Review Marco Polo -- North Cape Explorer 15/6/2008 - 27/6/2008
We are a newly early retired couple, and although our cruising experience is of only 3 years, that time has involved extensive cruising of 3- 4 weeks each of those years. We have previously sailed on Marco Polo for 3 weeks just 12 months ago. At that time this ship, (and it was the only ship in the fleet) was owned and operated by Orient Lines, which in turn was owned by NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines)
Our previous reservations on this ship were initiated by the itinerary offered, and the actual on-board experience left little to be desired. The condition of this old ship, and the great crew added to our positive experience. This year, the Marco Polo saw an ownership change to a Greek consortium, which now leases the ship to Germanys Transocean Tours. Part of the year, the ship will sail from England, and part year from Germany.
We noted that when the change was mooted, that many basic itineraries of the Marco Polo would remain the same, and since we were keen to do this North Cape, and a Baltics Cruise this year, we decided to try the ship under this new ownership.
Of course, we knew that with the change of owners, other changes would take place, but uncertain of what they would be. We are very easy going, and easy to please people, who believe in giving everyone a fair go.
We know that there are thousands of Marco Polo fans, and know of many through groups such as this. Some have heartfelt expressed that the Marco Polo is now dead since NCL don't own it. We have never written and published a review previously, but were asked on the boards to do so next time we sailed on Marco Polo. So, this is our report.
Some people had expressed a view that MP was about to die.
How untrue that perception is. I would hazard a guess that this old girl has seen changes of owners and crew many many times over. It is different, thats for sure, but change is not always negative. We attempt here to be unbiased and not confusing our wonderful old experiences, with this new one. We only mention the differences, so that old MP'ers can picture what we mean.
BOOKING - RESERVATION
In our few years of booking cruises, we have, without fail, experienced problems along the way. "On shore" Staff generally convey a complete lack of knowledge about the products they are selling, and an enquiry can get 3 different answers from 3 different people. Emails are never answered, and trying to contact Customer Service, almost impossible. Complete indifference??
Well, booking with Transocean UK's South Quay Travel/Cruise and Maritime Services, is a breath of fresh air. Since we live in another country in a vastly different time zone, email is our best means of communication. The different people we dealt with at Transocean UK, ALWAYS, without fail, replied to any query, concern, and situation we had, before payment, after payment and both pre and post cruise. We left a messages at night, and we had a reply waiting when we awoke next morning! We cannot remember EVER giving anyone a perfect score for ANYTHING, as we feel there is always room for improvement. Not so here. Congratulations, and thank you Transocean UK.
We chose the Transocean coach transfer from Victoria London to the Port at Tilbury. This must be booked early in the reservation process. That was a great option for us, because our luggage was loaded onto the bus, and the next time we saw it, was in our cabin later in the afternoon. The cost was also extremely effective on the pocket at a cost of GBP 10 RETURN.
After arrival at the port it was just a matter of minutes before our room steward(ess) showed us to our cabin, and we headed of to find some sustenance, after a long morning.
Another year older since we were last on board, and many changes of whim or convenience and maybe law, have been made by the operators. New passengers experiencing MP would not notice. The Casino is no longer,and replaced by a new (additional) lounge/bar. The names of most of the bars, lounges and decks have been changed, which caused us confusion at times, so talking among ourselves, we mostly used the names that we were familiar with.
Although Transocean has only had the ship for a couple of months, we feel that the time and money spent doing the above changes, would have been better spent on priority maintenance. Obviously someones priorities out of whack, but the neglect is obviously that of NCL after they had sealed a sale. Of particular note is the condition of the back pool deck. Holes, cracks, missing bungs etc. One can see where short sections have been properly and professionally replaced over the years, but now it is becoming a cobbled together mess. Bits of ply wood nailed over some holes, and some rotting plank sections that are dangerous. (inch deep holes and cracks).
