Our latest P & O Cruise on board Ventura began way back in July 2012 when we had a family get together back up North on Merseyside when my eldest brother in-law wanted to arrange a special birthday (60th) but didn’t know what to do, having cruised many times over the last decade I suggested a cruise, the question came back ‘Where can we go were the weather is good on the 30th November (His Birthday) My answer either the Canaries or the Caribbean, Caribbean won, so we booked a fly- cruise A party of four departing from Manchester & Us from Gatwick meeting on board Ventura in Barbados for a 14 night PARTY. During the weeks leading up to our departure date we kept a close eye on the long range weather forecast, which wasn’t looking to good Rain/Rain/Thunderstorms/Partly Cloudy & more Rain, never mind it has to be better than the UK @ the end of Nov, what a pleasant surprise to find on arrival in Barbados glorious sunshine knocking on the door of 30C, after having been given a flight upgrade to B/A, a cabin upgrade plus onboard credit, could things get any better?
We arrived at Bridgetown Cruise Terminal just short of 6.00pm, were Ventura awaited, given our Cruise Cards and headed to our pre-arranged meeting place of Deck 16,Starboard side(Smoking), Breakers Bar to meet the family, whom had arrived earlier in the afternoon via their Manchester Thomas Cook flight. Whilst participating in ‘Sailaway’ drinks, we compared flights and general pre- cruise arrangements (1-0) to British Airways. Once our luggage arrived which to be fair wasn’t too long, we spent our time before dinner, unpacking and having a leisurely drink on our (Upgraded) balcony as we sailed into the sunset. We decided against Dinner at our designated table in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 aft) & headed for the on Deck BBQ (Deck 15 Laguna Bar & Grill) accompanied with poolside tunes from our on board Caribbean Band ‘Caribbean Cruise)
Our first full day on board Ventura was a Sea day were we spent most of the daylight hours around the pool enjoying the beautiful weather which wasn’t forecast, us boys having a few beers, whilst the girls tried several of the cocktails on offer inc ‘Cocktail’ of the day, the evening, our first of four ‘Formal’ nights we dressed appropriately Tuxedo for the men and Ball gown or Cocktail dress for the ladies as we headed for second sitting (8.30) for dinner, after which there was an array of entertainment to choose from either in the ‘Arena’ theatre, Tamarind Club or ‘Havana’ to name but a few.
Day Two: Our first Port of Call: Grenada
After getting up pretty early 5.30am to watch us pull into port and tie up in the capital of St. George’s, we met in the ‘Waterside’ for a Full English cooked breakfast as well as fresh fruit, croissants yoghurts etc..The Manchester crew (My two Brothers in law & their respective partners) headed for their meeting place for the first of their many pre- booked excursions on this occasion they had chosen ‘Hike to the Seven sister’s’. We in turn just decided to wander the streets & the old fort before having a few beers in a local tavern which happened to be owned by a very friendly German & his wife. Back on board before departure we had the usual drinks by the pool, this time with music by ‘Cruise Edition’, followed by dinner.
Tonight’s entertainment was to be a tribute to ‘The British Queen of Soul’ Dusty Springfield in ‘Havana’ or Jimmy James ‘The priest of Soul’ in the Arena Theatre.
Day Three: St Lucia
Even though this was my fourth time in the Port of Castries, St Lucia it was the first time I thoroughly enjoyed it, 1st time we never managed to get ashore through adverse weather as it was a tender port 2nd Walk the perimeter fence of the airport trying to find a beach 3rd didn’t venture out of Castries due to a very heavy night the previous evening. So after nine years of wanting (We were first here in 2004) we managed to arrange/haggle a taxi to take all six of us to Marigot Bay ‘the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean’ white sand, turquoise waters, swaying palms, ticking every box in tropical paradise and to top it off the location of the infamous film ‘Dr Dolittle’ In a word FABULOUS
After a very strenuous day at the beach as I’m sure you can imagine, we didn’t do a lot after dinner other than a few drinks in Havana again and then enjoyed the evening on the balcony watching the sun disappear, hoping it would return in the morning and the sound of the waves crashing alongside Ventura as we headed to our next port at a tranquil average speed of 7.9 knots
Day Four: Dominica
Sunrise; 6:13 am & up early again, this time split into three teams after what seems to be the compulsory Full English and everything else that goes with it Breakfast, the Manchester crew are split Boys/ & Girls. The boys are going ‘River Tubing followed by Hibiscus Falls, whilst the girls are ‘Hot Springs Escape’. Us in turn are doing our usual photo shoot around port then heading for what is probably the most ‘Bizarre’ bar in the ‘World’ Having been here again a few times in the past we have seen the ‘Ruins’ Caribbean Bar as it is known grow in stature. 1st year No Roof, 2nd year Electric & a roof (The Beer fridges & Music were getting the electric from a petrol generator in the street) 3rd time: Air Conditioning, every time we have been we are the only non local people to enter, by the time we leave it is full of fellow ‘Cruises’ it is an experience not to be missed, the Rum punch is unforgettable, Oh I nearly forgot they have a snake pit in the cellar. Looking forward to the next year of improvements.
