Bonded luggage: check your cases in at Manchester and the next time you see them is in your cabin! Coach straight from plane to ship, short queue (water available) to get key card and map of ship. Then go out: couldn't believe the size of Ventura when we first saw her.., wow! - In all the ports I had a great proud 'my ship's bigger than your ship' feeling!
Get on board, hunt out your cabin, where there'll be instructions where to eat on the first night -no dress restrictions as they understand you may not get your cases in time.
To avoid getting lost in the early days we used the two same decks 7 & 15 to get around and kept to the starboard side, where our cabin was. This helped a lot!
TIP: all the lifts face forward. Plus the carpet is a different colour in each section (Forward, Mid and Aft).
We found the booze in the bars and restaurants quite reasonable.
Booze for your cabin and cigs (inc B&H) very reasonable; purchased at the shop on board.
Smoking permitted on Deck 7 starboard side (where the Arena, Ramblas bar, Tamarind Bar and Havana nightclub is); only a few steps away, loads of chairs and you can take your drink, so very easy. Also smoking is starboard side on the open deck 15.
I found it hard going with all the stuff to do -- when do you fit in time to sleep?!
For all those with anti-social husbands, mine surprisingly loved every minute of it!
No-one bothers with the taking time to get to know you thing; everyone just wades straight in, so you instantly have lots of new friends, though, we found it strange that no-one introduced themselves - we asked names when we met again!
I did a few laps of deck 7 (outside) at about 7am, as the gym annoyingly didn't open until 8am. Deck 7 makes a nice walk too.
Loungers at busy areas do get taken early, but we were happier out of the way on the high decks -do go looking round from one end of the ship to the other to choose your preferred location. We liked the area round the spa pool with Jacuzzi's as it was quieter. Pool towels provided in cabin.
One day I got a workout moving my sunbed round as the ship appeared to keep changing direction interfering with my sun! The next day we discovered the cheeky captain, Charlie Carr from Wigan, had gone in the shape of a Xmas tree! You could see this on the map on the telly!
I'm very pleased that on the last day we got a 'Cruise Log', summary of the entire trip as I was dying to know how many miles we'd done.
Rather than Freedom dining (if you go at a busy time they give you a pager for when a spot becomes available) we decided on the more formal dining and chose 1st sitting 18:30 at the time of booking. NB. 2nd sitting was 20:30 I'd have still been too full for breakfast the next day, plus, we like a drink in the evening! We were in the Bay Tree, which had a slightly more formal feel than the Saffron (though it's the same two sitting affair). You sit with the same folk each night, so it's good to request a large table so that you'll hopefully have some good couples to chat with. We had plenty of time to have the four courses and a bottle of wine.., though if you don't finish the wine they keep it for you for the next day - fat chance of that happening with us! We'd then dash to the opposite end of the ship (5 mins max) to catch the first show 20:30 at the Arena (which is reminiscent of a picture house). This show repeated at 22:30.
We ate at East and The White Room on a few occasions (cover charge applies), both were excellent. I used the 'Cruise Overview' in the cabin to plan which nights and rang the restaurants on the first night to make our reservations. We managed to get into The White Room again near the end of the cruise, so it's always worth a call to see what availability they have left.
You can take breakfast where you like; we found a lot of folk went to the Bay Tree (waiter service) even though they weren't eating there at night. You're put on a large table, first come basis, so you get to mix with a variety of different couples. We went early. There's quite a selection for breakfast. If you don't get enough - ask for more!
TIP: Use room service (mostly free): we used if we were going onshore early for a trip. Order via your telly, food delivered promptly. We took some plastic bags to take leftovers with us/keep in the fridge for when we returned. Or, go for Afternoon tea on deck 15 for sarnies etc from 3pm (very tasty!). Hygiene I noted is paramount and quite sensible when you think about it. Use the hand wash dispensers.
There was a good looking young opera type singer Victor Michael in the Arena who was funny and got everyone involved. So I was looking forward to even better acts as we approached Xmas, but unfortunately, for my taste anyway, this didn't happen. I think I was expecting more quality acts, or perhaps they were aimed at the older generation. The acts etc in the Tamarind were the same, so it was then that we began to appreciate the Metropolis Lounge on deck 18; good to sit chatting with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot (very reasonably priced at Â£37).
It was nice to see that the majority of people dressed up for the black tie nights. Show off your outfits at the Captains Welcome evening, where there's complimentary drinks for an hour. Now that was the start of a good night!
P&O onshore trips were very expensive, but we did the few you shouldn't miss, which were very good. On some islands, there are dedicated taxi's to take you to the usual spots. They've been doing this for years man, so there's no need to worry. For example, a couple who shared a cab to a beach with us in St. Vincent left his wallet in the taxi with Â£400 in. We thought we'd never see the driver again! No problem, he was even early!
I was desperate to wave a tacky plastic Union Jack flag. These were finally given out at the Sail Away party from St Lucia. After their morning trips, most passengers spent the afternoon on the grass near the ship in the Rum Bar, so we were pretty popped up! I had a fabulous time!
We received a couple of upgrades and ended up in an outside cabin P245 on deck 5 forward. These have a large window and although I didn't know it beforehand (first cruise), really appreciated the outside cabin as we could see the waves and I like to wake up early in the morning, so enjoyed the natural light. We didn't close the curtains! It was great to kneel on the bed and look out as we pulled into a new port. Cabin P245 was perfect for us; near to the forward lifts in a large hallway (rather than down a corridor) and next to the gallery. Very quiet.
In the first hour aboard, my equilibrium was a little off, but as I didn't have my seasickness pills (we didn't have our cases at that time, so consider keeping them in your hand luggage), I had a couple of Mojito's as I heard mint (and also ginger) are natural seasickness remedies. Didn't suffer again and infact loved the way the gentle movement of the ship the ship lulls you to sleep, very comforting! There's loads of hanging space for all of your posh dresses!
Service in all the restaurants and the bars (on deck 7) was excellent. We didn't really frequent deck 6 (where the pub and casino is). We heard a few people moaning about service, but found that as we were polite, we received excellent service. A smile goes a long way!
I didn't think we'd use the cabin steward much but on the few occasions we asked for ice or a shoeshine kit etc, Umesh went out of his way to assist, and with the biggest of smiles. Being from Yorkshire, we aren't the most generous natured, but I parted with my tips quite happily! (P&O recommend that for 2 passengers on a 2week cruise its: Â£42 for the Cabin Steward, and Â£44 for two waiters).