Having been lucky enough to sail on both Magellan and Marco Polo this year, I thought it might be a good idea to flag up some of the salient points of each ship for those undecided about which of the two they might possibly like to sail on next year.
First, a few general points;
You have to bear in mind that the two ships were built some twenty years apart, and for very different purposes. Lithe and beautiful, Marco Polo is every bit as much an obvious ‘Sixties Girl’ as, say, Dusty Springfield or Diana Rigg. Her long, lean lines and fine, low slung hull reflect that era to cosmetic perfection.
Magellan, by contrast, presents a chunkier, more vibrant profile, and her broad open decks betray the fact that she was built for open, expansive cruising from the start. That silhouette- so ridiculed back in the day- has filled out to resemble something more welcoming and almost matron-like with the passage of time. But she is still a very different experience on many levels to her storied sibling.
In terms of size, Magellan is twice as large again as the Marco Polo- 46,000 tons against 22,000- yet, at the same time, she carries just over half as many passengers again (1250 as against 800). Hence, Magellan feels more open and spacious than the Marco Polo, assuming both ships are full. And, on my two cruises, both ships were sailing at full capacity.
In terms of cabins, those aboard Magellan are of a more uniform, almost cookie cutter type of design. They are generously proportioned, and all around the same size- both insides and outsides- so that the real pricing difference lies largely in location rather than specifications. Magellan also has a handful of balcony cabins and- a real deal- some 125 rooms are set aside as dedicated single cabins on each voyage, at a supplement of just twenty five per cent of the twin rate. A smart move.
Cabins aboard Marco Polo have a lot more individual charm in general, great wardrobe space, and absolutely beautiful interior woodwork. They come in a vast variety of grades and, if booking one, you’ll need to check out the deck plans really carefully to ensure that you get exactly what is best for you.
In terms of dining, the Magellan has two main restaurants- Kensington and The Waldorf- that operate on a two sitting system for dinner. Interestingly, the opening times for both first and second sitting are staggered some fifteen minutes apart each evening.
Magellan- like Marco Polo- also offers a more casual, upper deck lido alternative for all main meals, including dinner. The newer ship also features an almost round the clock pizza corner, and a lunchtime burger food outlet located near the main, central pool area.
The dining operation aboard Marco Polo revolves mainly around the midships situated Waldorf. This beautiful dining room also offers dinner in two sittings, with open sitting for breakfast and lunch. As previously mentioned, the lido offers another main dining option. Outside, there is a separate deli area that serves up delicious hot sandwiches, wraps, and hog roasts on some sea days that are very popular.
On both ships, food and service is very good indeed, and most passengers are more than content with the overall preparation, content and delivery of the food on board. You will not starve on either ship and, in my opinion, you will often be both surprised and delighted. Both ships deliver an excellent, value for money product in this respect.
In terms of indoor spaces, it largely comes down to personal taste. The Marco Polo is, quite simply, one of the most exquisite jewels still afloat; a beautiful ship, suffused with Art Deco accented nooks and crannies that ooze cosy, old world intimacy and comfort. You soon get to know the staff, and vice versa.
Magellan, by contrast, has much better passenger flow, and a chic, Scandinavian flair that makes strolling her broad, open interior walkways a true pleasure. Long, expansive lounging areas flank a row of floor to ceiling windows, creating a long, languid space ideal for strolling and people watching alike.
The showroom on the Magellan also wins out over that on the Marco Polo. Hardly surprising, as it was installed as a purpose built, two story high auditorium for Vegas style stage shows when the ship was new.
Both ships feature good quality live music across a number of disciplines, from rock and soul to classical piano and violin duos. Sadly, neither ship has enough musicians on board. Each, for instance, would benefit from having a genuine live jazz music handle.
In terms of open deck space, the broad, capacious exteriors of the Magellan offer more expansive lounging spaces, with two separate pools and a trio of hot tubs. The centre pool, located in a kind of sun bowl, has both sunshine and shade on really fine days. Purpose built for cruising from day one, her open spaces are both diverse and delightful. And the aft facing garden area, located right aft, is as lush and elegant as that of any six star ship. It has proven extremely popular from day one.
But for sheer, symmetrical beauty and balance, nothing beats that triple tier of cascading sun decks at the stern of the Marco Polo. The extended arms of these seem to almost cradle passengers in an embrace of sun splashed teak styling, and the open expanse behind the popular Scotts Bar draws people with its magnificent, almost Olympian vista over the wake at any hour of the day or night. It remains one of the most compelling, totally alluring open deck spaces on any ship afloat, regardless of style, size, or presumed prestige. Quite literally, there is nothing else like it on the ocean.
In terms of other stuff, Magellan has a decent sized casino, where Marco Polo does not have one at all. There is a more expansive shopping gallery on Magellan, but the branded logo stuff is pretty much the same across the board on both ships.
So, hopefully, this should provide readers with some insight to help them make a choice. Personally, I find both ships to be good, solid and appealing vessels, each in their own way.
Of course, the Marco Polo is- and always will be- the true beauty of the pair, thanks to her harmonious marriage of Art Deco interiors to timeless, perfectly proportioned Sixties styling. The ship is as elegant as James Bond’s original Aston Martin and, in my opinion, every bit as iconic.
But Magellan, too, is winning people over. Her boxy, high sided hull is softened immensely by her new paint scheme, and her sharp, raked prow truly is a thing of beauty. And, with that graceful ‘whale tail’ funnel looming above a pert, perfectly squared off stern, the ship looks much more sleek and beautiful from most angles than many of the newer, far more modern new builds of late.
Both ships serve up a well programmed, carefully co-ordinated cruise and shore experience that is very good value indeed for the price. And, with attractive all inclusive drinks packages from £17 a day as part of the optional on board menu (more on short, two and three day taster cruises), you can budget to sail on either- or, indeed, both- without breaking the bank.
Your cruise, your choice. Enjoy ;-)