Back on board we had our usual ‘Sailaway’ followed by getting ready for dinner , this time meeting for pre-dinner drinks in Ventura’s stylish ‘Glass House’ (Deck 7 Fwd) a relaxed wine bar that also serves food which is dedicated to the love of fine wine .
After dinner ‘Mark Walker’ deserves a mention as he performed his Award winning impressions of Billy Connolly, Freddie Mercury & Michael Jackson etc… in the ‘Arena theatre’ (Deck 6 & 7 Fwd)
Day Five: St Kitts
After a leisurely overnight passage of some 50 miles, we arrived in St Kitts, accompanied by two other cruise ships MSC Musica & Aida Bella, so between us 9000 passengers, split approx three ways 3 thousand Brits/Italians /Germans headed into the sleepy town of Basseterre and have a party, what a day, with the local Carib beer being sold for as little as 99 cents a bottle & souvenirs in abundance, together with yet another great day of weather other than the odd minute long shower , fun was had by all.
Frivolities continued into the early hours with the Entertainment team as they took us back in time with the 60s & 70s night around the Laguna Pool & Breakers Bar (Deck 15 & 16 fwd).
Day Six: St Maarten
My personnel favourite, our first time hear we came ashore by tender, however a new cruise terminal & complex has been built over the years, again beautiful weather welcomed us to the island of St. Maarten an island shared 50/50 between the Dutch & French, we chose to walk the short distance into town, you can take a water taxi if you prefer. After the compulsory browse around the many shops & market stalls as well as the unbelievably cheep Duty Free shops, we found a spot on the beach for the afternoon until which time we had to make our way back to the ship, on walking back to the cruise terminal were both Ventura and NCL Norwegian Gems, awaited their respective passengers the heavens opened & we experienced a tropical storm that I had never had the pleasure of before, so we had to dive into a bar for cover as well as to sample the local beer.
‘Sailaway’ unfortunately was a complete wash out due to the weather which eventually passed over, then the usual drinks before dinner, then dinner & the evening entertainment in the several venues.
Day Seven: Tortola
Half way through already (Not Good)
The BIG day had arrived, the reason why we were all here (The 60th Birthday) so to start the cabin door was decorated with the usual 60th banners & balloons. Cards, presents and best wishes were presented to the ‘Birthday Boy’. After breakfast we headed ashore, wandered around Tortola on a very humid day, unfortunately the port of ‘Road Town’ doesn’t have a lot to offer other than a few bars around the marina area and several shops, one of which was fascinating ‘The Best of British’ a convenience store, the likes of which you would find back home, selling everything ‘British’ cans of Heinz bake beans, soups, Kelloggs corn flakes, English canned beers to name but a few, they were doing a roaring trade in this ‘British Virgin Island’.
We headed back to the ship reasonably early as we had pre booked an Al Fresco table in the alternative dining restaurant ‘White Room’ for 6:30pm. Marco Pierre White now has an alternate dining venue on six out of the seven strong P & O fleet (Azura being the exception) The intimate dining room offers superb views out over the ship’s wake and a terrace area for Al Fresco, unfortunately closed on our evening due to adverse weather, this however didn’t spoil, what turned out to be a fabulous evening, the menu is as impressive as your surroundings. After desert, a Champagne bottle shaped birthday cake arrived at our table with a single candle and duly decorated wishing ‘Paul’ Happy Birthday.
Day Eight: At Sea.
After a late celebratory night, we duly went for our usual buffet breakfast and a lazy day ahead as we were at sea as Ventura maintained her course across the Caribbean Sea towards Curacao, we spent most of the day @ Breakers Bar overlooking the pool as the weather was Sunny with temperatures topping 32 C. The Evening attire was ‘Formal’ and a ‘Black & White’ ball was held in the atrium
Day Nine: Curacao
Curacao is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast, and we docked in the capital city of Willemstad. Another beautiful sunny day and we just strolled around the city which is split into two main districts, the Punda and the Otrabanda , by St. Anna Bay, the view from either side is of beautiful 17th Century gabled houses ,typically Dutch in all aspects bar one- their facades are wild pastel shades. Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the floating bridge or The Swinging Old Lady links the two main areas of the city.
After ‘Sailaway’ we decided to have tonight’s dinner in ‘The Waterside’ buffet restaurant as the evening Theme was Neptune, which was everything fish, once finished we headed to Havana as the tribute was John Ellis as Elton John.
