The cruise was to northern Spain and Western France (La Coruña, Bilbao, La Rochelle, and Brest).
This was our 9th cruise but only the second time on P&O and the first time on Ventura.
We arrived at Southampton at our allotted time of 2pm, and waited 55 minutes to drop off the car. A further queue of 30 minutes to check in and 15 minutes to get through security meant we didn't get to our cabin until 3:45. This was almost as bad as flying! However, our luggage arrived at the cabin before we did, and things started to look up.
Although it doesn't have a cinema or a forward observation lounge, Ventura is a lovely ship. It has a narrow promenade deck (so narrow in places that two people cannot pass in comfort), and in calm weather the promenade continues up a flight of stairs to a wide sheltered deck that goes all the way to the bow. It has very good children's facilities, and absorbs the little darlings well. I preferred Ventura to Queen Victoria! I loved the atrium and the way each bar and public room has its own distinctive style. In fact the whole ship is stylish and elegant.
It's a pity the same cannot be said of some of the passengers! The dress code (in the public rooms) was not enforced and was ignored by a sizeable minority. On the first formal night, I saw men wearing football shirts and jeans, one man was wearing a baseball cap, and some young women in ankle boots and skirts that barely covered their backsides looked as if they were dressed for walking round Kings Cross rather than a 4 star cruise ship. This apparel wouldn't even make the grade for smart casual, never mind formal. There were also a large minority of traditionalists who wore jacket and tie on the smart casual nights. I think P&O's experiment of trying to cater for the Ocean Village crowd on Ventura and Oceana is a failure, is devaluing the brand, and damaging the reputation that they have built up over 175 years. They really should reinstate the Ocean Village brand, transfer these ships to it, and maintain the published standards on the true P&O ships. There is clearly a market for informal cruising, that at the moment is only met to a limited extent by NCL.
The ship has an irritating vibration which shakes you from side to side about twice a second when you are lying in bed. It didn't stop me falling asleep, but it did wake me up in the wee small hours every day. I can only assume it is the natural resonance of the ship itself rather than an engine vibration, as we were midships on deck 10.
The drinks were very reasonably priced, and it was nice to be able to get a good choice of wines by the glass. We enjoyed the wide choice of restaurants, and the food and service in East was superb. I loved the cabin and the large balcony. I like the ability to review our account on the TV. The 5% discount on the final bill (as Portunus club members) was appreciated, as were the free shuttle buses.
I started by writing about the long wait to check-in. Getting off at the end was a doddle. We opted for "self help" disembarkation. After a good breakfast in the Waterside buffet, we walked off the ship with our luggage just before 08:30, and were in the car and on the way home 10 minutes later.
Some of the staff on Ventura are very good, a handful are excellent, a lot are poor. If I saw a bargain basement price and a good itinerary I might cruise on Ventura again, but it's not what I had hoped for from P&O. The standards are not consistent, and you could have a good or bad cruise on this ship - it's all a matter of luck and which staff you interact with. P&O has slipped well down the list of lines we are likely to use again, which is a pity as I enjoyed my earlier cruise on Aurora very much, and she remains my favourite cruise ship.
The quality of the food and its service varied from poor to excellent depending on the venue.
We had asked for either a table for two or freedom dining, but were allocated a table for 10. We had planned to eat several times in the "select dining" venues, so we never actually went to our allocated table.
We ate twice in the White Room (on the two formal nights). The food was good basic Italian, but not fine dining and with a £25 cover charge (they increase the charge from £20 to £25 on short cruises) it was not good value for money. The crab linguine starter was nice, but uses quite cheap ingredients. The prawn starter was excellent. The rack of lamb was superb. The lobster spaghetti was OK - the small half lobster that topped the spaghetti was good, but the lobster meat in the spaghetti was tough and the spaghetti was slightly overcooked. The tiramisu, in my opinion, was not as good as Marks & Spencer - very creamy but without much flavour. The service was poor. I kept having to ask for more water, and our wine glasses were not topped up often enough (mine ran dry at one point). The second night we ate there, the aperitif glasses were not cleared until the end of the meal.
