Having gotten married in Bristol on the 26th Sep my wife and I were very excited when the taxi collected us from our hotel at 11am on the 27th to take us to Southampton. The journey was due to take a couple of hours but was a little over ... Read More
Having gotten married in Bristol on the 26th Sep my wife and I were very excited when the taxi collected us from our hotel at 11am on the 27th to take us to Southampton. The journey was due to take a couple of hours but was a little over three due to all three lanes of the M4 being closed near Newbury. Fortunately the motorway reopened pretty quickly. We arrived in Southampton at about 3pm. We got out of the taxi to be met by porters who took our suitcases and we walked into the departure lounge. We were given our embarkation card which was then called immediately so we walked upto registration, then through security and onto the ship. We literally walked straight from the taxi to out cabin with no delay at all – perfect!
Once onboard we swiftly opened a bottle of champagne as we settled into our C deck, forward, port side cabin. It’s true – the balconies on C deck are huge! I measured it at one point and it was 10 foot x 10 foot. More than big enough for our needs. I had prebooked a welcome on board package of champagne, flowers and chocolates. I was a little disappointed that the champagne was in the fridge rather than in an ice bucket, also we had no champagne glasses. We called room service but didn’t get them until 3 hours later (I accept it was busy on embarkation day) so we drank champagne from the tumblers!
After the muster drill we finished unpacking, relaxed on the balcony and then got ready for dinner. We were on freedom dining and were allocated Saffron. We asked for a table for two and were given a buzzer so we went to the Exchange for a drink and were bussed within 10 minutes. Incidentally this was the only time that we had to wait for a table for 2, although most nights we were happy to share a table. The quality of the food on the first night was perfectly ok but not great. Of more concern was the attitude of the waiting staff. They weren’t rude but certainly weren’t friendly. Both my wife and I have cruised before but this was our first cruise together and we both remarked that we had not experienced this attitude before. Fortunately this was the only time that we experienced this. Every other evening we were served by friendly, helpful staff in both Saffron and Cinnamon (we ate in Cinnamon one night to see how it compared to Saffron). Before reiting for the evening we had a couple of drinks in the Red Bar and then went to the Glass House where we booked a food & wine pairing evening for later in the holiday.
The following morning we decided to have breakfast in the MDR so went to Bay Tree at about 9:15. We were sat right at the back and had a wonderful view of the wake of the ship as we ate breakfast – what a great start to the honeymoon!. After breakfast we explored the ship before meeting up with Cruise Critic Roll Call members in the Exchange for a few drinks. It was lovely to meet people in person.
Then it was off to the Waterside buffet for lunch. Now I read A LOT of reviews before going on Ventura (either my wife or I have sailed on her before) and I was a little anxious about how busy it might be. Well, I needn’t have worried. We walked straight in, picked up a tray, selected our food and then sat down. No waiting and certainly no ‘bun fight’. The food was warm rather than hot but was pretty much what I would expect from a buffet in a large hotel/resort. There was plenty of it and it was tasty.
After lunch I explored the ship some more and took lots of photos. After which it was time for a quick bite of afternoon tea in the Waterside, again no queueing and plenty of food available. After a snooze it was time for our first formal night.
We went to the Atrium for about 8am and were quickly provided with complimentary drinks for the Captains gala reception (Whisky & lemonade for me and wine for my wife). The captain gave a great speech which was a little overshadowed by two emergency medical messages. We had our photo taken with the captain and I was amazed to hear that there were over 3,000 people on board. It never felt cramped or busy to me. We sat on a shared table for the first black tie night and met some great people. The food was well presented, hot, tasty and service was friendly. As far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters.