Later in the evening we headed back up to Breaker’s Bar as one of the entertainment team were playing Relaxing Reggae under the Stars.
Day Ten: Bonaire.
Another sunny/fun packed day awaited us as we arrived early in the port of Kralendijk, the island of Bonaire is surrounded by coral reefs and the boys had pre-booked a Cruise &Snorkel day trip on board a 40ft catamaran ‘Mushi Mushi’, we in turn headed for Eden Village a beach resort we had found several years ago on our previous visit.
‘Sailaway’ this evening is advertised as the BIG one. As we are invited to the biggest party of the cruise. A good old knees up around the Laguna pool, with music, dancing, and lots of flag waving, it did not disappoint as everyone on board joined in and as a finale the entertainment staff cooled off by jumping into the pool fully dressed.
The party atmosphere continued as tonight was Tropical Party Bonanza Night, with the Caribbean buffet bbq fired up and the sun setting in the sky, everyone duly arrived in their newly purchased Caribbean Tropical attire, the party continued into the small hours but we didn’t need to be up early the following day as we had two sea days ahead as we headed back to Barbados which awaited some 534 nautical miles away
Day Eleven: At Sea.
This was the first of our two (2) days at sea, we woke up to another fine morning, but a little windy on our port side balcony as we had no sun our side until later in the day, I decided that before breakfast, I would take advantage of the laundry facilities on board and get our washing out the way, all was done in a little over an hour, all washed and dried and ready to pack.
We spent the most of the day as per usual at Breakers Bar whilst the sun continued to shine.
The shops were busy all day with last minute Tax & Duty Free shopping
The evening was to be our final ‘Formal’ night, so we duly got ready for dinner, we had, yet again a delicious meal at our table in the Bay Tree Restaurant.
Day Twelve: At Sea.
Our final sea day before arriving in ‘Ventura’s home port of the winter months Barbados, another fine day at sunrise just before 6.30am, I wandered the open decks as I usually do first thing, and after several cups of coffee & a few cigarettes, met up with the others for breakfast, after which the day was spent in and around the pool.
The shops were again busy with fellow guests purchasing their last minute shopping and photographs from the photo gallery.
The atmosphere was quite sombre during the day as the majority of passengers were disembarking in the morning and heading back to the U.K.
The evening was more or less the same, but as we were finishing our dinner in the Bay Tree, we had the traditional ‘Chefs Parade ‘ were all the ships Chef’s gather together and walk through the restaurant to raptures of support and thanks.
As the evening drew to a close we had a few hours in Havana’s and then circumnavigated the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) before retiring to the comfort of our own cabin & balcony.
Day Thirteen: Barbados
On arrival and watching from our port side balcony, the quayside was a hive of activity with passengers disembarking and luggage being taken from the ship to be transported to the airport,
We thankfully still had a full day in Bridgetown, Barbados to look forward too. So after the compulsory breakfast, headed off the ship and toward town, a fifteen minute stroll along the esplanade, across the bridge of the harbour, which is full of deep sea fishing boats for hire and onto the ‘Boatyard’ a beach resort, that we found awhile back and this was to be our fourth visit.
For a small admission charge of $15.00 (About £10.00) you have the use of all the facilities, sun lounger, parasol, bar, restaurant, rest rooms, beach games & a free homemade Rum Punch!
An absolutely fabulous way to spend our last afternoon in the Caribbean, until next time of course.
They also offer a complimentary mini-bus return to the ship if you choose to use it, as well as a shop with plenty of beach wear to choose from.
Our final evening on board was spent packing our suitcases for collection from our cabin for transfer to the airport. Our farewell dinner in the restaurant was completed by saying a big thank you to the superb waiters for excellent food and service. A few drinks in the Havana, again thanking all staff that we came across.
We had a reasonably early night, and not looking forward to having to head back home to the British weather in early December.
Day Fourteen: Final Day
As per usual I managed to awake early, and wanting to find out the previous days football results , turned the TV on to Sky Sports News, only to see ‘Breaking News’ scrolling along the bottom of the screen. ‘Airport Delays all over the UK’. After watching for awhile, I alerted the others in our party.
Thankfully after breakfast the ‘Ships Company’ announced that instead of us all having to spend an unknown amount of time at the airport, we were allowed to spend the day on board Ventura until which time our flight was confirmed. As each flight was called, we said our ‘Goodbyes’ to new found friends and our family, who were heading back to Manchester. As the ship began to fill with new passengers, we eventually headed to the airport at 17.00hrs. The flight was due for take-off at a re-scheduled time of 20.30hrs. All went well and we arrived back in Gatwick after our overnight flight after what must be a near record time of seven hours flying time.
All in all a fabulous and most memorable holiday cruise and has made us decide to do it all again in a little over three months, so will need to start packing again in the middle of March 2014.