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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'.

 

Flam

By now embraced amidst the stunning scenic sprawl of the Norwegian fjords, the Marco Polo sailed slowly through the night toward our next rendezvous with Mother Nature. Sometime in the early hours, while most of us were still sleeping, the anchor went down just off the small town of Flam,located deep in a branch of Aurlandfjord.

Brilliant sunshine greeted me as I padded up on deck for an alfresco breakfast with a side order of sublime visual splendour on all sides. Plump, fluffy clouds hung like becalmed, ghostly galleons in a powder blue sky. Ranks of pine tress marched down to the still, silent edge of the fjord like ranks of Grenadier guards. Ashore, coaches sat at the edge of a vast, rolling meadow carpeted with a riot of multi coloured fauna, waiting to take the passengers on their day’s adventure.

I have always considered Flam to be one of the true highlights of any Norway cruise. It has an air of surreal, unhurried calm that seems to affect everything and everyone around it; a Norwegian Brigadoon, writ large in glowering granite, gushing waterfalls, and a dozen different shades of dazzling greenery. It never fails to grab the heart like a vice.

After a sunny, fun filled day at sea, the sudden stillness that greeted our arrival in Eidfjord was one hell of a stunning contrast. Low, rolling hills stood against the backdrop of an ominously leaden sky. Nearby, the German cruise ship Aida Luna- which I had last seen in Bermuda three years earlier- ghosted past us to the one available pier in town. The Marco Polowould be tendering passengers ashore today.

Stopped at anchor, and with her tenders slowly being winched down to water level, the sheer, implacable vastness of Norway seemed to surround the Marco Polo in a kind of uneasy embrace.

Eidfjord is actually part of the vastly larger series of inlets, small harbours and waterways collectively known as Hardangerfjord. One of the ‘greatest hits’ fjords on the Norwegian cruise circuit, the Hardangerfjord unwinds in a seventy five mile long, serpentine sprawl. In places, it has a depth of almost 2,700 feet; an almost unimaginable body of enclosed water.

The first full day of our Norway adventure aboard the Marco Polo dawned sunny and calm, with a gently rolling gunmetal swell kissed by fitful whitecaps. The early morning sun sparkled on the royal blue hull plating and washed across the serried tiers of teak decks at the stern. The coffee was hot, and the whole day sparkled with benign possibilities.

With her deep draft and relatively broad hull, the Marco Polo rode out the often capricious North Sea swell with an almost effortless ease. From time to time, she rolled gently to port and starboard, as if attempting to shrug off some imaginary seabirds that tried to cling to the rails. On the lido deck at the stern of the ship, breakfast was being served. The tables around the aft pool were soon full.

If you’re looking for a day full of sensational, show stopping diversions and a whole conga line of time consuming, money eroding gimmicks, then the Marco Polo is not for you. Instead, you’ll find the library is open, arts and crafts classes are taking place in the various lounges, and the first lectures on the upcoming ports of call are taking place.

It was a surreal, brilliant cruise. The storied, veteran Marco Polo and an eight night sweep through the Norwegian fjords at the height of the summer season. A serene venue and a sensational ship. What more could anyone ask for?

Well, how about a twenty piece big band that laid down a blistering sound track of everything from Duke Ellington to platinum chip disco? Big band, big ship. A combination as natural as Rogers and Astaire, or Goffin and King. A perfect fit, almost symbiotic. Yet to experience it out there, as the Marco Polo surged through a conga line of implausible, incredible northern nights, was something else.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been to Norway many times, and always enjoyed the experience immensely. But this cruise had something else. For, with her unique outdoor cascade of tiered, semi circular decks, the Marco Polo offered a string of amazing vantage points from which to drink in the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful country.

Valentyn Zhukov - Captain

Valentyn ZhukovBorn in 1952 in Crimea, Captain Valentyn Zhukov graduated from the Odessa High Engineering Marine School initially working on various cargo vessels from 1980 to 1988. He is married to Liliya and has a 20 year old daughter Victoria.

His career progression saw him rise up through the ranks from Junior Officer through to Chief Officer. From 1989 he started working on passenger vessels initially in the position of Staff Captain and after gaining his licence as Deep Sea Captain in 1992 he was initially promoted to the position of Navigational Captain.

In August 1997, Captain Zhukov had risen up the ranks to gain his first position as Master on M/V Astra 2.

The midnight sun is ones of natures phenomena that takes place during the summer months in locations north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle when the sun is still visible at the local midnight.

  • Around summer solstice (June 21 in the north and December 22 in the south) the sun is visible for the full 24 hours.
  • The number of days per year with potential midnight sun increases the farther towards either pole one goes.
  • Countries you can see the midnight sun Canada (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) Iceland, Finland, Norway, Greenland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States (Alaska),
  • In Norway, Svalbard the northernmost inhabited region of Europe, there is no sunset from approximately 19 April to 23 August.
  • At the poles themselves, the sun only rises once and sets once each year.
  • During the six months when the sun is above the horizon it spends the days continuously moving in circles around the observer, gradually spiralling higher and reaching its highest circuit of the sky at the summer solstice.

