That would be Cruise & Maritime’s (CMV) ‘Marco Polo’.
At 22,000 tonnes and carrying 800 passengers she is part of the Cruise & Maritime fleet including Astor (sailing UK to Australia itineraries), Astoria, Magellan and in June 2017, a new flag ship - Columbus (formerly a member of the Ocean Village fleet).
‘Marco Polo’ was the first ship to be operated by CMV when the cruise line was launched in 2009. With teak decks and a distinctive dark blue hull, she appeals to the adult only, 60+ age group. CMV specialise in no fly cruising with regional itineraries from 10 regional ports including Glasgow, Bristol/Avonmouth, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle, Dundee and in 2017 – Newport, Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin. London Tilbury is the cruise line’s home port.
‘Marco Polo’ has 8 passenger decks and offers a comfortable, friendly cruise experience which due to its small size includes plenty of scenic cruising within its itineraries. It is aimed at the British cruiser – with on board spend in sterling (Astor has the Australian dollar), low drinks prices (similar to those found in pubs), 110/220V voltage and gratuities of £5 ppn for cruises of up to 16 nights duration. Tea and coffee making facilities are being rolled out to each cabin, as I write this, as well as TV upgrades. Alternatively, there is a complimentary tea and coffee service from 6am – 10pm. The individuality of the cabins on board (see below) means that past passengers will book specific cabins for future cruises, as well as the ship appealing to guests who have never cruised before.
‘Marco Polo’ is 50 years old!! She is an ex Russian spy ship with an ice-strengthened hull (also fully stabilised) initially launched as ‘Alexander Pushkin’. As she was not built as a cruise ship, there is no forward observation lounge, no theatre (instead there is the large Marco Polo Show Lounge) and no balcony cabins. Similarly, the Jade Wellness Centre and gym (remarkably well stocked for the size of the ship) were added at a later date. What do remain are the ‘lips’ or raised thresholds which are plentiful and likely to catch you unawares, as you walk about the ship. Similarly, there is quite a high step to get into the bathrooms in the cabins. As a result and although there are disabled cabins on board, ‘Marco Polo’ is not an easy ship for wheelchair guests or others with mobility issues to get around on.
As the ship was on a changeover day, it was possible to see lots of cabins!!!
There are 15 different cabin and suite grades, depending on location and size. This includes a few single cabins (5 inside and 10 outside cabins) and 2 fully adapted inside cabins (Amundsen Deck 9). These cabins are reserved exclusively for wheelchair users and the cruise line will not allow them to be used by more able bodied guests. 70% cabins have ocean views (281 cabins cf 128 inside cabins) with some cabins on decks 9 – 11 having an obstructed view.
Bed configurations are fixed twin, apart from some Category 12 Premium Twin Ocean View cabins (fixed doubles) and De Luxe Ocean view cabins, Junior and De Luxe suites, where king or queen beds are available. Within each grade there are a plethora of different shapes and configurations, so no two cabins are identical – even the 4 Junior Suites are different. It is said that guests walking up and down corridors will spot a cabin that appeals to them configuration wise, note its number and book it for their next cruise!! It is impossible to tell the differences between the individual cabins from the deck plans, but photos can be made available for you to narrow down your choice.
A few bullet points regarding the cabins:
The ship is easy to navigate round with most of the public areas located on Magellan Deck 8. The Marco Polo Show Lounge is forward, then the Captain’s Club lounge. The main lobby is midships with the Reception, Tour Office and Future Cruise desks. Aft of this are some shops and the Palm Garden, a quiet seating area with large windows and a collection of nicely concealing foliage. Next is the Columbus Lounge, the Livingston library and Nansen card room and finally Marco's Restaurant (the buffet restaurant, which also serves afternoon tea) leading out onto the pool area aft of all the public rooms. Scott’s Bar is one deck above and looks out onto the pool deck areas.
The main dining room is the Waldorf Restaurant, on Atlantic Deck 6. The Waldorf and Marco’s both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the latter meal, both adhere to the ship's dress code. The Waldorf Restaurant has two sittings for dinner (6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and open seating for breakfast and lunch. Tables are typically for 6 – 10 people. It is quite a large room, positioned where the original dining room was on the Alexander Pushkin and is lined with big windows. A stained glass dome tops the raised middle section, while the rest of the room is decorated with backlit etched glass panels and Asian artwork.
There are 5 lounges in total, many are full beamed (ie they extend the full width of the ship) and each features some form of entertainment – for example, the Marco Polo Show Lounge offers 2 shows each night, be it production shows, live bands or comedians etc. The Captain’s Club features the ships pianist and Scott’s Bar hosts the ships band, a dance floor and disco environment. Daytime activities revolve around enrichment lectures. There is at least one destination related lecturer on every voyage, and longer voyages with more sea days may have additional lecturers as well. There are also themed cruises, which this year have included a Dad’s Army Legends cruise, TV Soap Legends and in 2017; 60’s Tribute Bands and ‘Carry On’ film stars. There are no casino facilities on board.
‘Marco Polo’ has a lot of open deck space for its size – this is mainly on the aft decks, where there are a series of semicircular balconies over 3 decks from Deck 11 down to the main pool area on Deck 8. The pool itself is an average-sized rectangular saltwater pool surrounded by lots of teak decking with teak tables and wicker chairs. The area on Deck 8 is quite large and is very atmospheric for Sail Aways! Up on Deck 11 are three hot tubs.
There is a 270-degree teak promenade on Deck 9, shaded by the lifeboats and lined with steamer chairs. (You have to climb to Deck 10 at the bow to complete the full circuit of the ship or alternatively, do all your walking/jogging laps on Deck 10, ship where there is also a forward facing open deck area). There is a helicopter pad on top of the ship.
CMV grade ‘Marco Polo’ as a 3*ship, which is doing it a bit of a disservice – it is unpretentious and charming with some pleasing features (like the pool deck area) and an accommodating and friendly crew. The public spaces are intimate and comfortable with lots of natural light and it is easy to get about with 3 sets of stairs (unusual for the size of ship). The food is good in terms of quality, quantity and variety. All in all ‘Marco Polo’ offers a typically British cruise experience aboard a real ocean liner, at a competitive price, complete with style and a deal of olde worlde charm.