The next day we spent relaxing on the balcony, exploring the ship (it really is big!) and of course, eating! We visited the Glass House for a wine flight. This was fantastic value for money. Three glasses of wine with tasting notes for about a tenner. A lovely way to spend the afternoon. We had afternoon tea in Saffron and evening meal in Cinnamon. Afternoon tea in Saffron was very polite, a little slow perhaps but very pleasant. Evening meal was excellent. A haggis and potato tartlet for starter was fantastic. We spent in the evening in the Metropolis bar. After an hour or so we managed to get the seats on the port side overlooking the front of the ship. What a view! We could have stayed there forever!
At this point I would like to mention the P&O ‘moaners’! Now I accept that my wife and I were excited because we were on honeymoon and therefore perhaps we were more willing to overlook issues that other, more regular cruisers, may take exception with however there is a limit. Whilst we were in the Metropolis an elderly gentlemen came and stood next to us to admire the view over the front of the ship (as I said the view was fantastic). I mentioned that it was a lovey view to which there was no reply. Then after a pause he replied “there’s not much in the way of other shipping”. I didn’t know what to say. If your response to such a wonderful view is the lack of other shipping then I think that belies a mindset that suggests you will always find something to complain about it. Still, that phrase has now become a running joke with my wife and I..!! On another occasion I overheard 3 couples moaning about almost everything imaginable. After half an hour one of the couples left at which point one of the ladies said that she had really enjoyed meeting them and thoroughly enjoyed their chat, yet all they did was moan for half an hour. At this point I began to accept that some people actually enjoy moaning!!
Anyway, after Metropolis we headed back to the buffet for a midnight snack. My wife said she couldn’t eat a thing…until she saw the pizza!! The following day we got up early and went to one of the Jacuzzi’s and had a swim. The weather had warmed up so we spent the day sunbathing (although I did visit the gym in the afternoon) and drinking cocktails. I was a little disappointed that P&O don’t seem to do cocktail of the day anymore but that just meant we could explorer cocktails on our own!! This evening we attended the food and wine pairing event in the Glass House. We were seated with another couple who were great company and easy to talk with. The meal consisted of 4 courses accompanied by 5 different wines. Each course was presented with a short talk from the waiter about the food followed by a short talk about the wine from the wine waiter. The quality of both food and wine was excellent. We really enjoyed the expertise of the waiters and the opportunity to learn a bit more about wine. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I would recommend it to anyone who is even remotely curious about trying different wines.
The next day was our first port of call (Barcelona). The weather overnight was very bad and we didn’t get much sleep. We didn’t go on an organised tour preferring to go on HopOnHopOff bus. We had tickets for Sagrada Familia but didn’t use them as there were just too many people. That night we ate at Sindhu. It was simply excellent. The food was gorgeous, the service and attention to detail was remarkable. Very much worth the surcharge.
The next day we were due to visit Monte Carlo however due to the weather the captain was unable to use the tenders. There was then a technical fault with retrieving the tender meaning that we spent a few hours in the Metropolis bar looking at Monte Carlo. Perhaps not as good as being in Monte Carlo but a close second!!
The next day we were in Livorno and we took the P&O coach to Florence. We had a great time although again Florence was very busy. We didn’t try to go into any museums due to queues but did walk around the main centre of Florence and had a lovely lunch in a small restaurant off the Ponte Vecchio and in fact we sat next to another couple on the same cruise as us!. Once we were back on board we very very tired and decided to eat in the Waterside so that we wouldn’t have to get changed out of shorts/t-shirts. I really appreciate this kind of flexibility. The food was hot and plentiful and we had no problem getting a table.
The next day we were due to go on a P&O coach to Rome from Civitavecchia however given that it was the first Sunday of the month (meaning that the Colosseum would be free) and there were 5 cruise ships in port we decided to avoid the crowds and stay in Civitavecchia. It reminded me of a slightly run down seaside town but was pleasant for the day and was certainly quieter than Rome would have been.
