I'm an avid Ventura fan but I have tried to give an unbiased and honest account of my most recent time onboard. I can talk the hind legs off a donkey given the chance, so I've tried to mention the important bits rather than a day-by-day account.
Generally this was ok. We only live around 45 minutes from Southampton so we arrived in plenty of time to check-in, but were then met with various queues of cars all waiting to use the CPS parking. We probably sat for a good hour waiting for them to call our row of cars, but when they eventually did the porters were very efficient in taking our luggage and they also park the car for you, which I hadn't realised when I'd booked the parking. Check-in was very quick and we probably went from car to our cabin in around 10-15 minutes.
Disembarkation was busy, as you would expect with some 3000 people all wanting to get off. They ended up calling our colour card in the middle of breakfast as everything was ready ahead of schedule, so by the time we had finished and got out of the restaurant, a huge queue had formed which looped around the Atrium and through the Exchange bar. It moved fairly quickly though and we were off within around 15-20 minutes.
I managed to upgrade our Inside cabin to a Balcony last minute but hadn't told Mum. Her 'Oh wow, a balcony!' reaction made it worth the extra money, and we definitely made use of the extra space (though I think I've now spoilt her so nothing but a Balcony will do!). Our cabin, B743, was a JF grade standard Balcony on B Deck. It was the last one on the starboard side at the rear of the ship and had a fantastic view down the length of the ship. We overlooked the balconies on decks C and D below, although this wasn't a problem for us and the people below didn't seem to mind us being able to see their balcony either. Our cabin was clean and tidy with plenty of storage space. The bathroom was small but perfectly comfortable for a few nights - my only gripe is it had a shower curtain which I hate (I prefer the sliding doors I've experienced on RCI and Celebrity).
Our cabin steward, Sadashiv, came and introduced himself shortly after we arrived, and he kept our cabin spotless and was always very chatty and polite the few times that we passed him in the corridor. I've never had a cabin at the rear of a ship before and I'm not sure I'd choose to do it again. The first night was pretty bumpy and there was a fairly constant roll even on the calm days, and when the ship was manoeuvring backwards the whole cabin shook.
We'd been booked on to the 2nd sitting at 8.45pm with a table for 8 in the Saffron Restaurant. Our table companions consisted of another mother/daughter combo, grandparents with their granddaughter and a single traveller on her first cruise. We all found plenty to talk about and I really enjoy this type of dining as you get to know people, swapping stories and tips along the way. Our waiters were fantastic, although I didn't think to make a note of their names. The food itself I thought was excellent and each night there was something completely different so it never got boring. We had breakfast here twice too, which was also very good and I was surprised at how much choice there was.
The only other place we ate was in The Waterside and The Beach House, which are the buffet restaurants. We ate here for supper on embarkation day as we'd skipped lunch and dinner was several hours away. The Waterside was heaving but that's to be expected, and as the Beach House was effectively closed we brought our food through to eat there where it was quieter. The choice of food wasn't great and it all tasted pretty bland. There was also only water or tea/coffee available which I wasn't best pleased about - surely they could have had juice or squash too? Other cruise lines do. We ate here once more for breakfast the next day and then decided that it wasn't for us. The choice of breakfast food was good, with hot, cold, cereal and pastries but again it was all very bland and didn't compare to the breakfast we had the following day in the Saffron Restaurant.
Frankie's Grill and Frankie's Pizzeria seemed very popular so we will probably try that out when we go again in September. We also saved trying the speciality restaurants East and The White Room, as it's difficult to get a reservation on a short cruise. Ramblas seemed like a nice area and I heard other people saying the food was nice too, but to me it seems a bit forgotten and was usually empty whenever we walked through it.
The Sail-away Party was brilliant despite the overcast weather. The live band played a real mixture of classic and modern songs that seemed to appeal to everyone. We saw 2 of the 3 shows in the Arena theatre, with the first being Destination Dance which was like a mini-musical showcasing lots of different styles of dancing as well as live singing. The best part for me was the end where the whole of the Headliners dance troupe performed a Riverdance-style Irish jig, which was just fantastic! The second show we saw was on the last night and was a Boogie nights-style show, with disco music throughout the decades, and some acrobatics thrown in for good measure. Considering there are probably only about 14 or 15 members of Headliners they do an amazing job, with constant costume changes and not a single note out of key. They are probably one of the best shows I've seen so far.
We went to Havana's once but it was rammed full (they had the Robbie Williams tribute act that night) and also only went to Metropolis once as we found the music a little depressing (a quietly spoken woman and a keyboard does not qualify as entertainment in my book!) We didn't bother with The Exchange as karaoke isn't for either of us, but it was always packed when were walked to and from the theatre. The Red Bar was nice for a spot of people watching as its right by the Atrium and one night the pianist got some of the waiters singing which was great. Can't really comment on the daytime entertainment as we were off the ship, and obviously not travelling with kids I've no idea what the kids' clubs were like either.
I only encountered these areas on my tour of the ship, but I will be making use of them on my cruise in September. I love the spa, and use of the thermal suite seemed very reasonable to me, working out around Â£10 per day. The people in the gym were perhaps a little over-enthusiastic but I imagine that's the only way to encourage people to use it!
Overall, I still really love the Ventura but she is definitely starting to show her age and I think the refurbishment next Spring is well-timed and well-needed. I still maintain that she's a great ship for young and old and I didn't see any of the so-called 'Butlins' or 'chavvy' people that I've seen mentioned on so many reviews. All the staff I encountered were superb, the food for the most part was excellent and the entertainment was top notch - I can't wait until September when Mum and I go back for more!