Day 1: Friday 1st August 2008 - Southampton We left home at about 7.30 this morning. Traveling to Southampton was relatively painless, although there was no Terry Wogan today; he is on holiday AGAIN, so Johnny Walker is filling in. There was some queuing traffic heading into Southampton, but other than that we managed to escape most of the Friday travel chaos and arrived at about midday. Before going to the docks, we went to the West Quay shopping centre so that I could buy some flip-flops. That was a mistake... As we pulled into the docks, we were directed to join a long queue of cars waiting for Ventura. We have never had to wait to board a ship before and this was very annoying (for Ian). We were waiting for about an hour before we could get out of the car and check-in. Apparently, the company that handles the parking and baggage were expecting over nine hundred cars for Ventura. This was in addition to all the other passengers for the other two cruise ships that were in-dock today; clearly they need to improve their systems. Next year, we will have to make sure that we arrive as early as possible. Check-in was very efficient, as usual, considering the number of passengers joining Ventura (3,500). This year, they took our photographs for the ship's records and Ian was able to pre-authorize his credit card. We boarded very quickly, avoiding the photographers this year. The cabins were ready by this time (2.30), so we quickly dropped off our hand luggage. Our cabin this year is an inside twin, again, although it seems bigger than on previous ships. As you walk in, the bathroom and wardrobe is on the right. There is then a dividing wall with a large desk and mirror, as well as a fridge and storage. The beds are against the back wall of the cabin. There is a small coffee table, with a small bowl of sweets (!) and a fresh rose (!!). The overall design is quite contemporary, although there are still not enough coat hangers. We could also have used some more drawers, as the hanging space is much larger than we really need. There are lots of mirrors and the air-conditioning is fairly efficient. The bathroom is small but efficiently designed. The cabin will be more than adequate for our needs. The next job was finding somewhere to have lunch. The ship was providing refreshments in the two buffet restaurants at the rear of the ship on deck 15. Our cabin is on deck 10. There are nineteen passenger decks on Ventura! It is far bigger than any of the ships we have previously sailed on. We chose to go the Beach House restaurant, the family buffet. The dEcor is informal and light, with a candy-stripe theme, but the carpet is already stained by careless passengers. Marco Pierre White has "given the menu his own twist", although the food is still fairly standard for this type of eatery. There were several hot options, including a pie, curry and fish. Of course, Ian had ham and chips. I had the same, but also had some salad with mine. We both chose an alcoholic beverage as we are now on holiday; I had a glass of pinot noir, and Ian had a cocktail of the day (a Harvey Wallbanger). We tried sitting outside at first, although there was a strong breeze, so we moved back indoors. After lunch, we decided to explore the ship. We started at the rear top decks, and made our way down and forward, via the sun decks, pools (there are three) and upper bars and restaurants. On this ship, they have chosen to use a resin for the decks instead of traditional timber, as well as Astroturf: Ian says that this has prompted a number of complaints, although I can't really see that it is an issue. There are several places to eat at the top of the ship, including Marco Pierre White's restaurant and the buffets and grill. Each pool has its own bar, and there seem to be ample loungers and chairs. The sports courts and gym are also at the top. Next, we took a lift down to the promenade on deck 7. We did a circuit of the ship before heading inside to look at the atrium. The promenade is about half the width of the decks on other ships, and there are no loungers, only deck chairs. It does seem quite narrow, but this is compensated for by the numbers of open decks above. This promenade is open at the front of the ship, so we will be able to see out in the direction we are heading, which will be nice, although this section is up some steps. The starboard (right) side is smoking. Disappointingly, a number of passengers are clearly ignoring this fact, as well as all the ashtrays and bins that are provided. There were quite a few cigarette-ends that had just been dropped on the deck. Ian has read a number of reviews of Ventura, which have generally been quite negative; however, I suspect that it is going to be the passengers, rather than the ship, that will be disappointing. The interior of the ship is very smart and contemporary. The atrium is three decks high, with sweeping staircases. There are several shops on board, with a much wider selection of goods than on other ships, reflecting the size of the vessel. Inside, there are further restaurants and bars, including tapas and oriental food. We had a quick look at the 750-seat theatre and our own restaurant, which is on deck 6 at the rear of the ship. By this time, it was 4 o'clock and time to return to our cabin for the emergency drill. We attended this practice, which was quite quick, and then went back to our room to find our luggage had arrived! We did some unpacking, and then went back up on deck for the sail away. Ahead of us, were the Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2. It was interesting to watch these two Cunard liners leave; we are tempted to book a cruise on one of these soon. They look very grand. We then had a quick shower, and went for dinner. Once again, we have opted for the early sitting and a table of eight. There was the usual trepidation - would it be a table of freaks? Fortunately not. There are three other couples on our table: Bernard and Barbara from Plymouth; Paul and Kay from Wales; Alvin and Sheila from the Midlands. Five of us our involved in education! Surprisingly, on the table next to us are David and Janet, who were on our table last year on Oriana. Even more surprising, is the fact that they are in the cabin next to us! Everyone was very relaxed and friendly. The meal was excellent, as expected. Ian began with a melon fan and I had a carpaccio of smoked duck breast. We then both had mushroom soup. Ian had a turkey cordon bleu followed by a cheesecake. I had a pasta dish, with chorizo and tomato, followed by cheese (Shropshire Blue and Cheddar). Ian had another Harvey Wallbanger, and I had a bottle of Shiraz. Notable was the fact that they didn't try to sell any spirits afterward - a bit disappointing really. Service was very fast and the waiters were discrete. The menus are presented in wooden folders, which I thought were stylish, like the dEcor, but apparently people have complained about these as well. All the china and cutlery bear the P&O logo. The glassware is quite contemporary, with angular rather than rounded bowls for the glasses. We have a nice view out of a side window. There was no formal entertainment tonight, so after dinner we decided to go to Metropolis for cocktails. This bar is situated at the rear of the ship on deck 18. Again, it has a modern feel to it. There are panoramic windows, with views in all directions, a large cocktail bar, and feature wall of LCD screens that show views from across the world. Tonight's theme is Shanghai: the screens were showing videos of the skyline and street scenes. The coasters are all themed, based on the city that is featured, and there are themed drinks linked to this. It was quite busy, until the majority of people left for the second sitting at dinner. There is a large selection of drinks on offer. Ian had a Sea Breeze and an Apple Cosmo. I had a Bay Breeze and two Apple Cosmos. After sitting on our own for a while, watching the south coast slip by and various scenes from Shanghai, we joined Bernard, Barbara, Paul and Kay and chatted for a while. There was a pleasant jazz band playing. At about eleven, we decided it was time for bed. We headed back to the cabin and settled down for the night. Overall, a very good first day.
