When the chance came up to experience Cruise & Maritime’s Marco Polo on an overnight cruise, I couldn’t let it pass me by. It was a great opportunity to get to know a cruise brand I wasn’t overly familiar with and see for myself what our customers can expect from a voyage with Cruise & Maritime.
A big selling point for CMV is that they sail from regional ports making them accessible for Ex-UK cruises, even for those who aren’t local to Dover or Southampton. My overnight journey took me from Portsmouth to London Tilbury, and Cruise and Maritime have frequent sailings from our local port at Bristol Avonmouth. This is fantastic for those who can’t fly or don’t want to, for those who can’t travel long distances independently, or for those who want the holiday relaxation to start straight away! I was impressed with the embarkation process. The staff were efficient and attentive, with everything ready for passengers to check in and board as quickly as possible. As someone used to long coach trips, hanging around at airports before a flight or transfers and ferry journeys taking up the first day of a holiday, it was refreshing to be able to relax pretty much straight away after a short and simple check in procedure.
THE SHIP & CABINS:
The Marco Polo is definitely a traditional-style cruise ship. The ship is clean, tidy and comfortable with plenty of features to make your voyage enjoyable, such as a spa, various bars and lounges, on deck hot tubs, and organised entertainment. However, it is a very different experience to some of the newer, larger cruising companies – with the small ship size (800 people) and the traditional style, don’t expect grand sweeping staircases or a programme of sporting activities on the Marco Polo. The small ship doesn’t simply mean that it lacks the huge range of experiences on offer with larger ships, it has a number of benefits too. The quick embarkation procedure and the ability to sail from regional ports are definitely a huge bonus of the smaller ship. I also think that the smaller ship gives a cosy, more personal feel to the cruise experience – you inevitably run into the same staff and passengers throughout your cruise experience, making friends easily and the staff can get to know you and your needs and give even better service. None of that feeling like you’re lost in a huge city at sea.
The cabins on board are generally comfortable but basic. A major downside is that almost all the cabins feature 2 twin beds rather than a double bed, and very few of those have the option to convert the arrangement. Twin beds do give more versatility, but I would imagine that some rethinking of the cabin layouts to give more options would really improve the experience of many couples cruising on the Marco Polo.
ENTERTAINMENT & FACILITIES:
The entertainment on board the Marco Polo wasn’t really to my taste. The positive was that after we set sail, the entertainment was focused on the outside deck by the pool bar. As it was a gloriously hot day, it meant that passengers weren’t choosing between entertainment and their relaxing time in the sun. For me, the entertainment was definitely a traditional style: ship staff taking to the microphone to perform classics including various ABBA and Queen hits and even Mambo No 5 and of course, a conga line around the deck. I was disappointed that karaoke-style performance was the focus of the outer deck rather than a nice dip in the pool. It was a shame that the (admittedly rather small) pool was not open and available for use given we were sailing on one of the hottest weekends of the year. The hot tubs were however open for use on the upper deck, which were lovely to take advantage of later in the afternoon.
The Captain’s Lounge was a pleasant experience for a pre-dinner drink and much more in tune for my expectations of a classy cruise experience. A lovely, welcoming and stylish bar and lounge area to relax with fellow passengers before dinner, and enjoy the gentle background music from the Marco Polo’s resident pianist.
After dinner, Scott’s Bar did provide a lively entertainment venue for drinks and dancing the night away. Unfortunately it felt as though this was my main option for evening and it felt much like a wedding dancefloor, with a generic DJ playing from the side of a dancefloor that has just had the tables and chairs cleared from it.
RESTAURANTS & BARS:
With the scorching weather, the Pool Deck bar was definitely being put to the test. The drinks are reasonably priced and have a good selection (although only one beer is available on draught), but I did lack confidence in the serving staff with the table service. The staff were friendly and attentive, and to give them credit the heat was making the Pool Deck incredibly busy, but it took a long time for our drinks to arrive after ordering and on a few occasions there was some confusion and the wrong drinks were brought. As a paying customer on a longer cruise this would make me nervous about my bar bill by the end – could I be confident that everything was correct?
I didn’t take much sample from the buffet lunch on offer in Marco’s restaurant in the afternoon. Between the group we grabbed a plate of sandwiches and some crisps to share on the Pool Deck. It is a lovely feature that the casual buffet dining opens out onto the Pool Deck – I love the layout and ease of getting a bite to eat at lunch without sacrificing the weather for a sit-down meal inside. But the restaurant was just too busy and the line for food was snaking between the tables inside – perhaps not the best experience for those queuing to see what they might be able to eventually grab from the buffet, or those trying to sit and enjoy their lunch.
Dinner was a fantastic affair. Truly I would rate the Waldorf restaurant on board very highly. I enjoyed the style of the dining – classy and high end food and setting, but not too formal. Perfect for those who do want to put on their best frock for the evening meal, but also caters for those who prefer to dress more casually while on their holiday – a perfect balance. Dinner in the Waldorf restaurant is a 5 course affair, with plenty of choices for each course, and served quickly. I thought the food was superb, I thoroughly enjoyed every dish put in front of me. My only critique of the dinner would be the portion sizes. I’m not the largest eater, and I felt that I could have eaten more. Generally I struggle to finish a 3 course meal so in my opinion the portion sizes are a bit on the small side. The service was fantastic, and after an initial issue with the table reservations, the staff were friendly and attentive throughout the meal. There are just 2 small things that stopped the dinner experience feeling like a lovely, classy dining experience. Firstly, I just felt like the tables were crammed in. The decoration and settings were all lovely, but it did seem as though we were on top of our neighbours on all sides. Secondly, the end of dinner celebrations for the staff were a little over the top for my taste. I’m all for showing appreciation for the hard work of the kitchen and serving staff who make such a lovely dinner possible, but for me the staff parading sparklers around the room to loud carnival music took the class and sincerity out of the thanks.
The Marco Polo wasn’t really my cup of tea, as I am more of an adventure style of traveller myself, but I can appreciate the many positive elements of the experience, which definitely deliver the product promised.
- Generally I was very impressed with the service of the staff on board.
- Dinner in the Waldorf restaurant was excellent.
- Hot tubs on deck!
- Small ship, meaning quick boarding procedure, local departures and a wider range of ports of call available.
- Captain’s Lounge – great place for a relaxed drink with a classy feel and live piano music.
Generally, CMV’s Marco Polo offers a leisurely and traditional style of cruising on a small ship, with great options to depart form local ports. If you aren’t a fan of the huge 4000 person ships and don’t want fancy frills or all the bells and whistles, then the Marco Polo could be a great option for your cruise. CMV caters well to a more mature market, with the vast majority of their sailings operated as child-free, and with daytime activities more focused on leisure and culture (library, speakers, craft classes and card room) than the thrills and sporting activities some of the more modern ships boast. The twin cabins also make it perfect for friends to travel together, as well as there being a good number of cabins allocated for solo travellers (well-priced and with activities aimed at passengers travelling alone), are a nice touch in a travel world that often has couples as a default. I do however, thing the limited number of double beds available is perhaps a downside for many clients.
All in all, the Marco Polo is a great cruise option for those looking for a small ship, a good price, good food, leisurely activities and a traditional, cosy style of cruising.