It's been about a week and a bit since we got back from our cruise, and finally am on top of the washing for me to be able to put down a proper review.
Our cruise to tbe Baltics on Ventura (booked when they first opened bookings last year!), was the first for me and my two sons. The wife has been on Oriana before.
Firstly, I will say that the new Ocean Terminal in Southampton, very efficient, and was impressed at how easy it was to not only get in, but how organised the embarkation was, it took about an hour from dropping the car off to being onboard.
One matter that did keep recurring on the ship was the issue of the Norovirus that had been evident from a previous cruise. Although you can see most staff were doing their best to play the seriousness of it down, the ship was in a state of red alert. I think by the end of the cruise, the norovirus was pretty much contained, though it'll always be there.
Took a while to get my bearings around the ship, found a few dead-ends sometimes, but that wasn't a problem. The Tamarind club felt like it was a corridor most of the time which was strange, the Havana club is a nice layout at the back of the ship, and did host the Scalextric sessions during ship days. Have to admit, I was a tad disappointed with the Scalextric, as I was anticipating a huge layout, and found one that was roughly 12' by 8', and also kept breaking down, but it was fun while it worked, especially when an octogenarian Iris, beat the pants off hardened boy-racers!!
The Waterside restaurant was supposed to be self-serve, but due to the norovirus, had to be manned, which made it a manic visit in there and finding seats could be difficult. Secret here is, don't be afraid to share a table with people, a cruise is supposed to be a sociable thing. You wouldn't believe that a few times people just didn't want you sat at 'their' table!!
Each breakfast and evening we ate in Saffron, and our waiters were Rajesh and Santosh, two top blokes, very attentive and nothing was too much trouble. Our wine waiter was Sid, who we found to be a great guy as well, and helpful. The dinner menu's we found to be on the whole really nice, a good variety. Yeah there were a few times things didn't go quite to plan, but they were sorted out quickly.
Breakfast times, however were absolutely manic, and at times disjointed. One other issue we found was that although we had asked to be put on a large table, we were put on a small table for four, which at times was a very tight squeeze. Head Waiter was unable to move us, and even at breakfast times, we were put on the small tables, so did feel that although P&O advertise this as more of a family orientated ship, we were segregated from other people because we were a family. But I digress.
Reports from the boys about the kids clubs were that they were fantastic, and when we got onboard, found a good schedule for the whole cruise, and the boys were never bored, and at times, hardly saw them. Think it helped on this cruise that there were only 80 children onboard. Facilities in the kids clubs were good, and they defo liked the Cirque Ventura when it worked (weather permitting!)
Disappointed that we never saw the captain, think at best I saw the Staff Captain about two or three times, but due to the norovirus, the Captain's Reception/Gala, was cancelled. Most people were disappointed with this, which I concur with. Not expecting to become best friends with them, but to either hear or see the Captain now and then would be nice.
Photographers on the ship have a difficult job in parts getting their photos right, and we found two stood out from the rest. Lynette was defo one of them, and another chap whose name I forgot was the other, but they had a natural flair for it, and more often than not we bought some of their photos.
There were four formal nights, and the rest was smart casual. Formal nights were great, wife loves them, as she has a bit of a wardrobe for this, including her favourite blue sky dress. Smart casual is something I take issue with. Many a time I saw people wearing t-shirt and jeans in there. Was not impressed with this, especially if in the case of my two boys, we were more dressed informally with ties and shirts for me and the boys, and a smart dress for the wife. Think they need to have informal nights to maintain a decent standard.
Cleanliness of the ship was patchy, with some of the cleaners either over-zealous, or slack.
Found the Arena theatre is way too small, and I think many people were disappointed to miss out on some good shows.
The astronomy talks by de St. Croix (sp?) were well done, and if you do a Baltics cruise to Russia, hopefully you will get the guy we had, who knows everything about Faberge, Russian Dolls and all things Russian.
We opted for an part-obstructed oceanview cabin with pullmans, but the view wasn't really obstructed, and was nice and comfortable, bigger than we anticipated.
To summarise, although the cruise was a nice one, and we didn't let the few days of bad weather ruin things, just felt there was something missing. Still can't put my finger on it. Will say wife and I were well rested after the holiday, which at the end of the day, says that it's worth it.
I just think that the ship could have had a few better features on it, and I don't feel I got the true P&O feeling that I was expecting.
Still the wife and the kids, plus mother-in-law are booked on Azura next year, so be interesting to see how it compares. For me, the Baltics are definitely an area I would recommend you visit once or twice in your life.
Would I go on P&O again? Probably, but more than likely not on Ventura, unless I know that they've got on top of the ships issues. There are so many other cruise companies out there with nice ships, you've got to try them all!!