My Review of Ventura Xmas / New Year 2013 Cruise
Here is my review of our recent fab cruise. I apologise that its so long……. I’ve put in some headings so you can just skip to those parts you think you might be interested in.
A bit about us: DH and I are in our 50s, have cruised many times before, but this was our first time on Ventura (have been on Azura twice including xmas/new year cruise in 2011). Our cruises are our stress-busters, and we don’t go in for entertainment or activities – our balcony is the most important part of our cruise along with the eating places!
FLIGHTS AND ARRIVAL: We flew from Birmingham on the Saturday and had a pleasant flight. We’d pre-booked our seats and although we were in “cattle class,” there was plenty of leg room and comfy seats on the First Choice plane. They gave out earphones which you had to keep as they weren’t given out again on the return flight. There was a fair selection of films, TV programmes etc available, but apart from the one episode of Dr Who (which I watched again although I’ve seen at least a million times before as I love DR Who!), I stuck to being entertained with my ipod and snoozing.
We saw the ship briefly from a distance as we were approaching Barbados, and as we got off at the back of the plane, we were among those on the first bus out. It was brilliant to feel that heat and sun as soon as we hit the tarmac and thoughts of rainy cold home went well out of my mind….now I was definitely on holiday!
The driver of our bus and the one behind were having a bit of a “competition” to see who could get to the ship first, as we went different ways but came together (fortunately not literally!) in places where there was a dual carriageway! You could almost smell the testosterone!
Arrival at the “shed” was well organized and although there was a big queue when we arrived, it went down quickly and we were soon on the ship, complete with floral garland around our necks.
The flight home was not as good as the one going out. We sat on the plane for ages while it was refueled and left an hour late, but picked up time as we were only 20 mins later than scheduled arriving in Birmingham. Think the plane home (another First Choice) was older that the first one, with what felt like less leg room and poor seats. DH had to physically put my seat back upright as the button would recline the seat but wouldn’t spring it back. I also saw others having the same problem and the staff didn’t particularly look happy in their work. The main meal was the same on the way out and on return (chicken a la king) and there was no choice (except take it or leave it), and you got water / orange juice with breakfast, and tea / coffee with meals included, but all other drinks and snacks were paid for. I had a cup of lukewarm tea for £2.50 (overpriced and not even hot!), so the couple of bottles of pop we bought at the airport saw us through the flights.
Love charter flights with no hassle with luggage, and straight off the plane onto a bus in Barbados. Return just as well organized, staying on the ship until transfer to the airport. The luggage is weighed going out (both hold and hand luggage) but not on the return, so no worries about getting all your trinkets and dirty washing home!
CABIN: We had chosen our cabin with “no upgrade” which was on C deck mid ship. We specifically wanted the larger balcony on this deck, having been on the Azura and Princess ships which are the same style. Our steward soon appeared to introduce himself and asked if we had any requests. I’d already checked the pillow and duvet (I’m allergic to feather) and these were fine, so apart from ice, we couldn’t think of anything else we needed at this time.
Bags arrived a couple of hours after, and muster was in the middle of unpacking. No checking of names at muster though (unlike Celebrity and Princess) which I was surprised about, and I ended up showing a lady how to put her life vest on and off, while DH showed her friend how to do hers!
The cabin wasn’t the cleanest we have ever stayed in. As they are in constant use, cleaning is obviously very superficial. I know that the Ventura had a refurb not too long ago, and I assumed that had fitted new carpets, as there were clumps of fluff in the corners and on the edges of the carpet. When I dropped my hair brush and sprawled on the floor under the desk to get it back, I came out from under the desk looking like a duster!
I sent DH under the bed to check if there was anything there that shouldn’t be (you’d be surprised what can be found under beds - in the past we’ve found many things including a pair of mens dress shoes and a half opened case full of clothes!), and he came out with a black and white eye mask, totally covered in dust! So much for thorough cleaning! We put up some tinsel to make it a bit more Christmassy, and noticed little bits of tinsel were still on the carpet a week later, so the hoover didn’t get much use in our cabin.
The telephone had exposed wires which we reported to the steward but it was never changed. The balcony floor was not particularly clean with bits of stuff over it (maybe it’s the carpet fluff escaping!) and there was an ashtray by the door! We did ask the steward to remove it and he didn’t seem to want to as he said that other guests may need it, but I think the look on my face told him it was better to take it away!
