Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Marco Polo Cruise 29th April 2010 Part 1 of 2

29th April 2010
Part 1
Seven years ago in May 2003 I was on board CONSTELLATION and at one port I looked down on the ship berthed astern of us: it was the MARCO POLO of Orient Lines. I remember thinking at the time that I would like to travel on the ship, because of its size and lineage, and all these years later I was about to do so.

She started life as ALEKSANDR PUSHKIN, built in 1965 in what was East Germany, as the second of five ‘poet’ class ships for the Soviet passenger fleet’s Baltic Shipping Company, with an ice-strengthened hull. She was registered in Leningrad and also designed with possible use as a troopship in mind, at 19,860 tons, with 650 passengers, regularly sailing between Leningrad and Montreal. Tonnage and cabin numbers increased in 1975, but from 1975-1984 she was chartered by a German company, until in 1984 she was re-registered and chartered to CTA Cruises in Australia.

In 1990 she was sent to Singapore for a re-fit that turned into a lay-up - probably because of the collapse of the Soviet Union - until in 1991 the British entrepreneur Mr Gerry Herrod bought her. She was renamed MARCO POLO, registered in the Bahamas, and had a huge and costly two and a half year refit in Greece. In November 1993 she sailed again, this time for Orient Lines from Mombasa to Cape Town, and thereafter in summer in the Orient, and in winter in Antarctica.

In 1998 Orient Lines sold both her and the Company to Norwegian Cruise Line, who sailed her until July 2004 when she was sold on again to Ocean World Ltd. and managed by Global Cruise Lines of Greece, and then sold on again to Story Cruise Ltd.

For winter 2008/2009 they chartered her out temporarily to Transocean Tours, a German cruise operator, which declared insolvency on 3rd September 2009. It seems that Transocean’s UK representative was Cruise & Maritime Services International Ltd. who then announced that they were setting up a new cruise operation to be called Cruise & Maritime Voyages, and would charter MARCO POLO until 2015 and OCEAN COUNTESS for 2010 for cruises out of Tilbury. My ticket paperwork says that I am travelling with Cruise & Maritime Voyages and “all holidays featured in this brochure are financially protected by South Quay Travel & Leisure Ltd. who are authorised to trade as Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which is the trading name of Cruise & Maritime Services International Ltd.”, so I was intrigued by what I had learned of the current company set-up.

At Tilbury, Essex, check in and boarding was quick and easy, the cabins were clean and comfortable, and we were soon meeting on the open Lido deck for a late lunch, under dry but breezy conditions.

We had travelled from England (David), Scotland (Bruce), Denmark (Soren and Per), Brussels (Isabelle), and the United States of America (Rick, Claudia and June)to be on board and travel together for our 3 night cruise. We could see the local ferry DUCHESS M crossing the river, which one vessel or another has been doing since the 13th century, and we could see PRINCESS POCAHONTAS moored on the Kent side.

The decks were crowded but we watched as the tugs pulled us off the quayside. It was only a couple of weeks later I discovered that we had hit the quayside and the tugs had to work hard to get us away.

I thought that we were taking a long time, and were heading up the River Thames a long way; I have never seen what I called ‘the white cliffs of Tilbury’ before, over on the Kent side! Demolition work was going on at several concrete buildings near the chalk cliffs, creating strange patterns in the concrete. We eventually turned and headed out to sea and the cruise had truly begun.

Lifeboat drill was next and very well organised. We assembled as instructed and were then taken out on the deck to the appropriate lifeboat, and were instructed to do this by forming a line and placing the right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front. I’m just 5 feet tall so it was a bit disconcerting to try and achieve this whilst getting through the crowds and climbing the stairs, but we all tried! The inevitable ship photographer was clicking away and I idly wondered how many passengers actually bought these usually unflattering pictures. Ah well, they probably have novelty value.

There are eight passenger decks; the Waldorf Restaurant is on Atlantic Deck, above the cabins on Baltic deck and Caribic Deck, and above Atlantic is Pacific Deck with more cabins. Next deck up is Magellan Deck with its aft pool, lido area and bar, and those beautifully curved deck railings.

Moving forward we found Marco’s Restaurant for casual dining, and portside the Nansen Card Room which is where the original ALEXSANDR PUSHKIN ship’s bell is now located.

