Cruising time!

Day 1:

When I plan my trips I always take my time so when I left this morning around 08.00 I didn’t need to rush and instead of going directly to Hoek van Holland, I decided to go to Scheveningen first to have a walk around the lighthouse, the beach and the port. In the afternoon I went to Hoek van Holland and spent my time walking around the old lighthouse with a view on the Stena terminal, then I visited the military fort of 1881 and relaxed there with a drink. When I arrived back at my car I spotted the Stena Hollandica that was leaving for her daytime crossing to Harwich. The area around the fort is a great place for shipspotting, relaxing on the small beach or the grass near the water, there is an old lighthouse that used to be in another place and now serves as a landmark, there are also several restaurants and plenty of free parking space, this way you can avoid all those expensive parking lots, even the short-term parking at the Stena terminal is not free of charge anymore. When the Stena Hollandica left there was a heavy fog coming in and suddenly visibility dropped to a point where taking photos was almost impossible, so I went to the Stena terminal and waited in line to board the ferry, just when I stopped the car at the terminal I could see the Stena Britannica arrive. The boarding started pretty late so I was only just sitting down in the restaurant onboard Stena Britannica by 21.00 for my pre-booked 3-course meal and as usual the quality of Stena Line service was fantastic.

Day 2:

This morning my alarm went off at 05.00 and after a shower and breakfast I left the ship at 06.45 and immediately parked my car at the Harwich International Port station, this building serves as trainstation, ferryterminal for footpassengers and cruise terminal so I already know where I will end up after the cruise and that makes it very easy for me to get back to my car next week. My first train took only about 15 minutes and after a change at Manningtree I was sitting down relaxed in my pre-booked seat in the train from Manningtree to London Liverpool Street.

Upon arrival in London I went first to Paddington station to store my bags fort he day so I could explore the city without having to carry my bagage all the time.

My first visit of the day was a place I have been wanting to visit for years, the Cutty Sark. This great ship was built as a tea clipper and was one of the fastest sailing ships of the world, after a rich history it was finally restored and opened as a museum in Greenwich next to the Thames and after years as a museum she was closed in 2006 in order to undertake a large amount of preservation work but a year later she tragically burned out. Despite her age and the tragic fire she was completely restored and most of her structure is still original, she has now been restored to her original design as a fully-rigged tea clipper.

I used my unlimited one-day underground ticket to the max and went from the Cutty Sark to St. Paul’s cathedral, this cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and it’s best known for its enormous dome, beware that photography is not allowed inside the cathedral but it is allowed from the Stone Gallery, this is a walkway around the outside of the base of the outer dome.

I walked from St. Paul’s to the Thames and over the Millennium bridge to Embankment and in the direction of the London Eye, I crossed over to the other side of the Thames again and visited Temple church before taking the underground again to Paddington station.

After having eaten at Paddington station I needed to collect my bags and just next to the collection point is a waiting room with power outlets to recharge your phone, by 20.00 I was in the train to Cardiff. Because of flash floodings on some areas on the tracks the train was running 2 hours late so it wasn’t before midnight until I was getting into bed.

Day 3:

The day arrived that I was getting onboard a ship that has been on my wishlist for a long time now. So first things first, breakfast in the hotel was of the usual good quality and service and after checking out and storing my bags for the day I went to the station to meet Louy again. We explored the city and Cardiff Castle first but then it was time to collect my bags in the hotel and take a taxi to the cruise terminal.

No matter how I travel to the departure port, every time I take the taxi to go to the cruise terminal I get amazed by that first sight of the ship. Apparently I was one of the early passengers to check in and there weren’t many people waiting in line yet, I didn’t see any bus so the large groups hadn’t arrived yet. So I entered the tent that serves as a make-shift cruise terminal as Cardiff doesn’t have a dedicated building for that purpose and a friendly lady handed me the health declaration form that I have to fill in. The next stop was the cruise director Mitch who handed me my cruise ID card and with this I went to the check-in counter, the nice lady (who is also a dancer onboard) handled my check-in (for this cruise that stays in Europe I used my Belgian Identity card but usually you need a passport when going on a cruise), after passing quickly through the security checkpoint I could board the ship (the whole process took only 15 minutes) and head for cabin 471 where I immediately dropped my bag and took only my camera and the cabin key to go exploring the ship.

The Marco Polo was built in 1965 as one of 5 sister ships for the Russian company called Black Sea shipping, she was named Alexander Pushkin, her hull is ice-strengthened and she is capable of breaking the ice by sailing backwards and using her stern as an ice-breaker, she is only 170 meters long and has a top speed of only 20 knots but that is exactly her charm, she has attractive lines and a curved deck, she is in fact a proper ocean liner.

The facilities onboard include the Waldorf restaurant on deck 6 where you can have 1stseating or 2ndseating dinner, breakfast and lunch, Marco’s bistro is located on deck 8 at the rear of the ship and offers buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner with both indoor & outdoor seating available. For relaxation or intense sports, the ship offers a sauna, spa & fitness centre on deck 10 at the rear, there is also a pool on deck 8 outside and 3 whirlpools on deck 11 outside, these are great for windy days at sea (make sure to use sunblock when you spend a lot of time on deck on sunny days!). On deck 9 at the rear there is Scott’s bar for music, dance and cocktails in the evening or refreshing drinks during daytime. It’s obvious that the relaxing areas on deck are mostly at the rear of the ship spread out over decks 8 to 11 and there are often demonstrations or live performances organised on the rear of deck 8 outside.

As for the rest of the ship there are a cinema, casino, Marco Polo lounge offers live shows every evening and there is are several other lounges and bars with different themes, furthermore there is a library, photography shop, tax free shop, reception desk for general inquiries, shore excursion centre and travel agency if you want to book your next cruise with the same company. During the day there are always some events going on like bingo, shuffleboard (a typical ocean liner game dating back to the 1900’s), a quiz from time to time and much more. In short, you will never be bored on this ship.

