We have just returned from a cruise on P&O Ventura to the Caribbean and had a great time.
We flew from Manchester and all passengers were on our cruise which meant that we never had to go through customs or collect our cases in Barbados and we were transferred to a coach as soon as we landed. Check in and boarding Ventura was very quick and efficient and our baggage arrived in our cabin shortly afterward we boarded the ship.
The ship was bigger than on our previous cruises but we did not find this to be a problem once we had found and remembered our way around and if anything we preferred the larger ship.
Our cabin was comfortable and always kept very clean by our steward who was very efficient and friendly.
We requested fixed dining at the second sitting which was at 8.30 and this suited us as it meant we could relax after our days out and have a drink before dinner either in our cabin or in one of the many bars. For breakfast and lunch we used the buffet restaurants as this gave us more flexibility and although these restaurants did have times when vacant tables were hard to find, we just altered our times slightly and didn't have any problems. The food and service were excellent throughout.
One big plus for us was the P&O policy on alcohol. On Celebrity Cruises we were only allowed to take two bottles of wine on board when boarding, bags were searched when returning from shore excursions and any bottles confiscated and any alcohol purchased from their duty free shop on board had to be retained in the shop and collected at the end of the cruise. P&O was totally different in that we were allowed to take bottles on when boarding, buy bottles of wine on shore and bring them onto the ship and even bottles bought in the duty free shops were allowed to be taken back to our cabin. In addition drink prices in the bars and restaurants were similar to UK pub prices whereas Celebrity were very expensive and also subject to a fixed service charge which was not negotiable.
Another plus for P&O was their tipping policy in that it was left to our discretion as to who and how much we wanted to tip compared to Celebrity Cruises policy of a fixed amount added to your ship account every night.
There were many different entertainment venues and bars which catered for all tastes and the theatre productions were excellent.
We had some concerns after reading some reviews on P&O about shortage of sunbeds, rowdy passengers etc. but we did not have any problem with either of these. Yes sunbeds around the main pool were busy and it was noisy at times but there are several other areas where sunbeds were readily available and more peaceful.
Again some of the reviews, mainly from seasoned cruisers, commented on a lowering of standards on P & O but I really do think some people can be very set in their ways and are very hard to please. Our cruise had four formal nights where dinner jackets or lounge suits were required for men and the other nights were smart casual which I personally thought was maybe one formal night too many. I am a recently retired professional and so I am quite used to dinner jackets and formal dinners but on the formal nights it did remind me too much of previous work functions and the atmosphere appeared to be different as some of the guests spent a lot of time examining what others were wearing to see if they conformed with "Cruise etiquette". I even saw one review of our cruise were someone complained that he saw a lady wearing a coloured dresses on Black and White Night. So What!! And anyway, P&O never advertised that there would be a Black and White Night until the night before. My wife wore a navy blue ball gown and looked gorgeous and all the ladies appeared to have made a real effort to dress up for the evening even though some of them might not have been in black or white dresses.
Our highlights of the cruise were:-
We enjoyed the large number of Islands visited and particularly liked the smaller islands of St Martin, Grand Turk and Bonaire as they were more relaxed and you always felt comfortable whilst walking around the areas surrounding the ship and whilst on the beaches whereas on some of the larger Islands you sometimes could feel intimidated if you wandered too far away from the ship.
We also enjoyed a full day out in Jamaica where we had a trip to visit Nine Miles where Bob Marley was born and buried and also climbed the Dunn's River Falls which was great fun. We used Yardie's Tours who we found on the internet and they were very good.
We also had a great day out in Antigua visiting Nelson's Dockyard and we were lucky enough to be there at the same time as the Royal visit of Prince Edward and Sophie.
Overall we really enjoyed the cruise and would definitely go P&O again in the future.