I am sorry to say that our steward was a bit ‘hit and miss’ over the 2 weeks, as for example we’d get the biscuits topped up one day but not the tea bags, or sugar and no biscuits the next. He left a glass in the bathroom instead of with the other glass by the kettle, left the fridge open one day, and I had to ask him to change a cup that had a big chip out of it, right where we drink from!
We came back from dinner one evening to find a great towel animal on the bed, but it wasn’t until the next morning when I got out of the shower, I realised my towel was sitting on the chair as a dog and I had to grab one of the pool towels from under the sink! We’ve had stewards in the past leave us some fab towel animals, but they’ve never used our towels for these, but they’ve been with “extra” ones. Good job I had a pool towel to hand, as the hand towel wouldn’t have dried much or covered much of my dignity!
None of this however impacted on our overall holiday experience, but we’ve had better stewards in the past.
There were 3 pictures (canvas type pictures) opposite the bed, which were of person flying a kite in fields, a farmer ploughing a field on his tractor, and a cricketer (not sure whether he was going into bat or had just been LBW’d!). I bet they’d had a “job lot” and lots of other cabins also had the same pictures. I thought they were actually quite nice (especially the kite one), although as they were done looking through a “fish eye” lens, they did make me feel a bit “sea sick” at times. Closer inspection revealed all of the pictures covered in what looked like paint splashes (I know this because I’ve done this before over my stuff when I’ve tried decorating!). Goodness knows how they’d got this paint on them, so if anyone sees them in the future on EBay, it’s worth checking them out for paint splashes before purchasing them, otherwise you may be disappointed! Then I wondered if those in other cabins also had paint splashes on them, but that thought soon went out of my head when I went out to enjoy the sun on the balcony. I was on holiday, so my brain was shutting down!
Mattress – I’ve needed a chiropractor on previous Princess ships, but not on the Ventura. The bed was reasonable and at least I didn’t wake up with backache any morning, but I must say that they aren’t a patch on the Celebrity Eclipse mattress, which was the best one I’ve ever had on a cruise.
I’d give the Ventura mattress 6.5 / 10 for comfort if I had to rate this one.
TV – had a few TV channels, but also had a good interactive service including our on board accounts and a range of episode from TV programmes (I watched both episodes of Dr Who surprisingly!) and films. Some of these were chargeable while most were free. Didn’t watch anything apart from Dr Who though, as it was far too nice outside to be in the cabin.
Got to get the priorities right – cabin then food. We had freedom dining as we prefer this to being stuck to a set time and prefer a table for two. We were allocated the Cinnamon restaurant for the first 3 days (the info in the cabin said this and then we could go to either of the restaurants after day 3).
On the first evening we decided to go to the buffet (as we were almost asleep standing up and felt I may just doze off in the soup in the main restaurant), but when we got there, it was CLOSED! The only thing of offer was a BBQ out on deck, so we got some food from there and went back to the buffet as there were not tables free on deck, and it was much quieter. Not impressed with the BBQ food. The nicest part was the jacket potato, but the meats were only lukewarm and not hot. Oh well, we didn’t need much to eat anyway and went back to the cabin and fell into bed exhausted.
I know I’m going back to the Cabin heading here but I’m sure you’ll forgive me. When we got back in the cabin, we noticed there was only one bedside light on (on DH’s side of the bed), which I thought was a bit odd (why would they only put ONE lamp on unless they were on an economy drive?), then we discovered why……the other lamp didn’t work as bulb had blown! The steward must have noticed this, as on all other evenings both lamps were on (which you would expect), so I guess he’d just left it and hoped we wouldn’t notice or he had noticed it and decided he couldn’t get it fixed that night. When we mentioned it to him the next day, he appeared surprised…..but it was fixed the same day.
Buffet: Most evenings had a foody “theme” . These were BBQ, Meditteranean, Asian Oriental, Indian, Best of British, Thai, Caribbean, Italian, Mexican, Eastern meditteranean, Tandoori and Country and Western. As we both have a food allergy (and the food theme didn’t really appeal to us anyway), we thought it better to avoid these, especially considering how poor the BBQ had been. The buffet was fine for breakfast and afternoon tea though, although I did notice after a few days that there were NO hard boiled eggs at the salad bar, although they must have had eggs as they were on the “always available” dinner starter as egg mayonnaise! In the desserts cabinets, for half of the cruise there was a list of what these were (with food allergies it was essential that people knew what they are), but on other days there wasn’t a list and you just had to guess by looking at them what they were! Not really wanting to experience the medical centre, I asked the staff what they desserts were, but I wish they had been consistent with the use of the list!