We ate three times in East. The food and service were both superb. The waiting staff in East are all female and Filipino. Our waitress made a point of addressing us both by name (this was the only place on the ship that this happened). The fillet steak was amazing, and of a different quality to the ones they serve in the Beach House for their Surf & Turf. It was a world apart from anywhere else on the ship. The £20 cover charge was worth it, and the £15 cover charge on the longer cruises would be good value for money.
We had planned to eat in Ramblas one evening (or "Ramblers" as the CD insisted on calling it!), but we were told we would have to wait half an hour for a table. We went to wait in the bar area, and were then asked if we would eat there instead. We didn't want to do that, so went up to the Beach House, where again we were told there would be a wait of at least half an hour. By this time it was 8:45, so we went down to Cinnamon, the freedom dining restaurant, and threw ourselves on the mercy of the Maitre d', who allowed us to eat there for one night only. The food and service in Cinnamon were both good, and there were plenty of spare seats. Given that many people don't want to dress for dinner (even to a "smart casual" standard) and that the Beach House, Waterside buffet, and Ramblas were all full, I think Ventura has the capacity to make freedom dining in the main restaurants more accessible . There was a big waiting list for Freedom Dining and with three restaurants I think P&O should work harder to balance supply and demand, and keep their customers happy.
We had breakfast three times in our cabin. Although the room service menu is limited, and some quite basic items have to be paid for, the continental breakfast was substantial, and when ordered the day before through the TV turned up on time. However, on our second sea day we intended going to the MDR but overslept and woke up at 9:30. We turned the TV on, and there was still an option to order continental breakfast for 09:30 to 10:00 (and later times), which we did. At 10:15, I called room service to make sure they had the order. They looked for it, found it, and said they would send it. Breakfast came at around 10:55, and the steward who delivered it said we should have ordered it the day before (so why still have it as an option on the morning? Bad organisation, bad service!) We also used room service once for a late lunch on a port day. We had pizza which was free, very good, and piping hot, but it took more than half an hour to arrive.
We went to the buffet a couple of times at tea time. The choice was very limited (compared to Celebrity and Princess), and the service area was extremely small and cramped. The buffet closed between 5pm and 6pm. We were not impressed by this. We have dinner late, and if we have missed lunch we often like a light snack at this time.
We had lunch in the main dining room three times, but on the first two occasions had trouble getting a table for two. We were told to come back after 10 minutes, and then come back again after half an hour. We did eventually get a table for two, but only after a long wait. We have never had this problem on any of our previous cruises. Normally, if a table for two is not immediately available, the staff will give you exclusive use of a table for four. I think the problem on Ventura is that it is a big ship with three dining rooms, but they only open one of them for lunch. Service at lunch-time in the MDR was usually (2 out of 3 visits) poor, although on one occasion it was very good. We had breakfast three times in the "Bay Tree". This is at the back of the ship, only accessible via the aft staircase and lifts, and was quiet at breakfast-time. The ship serves a good English breakfast, but the coffee and orange juice were both dreadful (the apple juice is drinkable). They don't do special requests. For example, we asked if we could have French Toast, but were told "no". A couple at the next table asked if they could have a pot of tea (instead of having to wait for the waiter to come round and pour), again, they were told "we don't do that".
