This was our second cruise for my wife and I, our first was Western Med on Azura in 2012. We're in our early 50's.
We flew from Gatwick, on BA scheduled service. This was decided by P&O (we'd booked a Getaway deal in August 2012 so had no say, but we did save a lot of money!) Flight was fine on our Boeing 777, landing on time at Barbados 5.30pm. Unimpressed by BA's food though, pretty poor for an 8 hour scheduled flight - a bland pasta meal about an hour into the flight, and one (yes, one) sandwich prior to landing, and that was it. On the plus side was the free bar and good entertainment system - note, take your own headphones, BA's don't work. We had to queue for an hour to clear Barbados customs and then retrieve our suitcases. We subsequently discovered that charter flight passengers didn't have to do this, they went straight from the 'plane to the ship.
So, on the bus to Ventura, and a speedy boarding once we'd been allocated our cruise cards. We were in a balcony cabin on B deck, which P&O allocated, and we were happy with the location. Didn't see much of our steward, but cabin was always clean and well stocked (we didn't get any towel art though!). A minor point, the biscuits that P&O put in the cabin were always broken and not as good as we had last year.
Ventura is almost identical to Azura in layout etc, so we soon found our way around. The Captain was very jovial and all the crew we came across seemed happy and were very polite and helpful. Our cruise included 4 sea days, and we spent them just lazing around in the sunshine or going to some of the talks. We felt there wasn't much to interest us, which was a contrast to last year's cruise. Sunbeds soon got taken with people leaving towels and then not coming back for ages. We (my wife) ended up getting up early to bag a sunbed but it was that or go without. The food was much as we expected having cruised with P&O before, but it was here that we felt standards were starting to slip. We ate in Cinnamon (Freedom dining) in the evenings, and usually in the self service restaurants for other meals, and we didn't have one hot meal. Although the plates were hot, the food was only ever 'warm'. The only hot meal we had was in Ramblas, were we paid extra for 'authentic' Spanish cuisine - very nice, pity it's being replaced with a Glasshouse. They ran out of mugs and plastic glasses in the self catering restaurants every mealtime, which became tiresome. There wasn't anything wrong with the food quality, just that it wasn't hot. Bar drinks had gone up in price considerably since last year, and P&O still insist on waiter service - even when there's hardly anyone in the bar, it still takes a long time to get a drink (so we just buy less P&O!). We waited 25 minutes for a drink when we were in the main theatre, the show was almost over by the time we got the drinks.
Entertainment - we enjoyed the shows we saw - Freddie Mercury Tribute, Robbie Williams tribute and the ship's Headliners. Clem Curtis (ex-Foundations) was good, even better on the Karaoke at St Lucia! Also enjoyed comedians Tucker and Fogwell Flax
Our ports of call were:
Antigua - on a Sunday, so Antigua was shut! We took a local taxi tour around the island for about $25US each
St Maarten - another local taxi, we teamed up with 4 other passengers and paid $25US each for 3 hours. Our driver (Tony Friday) was so laid back he was almost horizontal and was happy to take us wherever we wanted to go. Cheap T shirts here - 3 for $12US
St Vincent - a local minibus this time, again teaming up with others off Ventura and paying about $25US for 3 hours
In all these ports P&O's tours were a lot more than the price of the local taxis!
Grenada - we'd booked a P&O tour to the beach before leaving UK so paid more than we should have! The beach was lovely though, blue sea and golden sand.
Barbados - took a 45 minute walk to the beach, seeing a turtle in the harbour on the way. For the price of 2 sunbeds and an umbrella we also had a drink each and 'free' minibus back to the port.
St Kitts - P&O tour to the St Kitts railway, which we think is the only way that you can go on the railway. Really enjoyed this even if a bit pricey (Â£65 each)
St Lucia - another P&O tour booked in the UK to Reduit beach. Lovely beach. Lots of fun back at the port tourist village with Karaoke and Piton local beer at the free wi-fi bar. A note here about wi-fi - we found free wi-fi at every port tourist village, so no need to pay for on-board internet access. Just follow the crew ashore, they know where to go.
Dominica - went up to the rainforest, spectacular - banana and coconut trees, humming birds etc. A real bonus, there was a carnival in town which was great. P&O announced this the previous evening with dire warnings that everything would be shut and there would be no taxis, but, funnily enough, there were lots of places open and taxis too!
Tortola - our final port, local open sided mini-bus/taxi up and down the steepest roads I've ever seen to Cane Garden beach, which was great. $8US each, each way, again a lot less than P&O.
It can seem like you're going to same island after a few, they all have steep roads and started to look the same after a while! We didn't have any language problems, English widely spoken.
We then returned to Barbados for our return flight. All customs etc completed on Ventura, cases weighed on the quayside (we were overweight on one case, but BA didn't seem to mind!) and then back on Ventura to wait for bus to airport (free wi-fi here). Our return flight was on time, albeit a little bumpy, but the food was even more disappointing - yet another bland pasta with cheese meal after about an hour, then nothing until breakfast 6 hours later. I was hungry by then, imagine my delight when breakfast turned out to be a blueberry muffin with a miniscule orange juice and coffee!
So, would we do it again? Yes, I think it's fair to say we would. The Caribbean was lovely and warm without being oppressive, the people very welcoming, the beer cold and the beaches and scenery just great. Ventura looking tired, but she is due a refit. As to P&O - well, it felt at times like 'Butlins at Sea' but the ship's big enough to avoid that if you want to. Very hygiene conscious with anti-bac spray at every restaurant entrance and when returning to the ship from shore, but some of the public toilets do need attention. I just wish they would serve HOT meals, it surely can't be that difficult. Also, why no bananas in the restaurants? They grow them in the Caribbean!!!
Hope this review is helpful - we're glad we went, and really enjoyed ourselves.