The buffet was also CLOSED on Christmas Day evening!
Cinnamon Restaurant: Overall a great experience for us. Had a table for two and the first evening we went there we were given a table in the middle of the row of tables for two, with couples either side of us. Anyway, the couples next to us were almost finished and left as we were on our first course. These tables were not filled again until we were almost finished, which was great. Just an observation……I can never understand why people ask for a table for two and then constantly talk to the people at the next tables in the row! If they want to talk to others why not join a bigger table?
The second evening we hit the jackpot and got a table for two against the wall in a different part of the room, which was a lot more private and comfortable. One of the waiters we had we recognised from our previous cruise on the Azura (and even better he remembered us!), and we’d had a great experience with him then, so we went back to his section every evening except Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. On these two days, we had had to book a table on the first Sunday (between 7am and 12 noon), as they were only doing 2 sittings – 6.15pm and 8.30pm. Fortunately we were awake early on “booking morning” and decided to go and book and then come back to bed, so we were second in the queue before they opened up.
Because of our allergies, we were visited on our first evening in the Cinnamon by the head waiter Abel, who was absolutely fantastic! We ordered with him for the following evening, and towards the end of the cruise, Abel was telling us what he thought we were going to order, and most of the time he got it right! Oh he was so lovely, so pleasant and the evening I didn’t like anything on the starter menu, he said I could have anything from the lunchtime menu if I wanted, and so I did!
We also had a great wine waiter. He would appear to top up our glasses like a phantom in the night! He appeared just at the right time and disappeared just as quickly. Couldn’t have been better.
I don’t eat fish (apart from prawns) and only eat beef, chicken and turkey (yes I know I’m an awkward so and so), and so I had quite a few steaks from the “always available” list. On every cruise I say that I’ll try more fish as I can always have something else if I don’t like it, but I’m sorry to say I am not that brave and so went back to what I know and like!
I thought that the quality of the food was very good overall, with some excellent beef and steak, and the portions were just right. We never felt “stuffed” after dinner – even though I ate more cheese and ice cream and yummy puds than I ever do at home. Having ordered the day before also meant we got served quicker than usual, although never rushed.
Now I bet you’re wondering how much I put on during the cruise? The saying goes….”you board as a passenger and leave as cargo!” Well sorry to disappoint you but I didn’t put on anything – yes I couldn’t believe it either but I didn’t find another set of scales for a second opinion!
Ports: We’d done all of the ports before and in most of them we just wandered and explored in the town on our own. We did a couple of ship tours - one in St Kitts (we’re done the train before so went for the Fort this time) and the other an island tour in St Lucia. These were OK and we saw a bit more of the islands than we had before. The air conditioning didn’t work on one of the buses though, so it was a case of opening all the windows so as not to fry! This was fine by me and it was lovely to have a warm breeze of my face. Not sure whether his bus would last the season though, as the clutch was also on it’s way out. Still, it just added to the local flavor of the place for me.
I should warn you though that tour buses and I don’t mix anyway. On previous cruises, my tour bus in Bonaire had a flat tyre, the door fell off my bus in Hawaii, and the tour bus completely died going through the Rockies in Canada, where I could hear huge trucks thundering past in the pitch black. I was convinced we would be the filling in a “truck and tree” sandwich! So it would be wise for you to demand a different tour or at least a refund if you find yourself on the same tour bus as me!
We had an extra day in Barbados, due to a poorly patient who needed specialist treatment (the Captain announced this when we were at dinner on Wednesday evening). So instead of arriving on the Friday morning, the Captain really “legged it” and we arrived a day early. This was the only time that I felt sea sick during the night (apart from looking at the cabin pictures too long), as it was very windy that evening and he’d really put the accelerator down. We did worry about the patient though, and hope that they made it back OK and got the treatment they needed and are getting better.