Day 2: Saturday 2nd August 2008 - At Sea Ian got up at 7.30 this morning because he wanted to try the Spa. I stayed in bed as I had not slept well on Thursday night and was very tired (but not hungover!) He returned at 9.30 and then I got up. Ian had purchased a thermal spa package. This includes heated beds, aromatherapy showers, 2 steam rooms and a sauna. This wasn't as nice as the spa on Arcadia as it was all inside, whereas on Arcadia there are sea views. He enjoyed himself however. We went for breakfast in the main buffet; this is on deck 15, at the rear. We walked down our corridor, which is very long. I can't actually see the end of it, as it runs the length of the ship and my eyes won't see that far! We chose to have a fried breakfast this morning - no hash browns though, only potato croquettes! Ian also had some pastries and I had a yogurt. We sat outside as all the tables were full. It is a bit grey today, although the weather is set to improve. To say that there are over 3,500 passengers on board, the ship doesn't seem crowded. There are plenty of things to do inside anyway... Including shopping! As we are now at sea, all the shops are open. These are accessed from the Atrium over two floors. There are two fashion boutiques, jewelery shop, a perfumery and a general store. We had a look at all of these (plenty of souvenir opportunities) and decided that we will buy the new Gaultier fragrance - Fleur de Male. It is very flowery and therefore unusual for a male fragrance. Next, we went to Metropolis to write the diary and listen to music. The theme today is London and the special cocktail is a Pimms Cup (Pimms, lime, ginger ale). Ian also booked a massage for his shoulders for tomorrow and dinner in the White Room for the 13th August. We have decided not to have lunch - instead, we will have afternoon tea in an attempt not to overindulge on the first day. That plan didn't last very long. We were enjoying a stroll through the ship and were passing through Ramblas, the Spanish themed bar. We decided to sample some of their tapas dishes; you can order three tapas for £2.50. We chose some chorizo, patatas bravas and figs with ham. The dishes themselves are quite small, but tasty nonetheless. I had a glass of wine and Ian had lemonade. The bar itself is well designed and spacious. There is a small restaurant with a more filling menu and several seating areas that are done out in a traditional Spanish style e.g. dark wood, stonework and metal grilles. It is attractive, although the stonework is fiberglass and the counter tops are Formica instead of marble. Everything looks very neat and new, and it could do with some distressing to make it look more effective. This area wasn't particularly busy, despite being on the promenade deck and the weather being quite poor. After lunch, we returned to the cabin, noticing that the ship seemed to be leaning to one side. As we arrived, the Captain made an announcement that the ship was turning back in response to a mayday call from a small yacht; they were responding to a medical emergency. I collected my book and went back to Ramblas to read: Ian had decided to have a sleep as his shoulders were hurting him. I am reading 'The Children of Hurin' by JRR Tolkien; I bought it a long time ago and haven't got around to reading it yet. The Promenade deck was getting very busy with passengers with morbid curiosity, who wanted to see what was going on with the yacht in distress. I sat reading for a while, fell asleep, and then read for a little bit longer. The book is as expected. When I got back to the cabin, I found Ian had joined the hordes of people expecting to see dead bodies being loaded on board. He videoed the rescue from the upper decks. Apparently, there were three people on board; two had remained behind on the yacht to sail it back to France. Otherwise it would have had to be abandoned, possibly scuttled to avoid a hazard to shipping. By this time, we needed to get ready for dinner. After pressing our shirts in the laundry, we showered and the headed off to the restaurant. Tonight is 'semi-formal' i.e. jackets. I began with a pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad, followed by oxtail broth and then an exotic game mixed grill i.e. rabbit, ostrich and some other brown meat made into a sausage. This was all very tasty, washed down with a bottle of pinotage from South Africa. Ian had Parma ham and melon, no soup, and then pot-roasted beef in a red wine jus. I had a baked cheesecake for dessert, whilst Ian had an orange sorbet. He is still not feeling well because of his shoulders, although he has booked a deep tissue massage in the spa for tomorrow morning. Our waitress also offered me a choice of spirits at the end of the meal; I chose a port. We finished eating at about 8 o'clock; the service is very quick in the restaurants. We left the table first as we wanted to make sure that we got to the theatre in time for the show. The online reviews had said that the theatre fills up quickly and that there is not enough space. Ian had scouted out a sneaky route to avoid the queues. We were sat near the front, but when we arrived the 750-seat theatre was only about half full so we were fortunate in having our choice of seats. Whilst waiting for the show to start, a large party of people arrived and occupied the row in front; they 'saved' a number of seats for others in their party, although this isn't really allowed. Another Welsh man and his wife turned up and asked to sit down, quite reasonably pointing out that nobody was sat in those seats. The other family became quite aggressive, saying that the seats were occupied but the people sitting in them had just gone to the toilet - a blatant lie. Then, the Welsh man was punched in the stomach! Ian was very annoyed about this, and later spoke to the person who was assaulted. This is what I meant about most of the problems on the ship being the passengers. The show itself was called 'Grand Illusion', loosely based around magic. There was a combination of songs, dance and magic tricks, all much better than the quality of shows on Oriana last year. There was no band, surprisingly, but the quality of singing was good, and although not flawless, the performances were entertaining, including the obligatory grinning buffoon. After the show, we went to Metropolis for a drink. Ian had water, and I had two apple cosmos. The waitress that served us already knows my name - not a good sign! Ian was feeling tired, so decided to go to bed rather than going to the syndicate quiz. He apologized to Janet and David, who were also in the bar, and left. The rest of us set off for the quiz, which was to be held in one of the restaurants. We didn't do too badly, for a first outing; we scored 13 out of a possible 20. We missed out on some obvious answers, and would have scored at least one more point if Ian had been there; he would have known that Disney's second film was Pinocchio. Did you know that one hundredth of a second is officially known as a 'Jiffy'? We didn't, but we do now. The winning team featured Alvin and Sheila, from our table. Well done to them! They scored 17 points. Our challenge now is to get at least fourteen. Hopefully Ian will be feeling better so can help out with the computing, Disney, theatrical and musical questions.
Day 3: Sunday 3rd August 2008 - At Sea Ian got up early again today for his massage and thermal spa treatments. He left at about 7.45, leaving me in bed. When he returned at 11.15, I was still there! He had been speaking to the actor Victor Spinnetti, who is in a cabin not far from us and Ian remembered him as the Major General in 'Pirates of Penzance'. After showering, I met Ian in Tazzine, the coffee bar on deck 5, for a cup of tea. Service was slow (note from Ian - service was fine when I got served), but the atmosphere was modern and stylish. Ian had peppermint tea, whilst I had traditional Tetley. His massage had gone very well and his shoulders are feeling much better; at one point, the masseur had climbed on his back to realign his spine! We chatted to Dom, one of the Entertainment Officers from last year's Oriana cruise, who remembered us, and then decided to have some lunch as we had both missed breakfast. After looking at what was on offer in the main restaurant, we decided to try the restaurant menu in Ramblas. Although the menu was quite small, it was well prepared and the staff were very attentive. I chose gazpacho to start with and Ian had Serrano ham and figs (there are a lot of figs on board - they seem to come with everything!) We both had Catalan paella for a main course, which was quite small but filling and freshly prepared. Ian had a custard dish (more like crème brulee) for dessert and I had some manchego cheese. The restaurant was very quiet, which might be due to the fact there is a £5 cover charge, but the food was good and worth it. Next, we decided to go to the theatre again to listen to one of the guest lecturers. The theme of the lecture was 'America's Next President'. We learnt about the electoral system in the States, and who was most likely to be elected in November. This was a very interesting topic, if not very well attended. Following the lecture, we decided to sit out on the Promenade deck. The weather has improved and it is now sunny with a light breeze. I read some more of my book and Ian listened to his iPod, as well as annoying me. The book is going well, although it is not very challenging. I shall be finished soon, and then will try something a bit more complex. We sat on deck until about 4 o'clock, and then went back to the cabin to write up the diary (and sleep in Ian's case). Tonight is the first formal event, including the Captain's gala reception, so we will need to be ready by 6 o'clock. Our party was being held in Havana, a Cuban-themed bar. The theme consists of posters plastered to the pillars, and not much else. It does have a very clever lighting system though that can change the mood of the whole room. There is a cabaret stage and a lot of lounge-style seating. I got a gin and tonic and we sat down next to the stage. Just before the Captain addressed us, the people next to us introduced themselves by asking if Ian's name was Parkinson. They were from Tyldesley and used to own the local butcher's shop named A. Savage Family Butcher! They now live just around the corner from Ian's parents and know them both, as well as Gail and Dougie. What a surprise! The Captain spoke to us all briefly, explaining that the person we had rescued was feeling much better and would be getting off in Malaga the next day. He told us that they had taken on board 400 tonnes of food in Southampton and that we would need to eat it all before we got off! However, he didn't seem to know all of our destinations, which is a little worrying (Note from Ian - that is the Navigators job). Dinner was once again very enjoyable, although they seem to have taken the 3rd course sorbet off the menu, which is disappointing. Ian had a very light asparagus timbale to begin with, followed by monkfish and prawn chowder. For the main course he enjoyed a rack of lamb, and for dessert a chocolate and orange fondant with custard and ice cream, although the fondant wasn't gooey inside. I began with a pork terrine (not enough bread, as usual), and then had a vegetable consommE. Next, I had a very tender roast breast of gressingham duck with cabbage and bacon, with brie for my final course. I drank a bottle of pinotage again, followed by a port, although this wasn't on special offer tonight. After dinner, we had decided that we would go and see the ABBA tribute band, 'ABBA Eyes', but as this wasn't starting until nine we went to Metropolis for a cocktail. I had another Apple Cosmo - very refreshing, with a cherry this time! The theme tonight is Paris, although as it was very sunny we couldn't really see what was on the 20 meter long screen. By the time we arrived at Havana for the cabaret, it was already very full so we sat at the back in front of one of the many screens that show what it on stage (which we couldn't see from where we were). The act was very good, and we think we may go back again tomorrow. They sang a number of the classics, to which we joined in very loudly. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and the two Apple Cosmos certainly helped. For a change, we decided to try the Red Bar on deck 7 just off the Atrium. This is another cocktail bar, with comfortable chairs and sofas. There is not much red involved in the design, but it is pleasant enough. They offer caviar and champagne here (Osetra and Sefruga), but we won't be bothering with that muck! Especially not at £130... I had a regular Cosmopolitan, another drink exclusive to this bar, although it wasn't as sharp as the ones they used to serve on Oriana or Arcadia. Ian had a glass of champagne. We spent about an hour in here, listening to the pianist, Agnes Toth, before going to the syndicate quiz. Thirteen points again tonight - not good enough! We didn't know that Gordon piloted Thunderbird 4 (Ian thought it was John), or that an octopus has three hearts; I did know that the Lottery started in 1994, having watched Eggheads last week. Then it was off to bed, looking forward to our first port tomorrow.
