CMV Baltic Cities & St. Petersburg Cruise August 21st to September 2nd 2014
The Baltic beckoned; and an enticing CMV itinerary visiting six overseas countries in twelve days 'fitted the bill to a tee'..
I booked the trip. The usual prelims and packing ensued, working from checklists and trying to anticipate all one's needs. Formal dinners would be part of the cruise so appropriate clothes and shoes needed to be packed. 165 miles lay between me in Gloucestershire and the 'Marco Polo' at London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury. The M4; a very busy M25; and the Dartford Tunnel allowed me to cover the distance in about three and a half hours.
Dockside parking at Tilbury was pre-booked. Having first offloaded my luggage, I was escorted to the parking area then brought back to the terminal on the shuttle bus. The friendly face of our Cruise Director Richard Sykes greeted us at Check-in. A health declaration was signed; passport checked; and hand luggage, jackets and metal accoutrements X-Ray scanned by Port Security. I was on board 'Marco Polo' by quarter after Midday and found my luggage outside my internal cabin on Amundsen Deck. A friendly member of the ship's 'hotel staff' had escorted me to my cabin and my cabin steward for the cruise introduced himself to me. I had a solo occupancy twin-bed cabin. The shower room facilities were immaculate and well-arranged as usual. It was a sunny day in Essex. Safety Drill next; then dinner. We departed Tilbury and headed east out along the Thames Estuary at 4 pm. Lots to see – wind farms, Southend pier, shipping; and wartime forts. The 'Welcome Show' aboard that night featured Greek, Irish, American, Scottish and English songs and some dancing. Jolly and upbeat. Time to move the clocks forward one hour. There were 820 passengers and 329 crew aboard 'Marco Polo'.
The next day was a 'Sea Day' as we crossed a calm North Sea. The Tours Presentation talks were interesting and I booked one excursion for North Germany and two for Russia, Solo travellers attended a friendly get-together with a complimentary drink in Scott's Bar. A lady passenger from a previous trip had booked last-minute having heard about the cruise from me. We are both keen on playing 'Scrabble' and it was good to play a few games outside on the aft deck. The 'Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party' was sociable with drinks and canapes handed out by the smartly dressed bar staff. In the line-up of key staff and crew, each introduced by the Cruise Director, we tried to give the Scottish lady 'Shorex' Manager the biggest cheer and applause but she was 'pipped on the post' by the Chef ! After that we enjoyed our first Formal Dinner – I was on a circular table for eight at 'First Sitting'. I later went to the ABBA songs show – so good that I saw it twice. The CMV Show Team is excellent.
Saturday we arrived at our first 'port of call', Copenhagen. On the approach we enjoyed good views of Elsinore Castle off to our starboard side. It was a brilliantly sunny day. After an early lunch on board, my 'Scrabble' friend and I headed out to walk the City. Within minutes one passes the 'Little Mermaid' statue. We then saw the Amalienborg Palace and Nyhavn before meeting fellow passengers in the grounds of the Kristianborg Palace. We took a lift up the tower there for a grand overview of the City. We hired a taxi for 10 Euro's for the ride back to the ship. More 'Scrabble'; then an excellent dinner; before a very entertaining show put on by UK Guest Act, one-man band and comedian, Bruce Thompson. We backtracked a bit to go round Zeeland in an anti-clockwise direction as 'Marco Polo's 8.3M deep draught was incompatible with the shallow seas in the area of the Malmo Bridge directly south of Copenhagen.
The following day we arrived in Sassnitz on the island of Rugen in northernmost Germany. The weather was bright and sunny but cool. I took an afternoon excursion to visit the fishing village of Vitt and also the National Park with its high, white chalk, cliffs. Other people took the complimentary shuttle bus to Binz; and I gather the excursion to Stralsund was very good. That night, the ship's clocks were moved forward another hour.
A 'Sea Day' was next. More excursions talks from the 'Shorex' team; a fruit-carving demo on the aft deck; and participation in the 'Just a Minute' show in the Marco Polo Show Lounge. A couple more games of 'Scrabble' then the special cocktail party for 'Columbus Club' members – passengers who had voyaged 20 nights or more with CMV before. It was good to meet 'Marco Polo' regulars Jack and Maureen at the party. The Captain and the off-duty Chief Officers chatted with us all. Downstairs for the usual four-course dinner then an excellent show – 'Best of Broadway'. The beautiful sunset was a fitting end to a very full day at sea.
Next Tallinn in Estonia and it rained heavily while we were there. I walked round Old Town in the morning; had lunch aboard ship; then returned to the city by complimentary shuttle bus in order to climb to the top of the City Hall tower. The views were great. A favourite CMV show was on that night, back on the boat – 'From Russia with Love'. Before retiring to bed, clocks were moved forward one hour for the third and final time on the voyage east.