The next day was another sea day and we decided to go to the Retreat. We had no problem getting day passes (there were only about 6 people in the Retreat). The sunloungers are much more comfortable than elsewhere on the ship and are worth the £20 per person fee alone! The lunch provided left something to be desired though but that was easily remedied by a trip to the poolside grill and bringing back a burger and chips! The two stewards in the Retreat were nowhere to be seen however meaning that we couldn’t get a drink (other than water) – we could have gone to the bar of course but we were busy relaxing! The Endless Pool feature of the Oasis Pool is brilliant. It’s like a treadmill in the water. Great for working off some of those cooked breakfasts!
And so onto Alicante. Again we didn’t have a P&O trip booked so caught a tourist bus up to the castle and got off by the market. We strolled through the town and made our way to the beach before having lunch on the promenade (along with some sangria) before heading back to the ship. This evening was tropical night and thanks to cruise critic I had managed to get a truly awful £4 ebay purchase before we left. It was great to join in on the tropical fun. In fact more than one person asked where I got my shirt from and one chap even complained that he had a great shirt at home but that he didn’t know about tropical night. It seems that P&O don’t tell people in advance, in fact I only knew from reading reviews.
Our final stop was in Gibraltar where we went on a P&O dolphin watching tour which was one of the highlights of the trip. We saw literally hundreds of dolphins. We walked back to the ship from the marina stopping off for ice cream and a bit of cuty free shopping. All too soon we were leaving Gibraltar and the (infamous) great british sailaway. Neither my wife nor I wished to partake so we stayed on our balcony. Ventura was docked opposite the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas and the sound from the party bounced off the ship and we could hear it all. I have to say that it was actually good fun. People on Explorer were waving and there was lots of singing. Perhaps it was all aided by the champagne that we were drinking and the room service sandwiches – hey we were on honeymoon!
We were booked into Epicurean this evening and although it was a casual dress code we decided to dress up. The restaurant is simply fantastic. Easily the best meal of the holiday, which is saying something. The food was outstanding. The staff were very attentive and friendly. The restaurant location is great. I had prebooked (and prepaid) this dinner so was a little put out to find that we had been charged again on the evening but this was soon rectified. For the cost of the surcharge we simply had no complaints whatsoever. It was a wonderful evening which we both thoroughly enjoyed and have wonderful memories (and photos) of the evening.
The last two days were spent relaxing and enjoying the ships facilities, particularly the Glass House before packing and preparing to go home. I wont mention in detail the incident on the last night where a passenger went overboard as this has already been covered both in reviews and in the media. Needless to say it was a sad ending to the holiday but nothing we could do about it other than choose not to dwell on it.
I would like to make a few general comments about certain things. First the food. Having read some very poor reviews I was concerned about what we had let ourselves in for. This concern was truly unfounded. Each morning we had breakfast in the Waterside, other than 2 MDR breakfasts and 2 in the cabin. I wouldn’t recommend breakfast in the cabin however I really enjoyed breakfast in the Waterside. I love a cooked breakfast so being able to have it every day on holiday is a real treat. The waterside could be busy in the mornings and we often asked people if we could share their table however we never spent more than perhaps 60 seconds looking for a table. The staff were helpful and friendly although the arrangements for getting tea/coffee seem a little convoluted. The quality of the food at breakfast, and indeed throughout the cruise ranged from very good to excellent. The main restaurants could be very busy at times but never too busy (for us) and we were always seated promptly (other than the very first night). Flexible dining was certainly the best option for us. Yes we did have lots of ‘have you cruised before’ conversations but we also had lots of other conversations too. We met some really great people both in the dining rooms and across the ship. The select restaurants were simply outstanding. Thoroughly enjoyable and were (culinary) highlights of the cruise for us. I can remember one poor quality meal in Saffron but in reality this was just overcooked chicken. The rest of the meal was fine so perhaps I’m being a little picky but I am trying to give a fair review.