Although we had to do immigration on the ship that Thursday at a set time (a very reasonable time so we still got our lie-in that morning), it was a fast and efficient process, and we were off the ship at lunchtime with a nice walk into Bridgetown. The following day we went to the beach – not the prettiest but there weren’t many people there and the white sand and warm clear sea was good enough for me, and it was only the other side of town so well within walking distance. On the way back, we saw two turtles in the marina (or whatever it’s called by town where the boats park). I’d never seen turtles before so that was just lovely.
Being British I just have to mention the weather! It was an average of around 28deg C most days, one day I think hit around 33. So lovely and warm then.
In Dominica it HEAVED it down with rain all day!! It was so bad that an announcement was made to say that all morning ship tours were cancelled, and they named two afternoon ones that were still going, including whale watching. Around lunchtime though, they announced these were also cancelled – if the whales had any sense they would have scarped far away from the monsoon!
We had a few showers on and off, but the sun came out and it was dry again soon enough. It is wonderful getting up in the morning and going out onto the balcony with the sun shining and feeling the heat. There were a few afternoons though when the sun was on the balcony, and even I couldn’t stay outside as I felt like I was being roasted in an oven!
One of the nicest parts for me too, was coming back from dinner, putting on my PJs, and going out and sitting on the balcony, in the warmth and looking at the clear starry sky and listening to the swish of the waves. Bliss!
The only thing that spoiled it a little for me, was that quite often, there were balcony lights left on either side of us, when there was no one using the balcony. When I looked out, there were also many balconies with lights on without anyone being out there (I could see on the D deck ones below as their balconies are completely uncovered). I know its not a big issue, but what a waste of energy and as I love being out there in the dark, it’s just an annoyance for me. Not sure why the steward doesn’t switch off any lights not being used by guests when they do the rooms in the evening?
Interesting snippets (well I think they’re interesting but you may not!):
We were parked next to an RCI ship (think it was RCI but I may be having a senior moment!) in one port (at my age my memory isn’t was it used to be so can’t remember which one it was), and there were also 2 other ships in port (including Arcadia). There were frequent calls with a number of names for them to ring reception (those who obviously weren’t back on the ship), until only two were left unaccounted for.
We should have left at 5pm, but we were still there about 20 minutes later. The horns sounded and off we went, pulling back from the dock, waving and cheering with the RCI passengers who were also not long off leaving. We must have got about 30 feet or so from the dock when a couple came “rushing” down the dock waving to us. They were our 2 missing passengers!
Now if I’d have been the Captain, as they should have been on at least 45 minutes ago, I would have said “hard luck you’re too late”, but being the lovely Captain that he was, he actually moved the ship back to the dock to let them board. What I did find irritating was that the couple didn’t even seem sorry! There was clapping and whistling from our ship, and he was making bows to the ship, not at all looking embarrassed and just acting like an idiot! As we’d then missed our departure slot, we had to wait until all the other 3 ships had gone, and so left port about an hour late.
Now I did hear that the couple were billed £500 for the extra costs the ship incurred and they refused to pay, so were put off the ship at the next port, but I don’t have any evidence to prove this, so it may just be wishful thinking! We weren’t the only ship with missing passengers though, as on the RCI ship, even after they had taken up the gangway, there were staff leaning out of the doorway looking up the dock for the missing suspects. I suspect that some were left behind there.
We also heard towards the end of the cruise, that two families had been kicked off the Ventura. One because the children were caught shop lifting in the on-board shops and the other due to drunken behaviour, (they had been warned about this) but as it continued, they were chucked off. Serves them right IMHO!
Captain: Charlie Carr was superb. He had the most wonderful sense of humour! We just happened to come out of dinner into the Captains Party in the atrium, so we stayed for his speech. He started by telling us how sorry he was that it was around 28 degrees C where we were and only 4 degrees and raining in Newark. He then continued something like…….
”Tomorrow we’re going to St Kitts…..the next day to….uuummmm….somewhere else….and the day after that…uuummm….somewhere else again”.
(It may not have been St Kitts but I was on holiday mode by then and can’t remember exactly what port he said we were going to the next day!)
