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Cruise Ship Information

MS Marco Polo is a cruise ship owned by Global Maritime, under charter to UK-based Cruise & Maritime Voyages, having been previously operated by Transocean Tours, Germany. She was built in 1965 by Mathias-Thesen Werft, East Germany as Aleksandr Pushkin for the Soviet Union's Baltic Shipping Company. After major alterations and additions, the ship sailed as Marco Polo for Orient Lines from 1993 to 2008.

Atmosphere on board

What Marco Polo lacks in size, youth and modern fittings, it more than makes up for in intimacy, style and old-world charm.

The ship is a solidly built workhorse, well-suited to its target market. Content in its own reinforced and well-seasoned skin, Marco Polo's sense of comfortable familiarity harks back to an earlier age of cruising and gives the ship a homely feel.

It should be noted that the team who set itineraries and fares for Marco Polo are equally clear as to the ship's identity and appeal. Cruise & Maritime's marketing apparatus provides no end of competitively-priced offers for a clientele who appreciate the convenience of departing from Tilbury -- at the mouth of the Thames watershed where the ship is based -- and the ease and security that come with knowing a holiday won't break the bank.

A ‘child-free' ship (as CMV describes Marco Polo on its website), Marco Polo has a pleasingly mature ambience. And of course for those with an aversion to the mass-market mayhem of larger cruise ships, there is the pleasure of being on a ship that seems sized for the convenience of passengers rather than the corporate bottom line. Embarkation, disembarkation and tendering are relatively easy processes, particularly when compared to some larger ships, on which getting on or off the ship in port can take hours.

Another breath of fresh air is the relative lack of pressure for onboard revenue, and while art auctions are present, they are discreet, well-organised and uncluttered. Though photographers are there, they ask if you want your photo taken rather than demanding it -- and if you say no, they're perfectly fine with that. The same goes for bar staff -- there if you want them, but never pressuring you to buy a novelty cocktail glass, for example.

Marco Polo began life in 1965 as the Alexander Pushkin. The second of five East German-built ships named after famous Russian writers and collectively known as the "Five Poets", it was one of the largest, fastest and most prestigious ocean liners in the Soviet merchant fleet -- then the world's largest. The Pushkin was given to the Leningrad-based Baltic Sea Shipping Company for seasonal trans-Atlantic service between Leningrad and Montreal. The rest of the year, the ship would operate on cruises, both to ports like Havana for the domestic market as well as to other ports around the world on charter with Western tour companies.

By the mid-1970's the vessel had switched to full-time cruising. Though far from luxurious -- the public areas were decorated in a typically grim Soviet style, and most cabins were tiny and without private bathrooms -- the Pushkin and other large Soviet cruise ships became increasingly popular in Western markets as budget-priced cruise ships. With the U.K., West Germany and Australia providing most of the passengers, the Five Poets became important sources of hard currency for the Soviet economy, which had begun to stagnate in the 1970's. In the 1980's, however, the ship was transferred to the Far Eastern Shipping Company of Vladivostok, and began cruising from Australia.

In 1990 the Australian career of the aging Alexander Pushkin -- 25 years old by that point -- came to an end, and the ship was laid up in Singapore. Many expected it to go for scrap. Instead, the next year Gerry Herrod, the British entrepreneur who had earlier founded Ocean Cruise Lines, purchased the ship. The Alexander Pushkin was taken to Greece where, two years and millions of dollars later, it emerged as Marco Polo, the first ship of Herrod's new company, Orient Lines. During its refurbishment, Marco Polo was stripped down to the bare steel, and aside from the hull and engines, nothing from the old Soviet era was saved. Under the skillful guidance of Danish naval architects Knud E. Hansen A/S and the Greek interior designers of AMK Interiors, the Marco Polo was transformed from a rusting Soviet-era relic into a practically new ship. The ship's sleek external lines were retained -- even improved -- while inside all the latest amenities of early 1990's cruising were added, packaged in a sleek neo-Art Deco style.

Herrod's extensive overhaul combined with the ship's original utilitarian design has served to prolong the ship's life and to make it something of a time capsule in which the evolution of cruising over the past 45 years can be traced. Marco Polo's back story is palpable onboard and will be of particular appeal to ship buffs and historians.

Marco Polo became part of the fleet of Cruise & Maritime Voyages, one of the U.K.'s youngest cruise lines, in 2010. Its ex-U.K. cruises feature a wide variety of itineraries, from the Norwegian fjords to the Amazon, the Canaries to the Mediterranean.

Put simply, Marco Polo is about the basics of cruising: going to interesting places in comfortably well-worn surroundings in the company of your peers. In this day and age, where every ship seems to be a gleaming new mega-liner or an ultra-luxury "yacht" with fares so high they make your eyes water, the number of ships that can offer this kind of cosy and familiar feel at this price point is shrinking fast.