Now that I was onboard I started to relax completely, no need to watch the time or find a place to eat or sleep, everything you need is onboard. This is an adults-only ship so no screaming kids or babies around. The ship has a complete promenade deck and the best place for watching the departure is on the foredeck just in front of the bridge, this is an area you don’t find on modern cruise ships anymore. Because of the relatively small size of the ship she is not overcrowded and doesn’t feel like a big resort like most of the new cruise ships, this is classic cruising.

The Marco’s bistro offers a good lunch buffet for all guests and I tried as many dishes as I could, the fried rice tasted like Asia and it combined perfectly with the battered fish. There was a wide selection of cheese, ham, paté and more with bread or sandwiches. Off course there is a selection of coffee, decaf or tea available as well and you can have lunch in the bistro or outside on deck, in this fine weather (sunny with 18°C) I preferred my lunch on deck. After lunch they offered a selection of desserts.

I was getting a bit sweaty after lunch so I decided to take a shower first and go film the ship going through the lock at Cardiff afterwards, by the time we were out at sea it was time for dinner, for this cruise I was on late dinner so I had to go to the Waldorf restaurant by 20.30, we were still on British time so no need to check the time zone yet.

After a high quality dinner I went to the Marco Polo lounge to see tonight’s show about ABBA and after the show we were all invited to Scott’s bar to continue the party with live music through the night, off course this all was completed with a gracious amount of cocktails or other drinks, it wasn’t until 02.00 when I went to bed.

Day 4:

Breakfast times can be chosen depending on the place where you want to have it, I decided to take breakfast in the main restaurant around 09.00 (served until 09.30) and again I was surprised by the high standards of the available breakfast, even though some ferries offer very good food in their restaurants, the food and service onboard cruise ships is of an all together higher standard. We were going to spend the whole day at sea so there was no need to get ready for anything, I just decided to “go with the flow”.

Wondering around the ship I noticed we were passing the Wolf rock lighthouse in the distance, so I took some photos of that one with my 400mm lens and toured the ship for a while. Lunch was available from 12.00 in Marco’s bistro and hamburgers were available on deck next to the pool. Not many people were brave enough to go in the pool as the sun was bright but the wind made it a bit chilly, this wasn’t really a problem as at 14.00 there was a demonstration of how to make cocktails and live music immediately after. I changed into beachwear and went into the whirlpool on that is 2 decks higher than the pool, I relaxed there for the rest of the afternoon and enjoyed the surrounding sea, sun and occasional nap on one of the deckchairs. This is way better than a crowded beach in one of those cheap mass tourism resorts.

By late afternoon I woke up from a short nap on deck and went back to my cabin to fresh up and go relax in one of the lounges with some tea and a good book.

By the time the evening was setting in I changed into a more “formal” outfit as the dress code of today was formal and once ready I went to the Waldorf restaurant for dinner. The menu was classy as usual and I decided to go for the duck this time. After dinner it was time to go to the Marco Polo lounge for tonight’s show “The Best of Broadway” and after some last cocktails I went to bed.

Day 5:

This morning we arrived at Honfleur in France and after breakfast in the Waldorf restaurant I went ashore to go walk around the medieval port of Honfleur for a few hours, the sun was warm and there was almost no wind so it was very hot, since the ice cream looked very tempting I decided to sit down in the shade for a while and have some ice cream. By 13.30 I was at the shuttle bus to go back to the ship for lunch and because of the warm weather I changed into swimwear and went to the whirlpools, in this windless weather the whirlpool was getting a bit too hot after about 15 minutes so I grabbed a deck chair and relaxed on deck in the shade to avoid getting more sunburned after yesterday. By the time I was dry I felt the need for relaxing indoors with some tea and biscuits, there are tea & coffee stations all over deck 8 at the rear of the ship and they are free of charge, the Garden lounge is the perfect place to relax in peace and read a book. At 16.30 we were leaving Honfleur and I went out for some time to take photos around the ship and the surrounding landscape … oops “Seascape”, and off course to have my afternoon tea and biscuits.

By the time we were at sea the wind was a bit stronger and the sun was less burning so now I spent as much time as I could in the whirlpool until it was time to get ready for dinner.

My last evening onboard started in the restaurant as usual with an equally tasty dinner as the days before and instead of going to the show I decided to spend the rest of the evening in the various lounges onboard with some high quality whisky and some late night snacks that were provided all over the ship. On a ship of this size and quality you always meet fellow passengers to talk with and share experiences about the cruise and previous cruises and other voyages, this type of cruising in very stylish and one might call it “British style cruising”. CMV offers several different cruises around the world on very stylish ships for all ages and all budgets.

Day 6:

The day the cruise ends! We arrived in Harwich very early in the morning and off course they don’t kick you off immediately, so I woke up early and went to breakfast for the last time. Once ready for going home I waited until they called my category and left the ship quickly and went to my car that was waiting in the parking of the cruise terminal that is also the train station and ferry terminal, this was the end of a great experience onboard the Marco Polo.

I spent the rest of the day in Harwich to visit the Lightvessel 18 and watch the Marco Polo leave port. By late afternoon I was waiting in line to check in at the Stena Line ferry terminal and once onboard the Stena Hollandice I went about my usual routine onboard, dinner first and then relaxing in one of the lounges until it's time to go to bed.

Day 7:

Like usual the ferry arrived in Hoek van Holland in the early morning and I had time to go get breakfast before I had to clear the cabin and go to the cardeck. Once clear of the ferry terminal I went straight home. Another trip ended!