This was our second time on Ventura - the last one was the infamous Christmas cruise in 2008. We'd been on Azura for a month at Christmas and New Year 2010, and as Ventura is the same layout as Azura we knew our way around as soon as we got on board. Thomas Cook flight from Manchester was delayed for 2 hours due to Manchester Airport closing because of a 30 minute snow flurry (yes,this is the UK). Otherwise flight fine and we were on the ship by 4pm. We had a portside balcony cabin towards the aft and this suited us fine. Plenty of storage space, comfy beds and kept clean by our cabin steward, Freddie (although the carpet could have done with the vacuum edging tool being taken around the edges by the skirting - don't think this had been done since the ship was launched).
Generally the ship was clean enough and to my knowledge no one got ill from the dreaded norovirus. However, carpets in the public areas are showing signs of wear and tear with raised edges just waiting to trip someone up. This was particularly noticeable on deck 7. Also 2 people to my knowledge slipped on the floor by the main pool - one breaking her arm 2 days from the end of the cruise. So beware if you are moving around in this area.
We were freedom dining. This works very well for us and we never had to wait for a table as we were always prepared to share a table - usually 6 or 8 people. The food in the Cinnamon restaurant varied from excellent to dire but the vast majority of our meals were fine. Christmas dinner was excellent, New Year's Eve dinner not quite so good. Waiter service was brisk and usually friendly and they hardly ever forgot who was having which meal. There are some cut-backs, like the "always available list" has gone although you could still ask for a steak and get it - just that if it is not advertised people don't ask for it. Also vegetables seemed restricted unless you asked for more. We didn't starve anyway.
We ate in The White Room twice which was excellent - on New Years Day the menu was fixed with the appropriate wine for each course. We ate in the Beach House Diner 3 times and it was always excellent and the service also excellent. We ate once in Ramblas. This was surprisingly filling food - we could not finish the main course. We did not eat in East this time as on our previous trip on the ship we found the food good on quality but lacking on quantity. We had breakfast in the Beach House buffet which was fine - the fresh fruit being particularly nice. I had lunch in the Waterside which I always found to be very good, whether hot or cold, and the dishes varied every day. Used plates etc were cleared away promptly by the staff who I always found to be pleasant and friendly. The afternoon tea in the Waterside is everyone's downfall, the mini wraps being especially good, likewise the mince pies and Christmas cake (yum yum).
Ventura now operates a system where you can buy bottles of spirits from the duty free shop on board for excellent prices (not worth getting it at Manchester airport). You can drink these spirits in your cabin and order a mixers package if you want. Otherwise we thought the wines on the ship were poor and sometimes impossible to get. For example, on our 1st 2 nights we went to Ramblas for a pre-dinner drink. Out of the 5 red wines on their bar list, 2 were not on the ship and were not expected to be on the ship for the duration of the cruise. We stopped drinking wine about 2 weeks into the trip and drank other things instead. Otherwise there is a good variety of drinks and prices of drinks are very reasonable and there is no 15% service charge added to your bill - compare this to RCI, Cunard, Celebrity, etc etc and see which is best price. We preferred the Glasshouse on the Azura to Ramblas as the Glasshouse offers a range of wines from different countries whereas Ramblas is Spanish only.
The entertainment was patchy. We are not shows people and therefore were not bothered about going to the theatre (we got there once) but we do like going to see an act in, say the Havana or Tamarind club. These acts varied from downright dire to very good. However on occasions there was virtually no entertainment going on at certain times - for instance nothing on in the Tamarind at 8.30 was not uncommon. For the first week of the cruise, there was a pianist in the Red Bar between 6pm and 6.30pm. He disappeared after the first week. When we were on the ship in 2008, there was pianist in the Metropolis bar in the evenings - not this time. The piano was there but no pianist. This made the bar lifeless. Other cutbacks were evident - this is the first Caribbean cruise we have been on where there was no steel band or reggae band for the duration of the cruise. There was a steel band when the ship was in Barbados but they disappeared when the ship sailed. When we were in St Lucia the first time (we visited here twice in the month), the cruise director announced he had managed to get a steel band for the afternoon - big deal. P&O also seem to think that they can provide entertainment courtesy of the passengers - the passengers' choir - which was for Christmas Day only on the Azura - was utilized on several occasions, which meant that the participants sometimes had to juggle their evening meals to fit in with the performances.
Ventura operates a 2 tier dress code - black tie and "Evening casual". The latter is supposed to make it clearer for what people can wear. It had the opposite effect and there was a lot of grumbling amongst passengers about the state of some people's dress - I would not have worn some of the stuff to go shopping at Tesco. Of course you will always get a small number of people who think it is smart to ignore the black tie dress code and turn up in jeans, polo shirts etc for dinner. One evening, the barman reminded a male passenger that it was black tie for evening. The barman was totally ignored. I don't know why these people go on ships which have the black tie code - why don't they go on NCL or Carnival?
We spent lazy days on deck 19 -the old Cirque deck but now without the bungee which means there is now a lot more room up there for sunbeds. We hardly got off the ship as we had been to all the islands before. The weather throughout was marvellous - just a couple of half days of rain and one day which was dull in all 28 days. You could not have asked for better. We had a lovely cruise and would not have any hesitation about going on Ventura again.
Of course, there was a fair share of moaners - just like on any ship but the funniest one I heard was a lady in front of me at the Waterwide lunch buffet who complained that the knives and forks were too heavy and could she have some which were lighter. It was very hard not to laugh.