Day 4: Monday 4th August 2008 - Malaga I had another lie-in today, as we weren't due to get into Malaga until 12.30. Ian was up at 8 though, and went to the spa for another thermal treatment. This has worked out quite reasonably at £60 for the whole cruise. I eventually roused myself at 11.00 when Ian came back. He had bought a card for Janet and David as it is their wedding anniversary today, which I then wrote. He had also had a big cooked breakfast in the buffet, as we weren't planning on having lunch as we would be off the ship. So far, our consumption has not been as bad as on other cruises, and neither of us is bloated yet! We were arriving in Malaga by this time, so we went up onto the promenade deck to watch our arrival. I left Ian to video this and went to have something to eat in the Waterside buffet. I had a salad, with a small portion of ham, followed by some fruit salad. Very healthy. I popped back to the cabin to write a postcard for my Mum, and then Ian met me there. We went to Reception to buy a stamp, and by this time the ship was ready for disembarking passengers. We had expected the queues to be really long, with 3500 people trying to get off, but we must have timed it very well because we were some of the first off. It was very hot - nearly thirty degrees! After a short walk through the cruise terminal, which is very smart, we boarded a shuttle bus to take us to the port gate. This was a short ride on an air-conditioned coach, and it dropped us right beside the main shopping street. Having been to Malaga a few years ago, we had already seen most of the sights so were looking forward to visiting some of our favourite Spanish shops: Pull and Bear, Springfield, Massimo Dutti and El Corte Ingles. Unfortunately, there was nothing that really grabbed our fancy, although there was quite a nice winter jacket in Massimo Dutti. Ian and I contented ourselves with an ice cream, and we wandered through some of the streets, pausing to take a few snap shots. Malaga is not a very pretty place and there was a lot of graffiti. It seems like a strange place to stop on a cruise. It might have been nicer to anchor off Puerto Banus or Marbella, but no doubt this would have been more expensive for P&O. After wandering over to El Corte Ingles and taking advantage of their air conditioning, we headed back toward the older part of town, buying one of the new Maxibon Power ice cream bars for Ian. He really enjoyed this, but it made my teeth hurt. We walked past the Cathedral and then up to the old fort, before circling back toward the pick-up point for the shuttle bus. It was nearly 3 o'clock by now and we were feeling peckish so went back to the ship for afternoon tea. Ian had a couple of scones and a cake. I had some corned beef sandwiches and noisette potatoes - yummy! (Note from Ian - Richard had 2 helpings of sandwiches and potatoes). The buffet tea seems much better than on any of the other ships, and it wasn't particularly busy as a lot of people were still on-shore. In fact, the whole ship seems deserted. Most of the public lounges are empty, which is very nice. After tea, we found a quiet spot in the Red Bar to write-up the diary and listen to music. Tonight is smart-casual, so we won't have to rush around as much as last night. After finishing the diary, we sat and played games on the computer and iPod, whilst I had a Cosmo - much sharper than yesterday in a very smart glass. We quickly got ready for dinner. Whilst ironing the shirts, I overheard a woman saying that she didn't think Ventura was as good as Canberra! As Ian later pointed out, on Canberra passengers had to share bathrooms. Perhaps she missed that experience. We have both overheard a number of facile complaints recently, including that the East and White Room restaurants are a waste of space; one lady suggested that the space should be used for sun loungers instead. You do wonder whether some of these people even read the brochure before booking, or whether they come intending to complain. At dinner, I began with a goat's cheese and tomato tartlet; Ian had potted shrimps, although the layer of butter was very thick. We both had a delicious tomato and pepper soup. My main course was a venison, pheasant, bacon and mushroom potpie. This was individually made, and came with succulent gravy. Ian had a beef stroganoff served with saffron braised rice, which he really enjoyed. For dessert, I had a layered chocolate mousse with mille feuille, and Ian had vanilla ice cream with butterscotch sauce. I also had some cheese tonight, together with a bottle of wine and a brandy. Ian had cocktail of the day - a Hurricane, incorporating dark and light rum and fruit juices. After dinner, we joined Janet and David and their friends for the ABBA tribute band again. This was as much fun as last night, and we had better seats so we were able to appreciate the performance as well. For the encore, the audience were encouraged to get up and dance. Janet was quite tipsy by this time (it was their anniversary), so we joined her on the dance floor for Dancing Queen (of course) and Waterloo. Ian and I were drinking Apple Cosmos, so this helped our enjoyment. Immediately after the show, the Family Quiz was being held in Havana. We decided to participate, as we haven't been doing very well at the Syndicate Quiz. We managed to identify all the celebrities in the picture round, as well as answering most of the general knowledge questions correctly. We were also able to identify eight out of the ten Mr Men in that round! In fact, we did so well that we were joint first with fifty points, however, it being a family quiz, we decided to forfeit the tie-breaker round (which we would have won as well). All in all, a fun experience, even if it did involve beating a load of children! Buoyed up by our success in the Family Quiz, we headed-off to the Syndicate Quiz. This proved to be less successful. Tonight, we only scored 12 points, although there were some very difficult questions. Ian scored at least two points on his own, knowing that the Red Arrows end with a Vixen Turn and that Tim Rice was the lyricist for The Lion King (Note from Ian - I also knew that 'Lost in Translation' was set in Tokyo). We didn't know that it was Parris who killed Achilles or that number 2 is next to 13 clockwise on a dartboard. We are going to have to do some serious revising if we are going to improve for tomorrow! David has forgotten to give Janet an anniversary card - apparently he bought one, and then lost it in the cabin somehow. The situation wasn't improved by the fact that Ian had bought a very nice card of Venice...
