We chose this cruise for two reasons, firstly we wanted to visit the west of Greenland and this is the only ice-strengthened (double hull) cruise ship that we know of and secondly it was extremely good value for money.
We were slightly hesitant about choosing Marco Polo as we had heard passengers on other cruise ships say that wouldn't travel on her (on further questioning about their experience it mostly seemed that they had never travelled on her but were going by what 'other people' had told them). I would now say to those people that they are missing a great experience.
Our choice is for smaller, older ships and Marco Polo is definitely this. She sits well in the water in rough seas, is immaculately clean and appears to be well maintained with no obvious maintenance work going on during our 3 week trip. The food was very good with choices for everyone and some of the meals were excellent - we had no complaints at all. The crew and staff were friendly, efficient and helpful and our room steward, Jose, waiter Iqbal and excursion staff Susan and Lena were absolutely excellent. Our cabin was a twin porthole cabin on deck five and it was absolutely fine - people didn't seem to care on this ship what deck you were on! There was no kettle in the cabin, which we missed - if you have a cabin with window rather than portholes then apparently you do get a kettle.
Now to the cruise. We sailed from Hull and there were also 550 people on an overnight trip from Hull to Harwich. In Harwich the 'normal' passengers joined and there were around 800 of us on the trip, mostly British but with a good number of Australians. The age range was, I would say, 90% retired - but it is not easy for people in work to take three weeks holiday. Generally people were fit and healthy and able to get around well. I would say that most people were interested in the Arctic and wildlife and visiting unusual destinations - and happy to be getting away from the heat in the UK! The onboard lecturers in Arctic matters, wildlife, photography and wellbeing prepared us well for what was ahead. There were also classes in art, crafts and creative writing for those interested, as well as the usual quizzes, knit and natter, bridge, games etc. The show company were good and worked very hard and there were excellent light classical concerts by Laurence Robinson and resident classical duo Lidia and Tatiana which we enjoyed.
Our first port of call should have been Lerwick in the Shetland Isles but due to rough weather for the tenders we visited Kirkwall in Orkney instead. This was excellent and the excursion staff did well in quickly arranging some tours. We visited Skara Brea and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our afternoon in Kirkwall was lovely and Orkney is certainly somewhere we would like to revisit.
Torshavn in the Faroe Isles was our next port of call. It was rainy here but we enjoyed a good excursion to the picturesque Saksun village. For me the call here was marred by knowing about the whale hunting that was currently taking place ... I can accept whale/seal hunting for communities where it is essential, but I just wasn't sure that this was the case in the Faroes.
The next two ports were in Iceland. Eskifjordur is a small town in the east. We had visited this area before so didn't do an excursion but enjoyed a walk around the town, you can walk up to a waterfall, and visited a beautiful modern church. Akureyri in the north is a good port to visit. We had arranged a whale watching tour privately (with Elding) and this was really good with plenty of opportunity for photographing the whales. Akureyri was very busy as there was a huge MSC cruise ship in dock too with 4500 passengers. I can recommend the Valdis ice cream shop in the main street - try the liquorice ice cream!
Greenland - generally useful information is to take layers of clothes, our temperatures varied between 6 degrees and 22 degrees in the sunshine. Also essential is mosquito repellent and mosquito nets to wear over a hat. The mosquitos here are huge! All of the towns have wonderful colourful houses and there is lots of beautiful scenic cruising between ports.
Tasiilaq was our first port in Greenland. There was thick mist when we arrived but we went ashore and the mist lifted to reveal colourful buildings and huge icebergs in the fjord. There were no organised excursions here but we knew that there were some walks here, for the energetic over the hills to a lake and for the reasonably fit a walk to the 'Flower Valley'. The wild flowers here were stunning, as was the cemetery. Unfortunately there was a lot of rubbish around - I understand that they only incinerate rubbish in Greenland with no recycling facilities so rubbish is a problem in places. Good ice cream at the red shop with the destinations finger post (you can't miss it) and good quality tupilak souvenirs in this shop too. We saw our first husky dogs here - they are working dogs and are chained but they seemed happy enough.
Narsarsuaq was the port for an amazing excursion in the Qoroq Ice Fjord. This was stunning and I can't recommend it enough. We were in a small local fishing boat, just 8 of us, and we were dwarfed by the huge icebergs, getting close enough to touch them. The fisherman then took us to glacier that the icebergs calved from, shut off the boat engine and we sat there in the absolute quiet, it was wonderful. In the afternoon we were tendered to the quayside and walked to Narsarsuaq, a good 20 minute walk (there was a small minibus for those with limited mobility). Here there is a hotel with a cafe, the Blue Ice Cafe with a shop (and wifi), a small museum and an airport. There are longer walks for the energetic.
