I really enjoyed three cruises on the Marco Polo, which was owned for many years by Cruise Maritime. Before I went the first time, a neighbour of my sister mentioned that he and his wife had sailed on the ship 33 times over a period of years, and wouldn’t go on any other cruise ship. This recommendation was good enough for us, but we quickly came to realise that the ship, though firmly constructed, was lacking in certain refinements that had been introduced on other lines over the years.
Bear in mind that when we were speaking, which was about 2012, the Marco Polo had enjoyed quite a varied life, starting in 1965 as an ice breaker under Russian ownership. She was originally named the Aleksandr Pushkin, not an ice breaker per se, but had a stronger hull so this function could be employed when necessary, giving the ship greater flexibility. The bathroom in the cabin has three taps, which was quite normal apparently in those days, one for cold, one for hot, and the third for sea water. I can only assume that the bathing qualities for showering this way were therapeutic. It was certainly not for consumption purposes.
The ship was also innovative because it had an on deck swimming pool with retractable roof. With a nod to military uses, it also had on deck winding gear, so military vehicles could be parked on the deck ready for immediate use. There were two classes, tourist and first, with the former fitted with bunks for two or four. Must have been pretty cosy. However, these cabins were double sized, with relaxing area. For the VIP’s, they had a limited number of staterooms. These had excellent facilities, but one feature of the whole ship was that every cabin of whatever category had a porthole. This was something I experienced some years ago, despite being on a lower deck adjacent to the engine room. Didn’t know about that when booking.
C deck was the location of the restaurant, but the best one was A deck. This was also known as the saloon deck, with an area containing the piano and dance floor ; the “North Palmyra Café” and the “Café Penguin” ; the “Beriozka” shop and an information kiosk, followed by the post counter ; the Cinema ; the Smoking Saloon with its “Friendship bar” and play room ; the Library ; the two hairdressers and finally the Swimming Pool and another bar, the “Rusalka bar” (Mermaid’s bar). An outside dancing floor was located on the Boat Deck and on the Bridge Deck, there was the Verandah with the “White Nights” bar. It must have been pretty elitist to be on board and appreciate all the facilities on offer, denied to ordinary citizens.
All was to change for the Aleksandr Pushkin in 1972, when she was re-built. The hull was extended, making her a larger vessel to accommodate extra public spaces. They removed the cargo areas, and stabilisers were fitted. But the biggest improvement was the installation of a discotheque. The ship was now even more luxurious.