We booked this cruise just 4 weeks before we sailed. We have only ever sailed with P&O (twice a year for the last 7 years) so have nothing to compare it with other than comments on here and what we hear from fellow passengers !! We have sailed on Ventura once before, 4 years ago, and at that time felt a lot of the passengers were a bit "rough" and it was clearly being marketed as a very family friendly and very casual ship. (Well, more casual than the rest of the fleet)and at the lower end of the cruiser market !!! I sound like a snob !!
This time around the cruise we chose was the only one that fitted in with what we wanted to do, and I wanted a hot sun cruise round bog standard Western Med destinations. That said, we had never been to Marseilles, Algherro, Malaga or la Coruna, so we were looking forward to those ports. Gibraltar, Barcelona and Livorno were the others.
Embarkation was superb and the best we have ever had, very quick. We miss the old style sailaways with a band and a sense of occasion. No band, and we had started to leave by the time emergency drill had been done. No sense of excitement at all and over priced booze !! (Although generally P&O are very reasonable with drinks prices)
The weather was superb. wall to wall sun every day, and some days were very hot. We used our balcony a lot, so really got value for money. Thank goodness we had a balcony as we couldnt have got a sun lounger on the decks - which were heaving. That is a major minus point of this ship. Despite warnings not to do so, most people just reserved their loungers at the crack of dawn, then went to breakfast. My partner swam first thing on a number of days and said rows of loungers were reserved with towels etc, even at 8am !! We also noted that it was always the same people sat right beside the pools.
The cabin was well presented and our steward did a good job. The balcony was a decent size, but was quite dirty. I like the open walk in wardrobes in this ship (and Azura) which allow much more hanging space.
We are late risers so are never in time for breakfast in the main dining rooms. We like the alternatives to the buffet, offered on Oceana (Cafe Jardin), Aurora (cafe Bordeaux) and oriana (Al Fresco). However despite being a big ship, there are no such alternatives on Ventura, and we ran the gamut of the buffet every morning. The food there isnt that bad, but at about 10am it is like a rat run !! We took one lunch in the main dining room which was pleasant, we usually skip lunch if we have a snack from the grill or have afternoon tea. Afternoon Tea has gone right down hill (or maybe it is just this ship) - there is no finess and they want to serve you everything at once. I really dont want a crumpet when I am still trying to eat the scones and cream !! Evening meals in the Saffron restaurant were , as always, very good and our waiters were superb. We had a jolly table and a good time was had by all !! We ate in the White Room once and had a fantastic meal, and had two lunches in the Glass House which were also of good quality.
The Headliners theatre group were very good, and not having sailed on this ship for 4 years, three of the shows were new to us. A novelty as we have seen most of them umpteen times and P&O seem to notewant to introduce new theatre shows to their fleet. Over the last few years we have felt the cabaret artists have declined in standard, but not on this cruise. Clem Curtis, Laura Carter and Jamie Allen were superb. The ventriloquist was berabale, and the only damp squib was a french pair (Charlie and Jeremy) who did one show of juggling and tumbling. An act better suited to a circus and not very good at that either !! The bands, and dance bands were all excellent and overall the entertainent was very very good. I Understand from what I hear from other people who cruise multiple lines, that P&O are usually the best for evening entertainment and I can quite beleive it.
That said, the Cruise Director was Hughie Taylor, so we knew he would be virtually invisible ( we know what he is like) and this was the case. For a family cruise in high season, we expected more daytime activities. maybe they knew everyone would be out enjoying the sun, who knows, but there was little to do. There were no port presentations (these were just on the TV on a loop, so you had to listen to them all to get to the one you wanted), there was no interview with the captain, there was no interview with the headliners troop, there was no classical act. Maybe they dont do these things on Ventura, who knows, but this was the first cruise we have done where there was none of those things.
The ports were all as to be expected with decent times in port (8am until 4 or 5 most days). Gibraltar was 1 till 7 (but that is usually half a day anyway and lets face it, its a tip, who wants a full day there !!) . The main problem was Algherro on Sardinia. Our only tender port. The process of queuing for our tender ticket to actually stepping foot on land took from 10.15am until 12.55pm = a staggering 2hrs 40 mins. NOT GOOD ENOUGH P&O. Despite regular updates and assuranaces they were doing all they could, this should not have happened. It appeared to many folk that P&O should not be taking their biggest ships to tender ports as they cannot cope with the huge numers of folk wanting to get of. They have been here before with Ventura so must have known what would happen. The feeble excuse was that there was a 3mph speed limit in the harbour - what utter rot. The real reason was they mis judged that most people would want to go ashore mid morning. They should issue tickets for time slots, the day before. Obviously they won't because that would entail extra costs. Hey ho, we still had 2.5 hourts ashore but it could have been longer. Similarly quesues for shuttles were often quote long, and where we could, we walked into town.
We did two tours - both "on your owns" to Sitges from Barcelona,and to Florence from Livorno. Both as to be expected.
The theme of queues was one of the main themes of the cruise It was a very busy cruise. A young average age, with lots of kids and teenagers and large families on board. The ship was very busy and it was often a relief to retire to the quiet of our cabin and balcony. I like a busy ship, with a younger clientele, and it was busy until very late each evening, but perhaps I prefer it not quite as busy as it was !! Completely the opposite to Arcadia and Oriana which are now like floating rest homes and where everyone goes to bed at 11.30pm. On Ventura, there were lots of teenagers running along corridors and hanging around stairwells and lifts because they had nothing to do !! We had our cabin "make up" card stolen on one evening and our steward said it was a regular occurance, as the kids often took them out of all the doors. That said, there was no trouble on the cruise, but one felt that it was bever very far away.
There were some very large family groups on board, who looked rather forbidding, and a bit rough. If challenged I expect they could have kicked off !!! This cruise had the feel of Butlins at sea and did not have any finness about it at times.
On the 4 formal nights, compliance wasnt too bad, but we saw some people dressed completely casually, just milling around with everyone else in black tie. Thats the problem with a "suggested" dress code. It should be an enforced one, then the ones who want to remain casual can eat in the buffet !!!
That said, everyone was clearly having a good time and , unlike Arcadia and Oriana, we encountered no moaners or whingers. BUT, the cruise just lacked a bit of finness. The food, service and entertainment were good quality as always, and for what we are now paying , it still represents good valuie for money, but clearly this ship is aimed at a market that I really dont want to cruise with regularly. I understand from a travel agent friend that ventura is P&O's most heavily re-booked ship. It clearly appeals to those it is martketed at, and thus is doing its job, so nothing weill change.
I will stick to Aurora, Azura, and Oceana in future, with occasional forays on Oriana, but will only go on ventura again if I have no other options. Of course I could try another cruise line, but I hate large groups of Americans, so best to stick with P&O !!!