whether Japanese food is always available or if this was specific to this cruise.