Day 5: Tuesday 5th August 2008 - At Sea The clocks went forward another hour in the night, so we both ended up having a lie-in this morning. We are now two hours ahead of BST. The weather is lovely and there is a nice breeze coming off the sea. Ian slept in until 11.00, and then went to the spa for another treatment. I stayed in bed for a little while longer and then came down to Tazzine, the coffee bar, to complete the diary for yesterday. They have some tables at a good height for typing and it is very light; this is on deck five so they have large exterior windows that aren't obstructed by the promenade. I had a nice cup of tea, then Ian arrived and we went for some lunch. We decided that we would go to the main restaurant for a proper 3-course meal. We chose to sit with a group of people, and we had a very pleasant conversation about cruising on other ships and art. Ian had a Boddingtons battered Cumberland sausage with black pudding, followed by battered Hake and Victoria sponge for dessert. I had a prawn cocktail, followed by pitta bread toasty with ham and cheese (a bit dry), and some juicy blackberries with frozen yogurt. I had a glass of merlot and Ian had a sea breeze. After this, we had a very short stroll around the Promenade deck, looking out over the coast of North Africa. It is quite humid today, although sunny with a moderate breeze. We took some photographs and then Ian posed at the very front of the ship a la Titanic. As we had been discussing art at lunchtime, we went to the art gallery to listen to a talk on the featured artist, Rolf Harris. Unlike other ships, there are no hard sells on Ventura and certainly no art auctions. This is a big improvement. The talk was very informative, with details about his career as a swimmer and some of his achievements as an artist, for which he is not as well known as his TV work. They had nine prints to discuss, which showed a wide range of artistic styles and subjects. The final painting was called 'The Red Umbrella' and was very impressionist: it showed a snow scene in Paris, with a girl standing beneath some trees with... a red umbrella. Ian liked it so much he decided to buy it. Including delivery and framing, it cost £680, which is quite reasonable for a limited edition. The presenter was very knowledgeable although he did jump around a lot due to nerves. It was now time to do some more relaxing. We went to the Red Bar to sit on some of their large sofas: I read and Ian listened to some of his music. I have nearly finished my book - it is a bit boring and there are too many characters, but it is a bit of a personal mission so I will persevere. After the bar had officially opened, I ordered a Cosmopolitan and then we decided to get ready for dinner. Tonight, I began with a very moist wild mushroom risotto, flavoured with parmesan and pesto - delicious. Then I had cream of fennel and leek soup, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for the main. Ian didn't have a starter, and chose the same soup and main course as I did. I chose cheese for my final course, and Ian had two desserts; he started off with a orange soufflE and then had Eton mess with marshmallows. I continued with my usual choice of wine followed by port, and Ian had a glass of Moet. We wanted to go to the theatre tonight, so we needed to set off straightaway after dinner. There was a cabaret act on tonight called 'Smart Move', two male singers who we had seen before but couldn't remember, so we assumed that they would be OK. They were very cabaret. The one that sang the falsetto parts also had a sore throat, so at times struggled to hit his high notes. The Ventura Orchestra was excellent and accompanied them well. After this concert, we joined Kay and Paul and Alvin and Sheila in the Red Bar for cocktails. Kay and Paul had had an early start this morning, as they had assumed we would be in Cephalonia today. As they were getting dressed, their steward asked them where they were going; he politely reminded them that there would be no excursions today as it was a sea day and there was nowhere to go. The atmosphere in the bar was relaxed, and we were listening to the pianist, Agnes Toth, playing. We left for the syndicate quiz at 10.50. The attendance at this is gradually rising and the restaurant was quite full tonight. It is also getting quite rowdy - don't people realize the seriousness of this activity? We have improved on our score: fourteen tonight. We made some silly errors though, which cost us the game: the most popular pub name in England is the Red Lion; a crystal anniversary is fifteen years; the Jubilee Line is the only underground line to connect with all the other lines. We will get better though. For next year, we will need to revise our anniversaries and Greek and Roman gods e.g. Morpheus who is the Greek god of dreams. Just before going to bed, we decided to go to the all-night buffet (as if we needed more to eat!) This is held in the Beach House restaurant on deck 15 aft. They had a selection of cold meats, salads, sandwiches and Eastern dishes left over from the Oriental buffet. We contented ourselves with a couple of sandwiches and some water and then went to bed. We had an information leaflet in our cabin when we returned, telling us about the transfer options for Venice. Last year, there was a free water shuttle from the cruise terminal to St Mark's Square; this year it will cost £8 per person! We have decided that we will walk.
Day 6: Wednesday 6th August 2008 - At Sea Ian was up fairly early again this morning. He went to the spa and then had his hair cut in the salon. I was up before eleven for once and so was able to meet him in Tazzine for tea. We wrote up the diary and Ian did a video chat with his mother: the wireless reception was surprisingly good. He was able to show her the view around the coffee bar and Atrium. At this point, I want to mention my only real complaint about Ventura: capital letters. All the notices and signs around the ship are all written in lower case, which is really annoying. I hope they decide to correct this error soon. I am tempted to buy a red pen and go around and do it myself! (Note from Ian - It is not bothering me at all). The weather is excellent again. The sea is calmer than yesterday - we can hardly feel any motion at all. It feels like sitting in a big hotel on land. There is a slight haze, and there is a light breeze. The midday announcements from the bridge keep us informed of our position. Today we are in the Sicilian Straits, between Italy and Tunisia; we will soon be turning to enter the Adriatic. The junior officer responsible also gives us some daily trivia; today he explained the origins of the terms port and starboard. For those of you that don't know, starboard is a corruption of the word steer-board (a type of oar used before the invention of the rudder), which was usually placed on the right side of the ship. To avoid damaging this steering oar, ships would dock with the left-hand side of the ship against the port. Now you know. We chose to have lunch in the main restaurant again as neither of us had had breakfast again. We both chose the same starters and main courses: Greek salad followed by Cumberland Sausage and mash. Ian then had mango mousse cake and I had some cherry ice cream with melba sauce. We sat with some very nice people, and Ian talked with them about musical theatre. One lady was a keen theatre-goer and had been to see the original West End productions of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. After lunch, we decided to go to another art talk in the Tamarind Bar. We were introduced to four contemporary artists and their different styles, which ranged from naïve teddy bears to impressionist seascapes. I liked the seascapes but Ian didn't. I guess we won't be buying that one… We then decided to go and read in the Red Bar. I managed to finish 'The Children of Hurin' which proved to be very unsatisfying in the end - everyone dies and the hero and heroine (brother and sister) end up marrying. Nice. I then started my next book, 'Matter' by Iain M Banks. This should be much more challenging and interesting. He also uses complex sentences, which will be a refreshing change from Tolkien. Ian went for a walk around the upper decks and we met back at the cabin at about 5 o'clock to get ready for dinner. I trimmed my hair and we ironed the dress shirts - it is the second formal night tonight, with a black-and-white theme. We managed to be the first to the table tonight! We both started with a duck and orange pate with a tiny fragment of bread to put it on. Ian then had the celeriac, apple and blue cheese soup, whilst I had the chicken consomme. Ian went off-menu for his main course, asking if he could have a steak. Normally this is on the menu as part of the 'always available' selection, but this cruise these options are missing. However, if you ask, you can still have them; perhaps they are still trialling the kitchens before increasing the range of dishes. I had a very tender braised steak. For dessert, Ian had profiteroles and I had a cheesecake followed by some Roquefort cheese. Ian had a Bay Breeze cocktail to drink, and I had a bottle of Pinotage followed by an Amaretto. We left quite early to go to tonight's show. The company are performing a special version of 'Saturday Night Fever' that has been devised for performance on board cruise ships. The theatre was full by the time the curtain went up. It was quite entertaining, although they missed out the sex and suicide. There were a number of unresolved plot lines, but the dancing was excellent and the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The sets and lighting were also very good, and it was good to watch a fully-rounded production rather than the usual concoction of tenuously linked songs and dance numbers. We discovered that Barbara is a seasoned cruiser. Her first voyage was on the original Mauritania, and she had sailed around the Mediterranean, visiting places like Tangiers. She recalled that all the tables had lips on them to stop the crockery and glassware sliding off during the meal. As the Red Bar was full, we went and sat in Ramblas with Paul and Kay after the show. This was quiet and they had a guitarist playing live Spanish music, adding to the relaxing atmosphere. Eventually, it was time for the syndicate quiz. We met the team in the restaurant and began to play. It wasn't until about half way through that we realized that we were actually in the lead! We hung onto this and scored sixteen, which put us in first place! I had to go to the loo to listen to the answer to the last question. We were all very pleased, although the prize is nothing special: a bottle of wine. However, we achieved a good score and beat everyone else, without the need for a tie-break. We were very fortunate with the questions tonight… After our victory, Ian and I went for celebratory snacks in the Beach House. Whilst there, we were mistaken for the bad cabaret, Smart Move, which was not very flattering. Having put the passenger right, we went to bed, very pleased with our achievements that evening.
