This was the 28th cruise my husband and I have been on. We have sailed with several of the better-known cruise lines and this was our 4th with P & O.
Having read many of the negative reviews about Ventura on Cruise Critic I must say that, while we were looking forward to our Caribbean cruise in general (the 5th one we've done), it was with some trepidation that we embarked Ventura having heard it referred to as "Chav City" and "Butlins at Sea". However, we were pleasantly surprised as it turned out to be better than expected, although I would still agree that it is maybe not quite up to P & O's usual standard.
I think they are trying to attract younger cruisers (instead of the usual 50+ age group that most cruise lines seem to cater for) so the ship and entertainment programme has been geared towards the 30-40 age group and more mainstream holiday maker. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I would say that the exclusivity usually associated with cruising does not apply to the Ventura.
However, I think that the complaints listed here on Cruise Critic did not apply to our cruise on the whole. The ship was clean and in a good state of repair, the (mainly Indian) cabin stewards, waiters and bar staff were all very friendly and helpful, and there was a good selection of hot and cold food. The entertainment was also very good and there was a choice of venues and shows, so there was something for everyone.
As it was the school holidays I expected the ship to be overrun with screaming kids but, pleasantly, this was not the case.
We had a balcony cabin on deck 11. It was very spacious with twin beds pushed together to form a king-size bed. The balcony had a sliding door (which we tended to leave open overnight as I hate the drying effects of air conditioning) and two chairs, a foot stool and a small table. The wardrobe was a little strange, being directly opposite the bathroom and having no door; just a rail to hang your clothes. I found the lighting to be poor in the cabin; the position of the lights and the brightness was not very good for applying makeup. I was also disappointed with the selection of toiletries; gone are the Temple Spa ones we've had on P & O before and in their place was a generic brand of shampoo and conditioner which was not replenished when finished.
There was also a refrigerator and tea and coffee making facilities. The cabin steward kept the room clean and tidy each day and filled our ice bucket on a daily basis.
We had requested a table for six in the Bay Tree restaurant as we enjoy the social interaction with our fellow passengers. However, we only saw one couple on our table once during the entire cruise! The remaining diner was an elderly gent of 85 who, while being very pleasant, did not really have anything in common with us. Not P & O's fault though. The food in the Bay Tree was excellent and was served promptly and cheerfully.
We found the Captain's Gala Reception a bit of a farce; it was held in the atrium on and around the staircase and over three levels! Unlike Cunard ships, the Ventura does not have a ballroom or other venue large enough for the number of passengers so it held the captain's bash in reception. Strange!
The entertainment in the main show lounge (the Arena) was pretty good on the whole. All of the seats in the Arena had little fold-out tables stashed in the arm for you to place your drinks on, and the waiters usually served us very quickly. Shows were on twice each night; once at 8.30pm and again at 10.30pm for the second sitting diners.
If you didn't want to watch the show in the main theatre an alternative cabaret was on in the Havana Lounge. However, we found that the Havana Lounge was very badly designed for watching live entertainment; the room has pillars and partitions (OK if you were standing but difficult to see over the top of if you were sitting). It meant there was a mass scramble for seats each night and people coming into the lounge late tended to move their tables and chairs to better vantage points, often inconsiderately blocking the views of people who were already seated there. This happened on a regular basis and soon became quite tiresome.
Some evenings we went to The Exchange, the ship's English pub. We nicknamed it "Wetherspoon's" as the design and layout of it reminded us of this well-known pub chain. Each night there was a themed quiz and occasionally karaoke or the resident band which were pretty good. Drinks prices were not too bad, not much more than regular pub prices. One little curiosity is a model train that runs around the top of the bar, passing stations along the east coast main line.
The top-most bar/lounge on Ventura is called Metropolis and featured a famous city's skyline projected onto the plasma-screen wall each night which gave an unusual effect. It was understated and relaxing in Metropolis if you just want somewhere quite for some reflection.
There are two main swimming pools on Ventura, one of which has a retracting roof which was opened during the day. The larger pool featured a couple of jacuzzis and was where the deck parties were held. I didn't really enjoy the deck parties; they tended to be extremely crowded and the sound system used for the live music must have been designed for the Albert Hall because it was far too LOUD and distorted the singer's voice.
The Ventura is a large ship at 115,000 tons. However, she is not large enough for the 3,078 passengers she carries. Compare to the QM2 which is much bigger at 151,000 tons and with 2,400 passengers. I did find crowds everywhere I looked on Ventura, but to be fair we didn't have the problems with queueing and sunbed hogging that have been mentioned in other reviews of the ship.
On the whole we really enjoyed our cruise and the Caribbean islands we visited (Barbados, Aruba, Caracao, Grand Turk, Tortola, St Maarten, St Lucia, St Kitts and Grenada). Personally I would not cruise on Ventura again as I prefer smaller ships with fewer passengers, but that is my own personal preference; we certainly didn't have any issues with the ship, service, cleanliness, politeness of staff or quality of food and entertainment mentioned here by other reviewers.