Library – not the biggest or the best I’ve seen on a ship, but I still managed to borrow enough books to last me the 2 weeks (DH had his hands on MY Kindle). The Azura previous offered Kindles to borrow, but they weren’t available on here. I was only able to borrow 2 books at a time, so I made DH get 2 more out for me on his card. However I did notice that I’d dropped my 2 books off in the bin just before the library opened in the afternoon, and I took out another two. They couldn’t possibly have checked my old books back in before I took my new ones out! There was also a table just outside the library where people had left their own books for “recycling”. I managed to pick up two, but when I returned the last one I had at the end of the cruise, this table was overflowing with books! So if you want some reading material, I’d suggest getting there early, as books are still popular.
For those who wanted to keep up to date with the news, there was a summary news sheet on a table by the Costa coffee bar, along with a daily suduko/crossword. There was also BBC World News on the cabin TV as well as Sky News and sport, and although we did keep up to date with what was going on, I must admit that I like to be away from everything when I’m in holiday, and be in my own world for 2 weeks.
As we’d got some OBC, I treated myself to a pedicure treatment at the spa. Wish I’d never bothered!! The therapist told me that 2 months ago she’s been working in an office – this bothered me a little as I wondered just how much training she’d had to do the treatments. I sat in a chair and put my feet in lukewarm going on cool water, then I suddenly felt that I was being punched in the back! She’s only started the massager in the chair without a word to me, and as I have a back injury, this was the last thing I needed. I managed to stop it (but not before it had irritated my injury to the extent that I needed some analgesia when I got back to the cabin), but the treatment then got worse when she pushed so hard that she made my toe bleed! The basic pedicure was 45 mins but the more expensive one I’d opted for was an hour, but I was in and out within 45mins and had nothing more than a basic pedicure (I was glad really as it was anything but relaxing), and to add insult to injury, they added on an automatic gratuity to the bill!
My back and toe throbbed and the more I reflected on the treatment I’d received, the more annoyed I got and worried she could potentially do some real damage to someone else, especially by putting the massager on without any sort of consultation or consent. I couldn’t let it go, so I went up to the spa and insisted on speaking to the Spa Manager. I suggested that his staff should have some proper training and better client care is needed. I got 50% of the treatment cost back, but my main concern is that I hope they treat people with more care in future. For anyone who is thinking of paying a visit to the spa on a future cruise, be aware that they add on an automatic gratuity (and there was even another place on the slip you sign to insert yet another tip!).
We like our pop and there was a general store in the Barbados port shops area where we picked up a couple of large bottles of Coke light and some smaller bottles at a very reasonable price. We struggled to find larger bottles in other ports, so if you’re like us and like your pop, I’d advise stocking up in Barbados before the cruise leaves. Yes I know we can buy it on the ship, but its far cheaper doing it this way.
On deck 4 where we disembarked in ports, there was a table by the medical centre, which had a number of leaflets advertising offers in different shops. The only one I used was that for Diamonds International to get a free charm bracelet. With the bracelet you can then get a free charm in the ports where there is a DI store. OK they aren’t worth anything as they are free, but they are fine for kids, and my friends’ twin 6 year old granddaughters think they’re great!
Future cruise payment – we considered doing this on board but when we read the conditions, decided not to. We would have to book a cruise within 1 year and if we didn’t, we would lose the deposit. We would also only get £25pp for the balcony cabin we have for a 2 week cruise. As we don’t have anything in mind at present to book, a year is not long enough for us, so we chose not to do this. Princess beats P&O hands down here, as with their similar offer, we have 2 years to book and if we choose not to, we get the deposit back (I understand that they’ll also extend it to 4 years if you ask). Sorry P&O but I don’t think this is a good deal unless you already have a cruise in mind that you want to book within the next 12 months.
I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive as Ventura had a bit of a “party” reputation at one stage, but I didn’t find that except at times when you’d expect it to be lively like New Year’s Eve.
There also didn’t appear to be as many younger children on this cruise but more teenagers, who we weren’t aware caused any problems. I also didn’t hear the usual “moans and groans” that I’ve heard on other cruises from the British, so I assume that most people had a good time – those we spoke to had enjoyed their holiday.
Did we have a good time? NO! We had a brilliant time!
Relaxed and rested, good food, visited some lovely places and met some very nice people. And had sun and warmth.
Would we do it again? We are! We had already booked the Ventura again for next xmas/new year. We even picked the same cabin (which we only realised after we’d booked it!) – so I’ll be checking for even more fluff under the desk!
I am sorry that I have gone on a lot but I hope that at least some of you have managed to stay awake and found it interesting or useful.
Happy cruising to you all.