Day 7: Thursday 7th August 2008 - Cephalonia The ship arrived in Cephalonia and began disembarking passengers at about 8 o'clock this morning. A number of excursions had already left by the time we were able to haul ourselves out of bed. This year, we have decided to spend the day in the port of Argostoli; last year we toured the island. We had a light breakfast of fruit and then went to collect our tickets for the tender transfer to the quayside. Previous passengers have complained about the time it takes to disembark Ventura, however we didn't have a problem at all. By the time we were ready to get off, they had already transported 1500 passengers ashore. We were able to get our tender tickets and board immediately. We were moored slightly further out in the gulf than last year, probably due to the size of the ship, but the journey took no more than ten minutes. We were able to sit outside, something we have never done before, and Ian videoed whilst I took photographs. The temperature is expected to reach at least 33 degrees today. There was a slight breeze coming in off the sea, but we were sweating by the time we reached the quay. Ian decided to buy a new sun hat, and then we walked along the harbour toward the bridge that crosses the lagoon. Whilst walking along, we saw a turtle feeding from one of the fishing boats. This was fascinating - I never expected to see one so close to land and people. It appeared completely unconcerned by all the tourists and boats. We stopped at the Haagen Daz cafe so that Ian could have an ice cream sundae and I could avail myself of their facilities. I have decided to experiment with my camera and try taking pictures of people as well as windows. We were able to take some very interesting pictures of local people that should hopefully say something about the places we visit. I will try to continue with this as we make our way around the Adriatic, although I am going to have to learn to be quicker! We walked as far as the causeway that crosses the bay, creating a man-made lagoon. This was built by the British out of old masonry and sunken arches and provides a handy pedestrian, bicycle and motorbike link with the main part of Cephalonia. We walked about two-thirds of the way across, out to a monument, and then headed-back. We were able to see Ventura in the distance. It really is a huge ship and dwarfs everything in the foreground. We walked back a different way to the tenders, which took us away from the quayside into Argostoli itself. It is quite a pretty town, if rather modern and low-rise - an earthquake flattened most of the town in 1953. It was still quite busy, even though it was getting hotter and hotter. We wandered down the main shopping street, which is very attractive and paved with marble, and bought a postcard for my mother. Then we walked back to the quayside and boarded a tender that left almost immediately. We had spent nearly three hours in the town, and were looking forward to some air-conditioning and a public toilet! Once back on board (1 o'clock), we went up to the Waterside buffet for lunch. We both had chips and ham (I added some salad) and then Ian had jam roly-poly with custard, whilst I had a glass of wine and cheesecake. We collected the laptop and went to Tazzine for tea and to write-up the diary. I stayed here to read my book while Ian went and sat on the Promenade deck. I am making very good progress and it is much more entertaining; I have leant the other book to Paul. I went back up to the cabin at about 5 o'clock and we got ready for dinner, calling in at Karen and Ian's cabin at 6 to drink our winnings from last night - a bottle of Gallo white wine. Tonight is smart-casual / 60s and 70s themed. Neither of us tried very hard at this although I did put on my white trousers. We stopped to look at our soft-focus portraits taken the night before at dinner. I look quite good, but Ian isn't framed very well in his, so he probably won't be buying it. Ian started with a prawn and avocado salad, followed by ham hock and blue cheese soup. I had goujons of salmon, with vegetable consomme for my soup course. Ian had smoked pork for his main course, followed by lemon syllabub for dessert. I had Chicken Maryland. This consisted of: battered chicken breast; a banana in breadcrumbs; sweetcorn pancake; side of bacon; home-cut fries; barbecue sauce. I really enjoyed this and it wasn't as odd as it sounded. I finished with some goat's cheese and biscuits. Ian had a sea breeze cooler to drink, and I had wine and a cointreau liqueur. We chose not to go to the after dinner show as it was the bad cabaret we had been mistaken for and we didn't want to confuse the audience. Instead, we went to Metropolis; the sunset tonight was Sydney. The bar was quite full when we arrived, but quietened down quite a lot once the second sitting for dinner had started. The views over Sydney harbour were excellent and very well filmed. I had several cocktails and Ian had some Moet. There was little evidence of any 60s or 70s theme, although two people we sat next to were dressed up. After about an hour, we decided to try the Tamarind Club on deck 7. This is just off the Atrium, and has an Eastern theme. The seating is very comfortable and the service is prompt. Unfortunately, it is used a bit like a corridor, and many people pass through the back on the way to and from the theatre. We met with the people from our table and listened to the ship's band play some 'big band jazz' music. They were entertaining, although ten minutes late starting! Part way through, we left for the syndicate quiz. We were starting on minus one tonight, as we had been the previous winners, but this didn't make much difference as we lost quite badly - we were a long way behind the eventual winners as we only scored twelve. I think we have peaked…
Day 8: Friday 8th August 2008 - Dubrovnik We tried to get up earlier again today as we would only be in Dubrovnik until 3.30. After a fairly quick breakfast of fruit and pastries, we were ready to leave by about 10.00. We were up on deck 16 at this point, and we decided to watch another huge liner arrive; the MSC Poesia, an Italian ship. She is slightly smaller than Ventura. We are docked at the cruise terminal this year, instead of off the old city, so Poesia had to perform a 180 degree rotation to be able to reverse into the marina behind us. It is amazing just how maneuverable these big ships are. We filmed this for a while, and then made our way down to the quayside to catch the shuttle bus into Dubrovnik itself. There was quite a long queue, even though they were operating eighteen coaches to transport people the five kilometers. It moved forward very quickly and we weren't in the hot sun for very long. It is also quite humid today, which is making it feel much hotter than 32 degrees. The shuttle bus journey was quite quick and we were dropped of outside the Pile gate at about 10.45. This year, we have decided that we won't be walking the walls as we did this last year; instead, we are going to walk through the old city. The walk around the walls is about 1¼ miles, but it is hotter than last year and would definitely be uncomfortable. The walls date from the 10th Century, but were much improved upon from the 1400s. Virtually all the damage from the wars in the 1990s has been repaired and the city is stunningly beautiful, hence being a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent some time roaming through the western part of the city, full of narrow streets and little shops, and walked toward the port. The temperature was rising, so we walked a little way around the edge of the city to get some of the breeze coming off the sea. We also popped-into the aquarium which is built underneath the castle; it was reasonably well kept and worth the 30 kuna each (about £4). By now, it was nearly midday, so we decided to walk back up the main street (Placa) and catch the bus back to the ship. We did some souvenir shopping (Ian bought a nice t-shirt) and had an ice cream. When we got back to the Pile Gate we had a problem leaving; so many people were trying to use the main entrance to come into the city that nobody could actually get out. There was one policeman attempting to marshal the crowds, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it. After consulting our map, we realized that there was one other way out, which involved walking up the steep steps in the east of the city to another gate. We decided to do this rather than waste our time with the crush, and it was much easier. The climb wasn't too bad, although we were very hot by the time we reached the top. It was then a short walk skirting the walls of the city to bring us back to the pick-up point. The traffic was very heavy on the way back to the ship, and there were a large number of coaches trying to use quite narrow streets. As vehicles aren't allowed into the old city, everybody gets dropped off at the same place; this makes for some severe congestion. I am not sure how the locals cope with all of this, but certainly Croatian drivers are almost as insane as Parisian ones! We got back to the ship at about 1.30. We went to have some lunch at the Frankie's Grill (burger bar) for a change. Ian had a grilled chicken breast and I had a cheese and onion burger. These are prepared fresh and are very tasty. Service was swift. Ian had a cocktail of the day (Hurricane) and I had a glass of wine. We went to the buffet then so that Ian could have a warm dessert; Eve's pudding today. After lunch, Ian had booked another massage for his shoulders. This left me to write up the diary and to do some more reading. After a while I was feeling a bit sleepy so I went back to the cabin to lie down and then fell asleep for an hour and a half. Then it was time for dinner, so we had to rush around a bit to get ready in time. Tonight, we both started with a ham rillette (a type of coarse pate). I then had the beef consomme with fennel followed by roast gressingham goose. This was OK, but it was a bit chewy. Ian had the same soup, then a steak followed by sticky toffee pudding. I tried a new wine tonight - a shiraz which was enjoyable. Ian just stuck to water. After dinner, we went to watch the entertainment in the main theatre. Tonight it was Zoe Tyler (famous for being the singing coach on 'Joseph' and 'Maria', as well 'Loose Women'). She performed a variety of musical numbers including 'Send in the clowns', a Supremes medley and 'I dreamed a dream' from Les Miserables in which she had played Fantine for two years. She was excellent, having excellent pitch according to Ian. Afterward, Ian bought her CD and got her to sign it for him. We went to bed early tonight, as we wanted to be up to watch the sail-in to Venice. Last year, we had watched the sail-away past St Mark's from the back of Oriana, but we won't be able to do that this year as we will be at dinner. We were in bed by 10 o'clock for a 6.30 start.
