This was our third trip with P&O, our second on Ventura, previously Xmas 2010 which followed Azura in May 2010. I posted a full review of both trips on here for those interested. Ventura met our expectations again, based on our previous trip 4 months previous. We travelled as a party of 4 in 2 cabins: - 3 adults in the 40-50 age group and our Mum in her late 70s who is a part time wheelchair user.
Embarkation: We arrived at 11.45, car swiftly taken off our hands by CPS and we were on board within 30 minutes having lunch in the buffet.
A standard balcony cabin on C deck. These have the larger balconies which are twice the depth of those featured by standard balcony cabins on other decks. We didn't mind the fact that half the balcony is visible to those above as you still have the overhang of the deck above which shades the rear half from view if some privacy is required. We would definitely choose a C deck cabin again if available. The interior of the cabin was identical to that on Azura the previous year (we had a superior deluxe cabin on D deck on our Xmas Ventura trip but didn't feel the price difference on this trip justified it). The inside of our cabin was kept very clean by our invisible cabin steward who we saw only once when she introduced herself. Not an issue for us but I know some prefer a more personable cabin steward. We did note the balcony wasn't clean on boarding and wasn't cleaned at all during the trip, either the interior part or the outside glass and could have done with a good deep clean. On our Xmas cruise they advised on some mornings which sections of the balconies would be cleaned each day but there didn't seem to be any balcony cleaning at all on this cruise. However we were so pleased with the size of the balcony that we forgave this.
We ate in the buffet for breakfast each day. Again a good choice which suited all our preferences including Quorn bacon and Quorn sausages to order for our Veggie member. Can't really fault the breakfasts at all apart from saying that some things could have been warmer on occasion. Lunch was also mainly in the buffet with most of us choosing from the large salad range. A couple of us had burgers or pizzas from the places by the pool which were always reliable and freshly cooked. Most cruises, and Ventura too, receive criticism for having too little space to sit in the buffet. We always found a space but maybe not in the section we would prefer. I've said it before that the people who complain about not being able to find a seat seem to be the same ones who hug their third cup of tea after finishing their meal for an eternity instead of making way for others or they are the couples who sit at a table for 8 instead of walking a few yards further and sitting at a smaller table.
We chose Freedom Dining in the Cinnamon Restaurant again and ate there on 12 of the 14 nights. We thought the MDR food on Ventura at Xmas was very good and better than on Azura and we thought that on this trip it had notched up even further. A really good choice of selections on the menu and a good separate Vegetarian menu to pre-select for the following night. Out of the 12 nights we were seated immediately on a table for four on 10 of them with a buzzer being given on the other 2 nights with waits of 5 mins and 15 mins which was pretty good. This allowed us to plan to dine around our choice of entertainment.
Having now experienced freedom dining 3 times on P&O I have to say the flexibility means we would always choose this option. However, I do believe there is a trade off in terms of the service. This can be very variable with some waiters looking quite fed up and quite a difference some nights in terms of the speed of the meal being delivered: anything from 1 hour to 2 ½ hours dependant on the waiter so it was hard to predict. On one night we sat with our empty soup bowls on the table for 25 minutes before I had to find the head waiter to get things moving again as our waiters seemed to have vanished. I would describe the service as functional rather than great. I do think that in Club Dining the waiter is encouraged to go the extra mile in order to secure their tips and maybe achieve more than the recommended tip from a passenger with whom they have built up a relationship. We hear about the little personal touches Club Dining waiters offer and how they get to know your preferences. On freedom dining a set tip is assured (unless you go to Reception to adjust it) so they simply don't have the same incentive to offer more than a functional level of service. After all why should one waiter offer a higher level of service when his less enthusiastic colleague will receive the same share of the tips? I'm not sure what the answer is here apart from better management of the waiters. On RCI's equivalent of freedom dining the waiters were superb in every respect, always smiling and incredibly helpful and personable. As I said we would still choose freedom dining over Club dining to allow us more flexibility but I do feel that the service could be better overall.
We dined in the Beachcomber Diner one night which was a nice change and offered a good choice of freshly cooked food and was very busy. We also ate in the White Room to celebrate a birthday. Overall we were a bit disappointed with MPWs eatery. The service was ok but not as good as on our previous visit or as good as in Seventeen on Azura and it was a shame the menu was the same as it was 4 months previous. My Mother was not too pleased upon ordering a dessert to be told by the waiter 'are you sure as there are a lot of calories in that'! Maybe something got lost in translation but it's not what a woman wants to hear. Also Veggies note that small appetisers are served but they don't have any for veggies and the desserts are not marked as vegetarian and this took quite a bit of persistence to get accurate answers about whether they were vegetarian or not. I think as we all thought the food in the MDR was so good when we compared it with our evening in the White Room this led us to decide we would not visit it again. Nice to try but we were not overwhelmed. We didnt eat in the East restaurant as the Veggie options were not great.
