My first impression on boarding was that every one of the crew that I spoke
to was warm and friendly, and several days later on continuing this review, this has
remained my experience. Being not sure of what the lunch arrangements might
be, we had brought sandwiches with us, which we ate just before the port. As
it turned out you could still get something to eat after boarding unless you were very
late, in which case it is not long to dinner.
The second experience after boarding is muster drill, which has to take place,
by law, before the ship sails. This, like some other lines, was a civilised
affair held at the muster station where we could sit down, important for elderly, and the
other passengers were quiet during the safety announcement. We found the
life jackets a tight fit, but were supplied with a larger size by our cabin steward.
Quality and service is good. The food is more suited to an
English taste than on the Americanised lines. The full English breakfast
had black pudding and fried bread as well, and included proper bacon (although it
includes the streaky part and is not just the eye of lean meat that some people
expect, it is also grilled in a large tin so it curls up and sticks together, some
passengers were not happy because it was not individually fried with a weight on
top to keep it flat. At least it didn't shatter when you tried to cut it, so I was happy)
and English sausage. On other ships I have had problems getting
fried bread, they seemed not to understand when I explained what it was.
The eggs benedict was excellent, the eggs were cooked, the yolks soft and firm but not
runny, although one day they came underdone. The dining room is not very
big, it looks bigger than it is, as they have mirrors instead of walls at each
end. The rectangular six seater tables are a bit cramped if you are in the
middle. The round tables are better for elbow room but then you get bumped
when someone squeezes between the chairs if you are in a seat which is back to back with
the next table. The tables are also better suited to six than the eight
they set them for. There are two tables set for six and these are very
Breakfast is a choice between a la carte and buffet and you can mix the
two. Only fruit juice, coffee/tea and toast is served at the table or
fixed items ordered from the menu. Anything else including fruit, cereals,
pastries etc you get from the buffet, you can also get most hot items but only
scrambled egg. The waiters are very attentive and will fetch items from
the buffet for those with mobility problems. They do not serve water at
breakfast but will bring a glass of water if asked. The toast is not
ordered individually, but a shared rack is provided for each table. This
means you can not order your own individual choice of Brown, White, Rye, Sourdough,
etc. Seating is informal rather than fixed, so that you are sitting with
different table companions for each meal, unless you arrange to all go at the same time,
this was the best breakfast arrangement I have come across on any ship I have sailed so far.
We thought the Discovery Restaurant was small, but the Verandah was even
smaller. Though, being self service rather than waiter service, the
waiters are able to organise the seating very well. They seemed to have
developed a system of finding the spare seats and getting the information through to
the lead person on the door. Providing the passengers that want a leisurely
meal use the Discovery Restaurant and leave the Verandah for those that want a quick
turnaround then it all works very well.
There is a huge range of lectures detailed in the program for such a small ship.
When I saw the list I thought it was the lecturers for the whole season and we would have just one or two,
but no we had all six. They were all good speakers and gave very interesting talks.
The topics had been chosen well to fit in with the cruise. It seemed a universal impression among
the passengers that the speakers were exceptional and a highlight of our cruise experience.
We didn't go to any shows so we can't assess those.
- Dr David Drewry is a Geologist with
expertise in glaciation, polar regions and global warming. He gave an interesting range of talks
with many different but relevant topics.
- Peter Mawby is an
ornithologist with varied experience of bird research in the arctic and U.K.. His introductory
talk was pitched just right and is the best one I have heard for people new to birding and bird recognition.
- Air Commodore Phil Wilkinson has had an
interesting and distinguished career in the RAF and was able to give us his insight into Russia and the
Russian people. He has also been an active campaigner for British recognition for those that
participated in the arctic convoys.
- Stuart Usher is a military historian with special involvement in expeditions to Norway to recover aircraft
and midget submarines.
- Simon Dunbavand gave a series of talks on the music of the
countries we were visiting.
- Brian Healey, port lecturer, has been both a teacher and artist with a passion for music, architecture,
travel and the sea with a desire to pass on to others the thrill of learning and discovery.
The Itineraries are very interesting with unusual ports as well as the traditional
ones. The arrangements are efficient, but with the minimum of fuss, no stickers,
just go when called and collection of tickets at the coach. The shore excursions
staff, like all the crew on the ship are very helpful and are better than any line we have
been on to date.
We went on six of the organised excursions. These were OK and reasonable
value for money. Not as good a value as when you arrange your own, but then you have
the added security that if there is a problem the boat will wait, or they will arrange for you to
get to the next port. If you are independent then you are on your own, though reputable
firms have emergency arrangements and I have never known this to be a problem. The
official ship excursions are usually the ones that get back late when inconsiderate passengers are
late getting back to the coach, which with several stops can accumulate. I have heard
such passengers arrogantly say "Oh the ship will wait", which may be true if there are no other
constraints. But if there is a tide window, the berth is required by another ship,
there is a risk that the next port may have to be missed, or a number of other reasons, then the
Captain will take a decision based on minimising the overall cost and maximising the experience
for the other passengers. They may one day get a shock.
Like all cruise lines they imply that if you do not take an excursion from the cruise
line you must have a Russian visa in Russian ports. This is a distortion of the actual
truth. Providing you are on a cruise ship and do not stay for more than 3 days (2
nights), remain on board overnight and only travel under arrangements by an official tour company
recognised by the Russian Officials, then you do not need a visa. The travel company
will arrange the necessary documentation. If you want to get off and wander around on
your own, visit friends or stay overnight, then you do need a visa and should contact the Russian
Embassy well in advance. You can read more about this at
Having had a nasty experience on the Marco Polo we always fear disembarkation.
Notice how you are always asked to complete the cruise questionnaire before you find out what
the arrangements will be. When we got the instructions we saw the dreaded words "all
cabins to be vacated by 7:00 a.m.". However we soon realised that we could go to breakfast then and would
probably be called by the time we had finished. This turned out to be the case and so the
whole exercise was a leisurely and painless exercise. We did notice as we left the ship
that the Scott Lounge, being next to the exit, was pretty packed. But if you are wise there
are plenty of other places, with ample room to wait until called.
Like all cruise lines they have a fully equipped medical centre and fully trained staff.
Unlike other ships they are clear on their charges, there is information in the cabin on how to use
them and what the charges will be. Note that you pay more for a call out to a cabin than to
attend the medical centre when it is open. However if you have symptoms that you think might
indicate Norovirus then you should stay in your cabin and call them. The last thing you should
do is to wander down to the medical centre with a virulent infection. The ship has a well
established procedure for containment and you will not be charged for callouts if you are unfortunate
enough to get infected. Since medical charges can be quite high, it is worth checking the
small print in your insurance policy.