NCL Says Sayonara to Marco Polo

June 4, 2007

Norwegian Cruise Line, owner of Orient Lines, the one-ship company that operated Marco Polo, has sold that venerable vessel. The 42-year-old Marco Polo, one of the oldest ships currently in operation, will depart the fleet March 23, 2008.

Oddly enough, the buyer was not identified in NCL's announcement today though Colin Veitch, president of both lines, is quoted as saying that "this unique ship will, from the summer of 2008, have a new lease of life serving a new market under an established brand." Also not addressed is the future of Orient Lines -- which will be ship-less after Marco Polo departs.

The news was not entirely unexpected -- new Safety of Life at Sea regulations beginning in 2010 will hasten the departure of older cruise vessels for which it is not economically feasible to spend millions to bring them up to heightened safety requirements. However, it still came as a disappointment. Cruise Critic Contributor Doug Newman, who ironically just returned from a European cruise on Marco Polo, writes, "She is the best little ship in the world! More importantly, she has the best crew on the planet. Even if they will also go to other NCL ships, it is very sad that they will be broken apart as this ship is like a family -- and I include passengers in that.

"Now I am part of that family too and soon it will be all over."

There's still time for those who want to get a taste of a ship that dates back to 1965 (and stay tuned for Newman's new review of Marco Polo for Cruise Critic). Built in Germany and christened the Alexander Pushkin in 1965, the ship first cruised in the Russian Far East and later sailed regularly between St. Petersburg and Montreal. Built for long distance cruising, it was designed with an ice-strengthened hull enabling it to navigate Arctic and Antarctic waters. Orient Lines, created by cruise entrepreneur Gerry Herrod (who now owns Discovery Cruise Line), purchased the ship in 1991 and renamed the ship the Marco Polo following an extensive $75 million refit during which it was completely rebuilt. It ultimately set off on its maiden voyage in November 1993 and since then has continued to offer itineraries that genuinely span the globe.

Orient Lines was acquired by NCL in 1998.

Marco Polo's final cruise will be a March 2 repositioning from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon. Orient plans to feature a series of special farewell season events leading up to that last voyage and says details will be forthcoming.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor