We chose this Christmas cruise on Ventura simply because the itinerary and dates suited our schedule. We were on Azura 6 months before so knew what to expect. In fact we were surprised that the ships were so similar. Ventura is a couple of years older but doesn't really show it. In fact, given a straight choice we would pick Ventura over Azura. Reason: the front Oasis Pool and surrounding deck is open to all, not just those paying for the retreat and the Casino/Pub area is much bigger as part of this deck area is used for the new single cabins on Azura.
Being a Christmas cruise and this being Ventura we expected loads of kids. We were told there were 400 on board but we didn't really notice them as the kids clubs kept them occupied all day and to be honest we enjoyed the wide age range of people on this cruise, a much younger average than our previous med cruises. We met nice people of all age groups.
The flights both ways were with Thomsons from Manchester: two hours delay outbound and 6 hours inbound. Very disappointed re these avoidable delays.
We booked a month ahead and got a Superior Deluxe Cabin on D deck at a good price. This was lovely, spacious, nice sized bathroom and kept very clean.
We were on Freedom dining in Cinnamon Restaurant and enjoyed it. We thought the choice was better than on Azura and the service, though still variable, was better than Azura where they were still finding their feet when we were on her. The Restaurant Manager was superb in ensuring we had the Vegetarian Menu presented nightly to choose the next evenings' meal.
I think every ship has issues re buffet dining. It's impossible to provide the space necessary to feed the numbers that want to eat at peak times so finding space can be difficult but surely its either this or less deck space? I have to say that the people complaining about a lack of tables were the same ones who would drink cup of tea after cup of tea and hog a table for ages. We thought the breakfast choice to be good, well cooked and hot. Whilst the choice was the same each day, you could concoct your own breakfasts and differ it each day plus you could order eggs as you wanted them and they had good veggie bacon and sausage available to order as well as perfectly cooked poached eggs.
We found the entertainment the same as Azura. The headliners shows were poor yet again, verging on embarrassing. The acrobats during the main headliners show were amazing though it's just the rest of the headliners remind me of a 1970s variety show. As on Azura, we like the choice of places to drink in the evening and especially Ramblas which was quiet and you could order a large glass of wine for £3.25 - a bargain.
This was our first Caribbean cruise and to be honest the stops disappointed. Little to see without going on tours or taxis and apart from Aruba the beaches didn't impress. However we were happy with a few hours on shore and then returning to ship to relax on deck.
Much will be said of the New Orleans fiasco. 3000 passengers and 1200 crew all requiring immigration clearance. The Captain did warn everyone before arriving that there would be delays but the understatement was that 'all available immigration desks would be open'. There were only 8 desks! Some passengers were not cleared until it was too dark to see New Orleans. Ultimately this is a reflection of the US over the top attitude to immigration. On the scale of things a cruise ship docking for the day should be low risk but the US Border Agency don't asses risk. Any risk has to be controlled irrespective of the damage caused to tourism. I'm not sure P&O could have done more. Yes Azura had the same issue when it docked in New Orleans the week before but knowing this what should have been done? Withdraw this port of call from our trip at short notice? This wasn't possible as many people were disembarking in New Orleans for their flight home. There were people flying home the next day from New Orleans and perhaps P&O could have ensured that they were able to get through the immigration mob relatively early to be given a chance to see the town on the only day possible (people staying on for a month had two days to see the town). I feel a little sorry for P&O who are being made the scapegoat for this issue when the blame mostly lies with the US authorities. However, given the issues I don't believe P&O should be using New Orleans on future itineraries as the first port of call in the US.
Finally, this was our first time away at Christmas and we enjoyed it. P&O added some nice touches, Christmas cards from the Captain (Hamish Reid who was superb), presents on Christmas Eve, a nice Christmas Day meal, a pantomime and carols. We would chose them again for a similar trip and for those trying to decide between Azura and Ventura, there is a lot of hype re Azura so if it's a straight choice between the two then let the itinerary, dates and price make your choice as there is little to choose between them.