Marco Polo Cruise Review by johnwillimas
- Sail Date: May 2017
- Destination: British Isles & Western Europe
We chose this trip primarily because of the round-Britain itinerary and the cruise certainly delivered on that. Of all the stops only one - Inverness - was so-so and the remainder were interesting places well worth visiting. Trips were reasonable value allthough at several locations we did our own thing. Useful to know - English Heritage membership gets you into Edinburgh Castle for free, travelling independently to visit the Book of Kells in Dublin was MUCH cheaper than the organised trip and very easy (we were very glad that our trip booking was cancelled due to lack of numbers).
Embarkation at Bristol through the giant shed that masquerades as a Cruise Terminal was a bit shambolic but car parking was conveniently close and we only had half an hours queueing to get through to the boat.
First impressions of the boat were, yes it's old but its clean and well maintained. We found it stable - although we didn't have to contend with more than 3 metre seas - and reasonably quiet. Our cabin was roomy and beds were comfortable. Shower / bathroom a little tired perhaps but I've seen plenty worse in hotels.The cabin service stewards couldn't be faulted for helpfulness, friendliness and efficiency. Public rooms are comfortable. Bar prices seemed reasonable and service was prompt and friendly.
We were less happy with the food. Not bad but not great and rather samey. Same menu in both the table service and self service restaurants. Some curious menu choices : quite a lot of curry (OK by me but some might not find this good) and on one evenng two dishes (prawn cocktail and one of the salad options) served with Marie Rose sauce. The gourmet evening - a taster menu with accompanying wines - didn't live up to its "Master Chef" aspirations and while it was enjoyable I wouldn't rate it as good value for £40 each extra). Often it seemed that the ambition of the chef outstripped the ability of the team to deliver, both on this menu and on other occasions. I don't think there's a place for a jar of pre-made sauce ona fine dining menu - just put it in a dish for heaven's sake, and if you're going to serve breseaola with a balsamic glaze make sure all the servings have it so chef doesn't have to apear from the kitchen with his squeezy bottle of glaze to fix a serving there on the table. Breakfast was the usual cheese / ham / cheese / bread / fruit / eggs / hot buffet etc but very much the same thing each day and lunch depressingly similar to breakfast. Afternoon tea - didn't really need this and thank goodness - had some of the driest and curliest sandwiches I've seen since the bad old days of British Railways station cafes. No tea or coffee making facilities in the cabin but tea is always available in the lounge and coffee too (though I'll confess to not liking the 'stewed in an urn' variety found almost everywhere). Espressos / americanos available from the bar cheaper than Costa, so nothing to complain about there.
They run a two sittings for dinner arrangement with allocated tables. This was OK, except on our table one couple preferred to eat in the self-service almost every night meaning our table of eight was usually a spread out table of six. Sometimes its nice to eat with the folk you have met up with during the day. I must confess we prefer the approach used on Star Clippers which is based on open seating. Breakfast too in the table service restaurant is based on filling tables up as you enter, so its pretty hard to get a table for just the two of you. Breakfast, lunch or dinner in the self service restaurant could involve a wait for a table to become free. It wasn't that it was bad but it was the first cruise I've come back from without putting on any weight.
Didn't try the entertainment - we weren't encouraged by off-key playing in the bar - but the lecture origramme (an RSPB bird expert) was interesting and the one we attended excellent.
One problem with the boat was that due to the weather - a cool English spring - most of the passengers were inside almost all of the time. That made public areas crowded. It was dificult to find quiets spots to read or study (as we tend to). A crowded boat also tends to make people less conscious of other's sense of private space, so we often found people plonking down next to us without so much as an "Is this free?"
Disembarkation for organised trips / independent travellers was shambolic. Part of the problems seem caused by the fact that with an elderly passenger list many folk need assistance and gangway / tender handling generally seemed a bit haphazard and not well coordinated with passenger announcements. Getting off at the end of the cruise was rather better organised and we were on our way within a couple of hours of docking and ahead of the schedule that we were given on board.
Generally I didn't get the "one ship" feeling you get on Star Clippers. This may not be fair but it felt to me like the individual departments on board were just getting on with their own thing without really acting as a team for the benefit of the passengers.
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