The one and only reason we went on a cruise is that I have a phobia of flying. As hubby & I both very much want to see the world, cruising seemed a good alternative. We were sceptical - especially hubby: it was a very expensive 'gamble', we were concerned whether cruising life would suit us being only in our late 20's, and whether Norway was the ideal destination for a lively 4 year old.
Embarkation took a little while, especially with a little one to entertain but was simple enough. Our hearts did sink a little when it seemed that our child was one of only maybe three children amongst thousands waiting to embark. We also felt we'd brought the passenger age down by about 30 years :) in reality, however, once on the boat there were other younger passengers - mainly holidaying with family or a few young couples. For the most part, it really wasn't an issue - our fellow passengers were mainly very friendly and welcoming to our little one. There were the exceptions: those who rolled their eyes as soon as they saw a child (even though ours is very well behaved) or, more frequently, those who felt the need to talk incessantly in very loud voices - on lifts, dining rooms, everywhere! - about how many hundred cruises they had been on and how many cars they had at home. But these were the minority, not the majority and it was lovely getting to know familiar faces around the ship.
My personal first impression was that the Ventura is not as grand inside as I'd possibly expected. Hubby and I said its like a 4* hotel when perhaps we'd expected a 5*. It was a lot more modern than I'd anticipated too but I loved the horse decorations throughout and 4 year old fell in love with the bubble columns in the lifts - a fun touch. It was all very clean and shiny.
One and only service error, really - our child's luggage went 'missing' for a worrying hour or two. This was annoying as we knew the luggage label was coming off as the steward took it off us to board - she wouldn't let me refasten it and then the bag goes AWOL! The staff member left to deal with irate passengers whose luggage hadn't turned up was less than courteous - but I suppose it wasn't his fault & he'd drawn the short straw. All was well in the end, bag turned up and our hol began properly.
We chose Ventura specifically because it seemed to have the most child friendly facilities. It didn't disappoint in that the Reef children's club was fantastic. I had absolutely no intention of leaving 4 year old with some random childcarers and felt we should have him with us whilst on holiday. However it quickly became obvious that these 'random childcarers' were brilliant with children and probably more qualified than our regular nursery staff. More importantly, little one loved it up there - there is a built in 'play zone' with ball pall, lots of great toys and craft activities. He quickly made it clear that he'd really rather be there than with us most of the time!! They let the 2-8 year olds fall asleep on sleeping bags watching a film if parents are at the evening show, but do remember to send them in their pyjamas or they'll be wide awake again by the time they've been carried to bed through the bright lights and noise of the ship.
Activities on board weren't generally to our taste - a few slightly younger talks etc would have been good (they were on topics like reducing arthritis!!!) but, that said, we could have got involved with things like jewellery making, quizzes or dance lessons. The Headliners theatre company were very talented and I particularly enjoyed their west end musicals show though hubby did feel that, again, most of the show content was geared towards an older audience. The earliest shows started at 8.30 - it would have been nice if one night there was a 'matinee' for the children. The covered swimming pool was a big hit, and one of the main reasons we chose this ship. The entertainment team were also fantastic and very friendly - one night they valiantly kept up a dance routine despite downpour and they created a fantastic Great British Sail Away experience.
Shore excursions were very expensive but we felt necessary for Norway. There really was very little to do oneself in port, except for Stavanger where there are plenty of museums and shops within easy walking distance. We went to the Petrol Museum which was an unexpected hit, especially for little boys as there are lots of gadgets, a 3d cinema, great play area and submarines they can go in. Our favourite port was probably Olden - the Briksdal Glacier excursion is a must and the place is just beautiful, with mountains surrounding the port. Worst port was Molde - an utterly pointless little shopping town like any in England. If you can pick a Norway version with a port other than Molde, we'd suggest it.
Final things of note: service of the staff was excellent, our waiters in particular were brilliant in the Saffron restaraunt. We were very impressed with the food (and hubby is tough to please!) though would have liked to see some traditional Norwegian dishes on the menu.
Down point for me was one rough night with gale force winds - stabilisers or not, we certainly felt it and spent an anxious night. A reassurance announcement from the captain would have been nice.
Overall though, a surprisingly enjoyable holiday - we'll definitely be back