As we approached Ventura after the long but comfortable flight from London Gatwick Airport to Barbados airport, the first view of the ship gave the impression of a multistory block of flats, but this view was soon to change after we embarked.
The one thing that P&O Cruises do exceptionally well, are their transfer arrangements in Barbados. Luggage is transferred directly from the aircraft to your cabin. Coaches meet you near the aircraft steps and swiftly convey you to the ship, similarly at the end of the cruise luggage is transferred from the ship to your final airport destination and customs and immigration formalities are completed on-board prior to disembarkation. This saves a lot of hassle at the airport both on arrival and departure.
On entering the ship, we were extremely pleased to find that she was tastefully decorated in rich colors, with a feel of spaciousness. There were plenty of comfortable chairs and settees, ideal for curling up and spreading out with a book. Traditional P&O style elegance abounded. All public spaces inside were spotlessly clean and remained this way throughout the cruise.
On this cruise, we had chosen a balcony cabin on deck 11, port side. The cabin was compact and comfortable. There was good storage space and the added bonus of having tea and coffee-making facilities in the room was appreciated. The bathroom was adequate with excellent toiletries provided and the large fluffy towels were changed twice daily. There was an ample supply of hot water. There is an excellent interactive television system that offers many choices- from television channels to ordering in-cabin room service and to choose free and pay movies. You can shop, gain information - look at your on-board account and many other actions from this facility. Guests should also be aware that this service also acts as your messaging system.
The comfort of the bed was average; it certainly did not have the "wow" factor. The covering was a flimsy duvet, which was not large enough to be tucked in and more often than not ended up on the floor.
There is a good air-conditioning system, and there is adequate lighting and a refrigerator.
Bathrobes are not provided on board, except in mini-suites and above.
The balcony, of adequate size was furnished with two upright chairs and a very small low-level table. There was absolutely no privacy on the balcony as owing to the construction of the ship, the majority of balconies on decks 9, 10 and 11 are tiered --be aware of this fact when booking - we could look down to those below and they could look up at us. Additionally because of the design of the ship, conversations could clearly be heard from balconies three or four cabins away.
The room was maintained in an excellent condition and serviced twice daily.
There are three formal dining rooms on board - two for "club dining" - 1st and 2nd seating and the third for "anytime" dining. There are also other various specialist and casual dining venues.
We found the food to be consistently of a high quality in all dining venues -plenteous and varied and especially designed to the British palate in the main restaurant and casual style buffet. The only disappointment was the very limited choice of breads. In the main Restaurant, dinner was well presented and expertly served. Great care is taken to cater for guests who have dietary requirements. Unfortunately breakfast in the main restaurant lacked any presentation skills whatsoever - breakfasts looked as if they had been just thrown on a plate. Yoghurts should be served in a dish and not presented in the container itself.
The ship had over 3000 guests on board and never once, even on sea days did we have to queue or wait for seats in the self-service buffet. Dishes were replenished often and hot food was hot and cold food was cold. There are no free juices, other than at breakfast time. Free tea; with lots of different blends and coffee are available here 24 hours a day.
There is a full and varied programme of entertainment, outlined in the Daily Newspaper - The Horizon.
There is something for everyone. We found the production shows and most of the guest entertainers to be excellent offering professional and varied programmes. For a ship of this size, the Cruise Director and his limited number of staff did a great job. They were highly visible all over the ship, a pity the same could not be said of the officers, and gave the impression of being a most happy and caring team. Even on days when ports of call were cancelled due to bad weather, within a reasonable time, additional entertainment was arranged and relayed to guests. They are to be congratulated!
There are the usual on-board shops offering a good selection of goods and usually at competitive prices, do be aware that the shop selling those items that you may have forgotten to bring with you, is, if they have not run out of goods, fairly expensive. There are free launderettes on board, but you have to purchase soap powder from this outlet. They charge 50p for 2 concentrated soap tablets.
There is a luxurious spa offering various treatments and therapies. They do offer specials and details of these are messaged to you through your in interactive cabin television as are shop "sales" as well as being advertised in the daily newspaper. There is a well-equipped gym.
Internet facilities are available. Although expensive - take advantage of the packages available and the special offers advertised. Specials are also available for the speciality restaurants.
There is an excellent and knowledgeable Shore Excursion Team and tours bought from the ship are reasonably well priced and good in content. Occasionally, some tours do not reach their expected standards and to which they have no control - they do however listen and investigate and take appropriate action.
There is a Future Cruise Consultant on board, who is most anxious to sell you a future cruise. Beware! She quoted us a price for the same itinerary and on the same ship next Christmas at a cost of £8600.00. We were horrified at this cost. We went next door to the Internet centre and checked P & O`s web site and found the same cruise, although in a different grade of cabin, but in a grade on the same deck with the same facilities, and almost next door to the one that she quoted for £4300.00. We returned a few days later to her, after having again checked our facts and confronted her with our information. You can guess her embarrassment. We asked her to check again and guess what? You are right. Obviously someone who works on a commission basis?
