I had thought that we were going to a simple beach holiday in Spain, for my snorkelling husband- a prospect which didn't thrill me at all, but to make up for it, he'd booked a Thomson's cruise to the Red Sea in Feb. So the sudden shock of a cruise instead had me dancing round the room! The local TA has a door to ship offer several times a year, which cuts out most of the hassle. Collected at 5am, then on to one of the 3 coaches he'd provided and away to Southampton by 6. Ventura is one of Carnival's Grand design ships, and is the largest, newest ship we've travelled on. There was ample space for the amount of people, with 4 pools, a full sized theatre, and a large, rambling buffet which I never saw overcrowded. There's also a promenade on 7, which I enjoy. Part of this- starboard- was for smokers, and was always crowded, unlike port side, even in the wild weather which occured from Barcelona.....and virtually all the way home! Cabins are fairly small, but the reason for this is a large walk-in wardrobe, which proved most useful- as was the laundry down the stairs and round the corner. The beds didn't have the mattress toppers we're used to on NCL, and the pillows had suffered from too much washing, resulting in hard balls of lint- most uncomfortable!- but I was given a new one without any fuss. We're not big eaters, nor do we have any sugar, so 2 nights in the freedom eating room were enough. We ate in the buffet after that, even on formal nights, and discovered that the formality almost disappeared by the 2nd week. Each night had a theme, with tables set and attentive wine waiters. Italian, Indian and tropical were our favourite.
The entertainment was stunning in the theatre, especially the Jean Ann Ryan shows, with beautiful costumes, lighting and scenery. Several shows had trapeze and circus balancing; thrilling especially when going through a force 9! There was plenty of activities throughout the many sea days; Bill Giles the weather man; Colin Burring on ships and sailors; life planning; circus acts and juggling as well as the "selling" lectures. 2 things I'd like to see on other cruises were the passenger's choir and the discussion groups. In common with lots of other European cruisers, many of the ports we'd visited already, so it was good to find that P&O were looking at new tours. We visited Tuscarnia, to see the stunning 9th century church and walled city, followed by a farm tea at Marta. Good. Our anniversary was at Gibraltar, and after a rousing sail-away, which was more fun than I'd imagined, we prepared for a meal at Marco Pierre White's restaurant. This was superb in every way, from the damson drink to welcome us, to the hand made chocolate truffles at the end. All diets went out of the window! Although there was plenty to do on this vast ship, the sea days home dragged a little, probably because of the weather. Disembarkation was dreadful, as everyone had to queue after finding cases, for 40 mins (in our time slot), before reaching customs. They were stopping lots of people; someone said because we'd visited Gib. The journey home was long and arduous, being Friday at the beginning of half term. Having only travelled once before with P&O, on a very stuffy, longer cruise, we were pleasantly surprised by this one, with the multitude of activities. It's a change to have sensible drinks prices, without the 15%, and none of the penny pinching or grabbing that we've met before on some lines. The gratuities for freedom dining are paid up front, at £1.60 per day, and other tipping is discussed sensibly in a booklet. An altogether refreshing and enjoyable cruise.-jocap.