My husband and I just returned from the Mediterranean Highlights cruise (Barcelona to Athens) aboard the Marco Polo. The ship and the ports exceeded our expectations.
SHIP: The MP was much smaller than our previous ships, so we were a little concerned that we might be "trading down". We shouldn't have been worried, however, because the MP offered everything the big ships did with much more personalized service.
Cabin: We booked an inside cabin on the Main deck. It was very spacious and clean, although it could probably use a refurbishing. The carpet was slightly stained and the furniture scratched, but we had more than enough storage space for the two of us. I had read other reviews that indicated noise was a problem. We couldn't hear our neighbors, but we were near the funnel and heard a lot of engine noise. That was actually a bonus for us, because the rhythmic sounds, combined with the motion lulled us to sleep. Our cabin steward was very efficient, everything was clean, our ice bucket was filled every morning and evening, the turn-down service always included chocolates, and the towels were nice and thick. Television reception was limited to a few in-house channels and CNN Global and we had a phone in the room.
Food: You have a choice of two dining rooms--Raffles, which is served buffet style for all three meals, and Seven Seas, which is off-the-menu. There are two evening sittings in the Seven Seas (6:30 and 8:30). We chose the 8:30 sitting and a table for four (which turned out to be a booth by the window). The menus offered a lot of variety with a choice of three appetizers, a cheese and fruit tray, two soups, four entrees, three desserts, ice cream, or sorbets. The food ranged from good to excellent (fabulous desserts!). We had a waiter and busboy assigned to our table. They were both Filipino (as were most of the service staff) and offered excellent service always with a smile and inquiries about our day ashore. We usually ate our lunches, when we were not ashore, in the Raffles restaurant. Its buffet offered a wide range of choices, and there were also soup and pasta stations as well as a grill on the pool deck offering hamburgers, hot dogs, and italian sausages. One lunch offered barbecue items--ribs, chicken, etc. Ice cream (gelato) was always available and excellent. Afternoon tea was also served in Raffles and included a wide variety of desserts and finger sandwiches.
Amenities: The casino was small, as was the gift shop. The card room and library were both well stocked and quiet. Evening entertainment was held in the Ambassador lounge and, while not Broadway quality, were still enjoyable. I didn't use the Spa or exercise rooms, but did see a lot of people using them. It was a little cool on our cruise, so not too many people used the pool, but several took advantage of the three large hot tubs. We really enjoyed our stay on the MP and plan to cruise on her again.
PORTS: We signed up for shore excursions in each port. Many people told us it was better and cheaper to make arrangements for your own driver if you had a group of 4 or 6, but we didn't know anyone who was going on our cruise, so we couldn't make arrangements ahead of time. Some of the excursions were better than others. The most expensive one (Grandeur of Rome) turned out to be our worst one. Our guide talked non-stop about history and left us little time to actually see anything. The lunch was mediocre, and Rome was dirty, littered, covered in graffiti, over-crowded, and threatening with all the gypsies, pickpockets, and panhandlers. We are glad we went, but we don't plan to return to Rome. If we do, however, we will take the train from Civitavecchia to the Termini in Rome, then catch the Hop-on/Hop-off tour bus located near the station. It loops around the sites every two hours and lets you get off and on (similar to trolley and GreyLine tours in major US cities). Barcelona was clean, friendly, safe and easy to navigate. Monte Carlo and the French Riviera were clean and picturesque. Sorrento was quaint and fun. We took the Amalfi Coast drive and visited the towns of Positano and Amalfi Town. The scenery along the coast was spectacular, and the lunch was very good. Malta turned out to be our biggest surprise. Be sure you are on deck when the ship comes into the port. It is spectacular. The churches were unbelievable--particularly the one in the old town of Mdina. Santorini should be one of the wonders of the world, and Akrotiri is open (even though some reported that it wasn't). Athens was another surprise. It was clean, safe, easy to walk around (except for crossing streets), and the Plaka (old town) was fun and quaint. Athens is sprucing up for the impending Olympic Games so everything is under scaffolding and netting. Every place we visited used Euros except for Malta, but they had just joined the EU and accepted them even though their money is still the Maltese Lira (ML). We took everyone's advice and used ATMs for currency and did find they had the best rates. We also used our VISA card for all major purchases. Some places we went did not accept traveler's checks--neither US or Euro.
PACKAGES: We booked our own airfare because I found it on the internet cheaper, but we did take the post-cruise hotel package. We ended up at the Athens Hilton. The exterior doesn't look like much, but the room was wonderful--very modern and elegant. The taxi to the airport cost about 25 Euros. The post-cruise hotel package also included the Athens tour, one of our best ones. Our luggage was whisked off to the hotel while we were enjoying our tour and was waiting for us when we arrived at the hotel.
As you can tell, we certainly enjoyed our cruise aboard the Marco Polo and are already looking at booking another cruise aboard her next year.