Well having travelled on RCI and Celebrity before we thought we'd try P&O.
Despite booking a year ago we were given very little choice of availability and selected two staterooms for our party of 4 on deck C. We said no to the auto upgrade as P&O would not guarantee that a linked booking would be treated as a priority and would be kept together (this really isn't fair if you are a family or party that wants to be near by)
As the time for our cruise approached, we noticed P&O started to heavily discount the sailing on 21 August 2012 with a number of "getaway deals". We therefore contacted Customer Service and after a bit of a faff we were upgraded the week before we sailed. Although both staterooms were on the same deck, the staterooms were spread - one mid and one forward. It was frustrating to see getaway fares offered that would have saved us almost Â£1000! Whether the new P&O Price Pledge will finally see early bookers treated fairly we will wait and see. You are advised to contact Customer Service and too be persistent with your query!
My advice is to take time to plan / pick your stateroom - we should have stayed put really. Travelling through the Bay of Biscay on our way home made for a very rocky ride for us near the front! Lucky we are seasoned cruisers and didn't get sick but travelling at 30 knots with a wind at same speed, many were feeling a bit off it the day after.
Well let's now focus on the cruise, Ventura has had mixed reviews and some criticism. It launched the same year as RCI's Independence - which we have travelled on. It's not as glitzy or sparkles but really comfortable. It certainly isn't Celebrity... but it seem to suit loads of people who return year on year. Though some felt standards were lower than previous years.
On the day of embarkation it was well organised, we'd booked the car parking service - we went one way, luggage another and car taken away - great - worth every penny provided car was returned back!. We booked 5 days too late for free car parking - book early to get this (we did though book in time to get a good on board credit).
We were on the Ventura early, had a pleasant lunch and a tour round. Our Staterooms were ready early and both were very well presented. Very clean and had all that we needed. We had a great sized bathroom and good amount of hanging space. The bathroom was better that both RCI and Celebrity in terms of size. Luggage delivery was a bit haphazard but our stateroom attendant sorted it all.
Our champagne and chocolates were there, fluffy bathrobes and slippers. No complaints. Our children were in a very pleasant stateroom and the youngest had special pink bedding. Both attendants were excellent.
Dinner was in Saffron - we were on late sitting. We had no complaints and our food and service across the cruise was good. An attentive waiter and wine waiter. The dress code was observed well and again this was something other reviewers had highlighted as a negative.
We struggled to find any unfriendly staff ....though there was one exception on arrival in Breakers Bar (yes it was sunny and we went on deck for sail away)there was one miserable waiter who didn't give a very good welcome at all (name withheld he's about 48ish with glasses on!) I think overall the staff were really nice and when you chatted they responded. The officers and senior staff seem to treat the staff well and there was banter / humour between staff which was nice to see (unlike RCI or Celebrity where they were strict).
In terms of amenities - we tend to do our own thing and get into the port rather than go on excursions. We don't do the talks or films but when others said they had gone they enjoyed them. If you go on this cruise or any other miss La Palma - dreadful place! Although it was a Sunday - Im sure not much else happens on a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday etc as one of the comedians said a one horse town. The highlight for us was Madeira - so cheap...Oporto was good but we do like Portugal.
Our children used the kids club - no complaints and they made nice friends - the holiday makers are virtually all from the UK. So if you don't like the culture even Bingo - go with another line for the variety.
Night time brought the Theatre Shows and other acts(again not every-one's cup of tea) but the entertainment we saw was good - Fogwell Flax has had mixed reviews but we enjoyed both shows, the two other Comedians were good (sorry I just can't remember the names but I laughed despite my other half saying I have no sense of humour) and the singer in the Tamarind mostly was 5th Element and were possibly the best they had on board other that Des Walker. There was a duo that sang in the Met Bar called Into the Drift but for us they needed to drift off...(sorry but the woman twittered and never seem to have her sheet music ready...)The ballroom dancers made our toes curl but it was a must for others.
P&O do a sail away party out of each Port,avoid these if you don't fancy a load of music, cheering and daftness. They made a special effort for the last one to celebrate 175 years of P&O. There are two other pools away from the crowd - a tiny one at the back and an adults only at the front. Someone did say on another review that there was little control exercised over the kids in the laguna pool but we noticed that the kids were quite good - Ventura is a family ship - so don't book in school holidays if you don't like kids. The indoor / covered pool tended to be the base for most kids. Great to have a retractable roof in cold weather.