We had originally booked the Christmas and New Year Cruise on the Oceana for 2009. However after a number of months, having paid the deposit and received confirmation - P&O cancelled the 2-week cruise and extended it into a 4-week cruise. We were offered a transfer to the 4-week cruise at a supplement - but as we could not get time of work had to decline. We were offered very minimal compensation if we were to book a further cruise with P&O within a specific time frame. We asked to be transferred to the Ventura but were told that P&O would not honor the price available at the time of our original booking, even though they had the advantage of having our deposit for some 5 months. The price had risen by £1000.00 - we did however receive our deposit back in full. Gone it appears are the days of honorability.
Administration on the ship and Head Office leaves a lot to be desired. We had a query re on-board credit. The ship e-mailed their Head Office on 21 December and followed the query up with further e-mails - no response was received by the time we disembarked on 2 January and thus we did not receive the credit due to us. Additionally notifications originating from the Pursers Office were In-correct - especially in respect of disembarkation - these had to be withdrawn and re-issued on a number of occasions. Likewise in respect of the 1st edition of the Port information issued in respect of St. Vincent - the information provided actually related to the Azores - what a waste of paper, time and money - more attention to detail is required in this department.
The Ships`s photographers do and good job and produce fine quality photographs, together with an excellent DVD of the cruise. Individual photographs tend to be expensive, but again packages are available.
This was a Christmas and New Year Cruise and the ship was discreetly and sensitively decorated. There were excellent festal activities.
There were, I understand over 700 children on board. This being the case P&O are to be congratulated on their programmes and organized events for those guests as they were very seldom seen and certainly not heard - most well-behaved and a credit to their parents and staff. The facilities for kids and teenagers are outstanding.
Dress Code on the ship fell into 3 categories - formal, semi -formal and smart casual. It was pleasing to not that the majority of guests adhered to the dress code especially on formal evening. Following this cruise however, the dress code for this ship and the Oceana fall into only 2 categories - Formal and Smart Casual.
There are numerous bars and other venues for drinks throughout the ship. Quiet bars, energetic bars or pool bars. Drinks are well-presented or excellent quality (except at the Captains Cocktail party - where they appeared to lack in alcoholic content) and were reasonably priced. There is a comprehensive wine list again not overly priced.
The currency on board is the British Pound. In keeping with the P&O tradition, gratuities are extended on the final evening of the cruise by way of cash in envelopes. Although if you opt for Anytime dining, your gratuity for the waiters in this regard is added to your on-board account. Do be sure that you bring enough sterling for these gratuities. We had planned to withdraw cash at a facility at Gatwick Airport but it was out of order. Fortunately we had enough cash to cover the gratuities, as the Pursers office do not cash personal cheques.
There are 3 modest sized swimming pools (one of which is reserved for adults) on board as well as a number of Jacuzzi's. Whilst there are large deck areas with sun beds, there are insufficient sun beds or space for the number of passengers on this ship. - There is just not the amount of required space and beds are so tightly squeezed together and you have to climb on to the sun bed and then sit on it. It does not help when passengers reserve sun beds for hours with their towels and then come along and remove their towels and walk away not having even sat in them. One morning at 7.45am all sun beds were occupied by towels and yet no sun worshippers. P & O do not have a policing policy on this issue - they need to adopt one - this was one of the major factors of discontent on this cruise. A suggestion as to how this might be alleviated is that the upright chairs on balconies be removed and replaced with reclining chairs, like those on the promenade deck. Many guests occupying such cabins would quite possibly tend to spend more time relaxing there than to fight for a sun bed on the open decks.
Excellent reclining chairs are provided on the promenade deck. However as the ship has a strict no-smoking policy inside the vessel - many smokers tend to congregate on the starboard side of this deck as it is within easy reach of the bars, entertainment areas, restaurants and night club for their smoke. More ashtrays are needed and those broken need to be fixed and all need to be emptied more often than they are now. This deck also needs to be cleaned more regularly.
Some guests on deck 8 - starboard aft, complained about the smoke drifting up from this deck and on to their balconies. They also complained about the noise experienced from these cabins during the early hours of the morning, when smokers from the night-club gathered on this deck.
Noise was a constant problem when late night revellers were returning to their cabins in various areas of the ship when the discotheque closed at around 4.00am.
There were reports that there were a number of fights on board and those guests were locked up in the brig, but we never witnessed any such fights or any real drunkenness.
Unfortunately on the first week of the cruise, the weather was not kind, rain, winds and high seas. This resulted in the ship not being able to dock at 3 of the ports of call. The ship handled well during these conditions whilst at sea. However, it was disappointing that we missed these important ports of calls. Obviously something to do with the size of the ship and its design as guests on other cruise ships and on those of a similar or larger size had no port cancellations. She appeared to the able to dock when in the Caribbean but not at those ports at the edge of the Atlantic. As our fare had included port taxes and charges, it will be interesting to see if P&O refund these to the passengers as they would not have had to pay them and we did not avail of these services.
The foregoing are thoughts and/or suggestions and are by no means complaints. They are also designed to assist others when planning their cruise vacation, as to some things that they may wish to consider.
In all, we had an excellent cruise and would certainly travel with P&O again. P & O market the ship more towards families, but we feel that the Ventura is suitable for all, couples singles as well as families.
We thoroughly enjoyed the traditional P&O experience and would recommend them without reservation. Well Done to all those who made this possible.