My wife and I chose this cruise to the Baltic and St Petersburg because we wished to enjoy the experience of visiting the ports to which the ship was destined - in particular St Petersburg, which we had never visited. As my wife is disabled and dependent on a manual wheelchair to move around, it was important that at each port of call we would be able to go ashore and to journey around that location, even though we understood that we would not be able to make us of the various coach trips offered, as none of the coaches would be wheelchair-accessible. We took care to ascertain that at each port the ship would berth alongside, so that nowhere would disembarcation involve having to use a tender to get ashore, and also that the 'Marco Polo' had side loading ports through which the quayside could be reached by appropriate gangways.
Let me first say that the facilities aboard were superb, and we were highly delighted with both the cuisine and the accommodation provided (we had booked an accessible cabin, one of only two such aboard the ship, having explained the nature of my wife's disabilities). We were pleased with everything aboard the ship, including the friendliness and help provided by all officers and members of the crew. The cabin was excellently and comfortably equipped, and both the cabin stewards and the catering staff provided exemplary service throughout the voyage. Because this is an elderly ship, the thresholds from one part of the ship to another were sometimes rather prominent and thus difficult to cope with in a wheelchair, but we accepted this as an inevitable consequence of the ship's construction. We have been on other cruise lines' ships in the past, and found that the 'Marco Polo' compared well with our previous experiences aboard P & O and Thomson.
The grave problems which emerged, and resulted in our having to give an 'average' raing to the cruise in spite of the excellent features mentioned above, is that we found it impossible for my wife in her wheelchair to disembark from the ship at either St Petersburg (our primary reason for choosing this cruise) or at Stockholm. The reason was that at both ports, instead of a ramped gangway which we could have negotiated, and which was used at the other four ports of call during the cruise, at these two ports mentioned above the ship deployed a stepped ramp which could not be negotiated in a wheelchair, even with my own assistance. Thus we were unable to make the planned shore excursions together, and my wife was compelled to remain aboard the ship at both ports throughout their stay, and was unable to go ashore either in Russia (where we had pre-booked a private tour of the Hermitage) or in Sweden. As the only passenger who was dependent on a wheelchair for getting around, she became the sole person aboard who was denied any opportunity of disembarking from the ship at either port.
It is thus clear that this ship, while it has adequate facilities for the disabled passenger in the two disability-eqipped cabins aboard, is totally unsuitable for any person who is dependent upon the use of a wheelchair for going ashore, even with the full-time assistance of her (or his) spouse or carer - a total disappointment which ruined our holiday. What makes it worse is that we were given no warning of this eventuality until six weeks before the sailing day, at which there was no opportunity to cancel the holiday without losing all that we had paid (we had paid the costs for the cruise entirely by the end of the previous December), and even then we were only told that use of the stepped ramp was a possibility, not a likely scenario.
Excellent, comfortable and well equipped