P&O do try to make an effort with a 60 and 70s night on day 4 - about 20% dressed up and a tropical night mid cruise - about 70% dressed up. The formal nights were well supported with adults and children looking really smart!
There was a lovely chocoholics afternoon tea that was possibly attended by all 3000 passengers - Im sure that we dipped in the middle as everyone made there way to mid ship. A nice touch and appreciated by all.
We understand that the shows by the Headliners Team were good and other shows well supported like Clem Curtis and a Freddy Mercury Tribute - it's all very British. We don't do every show as we did on our first cruise - we get about more. The Cruise Director isn't OTT - I recall one cruise where the CD was the centre of his universe and totally full of himself. The staff just get on with what they do.
The White Room was a lovely experience though our waiter was a little cool and very very hard to understand but the dinner was excellent. We sat outside and watched the sunset go down. Marco's Tiramisu was the best. I know some do not want to pay the Â£25 cover charge but we really enjoy things like this!
East got good reviews but there were two curry nights in the Waterside Buffet and we went there (no cover charge and good selection). Unlike Celebrity and RCI there is limited choice - so if you don't do the main dining room be aware that they have a theme each night - Italian, curry, cowboys - there is limited choice ... If you are used to the different buffet stations on other lines you may be a bit disappointed. There was the Beach House which was good for steaks etc and it was hard to get in. One lady I spoke to was very vocal about the lack of choice. We used the buffet for breakfast as the main dining room was just a bit OTT in the morning with a limited choice - you could only have certain things on set days ie scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on a sunday...not really the sort of limitations I'd expect so this is my little moan.
Las Ramblas was lovely - we enjoyed our Tapas and Sangria and we didn't mind the small charge! I know others begrudge it and it is a personal choice.
Coffee Shop and retail outlets were very good - better stock that Celebrity and more affordable. Excellent outfits for men and women if you need another special outfit even a tux or bow tie.
Spa was great and on a port day my other half treated me to the unwind package - worth the Â£69 for 90 minutes of pure pampering.
There are plenty of places to go on board and all venues such as the casino, exchange bar, coffee shop (selling COSTA), Met Bar, Red Bar, Tamarind and Havana etc all seemed well supported. It has a busy vibe and doesn't have the dip in the atmosphere that some lines have between dinner sittings - the two main dining rooms were well attended and the Bay Tree for Freedom Dining was popular but at peak I understand some people had to wait.
Room service was efficient with a reasonable selection. P&O put tea and coffee making facilities in the room which were popular with older holiday makers. A little old lady told me that she loved her tea tray (bless her!)
Frankie's Grill and Pizzeria was popular for burgers, pizza and other things
(no charge).Half way through there was a lunchtime barbi which was appreciated. A feature was a guy doing an ice carving in just 7 minutes.
Internet service was best we had, no cold water in staterooms it's always warm(previous reviewers have noted this), decent hairdryer in staterooms, ironing room and washers / dryers how great. Some passengers did all their washing before coming home!
Value for money.. yes - our cheapest cruise so far....
There is no hard sell (unlike RCI) on P&O though the female waitresses in the bars do mither and mither you even when you have a full glass of wine. Bar prices not too bad. The shuttle buses are free and on other lines they do rip you off. This is a real saving for a family of 4. The gifts for the children were good in the Reef Club and they were treated to pizza and other things which was nice. Some people felt a bit let down ( some P&O advocates) and I suppose you get what you pay for. Ventura was for the four of us overall good value for money. I can see why one reviewer said it was Butlins on Sea - though I feel it is perhaps a bit hard - sure it's not got the finesse of other lines but what it does... it does well. Everyone seemed really nice on Board and most were really happy with their holiday.
My only disappointment was the getting off, we went to the buffet for breakfast as we had an early slot. I fell badly on my side due to a very slippy floor in the swimming pool area and hit the floor hard. There was no care or attention from any P&O staff but a number of other passengers were lovely (I felt that they had taken my money and I was now off!) I was very shaken, an Officer offered no assistance at all. We then had possibly the worst disembarkation ever... but in the round it didn't spoil things. Would we go with P&O again - possibly but we plan to try Princess or return to RCI. Ohh and my car was there and the car parking service was great.
Hope this was review useful and may I wish future passengers a lovely holiday. PS Skip La Palma!