Having cruised on many previous occasions, but always with RCI/Celebrity, both in the Med and the Caribbean and on ships right up to and including Oasis class, this P&O booking was last minute, (to mark my 50th birthday), but the draw of sailing from Southampton appealed, as did the price for our usual grade of balcony cabin, so we took a chance and opted to try P&O's Ventura? After all, it was peak season and having been advertised as a 'family ship', we assumed that there would be loads to do by way of activities and entertainment, whilst P&O/Cunard are names that have been around for generations?
Driving, instead of flying, was a pleasure and the meet-and-greet service for the car parking was faultless, as was the check-in procedure in the terminal. However, the differences showed from the second we boarded, as instead of the usual glass of chilled bubbly, instead, there were just a few half-hearted smiles from those assembled. Hey ho?
Locating our cabin was easy and I have to say, whilst there were no real surprises, (it was immaculate and well equipped as usual), the extra hanging space was very well received. This said, the shower cubicle is noticeably smaller than those found on RCI/Celebrity....and I mean noticeably!
We were travelling with another couple, so once we'd established that we were all dining aat the second sitting, but that we'd been put in different restaurants, (not just tables), we went to the main dining room and joined the queue to see the Manager. Apparently, we weren't alone, so we waited patiently and once ushered into the restaurant, we approached the man behind the desk, who, once we'd explained out predicament, informed us that there was nothing he could do, but that he'd try to seat us together, in the same restaurant, from the following day? I politely informed him that this was not acceptable, I reminded him that we had booked together and that we wanted to sit together, but he again repeated that there was nothing he could do! It was only after we had escalated the matter to a Customer Relations Manager, that we were given the possibility of some hope? However, as it subsequently transpired, the impossible became possible, as indeed, we sat and dined together. Funny how things can happen if you really try hard enough!
Another issue relates to formal dining, as whilst I wear a suit and tie for work, I consciously choose not to wear a tux for the formal evenings, although I do wear a shirt and tie, (on RCI/Celebrity). However, having been informed that unless I wore a jacket, I would be refused access to the main restaurant(s) on the three formal evenings, I asked to see where it said this in writing? Yes, it advises/suggests that a tux be worn, but nowhere does it state in writing that without a jacket, entrance will be refused! Strangely, not even a F&B, not a CR manager, could show me this, although had I have been aware, I would have been prepared. Thanks P&O for the head's-up, albeit, a fantastic F&B No.2 officer found me a jacket to smooth the way.
If you already have the impression that we wouldn't travel P&O again, you're probably spot on, although to provide tangible reasons why, here are some facts and not just opinions, which of course are entirely personal:
* Available options for the breakfast buffet get nowhere near comparing with that offered by RCI/Celebrity, whilst regardless, P&O have clearly never heard of serving warm/hot toast!
* Unfortunately, the same goes for the lunchtime buffet menu
* Insufficient seating exists for buffet dining, (which is well documented), with you needing to fight, or wait, to secure a table at busy times!
* We experienced poorly maintained areas of the buffet restaurant, with tables left covered in soiled plates and one waiter not clearing crockery, as we were informed that it was another's responsibility!
* We understand that P&O do have a company teaspoon, (probably just the one for the fleet), but for anyone on our ship, you'll laugh at the complete lack of teaspoons. (Oh come on, smile.....we did).
* The quality of the evening meals, (in the main restaurant), exceeded that of RCI/Celebrity, whilst our Waiter and Ass. Waiter, (Bay Tree, table 118), were nothing short of outstanding
* No soft drinks packages are available, unless you want to combine a quantity of sodas with ice-creams? No thank you.
* There are also insufficient numbers of poolside beds for the number of passengers travelling, which is drastically highlighted on 'sea days'
* Daytime entertainment activities are incredibly poor and other than being posted in Horizon, (the on-board paper, the preceding evening), nothing is advertised on the day, before the event, over the PA system!
* The on-board photography really team didn't inspire anyone and something that quite a few passengers that we spoke to really took offence at, was that when positioning passengers for a picture, some of them actually touched clothing and/or jewellery, to reposition it. Sorry, please don't invade my space by touching me like that!
* Apparently, we had a Cruise Director on-board, although unlike other cruise lines, he was practically invisible?
* The excursions team were called upon to address quite a few unhappy passengers after a very poor tour specifically, (a 2.5hr coach trip each way, with a 40min stop at a cafe and not at all as advertised) and they did so by merely informing the group that there was nothing that they could do, or would do and that a refund would not be entertained!
* The afternoon silver-service cream tea is a 'must', so long as you're entirely comfortable having sandwiches, cakes, crumpets, tea cakes and scones, all served at your table at precisely the same time! Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my food, but steady on chaps, the plates aren't big enough for everything at the same time!
If you're still reading my review, it's probably because you can't believe my perceived levels of negativity, or you're just plain curious. However, what about this?
My brother-in-law inadvertently locked his sleeping wife out on their balcony. OK, it wasn't clever, but these things happen. However, when we were alerted to this fact by her calling to us over the balconies and we visited Customer Relations asking for assistance, we understand that they couldn't provide us with a duplicate cabin key, (after all, it wasn't out cabin), but it really shouldn't have taken almost an hour for someone to have gone into their cabin to open the balcony door!! Furthermore, my wife and I were on our own balcony afterwards discussing the matter, only to find our cabin steward and the Head of Housekeeping, standing in our cabin, knocking on our own balcony door to attract our attention! Apparently, we hadn't heard them knock on our cabin door, so they let themselves in and stood looking at us on the balcony. And if we'd been undressed, or otherwise engaged, (I'll let you work the rest out), but they didn't see an issue with it? Apparently, neither did Customer Relations, as when we raised the matter with them, they dismissed us out of turn!
And now for something completely different:
* As already mentioned, the quality of the evening meals in the main restaurants were excellent
* Jessica Lloyd, the female solo vocalist, was world class!
* The resident Ventura Band was outstanding!
* Our cabin was maintained beautifully!
* The overall presentation of the ship, (apart from the external public decks where smoking was allowed), was immaculate!
* The retail therapy, for a ship that size, were adequate, (although do yourself a favour and don't buy cosmetics/perfumes on-board, as they're cheaper in the UK)
* The heating and A/C in the cabin worked brilliantly!
* There's a great selection of bars and places to eat!
To provide you with an overview of my wife and I, as you probably now have us down as troublesome passengers who are never really happy, we've cruised on many occasions, we've dined in speciality restaurants and been on numerous shore-side excursions and we've never once before had cause to negatively comment, or complain, or have Customer Relations get involved. We've paid our way, had amazing times and thoroughly enjoyed our voyages, with the next one this October on Independence out of Southampton, so we're certainly not looking for issues. However, for us, the experience on Ventura was regrettably somewhat poor and certainly, not what we'd enjoyed previously with RCI/Celebrity. This said, if 8th-18th August was your first cruise, or you've never cruised RCI/Celebrity, then it may be that you actually wouldn't know any different?
For us, we have October to look forward to and we've started planning for 2014 already as well.........it just won't be with P&O again!!
Happy cruising everyone :)