Tag Archives: marco polo

SMALL SHIPS; GOING SOUTH FOR GOOD?

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Black Watch at Flam. Photo is copyright of the author

When Saga Cruises takes delivery of it’s new Spirit of Discovery in 2019, that line’s current, popular Saga Pearl II will leave the fleet. Though no buyer has yet been announced, it is to be hoped that this charming, intimate ship will find another owner, and hopefully within the UK market at that.

One possible interested party could well be Cruise and Maritime Voyages, which operates the Astor on a winter programme of fly/cruises to and from South Africa and Australia over the autumn and winter. Saga Pearl II is the near identical sister ship to Astor, and there’s no doubt that the two ships would make a great working duo. And, by then, it has to be reckoned that the veteran Marco Polo might well be coming to her final sell by date around that period. The slightly smaller Saga Pearl II would make an ideal replacement, with her outdoor terraced decks and similar, intimate styling, so the logic is inescapable here, too.

Against that, Saga Pearl II has a passenger capacity of just over 500- significantly less than the 800 carried by the adults’ only Marco Polo. And the trend lately at CMV has been to buy more bigger, second hand ships than before. The line first acquired the 45,000 ton, 1,300 passenger Magellan, and then upped the stakes significantly this year with the introduction of the near 64,000 ton, 1,400 passenger Columbus. Though relatively intimate compared with the modern big ships of P&O and Cunard, these two ships are still respectively double and treble the size of the Marco Polo. And, though intimacy remains at the heart of the CMV philosophy, the size of the ships is moving inevitably upwards.

A similar, upward gradient has also taken hold at Fred. Olsen, whose last addition- the 43,000 ton Balmoral- is almost twice the size of the 24,000 ton Braemar, and much larger than either of the stable, popular 28, 000 ton sister duo of Black Watch and Boudicca. It’s interesting to note that all four of the Fred. Olsen ships have been ‘stretched’ with the addition of a new mid section. In fact, both Braemar and Balmoral endured the process when already under the Olsen flag.

Like CMV, Fred. Olsen has nailed it’s colours firmly to providing a more intimate, British oriented travel experience, aimed at the older passenger. And, while both lines have succeeded and gained much success with this approach, it’s difficult to see how they expand in the same market; quite simply, the availability of major tonnage is now becoming an ever increasing problem.

Fred. Olsen has failed to add any new tonnage since the Balmoral back in 2009 and, while all four of the fleet’s ships are undergoing significant refurbishments to keep them fresh and attractive, the line is clearly in need of a new ship, or perhaps two. For a long time, the line has cast a covetous eye on the 38,000 ton Prinsendam of Holland America Line. Up to now, the Dutch line has proved very reluctant to part with it’s widely admired ‘Elegant Explorer’. But that might be about to change.

Holland America itself is in the throes of a retrenchment, geared towards providing the line with larger, more luxurious and family friendly vessels. Two of the 50,000 ton, 1990’s built Statendam class vessels- Ryndam and Statendam herself- were recently sold off to the Carnival subsidiary of P&O Australia. The two remaining in Holland America’s portfolio-Maasdam and Veendam– are clearly on borrowed time, especially when Holland America takes delivery of the stunning Nieuw Statendam in 2018.

If those two do, indeed, go- and it is pretty certain that they will- then Holland America might also, finally, divest itself of the Prinsendam. Any of these three fine, well cared for vessels would make great additions to  Fred. Olsen or, indeed, to Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

Elsewhere, other potential pickings are slim. I’ve already mentioned the lovely little Saga Pearl II, but the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli- the original twin sister of the Braemar– might also be in the mix. Her two year charter to Celestyal Cruises comes to an end this year and, thus far, the Greek line has shown no commitment to renewing it. It has returning tonnage of it’s own to hand at the end of this year, coming back from Thomson Cruises. But the latter line’s decision to retain the popular Thomson Spirit for one more season might yet cause Celestyal to rethink again about the Nefeli.

Other than the ships cited above, it seems that the only new route open for both lines is that of dedicated new builds. Indeed, this is the route that Celestyal itself is heading towards, with plans for a pair of new, 60,000 ton cruise ships. And, with the current, on going boom in the number of small sized expedition ships now under construction, builders are beginning to appraise the viability of more general purpose, smaller sized cruise ships, albeit to a limited degree.

That said, none of this is written in the sky, never mind set in stone. It’s food for thought rather than a set menu. But, as the next two years or so play out, the moving of chess pieces here and there should be fascinating to watch.

As ever, pray stay tuned.

 

 

 

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THE MARCO POLO- LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

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The Marco Polo at anchor off Lerwick

For those used to the mega ships that now dominate the world of contemporary cruising, the Marco Polo might come as something of a conundrum. At only 22,000 tons, the ship is quite a way smaller than the new generation ships that often tower above her in the ports that she visits.

But, before making a judgement based on size alone, it is worth considering that the Marco Polo carries only something like eight hundred passengers maximum. And none of these are children.

Essentially, you have a trim, tidy, adult only ship that can often slip into the smaller, more secluded harbours that the big resort ships have to bypass. That same size allows you to enjoy a more intimate, up close and personal kind of exploring.

If you’re an active type, she might not be best for you. Marco Polo does not have the rock climbing walls, flow riders and ice rinks of the modern ships. There is a small, aft facing upper deck gym and sauna complex that will help keep you in reasonable trim, and a promenade deck that wraps neatly around one of the most sublime, spectacular hulls afloat anywhere today.

