This was our first cruise with P&O and it was a bit of a curate's egg, after a series of little disappointments, we came away feeling rather underwhelmed.
This is a fly cruise but we got the full budget airline experience, being charged extra to sit with the person you are going with is a real bugbear, the charge could just as easily be made upfront. Our plane got changed and although we had booked seats with extra legroom, we did not get them in the change.
We had a very easy processing, with pretty much everything to schedule. P&O want you to be at the airport three hours before the flight which for us appears excessive, perhaps they have had enough problems in the past to make this necessary. The luggage found its way to and from our cabin with no problems. Perhaps the only issue was the embarkation procedure. There were around 20 check in desks, and once you got to them it all went very smoothly, however everyone had to queue up to put their bags on a table, decide if they wanted a photograph taken and then collect their bags. Considering there could be three photographers waiting at a gangplank trying to take your photograph when you were going into a port but only one photographer on the way in for processing, this could have been thought out more carefully.
The room was very nice, well decorated with a decent sized shower, though see our cabin comments.
Our cabin steward did a good job of keeping the room under control when she could. Of the seven nights and six full days we were there, there was no time for the turndown service on three nights, one day the room was not cleaned and on a second we had to vacate the room to get things done. This certainly was not because the stewardess was not working hard, perhaps this was her first week and she had not got the routine down but it seems more likely that the ship is understaffed with too many people being asked to do just a bit too much.
You could see the same issues elsewhere. One of the security computers seemed to be off all week. When over three thousand people could be trying to get off the ship you would think that that is would have been a high priority (it is just a couple of extra computers as back up). The reception staff were always on edge, and while the waiting staff did there jobs courteously and efficiently, there was no question of 'going the extra mile'. Smiles not forced but the were few and far between.
There is no attempt to hide the fact that we are there to buy things, Almost any event that was unlikely to lead to somebody making a purchase seemed to be 'unhosted', the days events that were strongly advertised (apart from the shows) were basically spa treatments or photography purchases and while the captain's announcements were not broadcast into the rooms, the entertainments director did 'push' his events. To be fair the cinema's options were up to date films which critically acclaimed.
But the biggest let down was the food. We were on freedom dining and as long as you were not too concerned about table size this seemed to work okay. The restaurant was surprisingly noisy and on a large table you could only comfortably talk to near neighbours. The food was disappointing. Some of it was the menu, soup with say paprika and croutons came without, cheese and biscuits with... came without. Sometimes it was the waiters, if you did not mention something on the menu you would not be reminded, so salad without salad dressing. But most of the time it seemed to be the ingredients, custard without milk, scones without butter, devilled kidneys without mustard. Sometimes it was just the lack of cooking time (scones again). There was something wrong on almost every plate. There are the upgrade restaurants that Carnival seem to like but we did not try them (and by the number of special offers that were being pushed perhaps no one was). Our solution was the themed buffets. Careful selection of what was on offer did not always work of course but you could avoid the more obvious disasters. Of course, it was possible to find some quite good food, the dal on Tandoor night was very good for example. (Another trick was to go for obviously bought in stuff).
We did go on one excursion, this of itself was reasonably executed but one of the sites chosen was in the throes of restoration and the other had us arriving when the area we had come to visit had just about closed down, so another let down on the planning.
Despite the size of the ship it did not seem all that difficult to move about and there never seemed to be long queues. No deck plans were provided but you were given a side on plan, most of the time this works okay.
Reading back over this review, I appreciate that some people will feel that this is a bit nitpicking. Some people on the cruise seemed to share our views, others were having a good time. I suppose that it all depends upon what you have experienced elsewhere and what you are used to. There is no doubt with more investment in the people, both staff and passengers, the Ventura has the makings of being a very good cruising experience, but it has not made it yet. Whether that is where Carnival want to take the brand or not we will have to wait and see. Perhaps just bobbing along is where they want to be.