My wife and I, both in our mid-fifties and experienced cruisers, joined the Marco Polo at Tlbury on 3rd January 2012 for the Amazon, Caribbean and Azores Cruise. Boarding was slightly delayed as the crew cleaned the ship following an outbreak of Norovirus on the incoming cruise. The facilities in the terminal were adequate and fairly comfortable, much better than the more familiar facilities at Liverpool. For the first week or so the efforts to eradicate the virus were evident, with the crew working tirelessly to clean and disinfect the ship. The itinerary was good although there were a number of arrivals when the destination was "closed". Lisbon, Sunday, Mindelo (Cap Verde) on a public holiday, Bridgetown, Sunday, Horta (Azores) arrival after 13.30hrs on a Saturday when the place closes down at 13.00hrs and Ponta Delgada on a Sunday. Maybe the schedule could do with a bit of a "tweak". Other than that the destinations were great. Particularly in the Amazon where tourists were almost a side issue, while the population got on with their lives and business. (Compare this with Alaska where you feel as if you are in a perpetual tourist theme park). One minor hic-cup was just short of Parintins, when water ingress to the electrical system caused the power to fail. Again the crew put in heroic efforts to effect successful repairs. As a result no ports were missed. Indeed, efforts by the shore excursion staff and the ship's agents secured the services of a river boat, in the absence of the availability of the ships tenders, to transfer passengers to the shore to enjoy the magnificent Boi Bumba show. All the trips on offer were competitively priced, well organised and good value for money.
Marco Polo is a relatively small ship by modern standards but is well maintained and comfortable. Our inside cabin, (deck 7. Pacific deck) was very clean and comfortable thanks to the efforts of our steward Sorin. There was sufficient hanging and drawer space to accommodate all our clothing for a 45 night cruise, so no need to store clothing in suitcases. Another welcome aspect about Marco Polo is the availability of some small bars or lounges near to bars, to enjoy some quiet relaxation accompanied by some very talented East European musicians. For those other than "Radio Three listeners" the entertainment team did a magnificent job. I have never seen an entertainment team work so hard. "U.K. guest act" Richard Sykes (in truth the former Cruise Director) was almost ubiquitous. He provided multiple tribute sessions based on a number of artistes, took part in the Panto (well it was just after Christmas) and even developed and conducted a choir. All of this was achieved with such energy we were convinced that he was sniffing fly spray. A really talented and accomplished man, who should go down well when he takes up his position as CD on Ocean Countess. The Cruise Director, Gareth Cole's job is to organise, co-ordinate and manage the entertainment programme. In addition he was a capable and versatile performer. His "Blues Brothers" set was so good I wanted to throw beer bottles. (Watch the film and you will see what I mean). Despite this, some passengers were grumbling that he did not put himself about much during the day. This was more than made up for by Ed Garth, a talented singer, Amy Street and Cate Stephens, two versatile and attractive divas and Andy Sanders a really personable host and performer. In addition another U.K. guest act, comedian Andy Ford, ("He's alright if you like laughing") was always about and happy to speak to fellow passengers as well as perform to packed houses. The "show team", again East Europeans, were excellent with some really good singers and performers.
Most of the bar staff and bar waiters are East European. I have seen criticism in other postings that they are unfriendly and unhelpful. Our experience is that, at first, they are a bit stiff but polite and respectful. It seems to be a natural reticence with people from Eastern Europe rather than the sickly "hail fellow well met", in your face, overly familiar faux friendliness displayed by some other nationalities. Once you break through their initial reserve, warmth and friendliness are repaid in bucket loads without ever becoming over familiar or complacent.
So if the itinerary, entertainment and personnel are the highlights of the experience, the low point has to be the food. The tragedy is that the food is clearly good quality but always cold. It must be frustrating for the chefs that they go to the effort to plan, prepare and execute the menus only for the food to get to the table cold. Soup was lukewarm, meat well prepared but inedible, veg. correctly cooked but cold. Roast potatoes that should be crisp were cold and soft. On one occasion, for example, Lasagne arrived so old and cold that it was like trying to eat a deck of playing cards. On another occasion, grilled fish and boiled potatoes from the Bistro was so cold, that the butter I put on the potatoes refused to melt. The butter just sat there, grinning at me, as if to say "Well what do you want me to do? Stand up and start playing a trombone?" (Old Lurpak Ad). After complaining I was provided with freshly prepared fish and potatoes which were delicious. CMV / Global need to invest in some means of keeping pre-prepared food hot. The current system, in the buffet, of placing them under a 40 watt light bulb, only serves to dry the food without keeping it hot. I am sorry to say that the food was without doubt the worst cruise food we have ever experienced. Other cruise lines manage to feed their passengers well, no matter how large or small the ship. It is down to how the food is stored pre-service that makes the difference.
So it was a "budget" or low price cruise, especially considering the length and destinations of the cruise, but food preparation and presentation is a basic. In addition, having said the "headline" cost is low, the bar prices are not. Â£4+ for a 500ml tin of Guinness. Â£3+ for John Smith's Bitter. Vodka Â£2.80+ with a 33cl tin of tonic Â£2+. So if, like me, you are a dedicated quaffer the bar bill soon racks up.
Overall this was an exciting and interesting experience, well worth the cost of the fare. Entertainment and activities ( crafts and traditional deck games, Ballroom dancing classes and tap dancing lead by Nichola Glehill)) to suit just about everyone except the most curmudgeonly. Clean, comfortable surroundings with attentive and respectful staff. This cruise is a winner if there was just a bit more investment in the food presentation.