Also noticeable, although not as pressing as an issue, is the "mix and unmatch" carpet arrangements. Rather than replacing worn carpets, only pieces have been replaced in a patchwork manner. Stairs, for instance, have a patchwork of two different blues, amongst other threadbare unreplaced tread sections.
A few other things need attention, but we should give Transocean a bit of time to get around to them before comment.They should do it sooner rather than later, before too many negatives. Passengers are talking about them, apart from possible injury.
The crew under the new ownership has now changed from predominantly Filipino, (as are other NCL ships), to mostly Eastern European. They are helpful and friendly, although many (apart from officers), appear to be new in this industry. English is a second or third language to many, and there is difficulty for them sometimes to understand all the different accents and dialects they have to encounter. It seems as if there a quite a few waitstaff that are apprentices, or are students doing a temporary work. We eventually get the message through without drama. Our room stewardess was great. always one step ahead of us, and preempted our needs. When we disappeared, she instinctively must have know, and did a wonderful job in looking after us from day 1.
Bar Waitstaff were there when you wanted them, and not "in your face" every 5 minutes as suffered on some previous cruises.
DINING and THE FOOD
Main Dining Room is now called "Waldorf" and the buffet is "Marco's Bistro"
The "hard line" formal, informal, and casual is also now adjusting to a more relaxed form as it is on many lines. The dress code is now published as "suggested" for that evening. Those who wish to "dress up" are free to do so. It seems that not a lot are interested in such things on an itinerary like this one. Most people we spoke to felt the same, in that they are here to adventure in the world, and not to do things they can do at home.
Our main dining room waiter was very efficient, and always got it right. Others at times, often made mistakes with delivering wrong food to wrong tables, or did not deliver what was ordered.
The menu always had plenty of choices that should have satisfied everyone. There was basically a fish, a red meat, and a white meat dish, plus vegetarian option, at each meal time. Food was served promptly, was well presented, was hot (or cold when it should be), and at dinner, samples were displayed on a table to view before entering the dining room.
We only ate in the buffet when we only wanted a very light lunch or breakfast. Breakfast in the dining room is confusing with part buffet, and part service. One learns processes during the cruise. And procedures changed on our last day. It seemed that different staff had different procedures, it was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. It could be language and communication difficulties between staff. On the first day, no one seemed to offer to take an order until one asked one of the many waiters running around with coffee, tea and juices.
If, for instance you want fried eggs rather than scrambled from the buffet, you were supposed to ask a waiter. He then brought you eggs. You were told to go to the buffet for anything else. One then waits through the line to get bacon, tomato and any other offerings. In the process, you find that there is no toast there, only bread. You then return to your table, and later informed that you order toast from a waiter, or they automatically place it on your table. On the last day, the waiter taking the order ASKS what we wanted on the plate with the eggs, and did all that work for us. We hope they can sort this minor, but annoying communication problem.
A major issue with us is the Hygiene enforcement / encouragement now on this ship. On all previous cruises, on first embarkation, and each time re-boarding, we have been asked to use the hand sanitizers at the gangway.
Not so on Marco Polo these days, in fact all through the cruise this facility was never available on reentry. sanitizers are at entry doors to restaurants, but with no one manning the doors or the start of buffet lines we witnessed that they were mostly unused. To staff, we reported empty sanitizers plus people seen leaving toilets and marching straight to self serve. Personally experienced person yesterday push past me whilst I was using the device, and go straight to handling bread rolls before choosing one!!!! Since now that there are more self serve open table lines at lunch in main restaurant, we can see problems looming. Have all our other ships been wrong? Or is this non sanitizer thing a British/European thing?
