Saturday, 19 January 2019

My Thoughts on MV Marco Polo

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

Hey Everyone,

Today I'm taking things back to "old Owlet"; I genuinely can't remember the last time I did a straight review of an experience, but I'm bringing them back today to talk about a very special ship. I just wanted to preface this post with a few notices so you have all the facts. Unfortunately I was not offered a free cruise by anyone, we paid for the trip out of our own pockets when we saw a cheap last minute deal come up. With that in mind please excuse the terrible photographs - my original plan was to work with Port of Cork while we were there then relax on the ship, but I'd seen so few reviews that after my experience I wanted to share my thoughts in case anyone reads an essay-length rant online and gets put off going on board, because you'd seriously be missing out. Finally, this review is going to be very blunt and straight-talking because there were some things that were laughably bad, but equally this trip is going to stick in my mind as one of the best for a long time to come.

Now that's out of the way, we'll get into the nitty gritty.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

This cruise was kind of an impulse booking and I was really excited at the prospect of being back at sea for a few more days. However as the cruise got closer and I read some reviews the doubts were starting to creep in. Marco Polo is 54 years old and the cruise cost £125 for three nights so I didn't expect luxury - as long as the staff were kind and the ship was clean and safe I'd be happy. With that said embarkation was an absolute nightmare.

The staff welcoming us on board barely spoke English and although they were clearly eager to help the language barrier definitely caused some issues, and the way they handled things made me feel really uncomfortable - I was manhandled in the direction of my cabin then told to keep walking (being physically pushed by a member of staff was definitely a first).

I don't actually have a photo of the first cabin I was allocated as I was in there for such a short space of time. CMV don't give you the option to book anything other than a single cabin when travelling alone on Marco Polo and they really are the lowest of the low. My cabin was a cupboard under the stairs that being incredibly close to the engine room was uncomfortably hot and stunk of diesel. I'd heard the ship was only half full and there was a history of people getting upgrades so I went to guest services to ask and before I could finish my sentence the woman snapped "no free upgrades" - I said I was pay so she said she'd look into it. Afterwards I took Dad to show him my cabin who was also rather underwhelmed, but it was at the point that I went into the bathroom and a piece of metal fell from the ceiling that I was determined I was going to get a new cabin.

I went back to reception with the piece of metal that narrowly missed my head at which point the cabin next door to Mum and Dad had miraculously become available. Having been assigned my new cabin the staff took my old key to move my bags for me which was greatly appreciated as I don't pack lightly!

 The new cabin was perfect and at no point over the four days did anything else fall off and try to attack me. For the rest of the cruise every time I encountered a crew member they couldn't do enough to help and they were incredibly kind, friendly and accommodating. The moral of the story here is that the staff on board Marco Polo do not handle stress well, so if your query isn't urgent I'd wait until after embarkation to ask for help.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

Once embarkation was out of the way the ship completely changed. Having experienced a hellish boarding it was like everyone took a deep breath, the staff relaxed and went into "cruise mode".

The first thing I have to mention are the incredible facilities. Considering how small the ship is CMV have really managed to pack everything in. There's a traditional restaurant, a buffet and an outdoor bar & grill which I expected to only be open if the weather was decent, but apart from when the storm came it was open every day. One of the issues I have with a lot of modern ships is a lack of outdoor seating, which absolutely wasn't a problem for Marco Polo (these seats are outside the buffet restaurant). There's also a show lounge which has enough space for all passengers to visit over the two show times if the ship was full. Scotts Bar was great, but the number of seats in there was ridiculous. For a capacity of 820 passengers the bar only had about 120 seats; even with a half empty ship we struggled to find somewhere to sit and I ended up bringing in chairs from outside, although I think the crew realise that this is a common issue as no one told us off when we did this.

Even on such a small ship there was a fully equipped gym and spa, although I wasn't very happy about the openness of the gym. The windows at the top in this photo looked directly into the gym - personally if I'm working out I don't need an audience to look at my extra bits wobbling. Although given the gym bunnies/ muscle men that were occupying it when we walked past, I'm probably alone in this concern.

