Picked a mini cruise as a cheaper alternative than flying to Bruges (with airport travel, hotels etc it's very affordable method to just take the mini-cruise!). We've been on Azura for a week to Norway so knew what to expect. Plus we had a £100 voucher to use up.
So-- it's good, considering what you pay. Having an inside cabin (what's the point of a balcony on such a short trip?), we were please with the accommodation. Actually felt larger than I had prepared for. Good dressing area and the shower isn't terribly tight (and I'm a big lad!.
Fellow guests were fine in the main although it's going to be the case that on these trips you get people who would never normally cruise and that includes a large number of parties (stag/hen/birthday). The atmosphere on deck is extremely different and largely about drinking. Neither of us drink and to be honest we found that a little off-putting.
Having sailed on the sister ship we knew the tricks (such as head away from main areas, eat in the alternative restaurant near the buffet for free and go straight to the bar on the top deck for drinks)- all the things others may not work out until later in their trip. Makes for a comfortable spacious experience.
Embarkation was fine as was finding Bruges at the other end. I'd worried about the complication but need not have. You take the free shuttle to Blankenburg and from there buy a very affordable return train ticket to Bruges (at the weekend that was 4euro each!). Fab dual deck trains- quite fun. And to be honest everyone else is doing the same so follow the crowd! From Bruges station its a 20 minute walk to the tourist area which is fine on foot. Not sure this is one for the wheelchair user (that might be a silly assumption, so do your own homework on that).
Bruges itself is a beauty. Despite the rain, river trip (about 8euro I think) and listening to the bells in the square was a perfect little day out.
Ventura itself is fine. Very clean. Lovely areas. Hated the Glasshouse (because it's so beautiful on Azura and here it's just a half converted area that lacks style entirely). Food a problem in Glasshouse, not up to par with previous experience. Standard Freedom restaurant was fine.
I'm sure everyone's said it before but with party-people onboard (some of whom are bored onboard!) this isn't a quiet and relaxing trip. IF you have an edge of snobbery about you (be fair, some of us do!), you're going to freak out a little. I saw one couple making use of the Retreat area-- could have done that in better weather to escape entirely. However, nobody was drunk to the point of illness (that I saw) and it was all in the aim of good fun. I might never forget being approached by a young lady and being asked for a smoke while she interrogated me about the destination however--- "Bruges, so is that in Europe-- Is South America in Europe--- so are we passing Ireland???" I am guessing she might not have been travelling for the sake of getting anywhere.
My advice in summary: Don't take a mini-cruise to experience cruising. Do take a mini-cruise to get to a fine city for the weekend and leave your normal world behind for a bit. Top marks to P&O for the important things (feeding us all, cleaning the ship, having some fun). Do take the kids- what an amazing weekend for them, it's still very exciting to take a little trip like this.
Only true complaint and it's a tiny one: We are AA so we really like the mocktails in the Metropolis bar. Why take their menu away on the mini-cruise and replace it with only alcohol? Well, we know why-- to keep them all drinking. To be fair it was brought on request but taken away again every time we'd ordered. Odd.
Would we sail P&O again-- maybe. We're a bit bored of it after two experiences (Venture and Azura) and we might be the kind of people seeking something more refined. Cunard is next on the list (following an amazing Crystal, one terrible MSC, three 'ok' NCL and two average P&O).
PS- I'm gluten intollerant and found everythind I needed (this time!)
Oh... and if you are having a hen do-- go for it, looks like a giggle x