Never have a perception…

With my love for cruise I normally jump for joy at every opportunity to get back on a ship, but this time I had an unusual sense of apprehension as it would be my first time on a smaller ship. From working and cruising on ships that boast multiple restaurants, a host of activities and an array of innovative features, the thought of a smaller ship appeared to have a daunting effect on me.

Everyone has different ideas of what they like on a cruise and there is a ship and cruise line out there for everyone. So after my initial apprehension, it didn’t take long for me to start feeling excited about experiencing a product I was less familiar with.

Not knowing what to expect…

As every newspaper splashed headlines of Sunday being the hottest day, I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be than on the water. As my alarm bellowed into my ear on Sunday morning and I awoke my lethargic eyes, I was looking forward to seeing what Cruise & Maritime had to offer.

London Tilbury was a short drive away and I can see why people love the convenience of a local port. The car park was right next to the entrance and there were porters all around guiding us where to go. As we entered the terminal building all the staff had smiles on their faces and created an infectious joyous feeling that put me firmly in holiday mood. As we were given our cruise cards I got talking to the Cruise Director who was telling me about the previous cruise to Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It was lovely to hear how successful it was and I was moved to hear his stories of the veterans onboard.

As soon as we stepped onboard the ship, a friendly staff member took our bags and guided us to our cabins. This was a great personal touch to give a positive first impression of the ship. Something that would be hard to offer on a larger cruise with a higher guest capacity.

My one night home…

Upon entering my cabin my initial surprise was how large it was. For a ship of this size I expected the cabin to be smaller. It was immaculately cleaned with a perfectly made bed, large vanity area, flat screen TV and huge triple wardrobe. As inviting as it was, the sun was calling.

Sun, Sea & Cocktails...

For once the weather man wasn’t wrong as the clear blue ski in Tilbury illuminated the hot sun that beamed down on Marco Polo. This meant only one thing, it was time for a cocktail on deck. We found a perfect spot right at the top of the ship to base ourselves for the day before making our way to the bar to see what kinds of tropical cocktails we could have to quench our thirst.

The bar menu offered an array of different cocktails including a Marco Polo Special (although I was not brave enough to try this!). I went for a frozen Mango Daiquiri that came complete in a large exotic glass with fruit and an umbrella (why does a cocktail automatically taste better because it has an umbrella in!?). The drinks prices were the cheapest I had ever seen on any cruise, with the cocktails only costing around £4 each.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing on the comfortable loungers, laughing, drinking cocktails and the occasional dip in the hot tub. I really enjoyed sailing away from Tilbury as it offered scenic countryside views. It gave a quintessentially British feel that showcased views we would not necessarily see unless sailing on this stretch of water.

As the sun started to set over the aft of the ship, it was time to see if the evening offered the delightful experience we had enjoyed all day. I already knew there wasn’t going to be huge show production or lively bars, but none the less I was intrigued to see what happens on this quaint ship when evening sets in.

When the sun goes down...

After a refreshing shower and attire change we met for pre-dinner drinks in Scott’s Bar. There are no formal evenings onboard and most people were in smart/casual wear. We sat by the window and enjoyed a bottle of house wine. We were the only ones in the lounge which I found interesting, giving me the impression most people opt for the earlier dining time.

The Waldoff dining room was large and filled with immaculately laid tables and smiling wait staff. The menu was varied, making it hard to decide what to order. Although with six different courses, you can’t really go wrong. My meal in the dining room was the thing that impressed me most about the cruise, the food was what I would expect on a luxury line. My six courses were:

1. Onion Baji

2. Pumpin Soup

3. Salad

4. Filet Minion Steak

5. Baked Alaska

6. Cheese Plate

Feeling more than satisfied I managed to pull myself up and head for the Marco Polo Lounge to see the evening show. I have to admit it wasn’t a large spectacular that I have become fond of onboard larger ships. The 'Bon Voyage' show was a small-scale cabaret that showcased singers, dancers and a live band. This time gave me the opportunity to see the 'type' of guests onboard, it was mostly couples with an average age of 60 – 80. Everyone appeared to enjoy the show and smiles were apparent all around.

An intimate disco...

Evenings are my favourite time onboard cruise ships and I love to experience the array of different bars and nightclubs. Although Marco Polo does not offer such an extensive array of different evening venues, Scott’s Bar was heaving with smiles and people enjoying themselves. The first part of the evening saw three male jazz singers entertain, this was then followed by disco music.

It exposed a different evening experience to what the larger lines offer. Like an intimate family party, it was obvious this atmosphere is one of the reasons people love this line.

As everyone enjoyed themselves, I crept outside to the open deck and watched as the disappearing sunset still left vibrant reflections on the open water.

After a comfortable night’s sleep, I was awoken by the striking colours that gleamed through my window (only because I chose not to close the curtains!). We then had a delicious full cooked breakfast followed my fresh pastries and coffee before it was time to say goodbye to Marco Polo.

90% return rate...

My Cruise and Maritime experience was different to what I am used to and it opened my eyes to how different people’s cruise expectations are.

Do you need rock climbing walls, lots of restaurants and multiple activities? With the impressive 90% return customer rate that Cruise and Maritime has, clearly many people don’t. They do not sell themselves on having the most innovative ships at sea, but pride themselves on offering an intimate, family-like cruising experience to take you to some of the world’s most intriguing places.

It has been said that many people forget the true valuing of cruising is to explore the world, but this is certainly still a core value of Cruise and Maritime.

It was a pleasant experience that I would recommend to anyone who simply wants to visit intriguing destinations on a friendly ship.

By Sally Grimes