And so to, what to many was the highlight of the cruise – St Petersburg. I went on an excursion to the 'Hermitage' in the afternoon and saw treasures in the 'Gold Room' and paintings by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Raphael and Caravaggio in the sumptuous Palace State Rooms and galleries. We stopped at a large souvenir shop on the way back to the ship. After dinner, Richard entertained us with his show 'Unforgettable' – his tribute to the songs of Nat King Cole. For the following day I had booked an excursion to Catherine Palace and Park located at the town of Pushkin some thirty miles from St Petersburg. The palace was sumptuous and the gardens splendid. Yet another visit to a souvenir shop ensued. The complimentary coffee or vodka went down well. We returned to the ship using part of the new St Petersburg Ring Road That night it was farewell to Russia. Many of us were out on the bow deck watching our passage, at sunset, through the tidal-surge flood defence system located in the partial barrage across the bay. 'Marco Polo' was in convoy with other cruise ships as we headed out into the Gulf of Finland.
We arrived in Helsinki the following morning. I walked to the 'Rock Church' and Sibelius Park before viewing Senate Square and the waterfront market. I enjoyed five revolutions on the Finnair Skywheel for 10 Euro's. We had a beautiful 'sail out' through the islands that evening. Stockholm was next. I took the shuttle bus into the City and walked round Old Town before taking the lift, ramps and steps up the inside of the City Hall tower for yet another magnificent overview. That tower visit costs 5 Euro's and lasts 35 minutes. After watching the 12 o'clock 'Changing of the Guard' outside the Royal Palace I headed to the rendezvous point for the shuttle bus. That area had however been closed off by Police because of an impending political demonstration and march. Fortunately I bumped into my 'Scrabble' companion who told me where the shuttle bus had now been relocated. The 'Marco Polo' Shorex Manager did a sterling job rounding up the last few passengers who were scattered around the city centre not knowing quite where to go. I had enjoyed chatting to a couple of Swedish lady police officers as they were closing off a bridge. They reminded me of the original ABBA girls .. Agnetha and Anna-Frid , but in uniform ! Safely back aboard 'Marco Polo', I enjoyed the jacuzzi and an absolutely wonderful 'sail out' through the archipelago. The Formal Gala Dinner complete with the 'Baked Alaska' parade and a champagne toast lifted everybody's spirits after a somewhat fraught day; and the 'Rock and Roll Dreams' show was very entertaining.
Then the journey south down through the Baltic Sea passing the island of Gotland on our port side. Games of 'Scrabble' then an organised group visit to the ship's bridge. This was followed by a Solo Travellers' lunch with complimentary wine in the Waldorf Restaurant. Back into the jacuzzi during the afternoon. Bruce Thompson entertained us again that evening with more music and comedy. Many of us stayed up to watch our ship enter the Kiel Canal at Holtenau at 11 pm. But the night was not yet over. Richard Sykes and his accompanying male singers put on an astonishingly good cabaret in Scott's Bar – 'Jersey Boys and Motown Guys.'. The beat was so 'infectious' that many of us were up dancing like teenagers on the dance-floor to songs like 'Cherie Baby'. This was really a cruise highlight. I danced with CMV's Katie. We gave it 'full welly' !.
The Kiel Canal transit was overnight but the decks were crowded with passengers at 6.30 am to watch our exit through the locks at Brunsbuttel. We were then into the Elbe Estuary before passing Cuxhaven and voyaging out into the North Sea which was crowded with ships in that area, We enjoyed the regular general knowledge quiz in Captain's Club; an ice-carving demo; more 'Scrabble'; lunch on the aft deck in the sunshine; and more time in the jacuzzi. At one point during the day an F-16 fighter jet roared overhead fast and low, performing a barrel roll as it did so. Probably some NATO pilot who thought he would give the passengers on 'Marco Polo' a bit of a show by buzzing the ship. Certainly something different ! That night clocks were put back one hour just as they did on two other occasions during the return leg of our voyage. A new production show that night – 'Scenes from the Cutting Room'. Movie-themed songs and dance - very good. At one point Richard Sykes came on dressed as the 'Cowardly Lion' from 'Wizard of Oz'. Like the F-16, something unexpected and different !
By 8.30 am the following morning we were safely docked back in Tilbury.. Julie, the Guest Services Manager, was doing a magnificent job as usual getting the passengers off the ship in manageable and scheduled groups, with their passports and cruise cards to hand but without their cabin keys !
We had travelled 3050 nautical miles. The seas had been fairly calm throughout. I took the shuttle bus to my car in the car park and was home in Gloucestershire by 1 pm. Again, a very varied and interesting trip that each person can enhance and embellish by his or her personal choice of on-shore excursions and on-board activities.
If you have not been on a CMV cruise – go on one!!