This cruise had the best entertainment of our 3 P&O cruises. Daytime activities were again varied and offered a packed programme however the main difference was the Headliners Shows. Previously we had become tired of the 'West End Show' description given to the Headliners on Azura and our previous Ventura cruise as we felt they never quite hit the spot and could be a bit cringeworthy. Many disagreed but mainly those of a certain age. However we were told that we were the first to experience 3 of the new shows on this cruise and that the headliners were a new group of professionals that had been put together. We were handed a program detailing the experience of the performers and it was clear this was no amateur group. The result was amazing: Superb voices, great dancing, professional sets and costumes and excellent productions. Their shows became increasingly more popular and the 8.30 performance required people to start queuing up to an hour or so early to ensure a seat. We only went to the 7pm shows and always found a seat with ease. If P&O are going to roll this new style out across the fleet then they are going to start gaining a very good reputation for quality shows. They put on a total of 6 shows. We had seen one before, Destination Dance, on Azura last year and all four of us didn't like it at all. It felt a bit like seeing an Amateur Dramatic production, however the same show performed by these guys was amazing. Such good dancers and singers and the sound was superb.
We did find it strange that Hughie Taylor the Cruise Director was quite invisible. He only appeared for some Arena shows and didn't introduce the Captains Welcome Speech at the time we attended. At the Great British Sailaway his job entailed handing flags out rather than being part of the main entertainment team which was a little strange. I think he is possibly suited more to a smaller ship without the cross section of ages on Ventura.
Most of the other acts we had experienced previously. I'm not sure how often they rotate their acts but I would be pretty miffed if we booked another cruise with P&O in the next year or so and came across the same group of singers and comedians yet again. However I would have to say we could watch Jimmy Love as Elton John any day.
We have to mention Laura from the Entertainment team who had us in stiches on numerous occasions with her accent (when calling number 66 during bingo it became 'sexty sex' for example). Her quizzes were equally funny.
We really like the choice of bars on Ventura each one offering a different ambience and you could always find somewhere to sit somewhere onboard. Drinks prices remain very reasonable although we did note draught lager and some cocktails have increased in prices since Dec 2010. Not by a lot but an increase nonetheless. Bar service is generally superb.
Ports of Call:
I'm not going to go into a description of each port as this can be quite subjective and is covered in the ports of call section on this site. However I want to mention a new one to us: Valencia. Even the Captain had not been here before. We decided that we had seen enough history on our cruise and planned a trip to the Oceanographic Aquarium. This is part of a recent development of the old riverbed (La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias ) and the modern architecture is amazing. We took a taxi from the ship to the Aquarium and as it didn't open for an hour we walked around the area and were stunned by the buildings. It looks like something from a Sci-Fi film. The Aquarium was great too (the biggest in Europe) and we spent 3 hours in total exploring including watching the Dolphin Shop in the Amphitheatre before taking a taxi back. We worked out that in the end we only saved about £8 each off the cost of the ships' trip to the Aquarium so some may prefer to plump for this especially if you are only splitting the taxi fare a couple of ways. The Aquarium is amazingly disabled friendly with lifts everywhere down to the underwater tanks and tunnels.
There are a few niggles in this review however this is really us being nit-picky. We still really like Ventura and still prefer it over Azura. We prefer the mix of passengers. Ventura is constantly being knocked as 'Butlins at Sea' which is very unfair and I feel this comes from passengers who don't really want to mix with children or younger people and perhaps are of a certain age and more suited to one of P&Os more traditional or adult only ships. On both Ventura cruises we have been on the age range has been wide although as this was a term time holiday it still must have averaged in the mid-50s. Because of this wider mix of ages we feel Ventura has a more relaxed feel whereas we found Azura to be a little snobby at times. We like dressing up for dinner with the best of them however we also want to be able to relax and enjoy our holiday as well and there were a nice bunch of people on this cruise with fewer of the 'old moaners' we encountered on Azura (sorry about the choice of description but you may know what I mean). We were told by the Captain that this cruise had over 1200 people new to cruising onboard which seemed a very high figure so P&O must be doing well attracting this number of new cruisers. Ventura does most things very well. It doesn't excel at many but neither does it disappoint much too and for us she continues to be our choice for a reliable mass market cruise.