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Built in the early 60s, in East Germany as the Alexander Pushkin, this ship was one of several sisters, and has undergone numerous substantial modifications during her now very long life. Now she is operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages, targetting the British Market
Matthew Sudders (January 4, 2011)
The Alexander Pushkin
Built in the early 60s, in East Germany as the Alexander Pushkin, this ship was one of several sisters, and has undergone numerous substantial modifications during her now very long life. Looking at the postcards on Ian Boyle's excellent website, her external profile was most sleek as delivered, when she had a forward superstructure front which reminds me a little of Sagafjord, in being rather curvy. Initially this ship must have been unusual in that she had mostly outside passenger cabins, and even the windowless rooms were on the outer sides of the vessel, rather than in the center.
This is long before Wartsila's All Outside Cruiser (which was eventually built as Royal Princess), was even thought of. Yet despite this, most cabins were initially without bathrooms. To achieve the all outside arrangement, a cabin plan similar to the Bibby cabins on P&O seems to have been employed with cabins in interlocking sets of 4, 2x2 berth and 2x4berth. In the 4 berths, the window wa s reached across the desk where the cabin narrowed to accommodate within it, a 2 berth arrangement.
The ship originally seems to have had enclosed promenades on the Promenade deck, and the forward half of the saloon deck. Her main public rooms consisted of a Music Saloon with dance floor and forward views, 2 cafes, a Cinema, Library, Ladies and Gents Hairdressers, Friendship bar, smoking saloon, and the Rusalka bar by an aft pool which was heated and enclosed by a sliding glass roof (a la France). On the bridge deck there was also a small public space which seems to have been given floor to ceiling glass and is referred to as the Verandah and White Nights bar.
The deckplans show as space outside on the boat deck which is noted as swimming pool on the later plans, and dance floor on the early plans (an outdoor dance floor?). Is this a misprint or was it a forerunner of the solution the Birka Paradise now has with a pool with a retractable dancefloor covering?
Her First Substantial Refit
By the early 80s, she had undergone her first substantial refit, which substantially extended the superstructure forward on the Saloon deck and boat decks. This involved removing some of the forward cabins on boat deck, and according to the literature, created a double height space incorporating the music saloon and lounge. The other major change was to extend the 2 cafes to the full width of the ship, incorporating the forward part of the enclosed promenades.
Fast forward to 1990 and the Alex is in Singapore for a refit when the Soviet Union collapses and the money stops flowing. Enter Gerry Herrod, fresh from selling a luxury cruise line and by 1991 he purchases the vessel and she enters a very very long refit in Piraeus. If the previous refit was substantial, this was revolutionary. Almost the entire cabin accommodation appears to have been scooped out and rebuilt. Gone is the notion of almost all outside, and in its place comes all en suite. The ship re-entered service in Nov 93 as Marco Polo. In the rebuild, the cabins were built out to the side of the ship, eliminating the enclosed promenades once and for all.
The forward double height public room was transformed into a single level theatre and new cabins installed in what would have been the balcony level. Only the area above the stage is now double height. In redesigning this space, unfortunately they eliminated both forward facing public rooms.
The White nights bar and Verandah space aft of the bridge were also given over to cabins and the superstructure extended aft. New spaces astern included Scotts bar on the boat deck, which is the 'night spot' on the ship. A Gym/ Spa above and whirlpools on the deck above that. All topped off by a heli-pad, completing the expedition image.
Down on the Saloon deck, the full transformation also took place. The 2 cafe's were merged into a single full-width bar, now the Captain's club. Aft, the accommodation was extended to the full width of the ship. The Cinema, Smoking room and Friendship bars went, replaced by boutiques and the Palm Garden space. And a Lido restaurant was created in an areas that was once toilets, haridressers and changing rooms around the aft pool. The enclosure was also eliminated, meaning all pools were now outside.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages
Now she is operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages, targetting the British Market, and here's a few thoughts on the experience. Arriving at Tilbury terminal, was rather like entering 'gods waiting room', with the overwhelming majority of the passengers being the post retirement crowd. We boarded slightly later than expected and after finding our outside cabin, I was impressed. It was well laid out and fitted, with sufficient storage space and no obvious serious wear and tear. The public spaces were similarly well kept, modern without glitz.
Onboard entertainment targetted the British passengers and was provided by British cruise staff. The result was energetic and appropriate and they made full use of the ship. There was a full production show every night. I guess Marco Polo's showlounge was considered state of the art when built but now seems rather dated. It is set up with limited tiering to the seating, and the stage doesn't have any curtains so the case seem to come on from the lounge entrance half the time. Nonetheless, they didn't do badly and whilst not on a par with a megaship, it was more than I expected.
Food and dining generally was where one really noticed the low fares. A crowded dining room, poor quality ingredients, excessive portion control and very limited buffet hours were characteristics.
CMV didn't seem to have put the same effort into making the menus target brits as they had the entertainment. Nothing was inedible, but apart from Fred. Olsen, and MSC, I've had better on every other line.
The Marco sailed throughout on smooth seas but when there were light swells this made me grateful. WIth her sheer and camber there is nary a flat surface on the ship and she seem to roll if too many people breathed in the wrong direction, and pitched extensively whilst we were in open water. Thankfully our cabin was located so that we weren't troubled by this. If choosing a cruise on the Marco, beware of cabins between the aft and midships stairs, wherein there was a very strong smell of Diesel everytime I passed through.
One thing I very much welcomed was the fold out deck plan from the line. On the back was a full potted history of the ship. Unlike some lines, CMV are happy to show their ship had a career before joining them.
All in all this was a very pleasant trip, excellent value but you get what you pay for. Would I travel CMV again - yes, on a short, competitively priced itinerary.
From the left, top: The Warldorf Restaurant, The Columbus Lounge, The Palm Garden, The Library, The Jade Wellness Centre and The Scotts Bar. (Courtesy Cruise and Maritime Voyages)
For further information: Cruise and Maritime Voyages