Remote, wild and starkly beautiful, the Faroe Islands are one of northern Europe’s best-kept secrets. Few travellers have heard of this collection of 18 rocky outposts sitting off the north-west coast of Scotland halfway between Iceland and Norway – and even fewer know where they are. But their dramatic landscapes covering nearly 550 square miles ensure that once experienced, they are never forgotten.

Visit the Faroes and you will find nature at its very best; a place where sheer cliffs tower majestically above the untamed North Atlantic Ocean; waterfalls tumble down steep rocky slopes; and crystal clear brooks bubble across lush meadows dotted with shaggy mountain sheep. This pristine environment is a birdwatcher’s paradise, attracting thousands of seabirds in huge noisy colonies gathered along the cliffs, with around 300 species including puffins, guillemots and the Faroes’ national bird, the oyster catcher.

Travelling through these islands not only provides stunning views of the coastline, but perhaps an opportunity to spot seals diving and frolicking in the surrounding waters, and pilot whales and pods of dolphins carving through the waves. But while the Faroes are a veritable goldmine of flora and fauna - helped by their position at the heart of the Gulf Stream that blesses them with a relatively mild climate - there is more to the islands than this. With a history spanning more than 1,000 years from when the first settlers (thought to have been Irish monks) arrived around 750AD, to be followed by Norwegians and Vikings, the islands are full of Nordic stories and old traditions.

Today the Faroe Islands are a self-governing region of Denmark that makes its money from fishing and tourism. Colourful settlements containing houses topped by eye-catching traditional turf roofs are dotted across the island landscapes, but with a population of just over 48,000 you could never call the Faroes crowded. On the Isle of Streymoy sits Torshavn, a picturesque hub full of brightly-coloured buildings and known as one of the world’s smallest capital cities, with a well-preserved old town. Bursting with culture, it is the perfect complement to the stunning surroundings that promise to stay in your memory long after you sail away.

National Geographic Traveller magazine has rated the Faroe Islands as one of the world’s most authentic and unspoilt destinations.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages pride themselves with a British traditional style cruise experience this includes fruit and ice carving demonstrations on board. No CMV cruise would be complete without the ‘Baked Alaska Parade’.  As waiters and chefs parade through the dining room holding their famous dessert complete with sparkling firework on top, guests usually cheer whilst twirling their napkins.

In the hit musical Hello Dolly the characters Cornelius & Barnaby sing the line in the song ‘Put on your Sunday clothes’ – We’ll see the shows at Delmonico’s. It was here in New York’s famous restaurant the dessert was first used to celebrate the USA buying Alaska in 1867. The idea being it was meant to look like an igloo made of ice cream, cake and meringue.

On board CMV ship’s Baked Alaska is always popular. Executive Chef Basheer Vettickal on board Marco Polo shares his secret for a dessert for 10 people that can give you a standing ovation.

Early June 2014 and this was my first visit to Iceland. What better way to achieve that than in the comfort of CMV's sleek and elegant cruise ship – 'Discovery'. With some 700 guests on board, it was a marvellous way to see the scenic delights of Iceland's fjords and view some of the interior of the 'Land of Fire and Ice'.. Only having to unpack one's luggage once is always a bonus. The itinerary took us to Iceland via the Outer Hebrides and the Faroes.  Thereafter we cruised round Iceland in an anticlockwise direction, taking in three of the smaller ports before our last stop at the capital, Reykjavik.

The cruise industry’s contribution to the British economy grew sharply in 2013, as did the number of UK jobs it supports, according to a report released on 16th June by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

The cruise industry’s direct contribution to the UK economy, including items such as goods and services purchased by the cruise lines, and the salaries of their employees, grew by 6.5% to £2.54 billion in 2013 from £2.38 billion the year before. The cruise industry’s direct contribution to the combined economies of Europe grew by 4.7% to £13.2 billion in 2013 with the UK economy the second highest beneficiary after Italy. The overall contribution of the cruise industry, including indirect items such as spending by cruise line suppliers, to the economies of Europe jumped 22% to £32.1 billion.

The Football World Cup kicks off in Brazil on Thursday 12th June and all England fans will be watching on Saturday 14th June when England play Italy. Their first match will be played at the Arena Amazônia in Manaus, Brazil. Cruise & Maritime’s cruise ship Marco Polo kicks off her 42-night Amazon & West Indies voyage 5th January that includes Manaus the gateway to the Amazon. Cruise & Maritime Voyages is offering this amazing trip of a lifetime sailing from London Tilbury from just £2499pp.

Tony ParkinsThis morning commenced with a Commemorative Service on the back deck of Marco Polo with the Veterans on board as guests of honour and all the ship’s officers in attendance.

The service was led by Tony Parkins, Cruise Director, who ended the ceremony with a special poem written by him for the occasion. After the Last Post was sounded all the Veterans stood up and came up to the pool. Those who had their own wreaths tossed them in the pool and the Staff Captain with the Safety Officer tossed the ship’s wreath as well.