One issue that I have to mention is the strong smell of diesel that rendered parts of the ship unusable. Before writing this post I called CMV to ask if this was normal or they if were having issues when we were on board but no one seemed particularly sure. The person I spoke to said it's not normal but I've seen the smell of diesel mentioned in quite a few reviews online so it's something to consider. For us the smell wasn't an issue as it was too cold to go outside, but we did try to explore and when we were stood by the jacuzzis we couldn't breathe so had to go back and there was absolutely no chance of us making it onto the top decks where you'd sunbathe so I could see this being a major problem if you went on a warm cruise.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

While we're talking about facilities I should definitely mention the entertainment. No doubt about it, it was entertaining, although it was mostly entertaining because of the patches of off-key singing and out of time dancing. The other form of entertainment was listening to the people complain about the aforementioned talent on board. CMV don't promise Cirque Du Soleil and Broadway shows, they promote cabaret, and that's exactly what it was. Marco Polo is like one of those dodgy seaside hotels that are still hanging on from their heyday - you don't go in the mindset of expecting modern and luxurious surroundings, you go for a unique experience and that's exactly what CMV provide. We went to the performances to sing along and have a laugh, and that was all we needed.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

This is the second "classic cruise" I've experienced and being totally honest I think I prefer it to the "holiday factory" ships with 4000 passengers and overworked staff that are tied down by excessive amounts of red tape. When you go on a classic cruise you go for the service, which I can honestly say was absolutely outstanding on Marco Polo. It didn't matter what you needed, they were always happy to help. One of the things that made the ship so unique was that it wasn't just the crew that would help you with anything, but the officers too. On the first night I was in Scotts Bar and got chatting to an officer - he turned out to be the hotel director and having chatted for several minutes he offered to buy me a drink as a welcome on board.

Over the course of the trip we bumped into many officers; at one point I even found the captain walking down the corridor who stopped, shook my hand and asked me if everything was okay with my holiday and, unlike on some other ships I've sailed on, he genuinely cared what the answer was. One of the other amazing people we got to know was our waiter, Naing, who had us in stitches with laughter every night. He was also amazing in helping me find something to eat as I've finally given up eating gluten(ish). As well as completely bulldozing the menu for me he arranged to have snacks delivered to my room in case I got hungry, because the snacks they did around the rest of the ship weren't always gluten free.

 On the last night one of the other waiters told Dad to call Naing "Ni Li"(spelt wrong, but I have no idea how you'd spell it) which meant "little brother" in his language. Afterwards we said goodbye and he hugged all of us, thanking us for being so friendly.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

For such a small ship the food was quite strangely a tale of two halves. If you do go on Marco Polo just trust me when I say "do not eat in the buffet" - every meal we had in there was questionable at best. For some reason tomatoes were a particular issue, which ship-wide could be seen rotting over the course of the voyage, starting at overly-soft on day one to almost liquid by day four.

However, the food in Marco's Bistro (the main dining room) was pretty much faultless. For me finding something I can eat is always an issue on cruise ships - the last time I was on board a floating city the chef went out of his way to make me feel unwelcome due to my intolerance so I was fully expecting that they wouldn't be able to accommodate me on such a small ship, but that couldn't have been further from the truth.

On the first night I asked what I could eat and Naing responded with "choose anything you would like and we will make it gluten free for you" - honestly, I've never eaten so well since cutting out gluten. If you speak to anyone that's gluten free bread will almost certainly come up in the conversation because on the whole GF bread is terrible. However, the bread on Marco Polo was so good that one of the restaurant staff arranged to send me home with a care package of bread; I was genuinely overwhelmed about how much care they took in making me feel looked after.

The highlight for me was on the last night when they paraded the Baked Alaska. I was trying to work out what our waiter was parading round in the glass and it turned out to be my own GF version, given the same treatment as the normal one so I didn't miss out.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages Marco Polo Review

So, my final thoughts (especially for those of you that decided this was too long and skipped to the bottom). Honestly, whether or not you have a good time on board Marco Polo depends on your attitude. She's an elderly ship full of pretty lounges and staff that would do anything to make sure you have the best trip possible.

I was unable to locate the rock climbing wall, iceskating rink or go-kart track and the ship itinerary wasn't jam packed which forced me to relax. She wasn't a luxury liner, and for what we paid I wouldn't expect her to be. If you board Marco Polo expecting world-class entertainment, luxurious cabins and Michelin Star food then I'm afraid you're going to be very disappointed. However, this style of cruising is something that's disappearing fast, nobody builds new ships to look like ships anymore, they're all floating hotels. At 54 years of age, she's not going to be around forever and personally I feel thankful that I got to experience life on board before the last of these ships disappear in favour of the floating theme parks.

If you get the chance, make the most of her while she's still here. Leave any expectations at home, come with an open mind and ready to have a laugh if something goes wrong - isn't that what a holiday should be?

Love and Feathers, 
 The Owlet 💜 
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