We have cruised before with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Cunard. We wanted a Southampton sailing, to a warm location, to coincide with our November wedding anniversary so this cruise fitted the bill. We were travelling without our ... Read More
We have cruised before with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Cunard. We wanted a Southampton sailing, to a warm location, to coincide with our November wedding anniversary so this cruise fitted the bill. We were travelling without our children and are pre-disposed to be optimistic and generally expect to enjoy our holidays. We’d done a lot of research and thoroughly enjoyed this cruise.
We used Parking4Cruises which were great value and very efficient. Embarkation at Mayflower was smooth although facilities are pretty basic we felt. We had a 3pm embarkation time and we were called at exactly 3pm. We went straight to our cabin, where we unpacked as cases had arrived.
We opted for Freedom dining and were assigned Saffron. People we met said we could use Cinnamon as well. If so, this wasn’t made clear to us officially and we aren’t sure why you would want to anyway, as the menu is identical. We shared a table of 6 or 8 each night and met interesting people. Food was of a good, if not great, quality with about 6 choices of starter, main and dessert. There was an option for salad or soup too and we usually had coffee and cheese/biscuits too. Service was never rushed, one night it took over 2.5hrs but generally the meal was served at a sensible pace and we never had to wait for our wine for long. On the formal nights, the menu included a set menu option – although we later found out you could actually swap dishes around which would have been good to know before!
We only used Waterside for the odd midnight snack – usually the cheese board had been decimated by then but there were hot options – pizza, sausage roll etc. Breakfast via Room Service was included in price (all other room service items carry a charge). It was always on time, sometimes 10 mins early in fact! Food was good quality although options are more limited than in the main dining rooms and did become a little restrictive – not enough to make us get up and go out for breakfast though :-)
The tables for 2 in the main dining rooms were very close together so rather than dine alone when you aren’t really alone, we chose to dine in Epicurian, Glasshouse and Beach House. The food in these was of a better quality, more tasty with friendlier, more engaged service as clearly they have more time to spare. We also did the Paired menu in Glasshouse which we enjoyed. Be sure to book early in your cruise as places are limited to about 24 people and it only seems to happen about once a week. Our other Glasshouse dinner was tapas style and we enjoyed that greatly, though tempura batter was rather soggy. The wine flights served in the Glasshouse were fun to try too. The food in Saffron would have been fine for the whole 12 nights but we enjoyed all the other venues we tried. Prices for the Select Dining we felt to be towards the top of acceptable range except for the Pairing menu which was better value, at £30 each, as it included 5 small glasses of wine.
One meal that exceeded our expectations bizarrely was afternoon tea in Saffron – which we think was available most, if not all, days. Proper clotted cream, mini scones, absolutely delicious tea cakes, fresh sandwiches and lots of hot tea made this a real highlight on the days we could manage it! It did not have the queue we remember from afternoon tea on Cunard (albeit there are no white gloves on P&O) and was nicer than Carnival or Royal Caribbean. On a negative note, we were not aware free icecream/cone was available – this is something we have enjoyed on previous cruises but P&O seem of offer a premium product at an additional charge only, or keep the free icecream hidden from our, admittedly not very diligent, search! We don’t think the ship was full, and it was not overly sunny on this cruise either, although it was warm, but we did not have issue finding a sun bed mid afternoon.
Another thing we really liked was the dancing lessons. It might be that we had more opportunity to attend, as we were not travelling with our children this time, but it certainly felt like there were more classes offered. Seas days had line-dancing, two sessions with the dance instructors on a new dance each day and a daily session, with two of the Headliner dancers, on Salsa. We thoroughly enjoyed every session although the Headliners seemed much happier with everyone’s progress than the dance instructors! Only issue is that the Atrium floor is rather small for the number of people who wanted to join in the lessons. Many evenings, the dance instructors also offered dancing in the Atrium where they would tell you the dance for a piece of music and sometimes accompany someone without a partner. It was fun to watch and a good opportunity, for the brave, to practice the dances you’d been taught.
In general, there were more activities offered than we could attend – partially because we were at the dancing lessons, but also because there seemed to be lots on offer that we were interested in – films, talks, quizzes, art, exercise classes, deck games and on top of all that, obviously the gym, eating, shopping, watching the shows/entertainers, drinking, reading, walking all the way round the ship on Deck 7 (Fabulous!), watching the ocean and afternoon napping!
The evening entertainment and shows offered were so plentiful, that we often had to make a choice and usually it was a hard decision, as everything appealed. P&O’s own theatre company, the Headliners, were all talented dancers or singers who worked hard every show to give a West End worth performance. The guest entertainers were singers, impersonators, comedians and we enjoyed them all, along with the ship’s band – Serious Sounds – and the Ventura’s Orchestra too! However, we met people who did not like the entertainment. We think this must just be personal preference, or perhaps they have cruised a lot more than we have, as we often had an early dinner in order to make two of the shows each night (8.30 and 10.30) – they were that good! As previously said, we don’t think the ship was full and we could get seats in practically all the shows if we arrived 10 mins in advance – arriving 20 mins beforehand allowed us a choice of seats.
We did not use the library but it was pleasant room with a good selection of books, certainly better than some of our previous cruises. The ship provided a brief, daily news update along with a crossword/Suduko. These can be collect from Deck 6 near the shops and a silent quiz (where the answers are on the back of the sheet, so you are only competing against yourself) could be found each day on the piano in the Red Bar.