At around 10:00hrs Marco Polo passengers could see Discovery approaching on the starboard side and the two ships came as close as possible. Just before 11:00hrs both ship’s sounded three long blasts.

The Cruise Director announced a salute to the two ship’s with a cheer and a ‘Hip Hip Hooray‘.

You fought D-Day beaches all
This day we share with you,
Still you walk proud and tall.

The Captain, Officers & Crew give thanks,
you travel this trip
Remembering memories & mates on
our cruise ship

We meet you one by one
Each with dignity I see and know
Every smile in the evening you enjoy our show.

You think yourselves not heroes be
Mothers give birth everyday salute you,
You conquered foes, so proud are we

We sleep tonight you gave us the day
We live our lives with hope in hearts
And for those who died we eternally pray

 

Anthony Nicholas recently enjoyed a cruise of Northern Europe’s aboard one of the world’s most illustrious ships.  Read his Marco Polo cruise review and find out why he believes this distinctive vessel still has a lot to offer.

Day One - Friday

Arrive at Tilbury to a drumbeat of falling rain. None of which dampens my enthusiasm for being back on Marco Polo. Even through the drizzle, the ship looks great after all these years.

The hull is a sixties throwback. Curves gracefully upwards at both bow and stern like a slow, languid smile. Looks beautiful in royal blue, with two blue bands running around it. The bow is sharp, raked and wonderful to behold. From the rain speckled Thames, the hull rises upwards into a pair of soaring flanks.

The outlook from the aft decks of our cruise ship 'Discovery' was sublime. This was the start of a 13-day cruise to the Baltic and St Petersburg. I had booked with 'Cruise and Maritime Voyages' and had acquired an excellent deal on a solo occupancy twin cabin.

I had done the macro-planning for the holiday – house security, utilities programming, getting to the port and parking. I had also done the micro-planning for the trip remembering to take items like packing a suit, bow-tie and black shoes for formal nights. My digital camera battery was fully charged and health insurance, passport and debit card were to hand – all with checked dates of validity and expiry.

The hand of history will be hovering over Tilbury when Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ newest ship, Astor, sets sail on an epic 38-night voyage to Australia in November.

This departure promises not only to relive the bygone era of long distance ocean voyages, but comes nearly 70 years after the first Britons sailed from the Essex port as part of the famous £10 Poms assisted migration programme.

This post-war initiative prompted the departure of more than a million emigrants as they sought a new life Down Under, and now CMV customers will be able to follow in their footsteps as Astor sails for Fremantle near Perth. With the sailing date set for 5th November, Bonfire Night, fireworks will light up the skies as Astor cruises down the Thames and into the Channel at the start of a 9,000-mile journey southwards.

Bob McGownHaving worked for Thomson Holidays and Thomson Cruises, Bob joined Cruise & Maritime Voyages in 2010 as Passenger Services Director on board our ships. After a brief spell in the UK hotel industry, Bob returns to CMV as Head of Customer Services based at our Head Office in Essex.

Here we ask Bob some questions about his new role and on servicing the demands of our customers.

You were previously guest services director on Marco Polo and Ocean Countess – how different is this role?
I look at this role as an extension of the ship. I work very closely with the on-board team to ensure I know how the cruise is going and what is happening. Customer satisfaction is key to the success of our business and we are always looking at ways to develop our product so feedback from customers through our customer questionnairesis paramount.

What are your main responsibilities?
My main responsibility is heading the customer service departments, which include shore-side operations, customer services pre-cruise and customer services post-cruise. It doesn’t sound like a big job, but when you take into account that nearly everything we do involves our customers,we need to make sure we are constantly delivering a high level of service.

It was with no little trepidation we walked up the gangway to join the Marco Polo in Leith for our five-night cruise to the Faroe Islands and the isles of Lewis and Orkney. It had been almost 18 years since Hazel and I last sailed the high seas (I don’t suppose taking the Waverley to Tarbert counts), and so we wondered what lay in store for a couple – one mid-fifties and one slightly less – more used to boarding a plane in Glasgow with one piece of hand luggage each and landing in the Costa del Sol three hours later.

Winter Cruising in Norway has become a great success for CMV since our first winter cruise to Norway in 2010.

The Northern Light activity operates in cycles of 11 years and as we are at the height of this cycle we want to clarify what to expect in the years to come as there seem to be a misconception that the Northern Lights will be severely reduced during the cycle once the peak is over. This however is not the fact according to experts on the topic.

Sognefjord

Exploring the Norwegian Fjords in early Spring by cruising from a port near my home. This was a truly tempting prospect. Finding an archive photo of a 1960's family holiday in Norway - coupled with the thought of only having to unpack one's luggage once - 'sealed the deal'. In late April last year, I drove a mere 20 miles to Avonmouth near Bristol and boarded CMV's 'Discovery' – my comfortable floating hotel for the 8 day voyage.