New U.K. Cruise Line Charters Marco Polo, Ocean Countess

August 13, 2009
Marco Polo Cruise Ship (5:20 p.m. EDT) -- A new British cruise line, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, will launch in January 2010 -- bucking the trend of floating resorts on mega-ships for classic cruise style. The line will join the likes of Voyages of Discovery and Saga Cruises, British-based lines that serve more mature travellers and emphasize itinerary choice alongside traditional cruise offerings, such as assigned dining and cabaret-style entertainment.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages will offer year-round ex-U.K. itineraries on two chartered ships:

The storied 22,000-ton, 820-passenger Marco Polo will be the first ship to join the new fleet. Marco Polo will begin operating for Cruise & Maritime Voyages on 2 January 2010 with a new livery and a winter programme from Tilbury to the Amazon, Orinoco and West Indies, followed by Nordic cruises to Scandinavia, the Baltic, Russia, Iceland, the British Isles, the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands.

Currently, Marco Polo is sailing for Germany-based Transocean Tours (also on a charter). The ship has catered to the British market during the summer, with the ship serving mostly Germans the rest of the year. Because Cruise & Maritime Voyages will take over chartering the ship before the last originally scheduled Transocean sailings, passengers booked on Marco Polo with Transocean Tours may be impacted. Specifically, all sailings after the 32-night West Indies cruise departing from Tilbury on 6 October 2009, including the full winter Antarctica season, have been canceled. (Note: A new 15-night Canary Islands cruise has been added from Bremerhaven on 8 November 2009 for the German market during the gap between the 6 October Tilbury cruise and the rebranding.)

Passengers booked on cancelled sailings will be offered compensation or a chance to rebook, according to Paul Foster, a spokesperson for Cruise & Maritime Voyages. "What we plan to do next week is to send out more details on the Cruise & Maritime Voyages fares and itineraries," Foster says, "and at that point we'll send information to the affected passengers."

Few modifications are planned for Marco Polo as it makes the transition from a seasonal to year-round English-speaking offering (in addition to Brits, the new line hopes to attract cruisers from North America, Australia and South Africa). The ship will be designated adults-only (ages 16 and up).

The second vessel, the 17,000-ton, 800-passenger Ocean Countess, began life as Cunard Countess back in 1975 and will join the fleet 18 April 2010. Ocean Countess will operate a programme of 22 ex-UK regional sailings operating from Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Greenock, Liverpool and Plymouth to destinations including Scandinavia, the Baltic, Russia, Iceland, the British Isles, the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. Prior to delivery, Ocean Countess will undergo a £3 million refurbishment and upgrade programme.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages' aims are twofold: Target mature passengers looking for the convenience of multiple U.K. departure ports and offer an exotic array of itineraries. The line also has cash-strapped cruisers in mind: Prices start at £199, for a three-night weekender over next spring's bank holiday, visiting Amsterdam and Antwerp.

The fledgling line plans to launch a Web site in the near future.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor