What was odd about last week's NCL announcement -- that it had sold the venerable Marco Polo -- was that the line didn't reveal which company had bought it. Now the word's out, sort of; Transocean Tours, one of Germany's oldest cruise lines, has announced that it will operate the 22,080-ton, 826-passenger Marco Polo beginning in 2008.
The actual owner has yet to be revealed.
Interestingly, the ship will retain its name under Transocean's management, presumably to capitalize on its excellent reputation. Marco Polo will depart the fleet of Orient Lines, NCL's one-ship cruise line, in March 2008 (NCL has remained mum on the future of Orient Lines). Editor's Note: Curious about this unique vessel? Check out our new review of Marco Polo.
Marco Polo will join Transocean's three-ship fleet, which will remain a trio; the vessel will replace the Arielle, originally known as Royal Caribbean's Song of Norway.
While Arielle was marketed as a "cheerful vacation island," Marco Polo will offer a traditional, upscale experience more in line with Transocean's highly regarded Astor and Astoria. It will focus on "expedition flair and classical cruises." Although Marco Polo is slightly smaller than Arielle, it actually represents a capacity increase for Transocean, as it will operate year-round, whereas Arielle was laid-up in the winter. In the words of Transocean's managing director Peter Waehnert, "The Arielle in her first season has been well accepted by our customers and travel agents. But now with the Marco Polo we have the advantage of a third deep-sea-going vessel being operated on a year-round basis and in addition the technical possibilities to also sail on exciting routes to Greenland and to Antarctica."
While the ship will spend most of the year serving the German-speaking market, an article in Seatrade Insider reports that according to Transocean's UK sales agent, Cruise & Maritime Services, the company plans on offering 14 Marco Polo cruises from London in 2008 for the British market (Arielle is operating a successful season of nine cruises there this year). This will be welcome news to many Marco Polo fans that don't speak German but wish to continue sailing aboard their favorite ship.
One interesting historical note: Marco Polo was built in 1965 as the Soviet ocean liner Alexander Pushkin, and was often chartered to Western tour operators. Those operators included Transocean Tours, who chartered the ship for five years beginning in 1979. After more than two decades, the former Alexander Pushkin will now return to the Transocean fleet.
--by Doug Newman, Cruise Critic Contributor. Newman sailed on Marco Polo in May.