In short, Marco Polo is a superb choice for anyone wanting a traditionally British, adult-only cruise experience aboard a real ocean liner at a reasonable price, and without an ounce of flash or pretence.

Family with Kids/Teens

There are no youth facilities on this ship, nor is there a dedicated youth staff -- therefore, it is not recommended for families with small children. Older kids are fine (though not very common) as long as they can amuse themselves without bothering other passengers.

Past Passenger Programs

As befits its size and age, the Marco Polo eschews the grand and often ostentatious public rooms of today's ships in favor of more intimate but nevertheless very comfortable spaces. The decor is restrained and modern, devoid of glitz without being bland. Also, most of the public areas have large windows, providing a good connection with the sea and lots of natural light during the day.

Almost all the public rooms are located on Magellan Deck 8, which is devoted entirely to them. Amidships, you'll find the main lobby with the Tour Office including shore excursion bookings and purser's desks. Aft of this are the surprisingly large shops to port and a pleasantly quiet lounge with large windows and a collection of naturally concealing foliage to starboard. Next is the cosy Columbus Lounge in the center of the ship, while on the portside the boutiques continue aft along this space. Yet further aft are the library to starboard and the matching card room, with various port plaques and the original Alexander Pushkin ship's bell, to port, and finally Marco's and the pool area aft of all the public rooms.

The only exceptions to the Deck 8 rule are the Scott's Bar (nightclub), aft on Amundsen Deck 9, and the Internet Cafe, Jade Wellness Center and Fitness Center aft on Upper Deck 10.

With three staircases -- unusual for a small ship -- and a logical layout, the ship is quite easy to navigate. The exception is with the internet cafe and spa, beauty and fitness facilities on Deck 10, which can be somewhat difficult to access as they can only be reached from the C (aft) staircase. It should also be noted that numerous raised thresholds and some narrow passageways mean this ship is not ideal for mobility-impaired passengers.

Fitness And Spa

One of the strongest points of Marco Polo is its open deck space, which is wonderfully varied and spacious for a ship this size. The focal point of outdoor life onboard is the aft decks, a great series of semicircular balconies cascading down from Deck 11 to the main pool area on Deck 8. The pool itself is a blue-tiled, average-sized rectangular saltwater example surrounded by an expanse of teak decking with teak table and faux-wicker chair sets. Up on Deck 11, at the top of the balconies, are three hot tubs that are, sadly, surrounded by blue indoor-outdoor carpeting rather than the teak seen on Deck 10 and below.

There is also 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 circuit.) You can also simply go around the whole ship on Deck 10. The forward and aft sections are teak -- the forward section is a huge expanse great for entering and leaving port -- while the midships part of the circuit is covered in blue rubberized non-slip decking. This is the designated walking/jogging track (no jogging before 8 a.m., as cabins are below) -- however, the midships sections are directly behind the lifeboats and thus have no view. (They're also too narrow for any deck furniture. On the plus side, this means no obstructions for walkers and joggers. Those wanting to sit down should do so one deck below on Deck 9.) The Jade Wellness Center and Fitness Center are located aft on Upper Deck 10. The Beauty Salon and Spa are relatively small but offer all the usual treatments; the Fitness Center is an attractive, window-lined room of a good size for this size ship and is equipped with a full range of fairly new equipment.

Food & Dining

Like the ship itself, the food on Marco Polo wouldn't be considered avant garde, but you won't go hungry onboard. There are two main dining venues aboard Marco Polo: the main dining room, called the Waldorf Restaurant, on Atlantic Deck 6 and the casual buffet, Marco's Bistro on Magellan Deck 8. Both serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the latter meal, both adhere to the ship's dress code (an important distinction from most other ships). The Waldorf Restaurant has two seatings for dinner (at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and open seating for breakfast and lunch. This large, attractive room is set low and amidships -- where the original dining room was on the Alexander Pushkin -- and is lined with big windows. An attractive stained glass dome tops the raised center section, while the rest of the room is decorated with backlit etched glass panels and Asian artwork. Chairs, though they have no armrests, are comfortable, as are the booths that sit beneath the windows; tables are a bit close together, as is common on smaller ships, but nevertheless it is a comfortable and very pleasant room for any meal. Breakfast features all the usual staples: fruit; cereals, breads, pastries, eggs -- fried, scrambled, in omelettes or eggs Benedict -- pancakes, french toast, sausages, bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and hash browns. Lunch menus generally offer two starters, two soups (one chilled) and four main courses including pasta and sandwich choices. There are two desserts and a variety of ice cream choices including diet ice cream and sorbet. Dinner menus offer three starters, two soups, four main courses and three desserts plus ice cream and cheese. The main course choices usually consist of one seafood, one beef, one poultry, lamb, pork or veal and one pasta choice.

