In 55 years plying waters between nearly every conceivable port, the indefatigable Marco Polo remains an iconic, passenger-pleasing vessel with strong bookings, said Chris Coates, commercial director for Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV). What may be even more astonishing than the East German-built ocean liner’s continued popularity is the longevity of its components. The former Aleksandr Pushkin is still operating on her original Soviet-era main engines.
The ship sums up what CMV does: Offer traditional cruises aboard classic, oft storied vessels.
“She’s probably done the most mileage of any cruise ship I can imagine. She’s probably been to more places than any other ship, probably, sailing today in the passenger shipping sector. If you think where she’s been deployed over the years,” Coats said. “And we keep asking the same questions, you know: When is Marco Polo going to retire? But she keeps going strong. And she’s got demand. And while she’s got demand, if she’s in good working order, which she is, we’ll continue trading her. But she’s a very special lady in our fleet. She’s the first ship we started with, in 2008, for the current CMV brand. And we are the proud current custodians.”
The 1948-built Astoria is the line’s oldest ship, but has undergone several major overhauls over the years.
With a classic fleet, the company plans to burn MGO in 2020 to comply to new IMO regulations.
CMV’s vessels roughly match the line’s passenger profile. The young greys, Coates calls them. These retired or nearly retired 60-somethings are well healed, well travelled, and looking for something that harkens to a classic era of maritime voyages. One thing they don’t want is to crowd into airports and Southampton. With 14 homeports in the UK alone, these passengers prefer the ship come to them.
“The whole model is based on a regional cruise program. We’ve steadily grown into a regional operator and it’s proved to be very successful. We have some departure points, homeports, where we go into another port on day two for a partial turnaround. For example, if we cruise out of Newcastle, day two is Dundee. So we are picking up some Scottish passengers,” he said. “With the airport experience in modern times, there is a greater appeal to go to your local port.”
The line acquired the 1994-built Vasco De Gama this year and sailed her on a 49-night maiden voyage from Singapore through the Mediterranean. “We’re delighted to have her. She’s in very good shape. She’s been very well looked after,” Coats said.
On the other side of the world, the Astoria will be sailing in the Sea of Cortez with passengers sourced largely from Phoenix, Arizona. The cruise sails from Sonora’s Puerto Peñasco, a four-hour drive from Phoenix, or Yuma, or almost anywhere else.
“It’s a kind of a soft-expedition feel, a little different from our traditional offering across the fleet. We’ve got a strong enrichment content program onboard very much focused on the destinations, the local environment, the marine life, which is spectacular in those waters,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest from Arizona. We’ve been very pleased in the early stages. Obviously, when you operate cruise ships you have year-round deployment, and you’ve got to look for new opportunities all the time. And this is one we’ve been looking at for some time.”
What’s next? “Stay tuned for news about our fleet and possible expansion,” Coates said.