We like good strong coffee, so went to the Costa coffee shop for take away coffees a few times. You have to pay for the coffees, but they serve nice cakes if you buy coffee. The first time we ordered coffee to go, we also asked for some donuts and biscuits and got them without a problem. The second time we asked for this, we were told it's not possible to take food away from the coffee shop. "It's not company policy". "It's against health and safety!" It was hard to get good coffee, even from Costa. I asked the waitress for strong black coffee, and told her how I wanted it made - double espresso, and let the water run through until the cup is half full. The first time I did this, when I got up to the room I found they had filled the cups and the coffee was weak and tasteless. After this, I made a point of checking the coffee before I would sign for it. On the third day of the cruise, we stopped by for coffee "to go" on the way back on board, specified how we wanted it, and the barista filled the cup about two thirds full. I said to him, "I asked for it half full", and his response was to pour some of the coffee away so the cup was half full! I explained that I had asked for strong black coffee, and throwing some away did not give me that. The waitress intervened and told the barista to put an extra shot in each cup. This would have solved the problem, but the barista added the extra shots and practically threw the cups at us, saying something in his own language while he did so. We went to reception to ask to see the Bars Manager, but were told he was not available. Reception noted our complaint, and said they would pass it on. They also said food could not be taken away from the coffee shop for health and safety reasons. They said if we wanted strong coffee and cake in our cabin, we would have to order the cake from room service, and then buy the coffee from Costa. They also said it is not permitted to take food from the buffet to the cabin! That's a first, and I can't find that written down anywhere! This happened at about 16:00, and the Bars Manager did leave a message on our phone early afternoon the next day, but we did not follow it up with him.
Classical Pianist Simon Callaghan gave an excellent concert on the first sea day. Unfortunately, the Tamarind Club is not a suitable venue. It has a Steinway piano, but it's amplified over a poor sound system. If you sit more than a third of the way back, you hear the terrible amplified sound which is a distortion of the beautiful Steinway. If you sit close to the front, it sounds good. Simon did three concerts, but the second two clashed with sailaways, so I only went to the first one.
Comedian Dave Kristian was not funny.
Tenor Victor Michael has a good voice, but sadly plays to the chavs - encouraging the audience to join in with "just one cornetto" while he sang O Sole Mio
I was very impressed with our balcony cabin on C deck (deck 10). I loved the cabin design. The walk-in wardrobe was large and practical, our clothes were easily accessible and it was nice to have space to store the cases without having to put them under the bed. There was plenty of storage space, and the bathroom was adequate. The balcony was very large - about twice as deep as those on the decks above, half in the shade and half open and overlooked. The semi reclining chairs and footstool were good. I would choose a deck 10 cabin if I ever go on one of the "grand" class of ships again.
The cabin was nicely decorated. There was no sofa, but two chairs and a small table gave us enough space to have breakfast. A P&O bonus is the kettle and mugs with tea and coffee, and biscuits replenished daily. The TV was well positioned and could be viewed well from the bed. The interactive channels allowed you to order room service and check your bill. Sky news was available most of the time. A selection of films and classic TV programmes were available.
The cabin appeared superficially clean, although there was a sequin on the floor, so the carpet had not been vacuumed thoroughly. The superficial cleaning continued during the cruise. Towels were replaced twice daily and the beds were made, but the cabin steward did not wipe down the bathroom properly. Nothing was moved, and where I had left my wet wooden shaving bowl next to the sink, it left a stain the next day as it was still wet. We didn't use the kettle, but it contained water when we arrived and was never emptied. The ice bucket was never filled. There were some sweets on a small tray, the tray was removed two days before the end of the cruise (presumably, people steal them). The White Company toiletries were nice.
On TV one day, there was a video of Carol Marlow talking about the "CRUISE" - customer care - programme, and the "key values" instilled in the staff, which included "Go the extra mile" and "Make it happen". Unfortunately, in our experience, "Make it happen" should be replaced with "we don't do that".
Myra, a waitress in East, was excellent and friendly. All the staff in East gave a level of service that was unequalled anywhere else on the ship. In fact, leaving East at the end of the meal and returning to Ventura was a bit of a culture shock!!
At the other end of the scale, the barista in the Costa coffee shop was rude. The security staff were unsmiling and unwelcoming, and some never spoke, despite my best efforts to get some sort of reaction by saying "good morning", "thank you", and smiling at them. Some of them didn't even look at the passengers. I'm sure I could have walked off using someone else's cruise card and they would not have noticed.
Overall, you don't get the friendly excellent service on Ventura that you take for granted on other cruise lines.