ENTERTAINMENT Showroom Shows
Outstanding - Brilliant - Fantastic - Best Ever
Not many words can describe the troupe of Russian performers that have been hired to do shows in the main (ex Ambassador) lounge. (now Marco Polo Lounge). The 15 or so singers & dancers are so very obviously a very highly trained and rehearsed troupe, giving two performances per night,and a different show each night. Energy plus, with multiple and glitzy costumes, gave the lounge a professionalism of a caliber we have not seen here,or on any other ship before. Although we have previously enjoyed shows on MP, (and they were good), these guys make the others seem insignificant. They are backed by the Marco Polo Orchestra which is a band of 5 - 6 members. Truly, top class worlds best, kinda stuff!
Mostly great, including performances from two brilliant and professional Russian girls. A pianist and violinist, playing both as solo acts and as a duo. They provided a pleasant break from the somewhat loud additional entertainment you often get. At night, the entertainment in the Scotts Bar (ex Charleston) was from excelsior Trio. This groups lead vocals are provided by Kate Sharman, a singer whose arrangements and voice bring cruisers a unique and pleasant way to end a day. She copes with all genres of music extremely well, and created quite a fan base on this cruise, and I'm sure we will see her on this ship for as long as she wants to be on board.
CD and the Activities team
Cruise Director, Richard Sykes has it pretty easy with a great entertainment line up and his very active activity staff. There should be no reason to complain about any area of the whole teams work. All the normal cruise ship stuff, like quizzes, TV type games, tournaments of different types, and of course BINGO. Richard also organized guest speakers, and led a few amusing Question/Answer sessions on different subjects in the showroom on some afternoons, particularly sea-days. Also, some daytime and late night entertainment included Richard himself. He is a great pianist/entertainer in his own right.
It was a refreshing change for us to learn first up that ALL bingo proceeds are returned to the Winners of each game session. The secrecy of how much rake off in fees commission, and the actual percentage return to winners does not become an issue. At a cost of GBP5 per session, most pay outs were actually larger than what was being returned on our previous cruises, where people were spending up to $US80 EACH per session to play.
Highlight of entertainment was partying on back deck with the band, in the sunshine, and sailing away at 2-3am in the morning.
The itinerary is the reason we cruise, so we can only report that we enjoyed the ports each in their own special way. Highlights of the cruise were to be, and were, cruising the Fiords, the North Cape with the Midnight sun (which actually did not set until 3 days later on our way back south). Also of particular note was Cruising Svartisen Glacier.
Although many excursions were offered, we only opted for two. Almost everyone did the North Cape Midnight one, since that was the main reason for our cruise. We did not hear any negative comments from anyone doing excursions, apart from how expensive they were. That seems to be a complaint that we hear on each cruise, but with Norway having the economy they enjoy, EVERYTHING is expensive here.
THE EXPERIENCE SUMMARY
Still a great ship to us, as we particularly like the size, and the itineraries available.
The reservation/ Customer service based out of London is great. By far the best we have ever had from any cruise ship line.
The North Cape Itinerary was all as expected.
Excursions were as described and sold.
Food was good to very good.
No rip off bingo.
Entertainment was the best ever we have experienced on a cruise ship.
Condition and wear and tear in parts of ship. One wonders and hopes that attention is being given to the parts we CANT see.
Communication between service/wait staff themselves and their management must be wanting. This in turn comes down to confused customers as well.
Sanitation may not be an issue to the cruise ship, but it is to us. We simply do not trust other passengers Hygiene habits, and Transocean should not trust them either. Obvious enforcement/encouragement is a must.
No more happy hours. This used to get party time going each evening, and on sailaways! Sad!
We normally have signed up for (wireless) internet access. New provider has priced themselves out of our market, and looks like most others too. The internet cafe used to be packed most days. We certainly didn't sign up, and every time we have walked past the cafe, there has obviously been no takers at the new pricing.
WILL WE CRUISE TRANSOCEAN AGAIN??
Yes, we have no regrets in what we have just experienced, and we will be returning in 3 weeks time to cruise the Baltic Capitals Itinerary. We just hope that we can see improvement in our areas of concern after the new team gets it more "together"