Orient Lines’ Marco Polo may not be the sleekest, most modern or
elegant cruise ship on the high seas these days.
But for those who can do without the bells and whistles of
modern-day megaships, the cozy Marco Polo can be a perfect fit.
Who needs a glitzy ship when your itinerary includes the Monte
Carlo Casino and the famed La Croisette walkway in Cannes, where
international stars were gathering for the renowned film
The 822-passenger Marco Polo is comfortable, well run and
manageable in size. And, as I found out on a cruise this summer,
her Mediterranean itineraries make an excellent choice for clients
who want to experience some of the world’s most famous places and
In fact, few places on any ship provide as pleasant a sail-away
as the teak pool deck outside the ship’s Raffles restaurant, aft on
Belvedere Deck. A jazz band serenades passengers while they enjoy a
panoramic view of seaside villas clinging to the cliffs of
Portofino, or the sparkling lights along the Cote D’Azur.
The ship recently celebrated its 10th year of sailing as the
Marco Polo; it was built in Russia in the early 1960s and
originally sailed as the Alexander Pushkin.
To celebrate its latest milestone, Orient Lines has revamped the
ship’s Mediterranean and Europe schedule for spring and fall
Itineraries will include overnight stays in Venice, Barcelona,
Paris, Rome, Athens, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin and
“Our guests have a tremendous desire for destination enrichment
and these overnight port calls are a highlight of their vacation
experience,” said Susan Robison, Orient Lines’ director of public
Another aspect of Orient’s “destination enrichment” is its
outstanding onboard lecture series. Past passengers have heard from
the likes of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, naturalist Jack Hanna and famed
explorer Sir Edmund Hillary, to name a few.
The Marco Polo itself has a few tales to tell. The ship is
noteworthy for its reinforced hull, which makes it especially
maneuverable in the Antarctic. Orient Lines purchased the ship in
the early 1990s, gutted it and renamed it Marco Polo. The sturdy
vessel went into operation for Orient Lines in 1993. Norwegian
Cruise Line purchased Orient in the late 1990s.
Orient then added a second ship, the Crown Odyssey, but that
vessel was transferred back to NCL in 2003, leaving the Marco Polo
as the only Orient Lines ship.
NCL is perfectly content with that, however. “Marco Polo has a
very loyal following and it’s almost a stronger brand than Orient
Lines,” Robison said.
Robison attributes the ship’s popularity to its “one-way
itineraries that feature more ports per itinerary; more time in
each port and cruise-tours featuring pre- and post-hotel stays with
virtually every itinerary.”
Another advantage is that the ship can “reach smaller ports, do
more unusual things and have in-depth experiences,” Robison
The fact that the Marco Polo isn’t as daunting as a new megaship
makes it a pleasantly stress-free experience. There’s no waiting in
line to board the tenders or to fill your tray at the lunch buffet.
Passengers can actually get to know each other, and enjoy some Old
World-type cruise standards, such as afternoon tea time, complete
with tea dancing in the ship’s Ambassador Lounge.
Though the Marco Polo’s decor is a tad dated in places (bright
purple, red and green hallway accents have a disco look), the ship
does provide the must-haves of modern cruising. There’s a health
club and beauty center, three outdoor hot tubs, a small casino, an
Internet center, a library and several comfy lounges.
The ship has 425 cabins 131 inside and 288 outside along with
six suites. Inside cabins, called Superior Staterooms, can be a
tight squeeze. The Standard Oceanview cabins are roomier, but still
smallish by today’s standards, at 130-150 square feet.
Deluxe Oceanview and Superior Deluxe Oceanview cabins are the
best option, especially for longer itineraries. The latter category
features a sitting area with a coffee table and a large picture
window, a refrigerator, an extra-large closet, a writing table and
bathrooms elegantly appointed in gray marble with full-size tubs.
All cabins still utilize good, old-fashioned keys, instead of key
cards. There are no balconies.
The ship’s main dining room, the Seven Seas, is decorated in
mauves and grays, with frosted glass sconces, and mirrored accents.
It offers open seating breakfast and lunch, and two assigned dinner
The ship’s other dining venue, Raffles, serves an extensive
breakfast and lunch buffet, and is open a few nights during each
cruise as an alternative restaurant. A lunchtime grill outside by
the pool offers barbecue fare and, as previously mentioned, a great
The Marco Polo attracts an international crowd, which is
something you should make your clients aware of. The person sitting
next to them at dinner might be from Great Britain, Australia or
Germany. My Mediterranean sailing in May, for example, was 50
percent American and 50 percent from British Commonwealth
While this is a great way to meet interesting people from around
the world, there is one drawback for North Americans: the outside
decks are usually filled with smokers. (The ship’s interiors are
Passengers on the Marco Polo tend to be slightly older (average
age of 57-65) than on other ships, because the Marco Polo’s
itineraries are longer than most.
|Selling The Marco Polo|
1. The ship is designed for itinerary-driven cruisers, rather
than those who want the bells and whistles of a modern ship.
Clients who want to dine in a different restaurant each night are
not good candidates for the Marco Polo.
2. Ideal passengers are retirees with at least 15 days to spend
on a vacation, who want good value for their money, and couldn’t
care less about an eight-story atrium or a rock-climbing wall.
3. The Marco Polo is not recommended for children, as there are
no special facilities or programs for them. Most kids will be
bored, unless they happen to be precocious history buffs.
|Just the Facts|
Ship: Marco Polo
Size: 22,080 tons
Year Built: 1965
Passenger Capacity: 822
Plugging In: 220-volt European-style outlets in
cabins, so adapters are needed. There’s also a 110/220-volt outlet
in the bathroom for electric shavers.
Hits: Service by the Filipino staff is
excellent. Many of the crew members have been onboard for years,
and pride themselves on giving passengers a home away from
Misses: Disabled passengers may have trouble
maneuvering the high thresholds throughout the ship. But the upper
decks and public spaces have adequate wheelchair access, and there
is one handicapped-equipped cabin available.
Hits: There’s an advantage in being a one-ship
fleet. The Marco Polo’s menus aren’t determined ahead of time by a
corporate office stateside. Instead, the staff meets daily to plan
the menu, and it will vary, depending on what local produce items
are available in port. The ship has also been known to take menu
suggestions from passengers.
Misses: Since this is an older ship, the floors
actually slope toward the outside. If the ship lists at all, you
may find yourself climbing uphill to reach your bathroom at
Itineraries: In addition to Mediterranean and
Greek Isle sailings, the Marco Polo will sail to Scandinavia, the
British Isles, the Baltic, Russia, South America and Antarctica
during the 2004-05 season. Itineraries vary in length from 10 to 36
Cost: From $1,495 to $6,045, for inside