Review: MV Marco Polo
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Return to Svalbard
46 people found this review helpful
A cruise to Svalbard from Edinburgh, we just had to go. There were other factors too, Marco Polo is one of our favourite ships and I really wanted to return to Svalbard and consolidate the impressions I'd gained 3 years ago. I wonder how much longer Svalbard is going to remain accessible to cruise ships with the new regulations coming into force in 2015?
Our northbound, Norwegian ports of call were same-day Molde and Andalsnes with an overland excursion between the ports. It was delightful to see Molde with spring flowers and greenery after the snow and ice had all melted. We sailed north to Tromso amid wonderful scenery and clear blue skies dotted with occasional clouds. Tromso is a city I love in winter, this time the warmth came, not only from the people, but from the sunshine. The shuttle bus took us into the city centre where market stalls filled the square and Norwegians drank coffee in the open air.
Honningsvag was our last port in Norway. If it weren't for the scenery, we could have been forgiven for thinking Captain had got lost and gone to the Mediterranean as temperatures soared and passengers sunbathed !
The weather changed, mist descended and shrouded Bjornoya (Bear Island) during our sail north to Longyearbyen. It must have been the warm temperatures, mist and sea fog were going to become a feature of the rest of the cruise. Longyearbyen came into sight and we were soon tied up at the jetty. The shuttle bus and excursion buses were waiting and, despite it being Sunday, the town came to life as the morning progressed. Spitsbergen Travel served refreshments and sold souvenirs in their harbour side marquee.
Longyearbyen is interesting. This remote town has a thriving student population and serves as a staging post for the more adventurous travellers who are heading for the North Pole. The university and museum are in the same building, hotels, restaurants, bars and shops line the main street while the local housing makes a colourful division from the snow topped hills. There is new construction- foundations of piles driven into the ground that will eventually support new buildings. Then there is nature- Arctic flowers were just starting to grow. It seems to survive in a haphazard way until you see that certain areas are fenced off from human traffic. The rain started to fall before we departed, not surprising because the temperature displayed on the thermometer during our visit was 12C.
The note of the engine changed, I'd slept later than intended, we must have arrived in Magdalenefjord. Never mind breakfast, I was dressed and out on deck just in time to here the announcement that there was a lot of ice and it wouldn't be safe to stay. Marco Polo was going make her way out before any more ice crumbled from the glacier edges. We still had time take our photographs and passengers lined the decks to watch our slow, gentle departure as the ice floes drifted past Marco Polo's hull.
So to Ny-Alesund where we anchored offshore among even more ice floes. I think this is my favourite Svalbard port of call. Marco Polo's tender boats were launched and we went ashore with strict instructions about what we were allowed to do. These instructions come, via the ship's entertainment crew, from the Governor of Svalbard. It wasn't cold and there was some very light rain as we explored the town, around the various research stations and the infrastructure that supports the people who live here. There was building work going on in Ny-Alesund too. The Arctic foxes didn't put in an appearance but the bird life did- with the usual attacks by Arctic Terns who saw us as a threat to their nests. (there were lots of umbrellas and walking poles being held high above heads as targets for the birds).
So where was the elusive Polar Bear? Well actually there had been one wandering around Ny-Alesund the previous day! Right down in the harbour area, if we'd arrived in time to see it, we might not have been able to land. Was this just a story for us tourists? No, I've actually seen the video.
Time to start the homeward journey. The sea fog closed in and only the tops of surrounding hills and islands were visible. We were joined by occasional 'sea creatures', probably whales or porpoises? I just couldn't get a good enough photograph to be able to identify the shapes that were just visible above the surface of the water.
It is a long sail south to the Faroes and the entertainment team were busy with lectures, crafts and, of course, entertainment. I confess that I usually use these sea days to try and create some order to my photographs between meal times.
Next day, the Faroes came into view and, eventually, Tórshavn itself. I like this Capital City, it doesn't look like a Capital with its wooden houses and grass roofs. There is a buzz, people are busy, boats come and go. The cars being driven around the narrow streets appear fairly new, no 'old bangers' in sight. They dodge the visitors who are perhaps not thinking 'city' as they walk along, and alongside, the narrow pavements ! The shuttle bus driver wanted to chat, he was very interesting as we waited for the bus to fill up and return us, through the docks, to Marco Polo.
We seemed to have gained some new passengers? The fog had grounded all flights in and out of Torshavn and, hearing we were heading to Kirkwall, three Orkney-bound refugees managed to sort out the red-tape and joined us. One was a reporter, lets hope he wrote a good report.
The sun shone in Kirkwall and the warmth returned as we explored. The museum, St Magnus Cathedral, the narrow streets. The open-top tour bus was just about to leave but the timetable meant it would return too late Marco Polo's 'all aboard time'. I don't know how much negotiating was involved but as the last excursion buses returned to the ship, the tour bus also appeared. Well done Orkney !
Last night on Marco Polo. I think a lot of packing was done quickly. Despite the fog returning, it did clear enough to see the mainland coast, the overnight Northlink ferry starting its sailing north and a few whales. I felt the ship turning into the Forth Estuary but, somehow, managed to sleep through the arrival of the tugs, the locks, and tying up in Leith. Time to have breakfast, disembark and drive home in the sunshine.
Marco Polo doesn't really change. The cabins are comfortable and clean, as is the rest of the ship. I enjoy the food, normally eating in buffet at times to suit ourselves- eating outside when we want, don't want to miss seeing anything, do I ?
The crew are friendly. Perhaps they are reserved at first, taking their cue from the passengers themselves. We've watched as crew members have been promoted over the years, it's nice to see such loyalty from both employers and employees. There are some married couples, others look forward to getting home to their families at the end of a long contract- but talking of when they're rejoining the ship. We'll see them on our next cruise.
46 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.