Both lunch and dinner menus also offer "Healthy Choice" and "Vegetarian Choice" options; the Healthy Choice options as well as all the vegetarian options (except the main course) are usually modified versions of offerings from the regular menu (e.g. different dressings, sauces or side dishes to meet the healthy or vegetarian requirements).

Service in the dining room is professional, and the wait staff go out of their way to accommodate as many special requests as possible. The food itself is both filling and attractively presented. Traditional British dishes as well as more contemporary selections are on offer at both lunch and dinner.

Although casual dining venue Marco's Bistro is small, it does well to handle its own share of hungry passengers. This is, naturally, most popular at breakfast and lunch. The room itself is located all the way aft by the pool and has large floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, attractive light wood furniture with marble tables, and a very cheerful light blue color scheme.

At breakfast the selections mirror those of the Waldorf; inside there are two identical buffet lines and outdoors by the pool is a tea station. Lunch offers more informal and varied fare than the dining room, with a made-to-order pasta station indoors in addition to the buffet lines. The buffets tend to favour salads and desserts, but there is a decent variety of main courses as well. The pasta is always a good bet paired with one of the many salad choices.

Afternoon tea is also offered in Marco's, with a nice variety of cookies, cakes and tea sandwiches. Sadly, however, the ship does not offer an "elegant" sit-down tea, which is a strange omission for a ship with many British passengers. Another odd problem on a ship full of tea drinkers was the routine lack of teacups, which frustrated passengers didn't hesitate to point out to staff.

Marco's casual feel takes on a bit more atmosphere at dinner with linen tablecloths and candles on all the tables, but as it is a buffet, don't expect a waiter to be hovering by, waiting to help.

At all meals, staff -- who are rotated in from the Waldorf Restaurant -- are on hand, and they are happy to carry trays for anyone who needs assistance. Interestingly, while far from large, and quite popular, Marco's never seemed overcrowded.

Finally, one of two coffee and tea stations is outdoors, which is a rather odd place to put it. (When Marco's is open, coffee and tea is available inside, but during off hours you have to go out on the pool deck to fetch a hot drink.)

Cabin service (24-hour) is rather limited: breakfast features Continental selections only, and the rest of the day, there is only a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts; hence it is not possible to order a real meal from cabin service. (However, exceptions naturally are made for ill passengers.)

Entertainment

Entertainment onboard the Marco Polo is a nice balance between traditional cruise offerings and enrichment programmes. Daytime activities revolve around enrichment lecturers; there is at least one destination-related lecturer on every voyage, and longer voyages with more sea days may have additional lecturers as well.

Lectures aside, you will find special performances by evening entertainers, team trivia, bridge tournaments, ballroom dance lessons by professional dance instructors and the like.

In the evening, the main entertainment is in the Marco Polo Lounge, the ship's show lounge/theatre. There are generally two production shows a week. The singers and dancers are quite energetic, given the amount of performing that's expected of them, though obviously the small Marco Polo Lounge can't offer the same staging and special effects as the theaters of larger ships. Shows are staged once for each dinner seating. (This seems adequate given the number of passengers who attend.)

Perhaps the most popular nighttime venue is the Captain's Club Lounge, a lovely, full-beam room decorated in soft earth tones and located just aft of the Marco Polo Lounge on Deck 8. This is the location where the ship's pianist plays. The third major evening entertainment spot is the colorfully (but not glitzily) decorated Scott's Bar, another full-beam room located all the way aft on Deck 9. The ship's musicians perform here for dancing earlier in the evening, and later the room is transformed into the popular disco.

Many of the singers and dancers are also the cruise staff, handling activities like trivia and even dispatching shore excursions during the day. Not only do they perform both roles well, but this also gives you the added enjoyment of feeling like you know the people onstage during the production shows -- because you do!

The shore excursion selection in many ports is perhaps a bit more limited than some other cruise lines, but they are well-chosen, and prices also tend to be somewhat lower than the major lines. In ports with good facilities or longer stays, the disembarkation process is simple, but in ports with minimal access and/or short stopovers, exiting the ship can become a crowded and chaotic affair.

Fellow Passengers

Under its current ownership, the demographics for passengers aboard the Marco Polo skew heavily towards those from the U.K. The ship does not appeal to many families, though couples and singles of a wide range of ages do travel onboard. The average age is around 60.

With the types of prices on offer for a Marco Polo cruise, passengers are fairly evenly divided between repeat passengers and experienced cruisers who are cruising based on convenience and economy. New-to-cruise passengers are quite welcome and will find themselves amongst an easygoing and familiar crowd.

Our recommendation

We stayed here for a few nights and were very impressed with the level of cleanliness! The size of the room/bed/bathroom was excellent. Felt very at home. As we are from New Zealand our Spanish is very poor but the staff were so helpful. Especially Gus, he went out of is way and spent a lot of time organizing a flight for us. We also found the best taco stand around the corner.

This place is excellent value for money!! We will definitely be back next time we are in Tijuana.