I can quite understand the rave reviews and five star ratings for Ventura as these are mostly from First Time Cruisers "upgrading" from their "all inclusive fortnights in Turkey". It is not quite the Butlins Boat yet but has certainly set a course in that direction.
I actually overheard one passenger declare to the " future cruise specialist" that she might have to downgrade from a balcony next year as her benefits are being cut!
For a relatively modern vessel, the decor and furnishing is already looking dated. Cleanliness on decks is variable and residual buffet dishes are of ten left under sunbeds.
Food is, at best, average and it is obvious that the executive chefs have been given stretching targets to reduce the average cost per head. The breakfasts were functional but boring with ecactly the same selections every morning. Similarly the lunchtime buffets were equally unimaginative and uninspiring. I suspect that chefs were under instruction to cater for the lowest common denominator in a largely working class British consumer.
Restaurant Dinners were marginally better but over two hours for a four course meal is enough to test the appetite and patience of even the most dedicated foody.
Daytime entertainment, on deck, was dire. Why do Cruise Directors labour under the obvious misapprehension that the majority of passengers crave for the strains of Agadoo and similar drivel for two hours every day. Is it simply a ploy to drive customers off the decks and into the dining rooms to ease congestion later in the afternoon?
Evening entertainment was better. The Headliners Theatre company were lively and enthusiastic though I was surprised to see Arlene Phillips leading the line. If the singers could learn to sing, the dancers learn to dance and the actors learn to act there could be potential in this team.
I can also understand why the Smokey Joe's Cafe show is on the last night of the cruise............after the Customer Satisfaction Surveys have been completed. This was about as entertaining as a wake in a Mormon Temple.
Guest entertainers from the UK seemed to suffer from second show syndrome. They either had insufficient material to sustain two shows or the food and drink between first and second performances had taken their toll.
Whilst the Cruise Director DID try to redefine the rating of EXCELLENT by stating that if we had enjoyed MOST of the performances this did stretch generosity a little too far.
On the plus side, drinks prices were sensible. Not cheap, but sensible although the draught beer offerings of Stella Artois and Boddingtons suggest that P&O understand the consumers they are now attracting. The Winelist was extensive and reasonable but this did not prevent table being adorned with a greater number of cans than goblets.
Service at the Breakers Bar was woeful. Up to five roaming waiters were being serviced by one barman and it was difficult to assess who was the most stressed.....the barman or the customer. Certainly not the waiters whose Indian heritage had perhaps set them in a permanent state of transcindental meditation. A smile from a waiter was almost as rare as a full spirit measure in a cocktail!
The tipping regime was modest at Â£3.10 per passenger per day but it is obvious that these surcharges are not actually gratuities but form the bulk of the remuneration for these modern day galley slaves. I really wish one of the Cruise Lines would break ranks and pay their staff a sustainable living wage.
Another plus, versus Royal Caribbean and Princess were the Port embarkation and disembarkation procedures. They were generally smooth and efficient. The captain, personally kept us advised of the progress of the cruise with daily deck bulletins.
There was a pretty good selection of shops but P&O should seriously consider opening a Tattoo Parlour for the minority of us who are feeing increasingly isloated as our bodies are not festooned in garish images or crossed out declarations of love for ex spouses.
Surprisingly, overall, the cruise was quite enjoyable but P&O really do need to understand the distinction between informal accessibility and the danger of creating Wetherspoons on Water.