You won’t find balcony cabins, either. But the cabins that are on board- both inside and outside- are beautifully panelled little alcoves, with more than ample wardrobe and drawer space. Not all of them convert into doubles so, if booking, best to check the deck plans, or ask your travel agent to do so for you.

Another strong point is the ease and accessibility to almost everything on board, from any one given spot. The restaurant is just a couple of flights down from the main lobby, which contains the Reception and Shore Excursions desks. From this central lobby, the main run of passenger lounges and bars runs fore and aft, ending in the open fantail behind the Marco Polo buffet.

Only Scott’s, the late night entertainment lounge and disco, will require you to ascend another flight of stairs. But, once you’ve checked out the room itself, with it’s stunning, aft facing open terrace allowing Olympian view out over the stern, you’ll probably make it a focal point of your sea days. Half of that terrace- the starboard side- is devoted to smokers.

On the top deck, aft of the funnel, is a trio of Jacuzzis that offer both bubbling warmth and brilliant vistas, right out over both sides of the ship, as well as astern.

Most importantly for many passengers, the Marco Polo is a very strong, stable ship. Built with an ice strengthened hull and a very deep keel for a ship of her size, she can shrug off ocean swells that would have many, much larger ships rolling about like so many drunken dowagers.

In many ways, the Marco Polo plays the part of the traditional, agelessly elegant cruise ship to absolute perfection. She is exactly what she appears to be; an enigmatic sixties throwback that offers solid comfort rather than screaming cabarets and endless, round the clock casino action.

Naturally, this might seem like ‘not enough’ for some, and that’s fair enough. But the Marco Polo does offer something of an alternative to the mega ships; a totally different, dignified and distinctive piece of maritime architecture. If she does not attract your interest, than she should certainly at least command your respect, simply because there is nothing else quite like her in the world.

 

 

THE MARCO POLO; DECK, SHIP-AT SEA

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The Marco Polo at anchor off Lerwick

In an age of excess, there is a very obvious inclination to scoff at the idea that ‘less’ might just possibly equate to ‘more’ under certain circumstances.

Yet in the case of the floating, 1960’s built anachronism that is the Marco Polo, this simple phrase defines the ship, her ethos, and her sheer style to near perfection.

Here is a small, intimate ship, low slung and yet highly styled. No kids. No rock climbing walls or roller rinks. No ‘art auctions’ or extra tariff restaurants.

No casino, No balcony cabins. No huge, fur and feather boa style floor shows. No hassle. No hurry.

So, what is there, then?

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Timeless view over a classic fantail

There are broad, expansive teak terraces that frame unforgettable views out over the ship’s wake. Comfortable, cosy, beautifully decorated lounges that are ideal for relaxing. Menus tailored to the tastes of British passengers.

Of course, all these are a given. That being so, here are some personal observations from being aboard the Marco Polo in mid June over the course of a six night cruise to the Scottish Isles and Faroes.

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Port side corridor, with the Columbus Lounge off to the right

Some people seemed surprised that the aft outdoor pool was not filled throughout the voyage. Many of those actually seemed to forget that we were not on some voyage to benign summer climes, but actually heading north, out into the North Atlantic. Not exactly an ocean famed for either it’s warmth or friendly disposition to all things maritime.

In point of fact, we were half way to Iceland itself at the northern apex of our cruise, when we reached the Faroe Islands. Out in the big, open ocean, the Marco Polo rolled slowly and ponderously. Leaving the pool empty was a wise decision under the circumstances.

And it was often cold, too. Almost glacially so in the Faroes. But, in those climes, I don’t see how anybody could have expected otherwise. After all, this was not the Riviera.

But the play of light on water in these fast, far northern climes was utterly compelling. Even at 1.30 in the morning, the golden afterglow of the recently set sun cast an ethereal, blood red sheen across the rolling gunmetal expanse of the ocean. It was a sight so powerful and overwhelming that it made you forget the cold almost entirely.

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Surreal beauty of the far northern twilight

As we rolled sedately in the Atlantic, the drawers in my cabin continually came open and shut for a couple of hours on end. But with her deep draft and long, classically styled hull shape, the Marco Polo shrugged off this assault with an easy grace that no other ship could muster. After a while, you simply learned to ‘move’ with the ship.

Overall, a sense of calm, easy contentment suffused the Marco Polo as she sailed these legendary waters. There was no hysterical over excitement or hyperbole; in the fevered, often frantic world of the modern, resort style cruise ships, the Marco Polo is nothing less than artfully applied balm.

So there was nothing to really jar the senses or chafe the soul. Relaxation was on the menu every day, pretty much.

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Captain’s Club aboard the Marco Polo

So yes, ‘less’ truly was ‘more’in the case of the Marco Polo on this northbound foray with a Nordic accent. Calm elegance, wrapped in a cocoon of sixties style, met solid comfort in an intimate, inimitable classic of a ship, the likes of which we are extremely unlikely to ever see, or indeed, savour, again. She truly is a scintillating, singular ship; a quirky, slightly eccentric old gem that will captivate anyone with even an ounce of romance or appreciation of the classic, old style of ocean voyaging.

And- because she is, quite literally- in a class of her own, she becomes ever more compelling and addictive as the years go by. For anyone intrigued by the idea of such a ship, my advice would be to sail her while you still can.