Day 9: Saturday 9th August 2008 - Venice We actually managed to get up on time this morning! We both woke up at 6.30 and got ready quite quickly so that we were both on deck by 7 o'clock. We went to deck 17 to get a good view. Quite a lot of people were also up and about by now, and we were all able to watch the approach to the lagoon and the sail-past with a commentary provided by the excursions team. We sailed past St Mark's Square at 7.30 precisely - what excellent timing by the Captain. We had already been pre-ceded by a Royal Caribbean liner and MSC Poesia, so goodness knows what the Venetians must have thought. It was quite dramatic sailing past Venice - Ventura dwarfed the city. The light is much different from last year, with the early morning sun being in the west rather than setting, and we were able to take some very good video and photographs. The Alps were very clear in the distance as well. We docked by 8.15 and people were beginning to get off. We decided to have a large breakfast today as we weren't sure how long we would be out. We went to the Bay Tree restaurant. Ian had bacon, egg, sausage and beans; I swapped the egg for hash browns and fried bread. It was very hot, although seemed to take quite a while. We had plenty of tea and toast in the meantime. By 9.30, we had finished and were ready to get off. We had chosen to catch the shuttle bus for the short ride to Piazzale Roma, in the far west of the city, rather than pay £8 for a water shuttle to St Mark's. From Piazzale Roma, we walked roughly east toward the Rialto Bridge, retracing some of our steps from last year. It was very quiet and hardly anybody was about at this time. It was quite cool and there was a lot of pleasant shade from the tall buildings. This was just as well as neither of us had bought hats or put on sun protection - whoops! Most of the shops were also closed, so we were able to concentrate on our photography and videoing. Everywhere you turn there is a photo opportunity; Venice is one of the most perfect cities we have visited. Even the graffiti adds to the atmosphere. By the time that we got to the Rialto, the city was coming to life. We stopped at the fish market to photograph some of the stallholders and local people, as well as wondering how we would go about cooking an octopus. The temperature was beginning to rise by now, and there was a slight odor from the Grand Canal, but nowhere near as bad as some people make out. The Grand Canal was very busy, with gondolas, Vaporetti and private launches making their way up and down this waterway. After crossing the Rialto, we turned right and walked a little way along the canal, before heading east again toward St Mark's. We were buying a few souvenirs and gifts as we walked along, including some jewelery for my mother and picture frames for my sisters. St Mark's Square wasn't hugely busy, but as we had spent some time here last year, we made our way across it, past the Basilica and Doge's Palace to the Giudecca Canal, bumping into Janet, David, Karen and Ian on the way. Here we turned left, walking past many brightly-coloured palaces toward the east end of the island. We crossed several bridges, before turning down a wide street called Via Garibaldi. This looked very attractive, and is the widest street we have seen in the city. It had a very 'local' feel to it - not many tourists had made it down this far. There were one or two galleries with some beautiful Murano glassware on display, but mainly there were small bars and cafes, grocery shops and butchers. The buildings were very well maintained and picture-postcard perfect. There was also some shade, which was nice as we were both beginning to burn. Via Garibaldi took us down toward the Arsenale and the parks. We walked through a residential area, taking photographs of the locals and their washing! Clearly, Saturday is wash-day and people had hung their laundry from their windows across the narrow streets; even this added to the authenticity of the views, and the smell of soap powder was strong in the air. We reached the park and wandered through the trees, spotting lizards along the way. By this time we had reached the Biennale art gallery and then decided to turn back and walk along the canal back toward the centre of Venice. It was now time for some refreshment, so we found a lovely restaurant beside the Giudecca. Ian had spaghetti Bolognese and I had carbonara - not very adventurous but delicious. We both had a glass of prosecco and watched all the traffic on the canal. It was very hot now and we were glad of the shade provided by the parasols. After lunch, we decided to walk through the streets back to St Mark's, taking a different route that would bring us in from the east. This involved several wrong turns and dead-ends, but this is all part of the fun of Venice. Some people were trying to use maps, but this is pretty pointless. The best thing to do is just to look for the three of four main signs - San Marco, Rialto, Piazzale Roma and Accademia - and guess. On the way, we found a small gift shop selling some contemporary glass pendants; these were made by the owner himself and are quite different from some of the usual designs. We bought several for presents and chatted to him for a while. Once in St Mark's again, we made use of the galleries to head to the western end to find the posh shops. We found our way to Prada quite easily, where we bought a pair of shoes and a shirt. The only thing left to do now, was to buy Ian a meringue. We managed to do this on the way back to the ship. By now, we were quite tired (we had walked a long way for us) and were quite hot. We had also taken lots of photographs and were ready for a cup of tea. We were able to navigate with some reasonable success, crossing the Grand Canal by the Rialto and then following most of the signs to Piazzale Roma. We arrived just in time to catch the shuttle bus back to the ship, and were back on board by about 4 o'clock. Heading to the Waterside buffet, we got ourselves some light snacks (cake, potato wedges, samosas and sandwiches) and then went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. The theme is tropical / pirate tonight. Fortunately, we brought some appropriate tropical attire! The menu had quite a Caribbean theme tonight. I started with a banana wrapped in bacon and roasted; Ian had some melon. We skipped the soup course. Ian chose a sirloin steak for his main, whilst I had lamb fajitas. This was well-seasoned and very juicy. For dessert, Ian had ice cream and I had some cheese. This year, the tables were decorated with leis, although the waiters weren't wearing tropical shirts. We were sailing out of Venice during the meal, but we are close to a window so we were able to watch the sights go by. The entertainment tonight is a deck-show entitled 'Plunder'. It is about pirates, so basically plunders the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. I was reluctant to watch this, but Ian was persuaded to by Karen. We watched the first few numbers and then left. It was not good. The set was interesting, and made use of one of the pools. Very Disney. We went to Metropolis for a drink. The theme tonight is New York, and there was some very interesting footage of people in Times Square, and the East River. The theme cocktail was a Manhattan, although this was quite bitter. Ian had a glass of Moet and I had an Apple Cosmo. After a while, we went down to Havana. The girls from ABBA Eyes were doing a new show tonight as the Cover Girls. Basically, they sang a lot of songs made famous by women. Whilst not really imitations, they were delivered with good humour and the right notes. We sat with Alvin, Sheila, Paul and Kay and had a good time, although there were some rowdy teenagers behind us whom Ian enjoyed 'shushing'. Finally, we went to the syndicate quiz. We scored 15 tonight - a slight improvement, but nowhere near good enough to win. Again, there were some silly mistakes made by us, and some controversy about who the American president was that bought Florida from Spain in 1919. The winners were not very gracious either. Still, "it's just for fun", so we don't mind. By the time we had finished, we were ready for bed, after such an exhausting but exciting day.
