The year 2020 had been a very tough one for the cruise industry. Since the shutdown was completed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have lost ships and cruise lines. Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) went bust in July.
To date the ships which have gone to new owners are: Oceana, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Maasdam, Veendam, Columbus, Magellan, Vasco Da Gama, Costa NeoRomantica, Berlin, Pacific Aria, Sea Princess, Sun Princess, Black Watch, Boudicca and Albatros.
Those sold to breakers are: Sovereign Monarch, Horizon, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Imagination, Marella Dream, Marella Celebration, Karnika, Pacific Dawn/Satoshi, Astor, Ocean Dream and Marco Polo.
Marco Polo is the one which has had the worst effect on me. Only three ships previously have upset me when they went to the beach – Canberra, Discovery and Saga Ruby. This has affected me worse, possibly because as she sailed to her doom, it was exactly a year since we were still on her with three nights left of the Christmas cruise.
The last of my four cruises was Christmas and New Year, returning to Bristol Avonmouth on the 6th January looking forward to returning on the 8th May. We had also booked her to Norway for my dad’s 80th birthday in 2021. He refused to consider any other ship. She was his favourite from his first of three cruises in December 2018.
When CMV went bust, it was thought she had reached the end due to her age, which was 55 by then. All five ships were auctioned (contrary to idiotic rags, Astoria has never been owned by CMV, merely chartered and 2020 was to be her final year with them). Vasco Da Gama went to Mystic Cruises, Magellan and Columbus to SeaJets, Astor to the Turkish breakers and Marco to High Seas Limited.
Things appeared to be looking up, especially with an advert offering her for charters. And so on the 19th November she slipped her moorings for Dubai, reportedly to become a temporary accommodation vessel, following a brief detour to Falmouth.
Then everything came crashing down when it was reported in a French blog on the 30th December she was going to Alang. This was confirmed the following day, with her listed as ending her career on the 12th January. By this time, not only had she reportedly had things removed before leaving Avonmouth (including the statue of Rudolf Nureyev by the pool), but her classification had been changed to “General Cargo” from passenger ship.
She left Dubai on the 3rd January, arriving in the holding area six days later, finally moving to anchorage ahead of plot 88 on the 13th. She beached in the middle of the night on the the 14th January 2021, marking the end to an illustrious career, having outlived her four sisters.
I don’t want to think of her being cut up on that beach in far away lands and hope I never see photos, although it is inevitable I will at some point. Instead I prefer to remember her as she was. Everyone who knows anything about ships knows her history, so I won’t get into that here. This is a memorial blog to remember her at her beautiful best from the 12 years I was fortunate enough to have her in my life. It is very long due to the number of photos showing her inside and out.
Despite her 55 year sailing career, I first saw her from Boudicca anchored off Guernsey in 2008. She was sailing for the original Transocean then and left at 2pm.
The next time was on my doorstep in October 2009 along with two other classics, also sadly no longer with us. Saga Rose would be setting off on her penultimate cruise while Black Prince was on her farewell. Marco Polo was still under the Transocean flag, despite the company going bankrupt.
April 2011 was an unexpected sighting. I was sailing towards Amsterdam on Vision of the Seas when Marco was spotted in the Amsterdam Marine Terminal, then sailing under Cruise and Maritime Voyages.
Another unexpected sighting in July 2013 as we sailed from Ålesund to Bergen on Queen Mary 2. Mein Schiff (later Mein Schiff 1 and Marella Explorer) and Thomson Spirit passed us. Meanwhile, coming the other way, was pretty little Marco!
In 2016, she made an unexpected return to Southampton, diverted due to weather instead of going to Avonmouth.
Finally, in June 2018, I got to set foot on her! It was just a three night repositioning cruise from Cardiff to Harwich, calling at Honfleur. She was magnificent! Her sheer and camber, annoying to some, was a joy to a ship nut like me. But first, I watched her arrive.
And then a love affair began and the beginning of 24 glorious nights over four cruises! You could see her original Aleksandr Pushkin name on the stern. I was in cabin 643, which overlooked the boat deck. She had keys and also an actual flush for the toilet instead of a vacuum.
I saw the cabins of my friends David and Stephen after lunch. Muster was the most thorough I’d gone through since Voyages of Discovery. You had to wear your lifejackets at the muster station then were taken to your lifeboat. Then it was time for sailaway.
It was a sea day the following day and glorious sunshine.
The next day was Honfleur with still glorious weather.
Then it was time to return for the short pre-Xmas cruise from Bristol Avonmouth to Dublin with my dad. He had cataracts in both eyes at the time and couldn’t fault any of the crew. They helped him enormously. Marco became his absolute favourite ship, despite by that time only sailing on Braemar, Astoria and Black Watch that year. We also had Easter booked, which was Cobh (Ringsaskiddy) and the Isles of Scilly from Bristol to Cardiff. Due to weather on the latter, they swapped the ports around. By now, my dad had one cataract done and needed eye drops. Again, he had nothing but praise for all the crew. The following are a selection from both cruises.
We went to Portsmouth to see her sail a few months later.
What turned out to be the fourth and final cruise for me (third for my dad) was Christmas. It had been a replacement for my birthday cruise on QM2 I had to cancel, and included Madeira on New Year’s Eve. That was somewhere I wanted to return to after welcoming in 2008 on Aurora but never got round to it. By this time my dad had added Oriana and Queen Elizabeth to his list of cruise ships but still nothing came close to Marco Polo for him. It was the first cruise without Mitch Rutter as the Cruise Director, as he was on Astoria. Josh was a very good replacement though. We left Bristol on the 22nd December, returning on the 6th January. It was our first cruise with her new livery, which she had received during dry dock in November/December. The first two sea days were very rough. She corkscrewed like a bitch! By Christmas Day it had calmed. The following photos are a few highlights.
The highlight of every Christmas cruise is the fireworks in Madeira to welcome in the new year. This was my dad’s first time in the Canaries and to Funchal so he was particularly looking forward to it. Unfortunately, due to sea conditions, any hope of tendering was abandoned at lunchtime for us and Columbus behind. By the time midnight arrived there was Columbus, Zenith, Saga Sapphire, Ocean Majesty, AIDAcara, Marella Explorer, Queen Victoria, Aurora, Mein Schiff 3, AIDAstella and Amera plus little Marco. My good friend, Mário Camacho has kindly allowed me to use some of his photos.
As we sailed north, slowly returning to Bristol, the weather changed to colder and wetter.
If you’ve reached this far there is just one more photo with the words by Aleksandr Puskin himself which sums up how we lovers of this beautiful ship feel about her loss. It was as if he knew the future….