Editor's Note: Ventura came out of dry dock on April 6, following a multi-million pound refurbishment which saw a number of new features added, including a number of features which proved popular on sister ship Azura
Adults-only The Retreat on the forward area of Deck 16
18 single cabins, 12 outside and six inside
The Glass House wine bar and restaurant (replacing the Ramblas bar area)
An enomatic wine system which allows passengers to buy premium wines by the glass selected by TV wine expert Olly Smith
A new new menu in East, designed by Michelin Star celebrity chef Atul Kochhar
Wi-fi throughout the ship
A new dance floor in the atrium
A new perfumery has replaced the old library
With Ventura, which launched in 2008, P&O Cruises intended to create a whole new flavour for the line, aiming to transform what's oft-considered its stuffy and boring ambience to one more contemporary, and by popular consensus, they appear to have succeeded.
First off, Ventura (and sister ship Azura) is significantly larger -- by 30 percent -- than any other ship in P&O Cruises fleet. That means there's more room for contemporary amenities -- such as expanded kid-related facilities, recreational options (bungee jumping!) and dining venues. Beyond that, it's hard to find any sign of traditional P&O Cruises in the hardware -- no card room, nowhere to sit in the library, no art auctions (pictures are on sale, but displayed with the price) and no monotonous teak-and-cream colouring (there's cheery decor and contemporary artwork instead).
The passengers are also different; still quite a lot of the retired people that P&O Cruises is known for attracting, but also lots of families with children.
On my summer cruise, Ventura's larger size created a number of challenges. The ship was not geared up to cope with Freedom dining, P&O Cruises eat-when-you-like plan. Only one dining room of three was set aside for Freedom and often that was heavily booked up each evening. Editor's Note: The line has upped the number of tables at Cinnamon Restaurant (where the eat-when-you-want dining takes place), and introduced new reservation software to deal with flow.
Service ranged from downright dozy -- we were rarely offered a drink in the buffet venue and when I was, it took about 15 minutes to arrive, even though the bar was just outside the door -- to disagreeably fast in the main dining room, where plates were cleared and next courses served in a twinkling of an eye. I suspect they were under orders to get us through fast, so they could seat more Freedom diners.
Sunbeds were a major gripe -- specifically the fact that you couldn't get one if you weren't up at the crack of dawn. Passengers were requested not to leave their stuff if they were going away for more than 30 minutes, but took no notice as no one was keeping watch. More beds were added following our cruise, but recent accounts indicate the problem persists.
I was more frustrated by the fact you can't get a drink at the bar. There is a crazy system whereby you go to the bar, ask for a drink, the barman say he can't serve you, so you repeat it to the hovering waiter, who repeats it to the barman -- and then you get a drink. That's if you are at the bar. If you are daft enough to order one from afar, as I was -- just once -- you can wait forever for the drink to be delivered as the waiters scout around for more orders.
As already noted, there were loads of families and kids on my cruise -- 704 under 18s, I was informed by the purser -- and the average age was 42. There were also quite a few older passengers. But everyone is from the U.K. Foreigners should stay away unless they can live with the oh-so British ambience.
Our two-week cruise had four formal nights, four informal nights and the remainder were smart casual. Formal means formal in the public rooms -- Ventura might break many of P&O Cruises' traditions, but dress code still rules.
Envelopes are provided at the end of the cruise for tips. A total of £3.75 per day per person aged over 12 is recommended. However, passengers who have opted for Freedom dining will have an additional £1.60 per person per day charged to their cruise account to pay the wait staff. This can be removed on request. Tips for the cabin steward should still be paid in cash -- £1.50 per person per day is recommended.
-- by Jane Archer. Archer is a leading U.K. cruise journalist who writes regularly on the subject for the Telegraph newspaper and contributes to other specialist cruising publications.