As regards entertainment we saw two BlueJays shows (50’s rock n roll) which were outstanding. Easily the best entertainment of the holiday. They had a standing ovation after the second show! We never had a problem getting a seat in the Arena theatre although we did usually arrive 20-30 minutes early for the second show. We only saw one Headliners act which was Paradise City. This was easily the worst show of the cruise. It was truly awful! It was so bad that it gave us plenty to laugh about! We saw a mind reader who did two shows. The first was very good but he had a few issues with the second show and it didn’t really flow. We also saw a Cuban comedian who had an uncomfortable mixture of being very funny combined with an unpleasant trait of making fun of certain members of the audience. That’s not my idea of entertainment. There were films shown each day. I went to see one film in the Arena. The quality of the picture was truly awful. It was embarrassing and reminded me of an illegally downloaded film from the internet. It was literally unwatchable. Dark scenes were just a mess. No definition of picture at all. I left after half an hour as the picture was that bad.
I’m a big fan of real ale and was aware before booking the cruise that P&O would only have Marstons, Pedigree, Old Thumper and a couple of others on board. Whilst this was OK with me it was certainly an area for improvement especially considering the dedicated beer menu that is now available on Britannia. After a couple of days I discovered that the Exchange sold a beer called Jaipur from Thornbridge brewery. This is one of my favourite beers and was indeed good news but why was it not advertised – anywhere? Also it was only available in the Exchange which unfortunately is also the place for bingo and quizzes etc. All of which involved too much noise for us! Such a shame that the best beer was only available in the worst bar. I though in general the prices were reasonable given that we are a captive audience on the ship. Beer was approx.. £4 a bottle, not cheap but certainly not expensive (to me). I thought the cocktails were a little steep but then I don’t really have much experience of buying cocktails! They were around the £6 mark. Wine was reasonable. We had a bottle of wine with dinner each evening, usually choosing the recommended white and we paid around £16-18 a bottle. One night we tried their ‘bin ends’ wine and had a bottle of Spanish white for £13. It wasn’t very nice!
In terms of facilities I think it’s fantastic that Ventura has 4 swimming pools. Unfortunately one of the 2 main pools is also where they play loud music all day so we didn’t stay there very long but then I guess this is what teenagers want. We preferred the Oasis Pool which, although small, was never crowded and has the great ‘endless pool’ feature. Perhaps the most frequently annoying aspect of the cruise, and in fairness it wasn’t that annoying, was the constant waiting for lifts. There just aren’t enough of them and people became rather protective about making sure that they got in the lift before anyone else. At one point a today actually physically barred me from getting into the lift until her family had all got in. The lifts seemed to be a constant source of complaint amongst passengers.
Finding our way around Ventura was helped enormously by the map that we were given an embarkation. This, combined with the useful fact that whenever you exit a lift on Ventura you are facing forwards (with the exception of the glass elevators in the Atrium). Even so, we still managed to go the ‘wrong’ way more than once.
I was a little disappointed by the lack of speakers/talks on board especially on sea days. There was a single speaker who, although a good speaker, only spoke about military aviation. One or two talks were fine but not every day. Almost everything else seemed to be a thinly disguised attempt to get you to spend more money.
I had pre-booked an internet package however when we got to our cabin there was no gift receipt with internet access details. We spoke to reception the next day who said they had no record of the booking and said they needed to check with HQ which would take upto 2 days! Given that our first 3 days were at sea we had wanted the internet access for those days. Anyway, two days later reception told us that they had no record of the purchase. We decided not to purchase any internet access in the end and relied on wifi and data roaming when in port. We didn’t miss wifi at all but it was a little annoying that I now need to check my credit card to make sure that I wasn’t charged.
Finally disembarkation was delayed by about 6 hours due to the incident of the overboard passenger. P&O allowed us to stay in our cabin until gone 1pm. We waited in the Arena theatre until our colour was called at about 3pm. Once we were called (waiting to be called was the worst bit) we were off the ship, reunited with our luggage and in the taxi within 45 minutes. That seems pretty fair to me.
So, in summary it was an almost perfect honeymoon. The very small issues were just that, small issues that could happen on any ship or at any holiday resort and I have only included them here in order to try to help inform fellow cruisers. Read Less