Sisimiut is Greenland's second city, but more the size of a town. It is a pleasant town to walk around with a supermarket, clothes stores etc. There were good quality souvenirs in the hotel gift shop (near the museum). I understand there is wi-fi at the library. The museum here looked very good but as it was sunny we stayed outdoors and had a good walk around the city. There are longer walks for those interested. Near the harbour there was a workshop where you can see Tupilak being carved and the amazing Quivet (musk oxen) yarn being knitted - the yarn costs £60 ball!
Kangerlussuaq was a tender port and, as the tide was low and the mud flats high, the tender boats could only take 25 passengers at a time. This did cause some delays in getting off the ship and in particular getting back later in the day when some passengers had to wait an hour to get a tender back, but for me it was worth it as we got to do an excursion to the stunning Russell Glacier. We travelled in a tundra bus for about an hour - it should be noted here that the roads are very rough and some of the buses not too comfortable. The scenery was interesting and in places really beautiful and the glacier was just awesome. We didn't actually stop in the town but Greenland's largest airport is here and there was a selection of shops.
Nuuk is Greenland's capital city - but probably not like any capital city you have visited before - and it is easy to get around on foot. Almost a quarter of Greenland's population live here. There are 62 miles of roads here - none of the communities in Greenland are joined by road - and it is quite a shock to be back in traffic, not that it was that busy. It is the administrative centre for Greenland and there are many shops here with everything you could need and also the Greenland National Museum - most of the places we visited in Greenland had small museums but this was the only one that we visited and it was excellent. The Qilakitsoq mummies are here.
Qaqortoq back in the south was our last Greenland port of call. It is a small town easy to walk around with longer walks if you want them. There is tourist information, which is also a shop and there are about 40 sculptures and rock carvings around the town. There is a lovely small church and a small valley alongside it with flowers. There is a well-stocked supermarket here too. Should you wish you can also visit a factory shop near the harbour where seal skin products are for sale.
After two days at sea we had a day in Reykjavik. As we have spent time here before we didn't do an excursion but walked from the berth to the city centre (about an hour - £18 return on shuttle bus provided by port). We went to the Harpa cultural centre (free wi-fi and free toilets here - not always the case in Iceland!). We watched a good short film about Iceland and then had a good walk around the harbour area where there are various museums and food shops - was pleased to see another branch of the Vardis ice cream shop opposite the maritime museum for my fix of licorice ice cream!
I should perhaps mention that one night in Greenland Marco Polo did 'bump into' an iceberg! We did have two ice pilots on board and I believe there was just no way around this iceberg. There was a bit of a bang and scraping of the ice and everything fell over in the cabin, but actually it was fine and this is almost certainly due to Marco Polo being such a strong ship. The company did take it seriously and specialist divers did check the hull while we were in Sisimiut but all was fine and our journey continued without further incident.
I hope that this has given a good impression of our Marco Polo cruise with some useful information on the ports - this was difficult to find before we travelled as there are currently no guide books available on Greenland.
Our conclusion was that this was an excellent trip and we will definitely be looking out for Marco Polo's more interesting itineraries in the future - rumour has it that Cruise & Maritime may be selling her and I sincerely hope this isn't the case, think they should market her as an heritage ship.
This cabin was fine. Two portholes and comfortable beds. Adequate shower room. Desk and further chest of drawers. Good wardrobe space. No kettle!
Stopped here for other cruisers to embark. Berth is quite a way out of the town, but adjacent to the Station. With hindsight we should have taken the bus or train into the town as other people had enjoyed this - we just walked to Morrisons!
This was an excellent port. Loved the excursion to Skara Brea. Kirkwall itself was lovely with a cathedral and good range of independent shops - lots of local jewellery available.
Interesting port to visit and worth being on deck for the approach as there are often whales in the fjord (if right time of year). Berth walkable to town centre. Interesting cathedral and nice walk past here to botanical gardens. Famous ice cream shop about 20 minutes walk out of town but we went to Valdis in the main street - yummy!
We had booked in advance a whale watching trip with Elding and it was very good - can recommend.
Have visited Reykjavik before and done the normal excursions so this time we walked from the ship (berth about an hour's pleasant walk along coast or £18 return on shuttle bus provided by port) to the harbour area. Harpa cultural centre is a good stop for film on Iceland, shopping, free wi-fi and free toilets (not always the case in Iceland!). Harbour area is interesting with several museums/galleries and interesting eating places (including my favourite Valdis ice cream opposite maritime museum!)