Cruise through an Amsterdam city break
Date Posted: 30/06/2011
With a view to exploring what the legendary liner ms Marco Polo can offer to group cruisers, Rebekah Tailor embarked on an Amsterdam City Break with South Quay Cruises.
Cruising to destinations worldwide, ms Marco Polo, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages, boasts a long-established reputation and loyal following within the British Market, and is an enduringly popular choice for group cruisers. I had the opportunity to join a group of coach operators and GTOs onboard the Marco Polo for a two-night familiarisation trip travelling to the Dutch capital for an Amsterdam City Break.
Departing from its homeport of London Tilbury in Essex - which is extremely accessible for groups based in central UK, and was particularly straightforward to travel to from the Group Leisure offices in Buckinghamshire - the cruise would cover 384 nautical miles, through 26 miles of canals and locks, to reach the Passenger Terminal Amsterdam.
Introducing ms Marco Polo
Meeting fam trip hosts Natalie Ford and Steve Johnson of South Quay Cruises for a welcome sail away drink, our 11-strong party was treated to a guided tour of the ship by one of its friendly crew members. 22,080 tons, 578.4 feet long, with eight passenger decks, the Marco Polo is a relatively small ship; its classic decor and cosy interior aiming to offer passengers a ‘home from home’ cruising experience. As we were led through Magellan Deck, arguably the central hub of the Marco Polo, our guide pointed out the various leisure facilities, which in addition to its spacious and comfortable lounge areas, include an outdoor swimming pool, a card room, well-stocked library, and shopping boutique. Up two levels on Columbus Deck is the internet cafe and Jade Wellness Centre with fitness equipment, beauty salon and sauna facilities, while the top Navigator Deck boasts three whirlpools.
Dinner on the first evening allowed the opportunity to try the waiter-service Waldorf Restaurant. A particularly traditional affair, with two separate sittings enabling passengers to choose when they wish to eat, guests are treated to five delicious courses. Opting for the second sitting, we finished our meal just in time to enjoy the evening entertainment in the Marco Polo Lounge - an Italian-themed dance display titled Venetian Nights. Finishing up with the late night disco in the lively Scott’s Bar, those who prefer a more tranquil setting are able to take advantage of the musical entertainment on offer in the Captain’s Club or Columbus Lounge.
A taste of Amsterdam
While the main aim of the familiarisation trip was to highlight what the ms Marco Polo could offer to group cruisers, it also allowed the opportunity to experience one of South Quay’s short cruise breaks, and as part of our itinerary a shore excursion to Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience had been arranged.
Passenger Terminal Amsterdam brings cruisers right to the heart of Amsterdam, and the main attractions and tourist hotspots are located just a short walk away. The Heineken Experience promotes itself as one of the city’s key visitor attractions, and having not had chance to visit on a previous trip to Amsterdam, I was looking forward to see what the brewery-turned-museum could offer, as well as indulging in a drop of the national beverage.
Less a museum and more of an immersive and interactive experience, the four levels of the former brewery provide a thorough insight into the brewing process, with the chance to enjoy a sampling session, explore the marketing aspect, and learn how to pour the perfect pint. The highlight of the experience was being able to venture behind-the-scenes and get up close to the mammoth Heineken Shire Horses - a familiar sight in the streets of Amsterdam and reportedly the only authentic brewery horses in Holland. In terms of group benefits, the Heineken Experience offers discounted rates for parties of 20 or more people. For more information telephone: 020-523 9435.
With the total Heineken experience lasting about three hours, some of our party opted to spend the rest of the allocated time on-shore exploring some of the city highlights. If you’ve only got a brief interlude to take advantage of the sights, I’d recommend a stroll past the Nationaal Monument and through Dam Square, stopping to take in the architectural highlights of Oude Kerk and Westerkerk. And of course, for those who wish, a walk down the canal through the infamous Red Light District is always something of an eye-opener.
Keen to explore more of the facilities onboard, I ventured back to the Marco Polo just in time to take lunch in Marco’s Bistro - ideal for those who prefer a more casual dining affair, offering plenty of choice and variety. There is a host of daytime activities to amuse and entertain on sea days, from bingo and card games to quizzes and fitness classes; however I opted to take advantage of the spa and sauna facilities at the Jade Wellness Centre, which offers a selection of therapies and treatment for cruisers to indulge in.
The nice thing about the Marco Polo is that while it’s a relatively compact ship, the number of lounge areas and public spaces ensures that overcrowding is not an issue. The ship was at full-berth during our two-night cruise and pleasantly there never seemed to be hoards of people milling around.
The final evening presented the opportunity to don formal wear for a last Gala Dinner in the Waldorf Restaurant, where another delicious meal was followed up with customary baked Alaska for dessert. Retiring once more to the Marco Polo Lounge to catch entertaining tribute act, Queen-We Will Rock You, the evening allowed our party time to reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable cruising experience.