My wife and I had a wonderful first time trip on-board the Ventura from the 7th to the 14th April 2013. Overall, we were extremely pleased with the ship and staff and truthfully, could not find much to complain about. We were pleasantly surprised that the holiday was so good and this was in part because we had been unnerved by some of the reviews we had read from other passengers and so expected the worst. That is not to say that other reviewers did not have valid points or that they had in any way fabricated their complaints or grievances. However, I think we paid too much attention to some reviews which unfortunately negatively influenced us before we had even set foot aboard Ventura.
In brief, here is our summary of our trip:
1. Embarkation -- we were astounded at how smoothly this process was! Before we knew what was going on, our baggage had been whisked away and our car driven off. We had been 'processed' and were on-board the ship having lunch within an hour. Very well done. Disembarkation was equally smooth (although we heard several passengers grumbling about delays).
2. The ship, having just been refurbished was very clean and orderly. All the public spaces were well attended and our cabin (inside, forward) was well appointed and clean. There was a very noticeable 'new carpet smell' in the corridors and it was apparent that much cleaning / paining / varnishing had taken place. No complaints.
3. Food. Overall, really good quality throughout. We had fixed dining (late) in the Cinnamon restaurant and we felt that the food and service was impeccable. No waiting. The buffet restaurant served good food -- however, it was like 'whacky races' at times trying to get your meal whilst navigating through the crowds. We don't feel that the food service area was anywhere near big enough to accommodate the throughput of diners carrying trays. Additionally (and this is something that P&O officials might like to take notice of), the ship really needs to get rid of so many large tables and bring in MANY MORE tables for two / four. It was difficult to find a table - and when you did, it was usual for one person to 'guard it' whilst the other selected their meal. Often, if a couple sat at a table for eight for example, they jealously protected their space and made it clear that other diners were not welcome to share (even families). Unbelievably, on one occasion, a man approached my wife declaring that the table was his. My wife replied that there was no-one sitting there when she arrived - to which he proclaimed that he had left a glass on the table to mark his territory! A solitary, dirty glass - enough said! Afternoon tea was something we looked forward to. However, it was frequently 'spoiled' by people almost stampeding into the restaurant, in the desperate hope of being able to sit at a table for the exact number of diners in their party. We had the impression that people were not happy to be sat with strangers.
4. Public areas. All areas were generally well kept with plenty of waiters. Some were friendlier than others though. Drinks were 'pushed' a lot, although the service was efficient if you wanted a drink. When we began the cruise, there seemed to be a mad scramble for the crew to get your attention. For example, promoting wine drinks packages or Spa therapy sessions. We did not find this overwhelming; however, it could have put some passengers off. For the rest of the ships amenities, we really enjoyed the gym and used it daily (not that we are fitness fanatics!). Because of the poor weather, we did not go on deck a great deal and so did not use the pools (plenty of kids seemed to enjoy though!). Cannot comment about the sun loungers as we did not use.
5. Entertainment. As a couple in our forties, we found this to be 'mixed'. On the one hand, the two big shows in the Arena were splendid (this is the type of thing we had experienced on other ships every night of the voyage) however, as mentioned, there were only two on the Ventura and we would have loved more. There were a number of singers such as a Phil Collins tribute and also a big band music singer. Very competent, but 'not our scene'. Additionally, there was a comedian on offer who again was competent, but perhaps who appealed to (dare I say it) the older passengers. P & O cannot please everyone and so we cannot reasonably condemn them for entertainment that did not live up to our personal expectations.
6. Ports of call. We enjoyed La Coruna and Vigo. Very easy to explore straight from the ship. Lisbon at first could put people off as there was a lot of graffiti. However, once you have 'acclimatised' to the city, it was safe and interesting. Oporto was abandoned as the sea conditions were too rough to dock.
7. Lastly, tipping. From talking to other cruisers on Ventura, we can see that this is a vexed subject. One or two people were indignant when money was taken and appeared on their on-board account (I think we paid about Â£50 per couple for the 7 days). P & O say they take this money to be distributed throughout all the crew -- not just those with public facing roles such as the waiters (by default, we cannot distribute tips to crew that we haven't seen). On the one hand, we understand this. However, we think the crux of the problem is that many of us like to be given the choice whom to tip and not to have this choice made for us by the holiday company. One comment we heard frequently was that P & O should pay all crew a decent wage so that passengers should not have to subsidise them as the cruise was expensive enough. We are in two minds about that. Anyway, we paid the automatic gratuity added to our on-board account -- and also tipped extra to the wine waitress, the servers in the restaurant and of course the cabin steward. My wife and I could not walk away without leaving a small token.
Would we go on a P & O cruise again? Yes, without doubt.