Generally, we found the service to be efficient but not overly friendly. Staff seemed content and helpful but did not naturally smile as we moved around the ship. There were exceptions – the Headliners /dance instructors always smiled at us, staff in the shops were friendly and we found the staff in Tazzine quite unhelpful – possibly as they were having to work with a silly system requiring us to order coffee from a waiter/waitress but queue up to order cake!
This cruise occurred outside school holidays but there were some children on board – both pre-school and those we estimated to be of school age. They caused no issues to our cruise – indeed we were rarely even aware they were on board, except in the Beach House, which is directly under the children’s club and we could hear the stamping and running of small feet above us as we dined.
The Captain (Simon Terry) seemed very personable and I enjoyed his occasional tannoy briefings. The ship suffered two power failures during our cruise – once late afternoon for about 30 mins and then on another morning so only continental breakfast was available for a couple of hours. I appreciated that the Captain gave the tannoy updates – we felt it showed he took responsibility and he was clear they were trying to find the source of the problem, as they did not know what the issue was, though my husband thought he apologised too heartily – though we thought that may well be because he knows how quickly some of his passengers will complain!
We had been aware the Bay of Biscay (BOB) can be very unpleasant – all our previous cruises have been blessed with calm seas (and avoided BOB) but fortunately, the Bay was calm for both our crossings this time. There was some rolling along the west coast of Spain and Portugal both ways. The Captain did indicate that the seas were expected to be a little rougher, so that if you were prone to sickness you had fair warning to take a tablet. I took Sturgeon, and my husband decided to take nothing, and we were both fine.
Disembarkation was fairly smooth though there were no seats left in our designated lounge when we arrived 30 mins before the stated time. We got up at 7, finished packing, breakfasted with our hand luggage at 8 in Bay Tree (where a full breakfast service was offered), went to our designated lounge at 8.50 and started disembarkation at 9.10 finally getting off ship at 9.30. Parking4cruises had automatically been aware we were returning to a different terminal from embarkation, so once our cases had been swiftly retrieved from Ocean terminal (there were plenty of free trolleys), we walked the short distance to pick up our car from the short-term carpark.
Despite lots of research we list below the things it would have been good to know:
• Set menus in the main dining rooms – are not fixed. You can swap dishes for other menu options if you want.
• Carpet on the stairs is brown at the front of ship, red in middle and grey at back – that really helped!
• Winning a quiz or activity earns you a stamp which can then be exchanged for a gift at the end of the cruise. Our one win earned a nice pen and key ring so, in our estimation, the prizes on P&O are better than other lines have offered us.
• Shampoo, conditioner and body lotions (all 100ml) weren’t replaced. Bring extra unless the higher prices, and very limited selection, in the on board shops are acceptable.
• Photos taken by the ship’s photographers can be viewed on the terminals under “Portraits”. However, you do need to know where your photo taken and it might not be obvious – for example Gold 5. So be sure to ask your photographer the name of your location each time you have a photo taken. Alternatively, there is a option once you locate one picture for the system to retrieve related images – using, no doubt, some very clever facial recognition software. However, if you take this option, we found any side on photos were missed – presumably because the half faces did not bear enough resemblance to the original photo!!
We also heard, but have no personal experience that:
1. The Waterside buffet restaurant got very busy, with jostling and some difficulty in finding seats.
2. The spa passes on this ship gave you access to very limited facilities, i.e. no pool and the steam room/sauna that were available to spa pass holders only, were out of service for a number of days. Certainly the lady we spoke to felt it was not worth buying spa passes on Ventura (although if the ship was full, and getting sunbeds was an issue, then the pass might be more worthwhile but certainly not for the facilities offered otherwise.)
Lisbon – berthed at Santa Apolonia which was a very short walk into the main area. We took a “free” walking tour with Lisbon Chill Out Tours. It was a good, and fun, introduction to this pretty, hilly city.
Tenerife – berthed in Santa Cruz port – it’s quite a walk to get out of the port (10-15 mins) but you are then in town. A shuttle was provided. We wandered taking in this pretty city, visiting Jardin Garcia Sanabria, along the lovely tree lined streets (for example Las Ramblas) finishing up with a very enjoyable visit to the Palmetum and a walk back along the seafront to the ship. We did not depart until 10pm and it was lovely to watch the lights twinkle and disappear as we sailed away.
Gran Canaria – berthed right in Santa Cruz again with an easy walk to the new part of town. Did not make it far as the old town, which was perhaps a shame as the new town has little to recommend it beyond bars and shops, though it does have a nice beach if that is your thing.
La Palma – took a ship excursion to drive buggies in the centre of this steep, green island. We thoroughly enjoyed it - if I found it a little nerve-wracking, my husband loved it. There was plenty of time on our return to walk into the main town which was the prettiest of all 3 Canary Islands we visited. Much was closed as it was Sunday but we still spent a very pleasant hour wandering.
Madeira – possibly our favourite port as we visited 20 years ago, and it was nice to reminisce. There are lots of things to do very close to the port. We visited Blandy’s for Madeira wine tasting, followed by a visit to the Story Centre and then a walk literally down memory lane.
In summary - Our research indicated the some people felt Ventura was tired and food/entertainment was poor. Clearly if you have been cruising for a long time, things may well be getting worse but from our fairly new point of view, this was a wonderful, memorable holiday. We would certainly sail with P&O again.....though I suspect we will try another new line next time – it seems to be our theme! Read Less