Starboard is the Livingston Library. Midships then is the Columbus Lounge, which is a pleasant location, leading on through boutiques and the Palm Garden to the Main Lobby. This is a spacious area with the Tour Office on the port side and Reception on the starboard.

Forward of this again is the full-width Captain’s Club with piano, small dance floor and bar, and is a lovely venue with views of the sea. Forward again is the Marco Polo Lounge.

Up one deck is the Amundsen Deck with cabins, but at the aft end is the delightful full-width Scott’s Bar which was a very sociable place by day and night, with its small dance floor. This allowed exit to the stern decks and views of the Pilot arriving or leaving, and the two ports we were to visit. Just as an aside, the name Amundsen reminds us of a very brave explorer of course, but it also reminded me of an old photograph I have at home. It came from my Father’s collection from his time at sea as a lad in the 1930s with Blue Star Lines on ARANDORA STAR, when they went ashore at Kings Bay in Spitzbergen. It shows a small child resting a hand on the back of a large shaggy dog in a small village, but the caption says “ ‘Jacob’ – Amundsen’s sleigh dog”. What a delightful link to the past.

Up one deck again is Columbus Deck, with cabins, the Jade Wellness Centre aft, the Internet Café, and Beauty Salon. There were lovely views again from the aft deck, and outside stairs up again to Navigator Deck with more cabins and the aft Whirlpools, so there was lots to explore on this lovely ship.

Dining arrangements had been planned and requested some months before when the bookings were made, so we were looking forward to a very sociable meal. Unfortunately none of these requests were put into effect by the ship. It ended up with 9 of us spread over several tables, with one person on their own with complete strangers and no chance of changing. In the dining room there were two sittings, with just 4 wine waiters to serve perhaps 400 guests, and we also felt sorry for the waiting staff having to cope with such a full and busy ship. We seemed to be on a budget-priced trip and we felt this became apparent in the food portion control too, but this was not a problem as we enjoyed being on the ship in good company. I imagine this situation was simply because the cruise was for just 3 nights.

Ships seen: Tor Sealandia, Queen Mary (from the River Thames), Svitzer Redbridge (tug) Ottawa Express, Svitzer Anglia, Svitzer Cecilia, Svitzer Mercia, Clementine (Cobelfreighter), Marieke, Princess Pocahontas (river crossing ferry), Alexandergracht (carrying 4 smart new boats), Duchess M

Friday 30th April
Much was redeemed this morning by finding porridge available for breakfast in the Restaurant, and the port of Amsterdam Cruise Terminal outside, for our enjoyment.

Cruise & Maritime had already informed us that today in The Netherlands it was Queen’s Day holiday, and everything would be shut but that didn’t prevent us walking into the city and enjoying the sights and crowds. Most people seemed to be wearing the national orange colour in some form or another, and I have photographs of people in some amazing orange outfits.

There were blow-up orange crowns, orange spectacles, garlands, sweatshirts, hats, towelling wraps, animal costumes, Station train timetables printed on orange paper, street decorations and posters, and happy people everywhere waiting for the official festivities to start, if they hadn’t already started their own celebrations. I found something orange coloured and managed to fix it to my purse.

Some of us went back on the ship to enjoy lunch, and then to enjoy the ideal shipboard activity of resting on a wooden steamer chair on deck. Ah, the pleasure of being wrapped in a warm blanket whilst momentarily resting one’s eyes…

Lots of river craft came past, including a tiny vessel that we heard before we saw it, with a drummer and his full kit, a guitarist and a singer all balanced precariously on the little deck. They were loud and lovely, and much cheered as they sailed past MARCO POLO and shared their music with us.

That evening was Gala Night, but as departure from this lovely port was due at 8 p.m. we were reluctant to leave the open decks for the Restaurant but luckily (for us) one of the excursion parties had been delayed in their return so dinner was put back half an hour and we could enjoy the warm evening sunshine for departure.

Much later we watched the Pilot leave the ship and wondered if he normally stayed so long on board. We thought we might arrive at our next port before he went home!

Ships seen: Aida Blu, Sound of Music (river craft), Steam Ship Wolk, Normandie (river craft), Viking Europe, Rotterdam (river craft), Karla (little Russian-built fast craft), Rochdale I (yes, still there)

To be concluded...

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