After thoroughly enjoying a month long Christmas and New Year cruise last year on Oceana we decided to book the similar cruise on Ventura this year. What a huge mistake that proved to be. After only a couple of days it seemed as though the ship was being run by an entirely different cruise line.
Yes, the ship is large and we expected that. What we did not expect was that many parts of the sip were downright grubby - dirty marks on carpeting, really dirty tiled areas in the Waterside buffet and on one occasion chips were left lying on a staircase in the Beachcombers pool area for over 2 weeks. In the same Beachcombers pool area some birds had defaecated on sun loungers whilst the roof was open in port during the first week of the cruise and these were never cleaned during the remainder of the cruise.
There are inadequate toilet facilities on the pool decks. In fact there are only 2 ladies cubicles and 1 disabled between the Laguna and Beachcomber pools and these have to be reached by walking in the smoking area and consequently they reek of cigarette smoke. The only other toilets are situated between the Beach House and Waterside buffet areas.
One of our main complaints was the quality and choice of food. In the Waterside and Beach House buffets, the layout is very poor and it is necessary to wander with a laden tray to negotiate various foodstuffs. There does not seem to be a logical pattern to where the various food is located. Often the trays, bowls and plates were too hot to handle but this was obviously to help warm up the mediocre, often barely warm food. At breakfast fresh fried eggs were put out and I found that they were cold. Presumably they then have to warm up under the lights. During the second half of the cruise American type streaky bacon was provided but unfortunately not served in the American style i.e. crispy so it turned out to be greasy. The toast resembled re-cycled cardboard. The choice of fresh fruit at breakfast was very limited and repetitive. The even sliced the grapefruit into thin slices to make it go further! Bananas, when they appeared were of a quality that would not even have been sold as seconds in a supermarket. By the second week the honey in the little containers had solidified. It was almost as though they had not prepared for the fact that this cruise was of a month's duration and not the usual two weeks. Steak, which is usually on the always available part of the menu appeared most nights on the main menu. There was no way anyone could opt for a healthy eating option as many of the vegetables served were of the frozen variety.
We endured the freedom dining on only 4 occasions as each time the service was extremely slow and when the food finally arrived it was not piping hot. The waiters had a tendency to try to get all the tables they were saving to catch up so that they could serve each table with the main course simultaneously. The quality of the meat and vegetables was second rate. The Christmas dinner was one of the worst I have ever had on a cruise ship - the turkey tasted more like something that had been artificially produced, sprouts as hard as bullets, roasted potatoes that my have 'visited' an oven briefly to give them some colour but no crispness. Dry Christmas pudding to follow with a brandy sauce that seemed to be alcohol free! We gave the New Years Eve dinner a miss and used room service!
The only redeeming factor regarding the food was that there was a Beach House diner open every evening except Christmas Day and New Years Eve (unfortunately). Here there was a limited menu but the food was cooked to order and was excellent in comparison to the rest of the ship. It was interesting to note that as the cruise progressed the queues for this facility started earlier each night and there were many regulars using it, who like ourselves had given up on their regular dining room for similar reasons to ourselves.
There was obviously some form of respiratory virus going round the ship as included on the usual letter about Norwalk virus it also included coughs and colds and requested people contact the medical centre if they were suffering from these. Everywhere you went on the ship people were coughing and full of colds. It was not surprising as this started on the outbound flight where someone behind us coughed constantly for the whole 9 hour flight! To make matters worse, the public rooms in the ship were extremely cold. It is the first time on a Caribbean cruise ( and we have done over 30 of these) when we have had to turn the air conditioning in our cabin up from the lowest setting. The only time the ship's interior felt comfortable was during the last two days in Barbados when normal Caribbean temperatures resumed. The first week of the cruise the weather was cool and cloudy in the Caribbean and then we headed north towards New Orleans, which was a further ordeal. P and O provided all passengers with the green immigration forms to complete (which have not been used for almost 2 years) only for the immigration officers to throw them away! The immigration ordeal started at 7.15 a.m. and only finished just after 6 p.m. as there were only 8 booths operating on the quayside. Interestingly though, the crew seemed to complete all their immigration procedures in order to start their crew drills and coast guard inspection by 10.30 a.m. Passengers who were only on the 2 week cruse hardly saw anything of New Orleans as they left early the next day for their return flights. Again it is not the first time P and O have been to New Orleans - in fact Azura was there the previous week so why wasn't there communication between the two ships as they must have encountered the same problem. We have been there on Oriana and it took til 2 p.m. for the ship to be cleared then and they only had half the number of passengers. St. Thomas, too, was a disappointment as we docked at Crown Bay which has very little in the way of facilities as the one at Havensight. In fact one shop owner remarked it was the first time they had had such a large ship in there before. It is obviously a cheaper option in the way of port charges etc. for P and O. It was impossible to walk into Charlotte Amalie and the open 'taxis' were charging $8 per person for the return trip. P and O provided shuttle buses in Port Everglades and Port Canaveral but nothing in St. Thomas.
The entertainment was the usual mix of shows, comedians and tribute acts although we did have Tom O Connor appearing in the second half of the cruise. Cabin TV was showing the usual range of Christmas films the first two weeks but did not replace these with any additional films for the second two weeks. In fact the interactive TV was quite annoying as it took time to load and you had to get the remote in a certain position to operate it only to find that most of the films on offer were pay per view (not mentioned in any of the brochures).
We did not even get a cruise log for the first two weeks and when we asked at Reception we were told that one had not been issued. Untrue as we had seen them in other pigeon holes. Likewise we did not receive any disembarkation information and were told we should have had one. There was no cruise overview issued for the second two weeks and the excuse given was that the entertainment had not yet been finalised! Were they working on a day to day basis and hoping that it would be 'alright on the night' and that passengers would not notice that some of the shows were repeated from the first half of the cruise. Many of the entertainment venues were not suitable especially the Tamarind where they had the classical artistes performing. There is a thoroughfare through this venue and we had to endure the kids club with their supervisors marching through and other passengers having quite loud conversations whilst walking through which is very distracting when trying to listen to classical music. The Exchange Bar and Casino were other walk through areas and there were often queues in the former waiting for the second performance in the Arena Theatre. There were very few quiet areas on the ship to sit and have a drink as there seems to be a necessity to have bands in most public areas.
The library was quite small for the size of ship and had a very poor selection of fiction. Many of the books were old and in need of repair/replacing. It was almost as though all the other ships belonging to P and O had donated their oldest and tattiest books to Ventura.The librarian was not always at her post at the times stipulated which meant people left their returned books lying on her desk and others then picked them up without having to have them recorded. It just seemed pointless having the cabinets locked and specific opening times for the library when it could not be supervised adequately.
Despite the fact that the Captain, Hamish Reid is quite a character and was on last year's Oceana cruise, he did not appear to be enjoying his sojourn on Ventura. We never saw him walking round the decks. He also seemed to be taking on the role of Cruise Director announcing all the evening entertainment and the shopping events when he was informing passengers that we were due to leave port. He also did not seem to be able to operate the public address system as most mornings in port we were woken by his voice in the cabin announcing that we had docked in such and such a port. He might just as well have started with "Hi de hi cruisers" to reflect the kind of ship he was running.
There has obviously been a lot of cost cutting, changes and directives from Head Office since last year and standards have certainly dropped. I wonder, too, why there was a P and O director on board in Barbados on the last Friday?
My advice to discerning cruisers avoid Ventura at all costs unless you want to experience how a cruise ship should not be run.