My wife and I booked a mini-suite balcony cabin for a 21 night 'positioning cruise' aboard the P&O's MS Ventura from Southampton to the East Caribbean, calling at Funchal, Tortola, Antigua, St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts and Barbados, from where we flew home. This was our first ever cruise and the experience exceeded our expectations in every way. As well as visits to the ports of call these are 10 things that we liked about the being on board:
(1) The construction quality of the ship, built by Fincantieri at Malfalcone in Italy at shipyards that began by producing ships for the Austrian Empire before WWI. We liked the non-slip hardwood decks and the sturdy doors and fittings.
(2) The interior decor. A lot of thought has gone in to the choice of carpeting and artwork in communal areas. In the cabin there are large fluffy white bath towels, large blue beach towels, smart tea cups and elegant glasses that don't crack when you pour boiling water into them (to de-chlorinate the tap water).
(3) Buffet breakfast. There is a fabulous choice! In addition to traditional bacon & eggs, you can choose from healthy options such as muesli, yoghurt and ripe ready-to-eat fruit. Haddock poached in milk is available on request. To wash it all down there is proper Twinings breakfast tea, a preferable choice to the barely drinkable coffee. We enjoyed sitting at a table outside at the stern of the ship.
(4) Lunch in the Saffron restaurant was our favourite meal. I enjoyed changing in to long trousers and a shirt and sitting at a table for two near a window. Chef TREVOR GLASS, his name understated in small typeface on the menu, is the unsung hero of the ship. What tremendous choices, and all prepared from scratch by a kitchen crew working 3 shifts a day. No deep-freeze to microwave food here! I loved the traditional British dishes like proper steak and kidney pudding, and sponge puddings with custard. The chef has a mercifully light touch with salt and sugar, and presentation was appetisingly beautiful. I enjoyed rediscovering English cheeses, and trying out English wines.
We also enjoyed the first dinner sitting at a table for 8 in the Saffron, and enjoyed wines such as Pocket Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough from New Zealand (Â£17.50), an unexpected Alios Tempranillo/Touriga Campanila from Brazil (Â£14.25) and from Spain, a red Co Vines Tempranillo Uriel Requ'na (Â£12).
(5) The romantic atmosphere of the Pierre White restaurant: outdoor seating overlooking the wake of the ship, soft Frank Sinatra music, the gentle hum of the ship's engine and unobtrusive service. The pleasure came from the unique atmosphere rather than from the meal itself.
(6) Our Indian waiters Gulam & Kunal and cabin steward Manuel. There is a long, historical mutual respect and affection between Indian service staff and customers. Ours were kind, attentive and friendly.
(7) Formal nights. They were good fun! When I promenaded around the ship I felt as if I was an extra in a James Bond movie! It's pure fantasy! My wife enjoyed buying some new outfits for the cruise, while I went to a larger branch of Marks & Spencer and spent Â£59 on a dinner suit, Â£27 for a pack of 3 white shirts and Â£10 for a bow tie.
The Caribbean-themed evening was also tremendous fun, with our friendly Indian waiters similarly dressed in garishly colourful Hawaiian shirts
(8) On-board Entertainment. The seats in the 784 seat Arena theatre are admirably comfortable for films and shows. The Headliners Dance Company put on more than half a dozen excellent performances and sang along live rather than lip-sync. They are accompanied by live music from the multi-talented Ventura Orchestra. These were full-scale productions, complete with dry ice, laser beams & pyrotechnics.
The legendary 72 year old Jamaican-born Jimmy James also entertained us with his hit songs like 'Now is the Time' and 'I'll go where the music takes me'. I enjoyed 2 of the 3 comedians, especially Essex-born Tucker. Tribute singers entertained with Elton John, Sting & George Michael hits in the Havana bar, and a classical pianist did some classy afternoon recitals in the Tamarind Bar
(9) The Gym, sauna, steam room and jacuzzis. We were delighted to make daily use of state of the art Technogym exercise equipment at no extra cost. There are excellent saunas and steam rooms in the changing rooms, kept at optimum temperature from 8.00am to 8.00pm. We enjoyed the open air jacuzzis by the Oasis pool as well as the ones where the sail-away parties took place.
(10) Our fellow Passengers. Everybody was on their best behaviour. We enjoyed the convivial company and delightful regional accents of ordinary working people drawn from all over the England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There were some great tattoos on men and women alike!