I had not read any member reviews of the Marco Polo before booking our cruise around the British Isles (Celtic Explorer) a few months earlier, and had chosen the ship on its itinerary, its Tilbury start and end port, and convenient dates. Having cruised twice before over the last five years (with Voyages of Discovery and Royal Star) my husband and I were looking forward to his cruise. However, from the moment we entered the Marco restaurant for refreshments before sailing we realized that this cruise was going to be different. Most of the crew are Ukrainian or of Eastern European origin and do not have a good command of English. Worse still, they are very surly and abrupt in their dealings with passengers and obviously have no idea of customer service. That first afternoon we found it impossible to get a cup of tea despite asking a waitress several times over the course of half and hour, and in the end went out onto the pool deck and served ourselves from the self service area. We put this lack of interest down to embarkation day chaos and fully expected the situation to improve. Unfortunately it didn't and in some areas things went from bad to worse. Of course there were notable exceptions, one of whom was our cabin stewardess, Vera, who tried very hard to make us feel welcome.
CABIN: Our cabin was a good size with plenty of wardrobe and drawer space. The shower was a hit and miss affair, one minute it was freezing cold, the next scalding hot. It took a while to get used to this and know when to leap out of the way and wait for the temperature to stabilize again for a brief period. Then we had a mini-flood in the bathroom - the water from the shower drained into the main bathroom area instead of into the outlet pipe and there was over 2 inches of water slopping around. This was reported immediately to reception who promised to send an engineer to investigate. After half an hour and no sign of help and the bathroom still under water we contacted reception again. This time our problem was overhead by one of the few English staff on board (part of the entertainment team) and he advised us to get the cabin stewardess to mop it up with towels until the blockage was found. While Vera was mopping up the promised engineer arrived, ignored us and informed Vera that it was the 'physic' of the ship and was due to the listing of the ship (we were under sail and we were at an angle). And that was that! Obviously we knew that all 200 or so cabins on the starboard side of the ship could not all be under water, but this demonstrated the attitude of the general staff. We had to report the problem again the next day and this time three technicians looked at the system and pronounced it okay; certainly the situation was never as bad again. DINING: The main restaurant, the Waldorf was fine overall, although we were a little disappointed some nights with the poor choices on the dinner menus. Lunch and breakfast were as expected and the kitchen produced some good soups and lots of lovely bread and rolls. Table service was generally poor, especially with the waiter assigned to our dinner table. He was surly throughout each meal, did not give people enough time to make their selections and had no idea on which side to serve the dishes. Fortunately our 4 table companions were great company and we all enjoyed our meals and didn't let our waiter's attitude upset us. The self service bistro was truly dreadful though - unappetizing platters of luke warm food, and after one attempt at eating lunch there we abandoned the meal and went to the Waldorf.
SERVICE: As mentioned several times already this is the area that really lets the ship down. On our previous cruises we have been fortunate enough to be served by Filipinos and they are always very friendly, efficient and go out of their way to ensure you are having a good time. This is not true of the East Europeans and they appear to think that serving passengers is beneath them. Service was always slow, rude at times (during disembarking and embarking at port stops the security staff never acknowledged the passengers and usually talked to each other in Ukrainian over passengers heads)and slovenly. On several occasions we found stacks and stacks of dirty cups and plates on the pool deck with no-one interested in taking them away. Needless to say there was often a shortage of fresh crockery! MANAGEMENT: During the whole 11 day cruise we only saw the captain once and that was at the Gala evening several nights after the start of the cruise. He did not smile or speak to anyone when they were introduced and just acknowledged us with a curt nod. He only dined once at his table throughout the cruise and on that occasion his companions were relatives and friends of the crew that were aboard. There were no daily announcements from him at all, nor was he ever to be seen again around the ship. With an attitude like that from the captain it is not really surprising that the rest of his crew were so unwelcoming. The notable exception in this area was the English cruise entertainment team who were always friendly and made a point of greeting and chatting to passengers.
ITINERARY: It was a good itinerary (just a pity that we were not able to anchor in Jersey as scheduled), and the shore excursions appeared to be generally good value. The information sheets given out for each port were comprehensive and very useful. The tender procedures were very poorly managed and at one stop (Stornoway) independent passengers had to wait over an hour in the gangways before they could disembark. Tour passengers had begun disembarking an hour before the time slot given to independent passengers (around 300 or so) so it was very annoying being made to queue up for so long. The delay in getting off the ship left us with just 3hrs on the island.