Day 10: Sunday 10th August 2008 - Korcula We were up fairly early again this morning as we were going on our excursion. We had breakfast in the Waterside buffet and then went to collect our stickers at 9 o'clock. Korcula is a Croatian Island and is part of Dalmatia. Over the years it has been belonged to lots of different people (Venice, Dubrovnik, France and Britain) but had remained relatively undeveloped as a resort. This has meant that it is quite pretty and unspoilt - there aren't the high-rise developments of some resorts. The main town is walled like Dubrovnik, and is set on a small peninsular. The streets are very narrow and laid out in a fish bone plan. This is supposed to reduce the strength of the wind and provide lots of shade during the day. As we sailed up the main channel, we were reminded of some of the Norwegian fjords we had visited two years ago. There is a very refreshing breeze that constantly blows in off the Adriatic, making the channel between Korcula and the mainland peninsular of Peljesac one of the best places for windsurfing in Europe. We saw plenty of evidence of this today. It also means that even on a hot day like today, it doesn't feel unbearable. We boarded our tender at 9.15 for the short journey to the quayside. From there, we boarded another small tourist boat that was to take us to the mainland for our wine tasting experience. This journey lasted about fifteen minutes and we passed some beautiful coastal scenery. There are some tall mountains here, with little red-roofed villages along the shoreline. After boarding the coach, we drove from the small port of Orebic up into the mountains, following a very winding and precipitous road; fortunately this didn't seem to worry our coach driver. The landscape changed quite dramatically, but once we had got to the top, we began to pass the vine terraces and olive groves. There are lots of small vineyards along the roadside, a remnant of communism in Yugoslavia. Apparently, people were allowed to grow vines but couldn't make their own wine; instead, state-owned companies bought the grapes and mass-produced the wine. These days, the vineyards haven't really grown in size, and produce small amounts of local wines that aren't really exported. The first winery we visited was very small and family-owned. We tried a glass of white and a glass of red, both made using a local variety of grape. The owners spoke to us about their production. The best wines come from the highest vines, as these have less humidity and better soil. After leaving this winery, we traveled back toward Orebic to our second vineyard. Here, we were given another talk, followed by lunch and red and white wine. Lunch consisted of a very flavoursome lentil soup, goat and sheep cheese, ham, anchovies, tomatoes and bread. This was very pleasant, but we could have done with some water as well. Some people bought some wine, and then we drove back along the coast to Orebic and our boat back to Korcula. Overall, it was an enjoyable excursion, with good commentary and beautiful scenery, although it was a little expensive for what we got. When we returned to Korcula, we walked around the old town, enjoying the sun and breeze. Ian had an ice cream and I had some water. We found the house and souvenir shop where Marco Polo was allegedly born and then caught a very bumpy tender back to Ventura. Once back on board, we watched the large number of windsurfers shooting backward and forward and then went to have some tea in the buffet. I then sat in Ramblas to write the diary and Ian went to read on the Promenade deck. After changing, we went for dinner. I had two starters tonight, instead of soup: a taco shell with mixed bean salad and then a Caesar salad. I followed this with a main course of pheasant, and then cheese. Ian started with the Caesar salad followed by broccoli soup and then gammon for his main course. His dessert was peach melba. He had a blue lagoon cocktail whilst I had a bottle of pinotage followed by a Drambuie (Note from Ian - I tasted the Drambuie and would rather wash brushes in it). Zoe Tyler was performing in the main theatre again tonight, with the dance instructors performing two exhibition dances: a tango and a foxtrot. They were good, although not a patch on Darren and Lillia from last year. There was a quick change of set, and then Zoe came on to sing. She was as good as her previous performance, although she was let down a bit by the stage management who hadn't put out her mic stands and equipment properly because they hadn't had enough time. (Note from Ian - It was quite amusing to see her disappear from the stage to go looking for the mic stand). She sang a range of West End hits, as well as a very entertaining Barbra Streisand medley. The lighting was excellent. After the show, we went to look around the shops. Ian bought a very nice reasonably priced Jacques Lenans F1 watch to replace his Tissot that he has had for four years. Then we sat in the Red Bar with Paul and Kay; she is not doing very well at taking photographs so we offered some tips. Then it was time for the syndicate quiz. We weren't able to sit in our usual place tonight and had to sit at the back of the restaurant. We scored 16 points tonight, equaling our previous winning score, although this still only put us in second place. We learnt that Queen Anne knighted Isaac Newton and that the largest group of man-made islands in the world are the Palm islands in Dubai. It came down to a tie-break tonight, and Alvin and Sheila's team won. Well done to them!
Day 11: Monday 11th August 2008 – Corfu We had a lie-in this morning, as we have been up quite early over the last few days. We got up at about 9.45 and then went for breakfast in the Beach House. We got off the ship at about 11.00 and caught the shuttle bus into Corfu town. The ride took quite a long time as there was a lot of traffic about. Apparently there is some sort of festival in town today. We were dropped off by the old port and then wandered through the streets taking lots of photographs of people and the souvenir shops. It is very hot today, although not very humid. However, we had had enough by about 1 o’clock, so we decided to make our way back through the town to the shuttle bus. We had visited Corfu last year, and we had already decided that we wouldn’t do too much today. We saw Janet, David, Karen and Ian in one of the swanky bars by the cricket ground and then walked around the sea front, sticking to the shade where possible. Two very efficient English ladies are managing the shuttle service. They clearly know what they are doing and handled the buses and traffic very well. Once back on board, we went to have lunch at the buffet. Ian had chips and ham, whilst I had some chicken tikka pieces, chips, croquettes and salad. Then we came down to the Red Bar to write up the diary and read. After a while, Ian decided to go and have a sleep in the cabin so I decided to get my book and read. I am really enjoying ‘Matter’; it is very witty and has a range of interesting characters. Paul has finished ‘The Children of Hurin’ and he more or less agrees with me about it. Whilst reading, I had a Cosmopolitan; the waiters now know my name and room number so I don’t have to bother showing my cruise card. Is that a good thing? They are no longer serving cocktails in the fancy martini glasses. My waiter told me that they have all been taken by passengers as souvenirs. Robbing bastards. At 5.30, I returned to the cabin to get ready for dinner. The dress-code tonight is casual / 80s and 90s, whatever that is supposed to look like. Unfortunately, I forgot my New Romantic outfit. Tonight, I began with a salmon terrine, followed by a delicious cream of roasted tomato soup – much better than Heinz. Ian started with chicken livers, followed by the tomato soup as well. My main course was a confit of duck leg and Ian had a steak again. For dessert he had rhubarb pie and I had cheese. Ian had a ‘Fun on the Beach’ cocktail and I had a bottle of Pinotage, followed by a Cointreau. There are several different shows on tonight, including a boy band called True Brit, a singer called Victor Michael and a classical concert. We chose to go and see the singer in the main theatre. He is from Manchester and has a broad accent and spiky hair. He chose a range of numbers, but performed several by Mario Lanza (who?) He is quite operatic and finished with ‘Love Changes Everything’, managing the high note at the end, which was very good of him. The concert was quite entertaining, if a bit old-fashioned. After the show, we decided to go to the shops in the Atrium. We bought two new dressing gowns and Ian got a Ventura t-shirt. Then we sat in the Red Bar listening to the pianist/singer, before going to the syndicate quiz. We didn’t do very well tonight, only managing to score 13 points. The questions were very hard tonight. The second full moon in a month is called a ‘Blue Moon’ and a myologist studies muscles. We did know that the word ‘salary’ comes from payments of salt that workers used to receive and that Oscar Wilde had nothing to declare but his genius upon arriving in America. It came down to a tie-break again. We may not be able to compete tomorrow, as there are several different entertainment events that we want to go to. Day 12: Tuesday 12th August 2008 – At Sea Today is our first day at sea for a while, so we were able to enjoy a lie-in. Ian got up at 9.15 to go for another deep-tissue massage and to relax in the thermal spa. This seems to be much quieter than on Arcadia. I stayed in bed until about eleven o’clock, before having a wander through the ship. We then met for lunch at about midday. It is warm outside, although there is a nice breeze. We are back in the main Mediterranean now and the sea is very glassy. Hopefully it will be like this all the way back to England. We went to the Waterside buffet for lunch. Ian had braised steak and chips, whilst I had haddock and chips with some salad. For dessert, I had fruit salad and a glass of wine and Ian had a chocolate and nutella roulade. Ian complemented the chef on the excellent food that is provided here. Whilst there isn’t a massive choice, there are usually about 4 hot dishes and a curry, with cold meats, a salad bar, dessert selection and cheeses. These are all excellent – by far the best buffet we have had so far on P&O. The food served in the main restaurants is also consistently good and hot. After lunch, Ian went to read on the Promenade deck and I sat in the Red Bar to write the diary. It is quite quiet inside the ship, even though everybody is on board (hopefully). Most people are on the upper decks sunbathing, so there is plenty of space lower down the ship. At 2 o’clock, I went to listen to one of the guest lecturers, who was talking about Marilyn Monroe today. He focused on her last week and the events that led up to her death. He was a little biased toward the theory that she was murdered by the Kennedys; this was borne out by the vote he held at the end. The audience agreed with him, although Ian and I are still not sure. It was an interesting way to pass forty-five minutes and we may try to watch his talk about Sinatra and the Mafia tomorrow, although it does start at eleven. We returned to the Red Bar to read. Ian then went for a sleep, whilst I continued with my book, enjoying a cocktail before returning to the cabin to get ready for dinner. It is formal night again, but I didn’t have to do any ironing as we have had our shirts laundered. At dinner tonight, we both chose the same food. We started with a twice-baked salmon soufflé, which was very hot and light. We then had cream of cheddar cheese and bacon soup followed by a duo of roast beef and roast veal. Then Ian had orange sorbet, while I had port-infused stilton which was delicious. We quickly hurried to the theatre as tonight the company are presenting the much-anticipated Andrew Lloyd Webber show, ‘Masquerade’. This has been produced in co-operation with The Really Useful Group and was presented to Dame Helen Mirren at the naming ceremony. We all really enjoyed it. The staging was excellent and there were a number of notable performances and fantastic costumes – clearly no expense had been spared. The company performed a selection of numbers from a range of shows, including ‘Cats’, ‘Song and Dance’ and ‘Phantom’. A number of us agreed that this was by far the best show we have ever seen onboard a ship. It is very humid tonight. Even inside the ship, it is quite warm, whilst outside there is condensation running down the side. I hope the air-conditioning doesn’t pack up. After the show, we sat with Paul and Kay in Ramblas for a while, then Ian went to watch his second show in Havana and I went to the syndicate quiz. Unfortunately, Ian had mis-read ‘Horizon’ magazine and got the time wrong, so he was forced to join us for the quiz after all. What a fortuitous mistake that was! It became clear by question 15 that we were going to win! We only got three questions wrong throughout the whole quiz. Who wrote ‘Spycatcher’? Which college did JFK and Mick Jagger both attend? How many Oscars did ‘Titanic’ win? Answers will be given tomorrow… We were all very giddy with excitement, especially David who nearly wet himself. It is fair to say that we slaughtered the opposition, our nearest rivals scoring fifteen points to our seventeen. We are very pleased with ourselves; the next challenge will be to win another quiz, and better Alvin and Sheila’s teams double win. Day 13: Wednesday 13th August 2008 – At Sea We woke late this morning, still giddy from the excitement of the quiz. We are at sea today, so this is an opportunity to rest and relax. We didn’t make it to the lecture; instead we went to Tazzine for some tea, although their hot water machine is broken so I had to make do with a Fanta. It was already time for lunch by the time we had sorted ourselves out and we decided to have a burger at Frankie’s. Ian had a chicken breast burger and I had a hot dog. We then went to the buffet to get a dessert and Ian had two: a fruit crumble and some roulade. I had a cheesecake. After this, we came down to the Red Bar to read. Ian finished his Nikki French and I carried on with my Iain M Banks. Ian had a wander around the ship and then at about 4 o’clock we went back up to the buffet for a cup of tea. Surprisingly, we didn’t have anything to eat! (Well, I had a very small pain au chocolat.) After tea, we went back to the cabin to get ready for dinner. Tonight, we are eating in The White Room for a change. First, we met our teammates in Ramblas to drink our winnings from last night, a pleasant little vinegar. Dinner was really nice. The restaurant is ‘run’ by Marco Pierre White and features an Italian menu. It is very stylish, with a contemporary dark-wood design. There is a terrace outside with an awning and additional seats and tables. We sat inside next to the aft-facing windows and had a good view out from the rear of the ship. Upon arrival, we were both given a peach Bellini and a selection of Italian breads, including some very tasty cheese sticks. Then the waiter presented us with a complementary appetizer of melon wrapped in Parma ham. For starters, Ian had a thick pea soup with pancetta and I had antipasti of Italian meats and sausages. The obligatory over-sized pepper mill was almost as big as our waitress! Ian chose a chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms for his main course and I had a rib eye steak with rocket; both of these were really delicious. The main course came with deep-fried courgettes and potatoes. For dessert, Ian had a very light hot raspberry soufflé and I had a selection of Italian cheeses. To drink, I chose an Australian Shiraz followed by a Cointreau, and Ian had a glass of prosecco. Overall, the food was excellent, simple and uncomplicated and well worth the £20 additional charge. After dinner, we went to watch the second of Victor Michael’s shows. This had more of an Italian feel to it tonight (how appropriate) and was quite enjoyable, if aimed at a more senior audience than either Ian or myself. Then we went to the Red Bar followed by Metropolis; the theme in Metropolis was Las Vegas, and it was enjoyable to watch the busy strip and the fountains at the Bellagio. The cocktails also seem to be stronger up here. It was then time for the syndicate quiz. Yesterday’s answers are as follows: Peter Wright; the London School of Economics; eleven. We were on minus one tonight, although that didn’t make much difference to our relatively poor performance. As David says: pain is temporary but Victory lasts forever. We only scored thirteen, however this was by far the busiest quiz we have played yet. There were forty-eight teams. David had already won the pub quiz in the Exchange anyway. We don’t go to the Exchange; this is the ship’s ‘pub’ and is the only area on board where smoking is allowed inside. The Exchange is on deck 6, just behind the lower tier of the theatre. Unfortunately, it really does smell strongly of smoke, and this has a tendency to leak out into adjacent areas of the ship. It is pretty much a no-go area for many passengers. In recognition of this, from October P&O will ban smoking inside. I heartily agree with this decision, as there really is no need for it. We have heard some interesting gossip tonight. Apparently, two families have been put off in Corfu because they were fighting over sun loungers, and another two families are to be put off in Gibraltar tomorrow because their sons were fighting over a girl. You just don’t get the same class of people anymore...! Day 14: Thursday 14th August 2008 – Gibraltar We arrived in Gibraltar early this morning. We will be spending half a day here before setting off for the return to Southampton (quite long enough in my opinion). There was a heavy mist covering the Rock and we couldn’t see very far at all. It was still quite warm but very humid. It was very strange not to have bright sunshine, but the Captain assures us it will clear soon. Whist I was getting ready, Ian went to see if our suitcase had been repaired yet. When we were boarding, it had been damaged and the hard outer covering has been smashed in. We have been told that they will be able to fix it, although I can’t see that happening. We went to the buffet for breakfast. I had a couple of hash browns and some fruit. Ian had some melon and a pastry. By the time we were ready to get off the ship at 9.30, the weather hadn’t improved much. We have decided to walk to Main Street (about ten minutes from the P&O berth on the North Mole). Last year, we had taken a tour of the Rock including a cable car ride, so there isn’t much left for us to do. Gibraltar appears to be very British, although there are a lot of Spanish people around. It certainly smells like Britain. We walked the length of Main Street, occasionally popping into some of the shops, all of which were welcoming Ventura. This area is not really any different from most of the high streets in Britain, and is certainly not very attractive. There are the usual British stalwarts – M&S, Next etc. The prices don’t really seem any cheaper – perfume costs as much as on board the ship. The only items that are significantly less money are cigarettes and alcohol, and we’ve already bought these. We made a half-hearted attempt to look for a suitcase, and then walked to the Alameda Botanical Gardens. The Gardens were quite pretty; there was a lovely sunken area that was very lush. Unfortunately the place seemed infested with flies that annoyed Ian exceedingly, so we left after about fifteen minutes and made our way back to the ship. On the way, we bought a holdall to put some of our additional purchases in for £10. We were back on board by 11.30. Most of the mist had cleared, and the sun had come out so it was getting even warmer. We went for lunch in the main restaurant today. I had a chicken club salad to start, followed by hoi sin duck pancakes. Ian had mushroom soup followed by the same salad as me. For dessert, he had some pancakes and I had a small piece of cheese. Sadly, we were sat with some passengers who weren’t enjoying Ventura. Apparently, the cabin doors are too small, the armrests in the theatre are too narrow and the bathrooms are the smallest ever (Note from Ian – The doors are regulation standard size and the rooms are bigger than on any other P&O ship). This is all evidence of P&O’s penny-pinching according to the moaners. I don’t suppose they object to paying less than ever before either. We made our excuses and went to watch the sail-away at 1.30. Predictably, several passengers had to be paged to ensure they had made it back on board. Quite what they found to detain them in Gibraltar, I will never know, but the rest of the ship set off on time. Ian stayed on the Promenade at the prow end until we had cleared the breakwaters, and then we were off to the UK. We sat in our usual spot in the Red Bar for a while, reading, and then Ian went for a sleep. I stayed here until 5.30 because I wanted to finish my book. I really enjoyed it, even if the ending was a little bleak. I returned to the cabin to wake Ian, and then we got ready for dinner. Tonight, I began with a prawn cocktail, followed by a very rich scotch broth. My main course was a very large mixed grill, including pork and leek sausages, bacon, onion rings, mushrooms and tomatoes. Ian started with a cheddar cheese and pickled onion tart, followed by a steak. For dessert, he had apple crumble with ice cream and lots of custard. I had a nice piece of Shropshire blue cheese and a port. After dinner, we went to Havana to watch the singer Jade Adams. She is from Wakefield and used to play Rugby League before deciding to pursue a career as a singer. An unusual route. However, she was excellent and had a very powerful voice for a 22 year old. She just needs to develop her own style, rather than emulating the divas whose songs she sung. She had a very homely style and entertained her audience. Ian purchased her CD. In September, she will be releasing an EP, so we will look out for that on iTunes. Ian and I went to different events after the Jade Adams show. I went to the syndicate quiz and Ian went to see the theatre show – ‘Chronicles’, his review follows. ‘Chronicles’ is the signature show for the Ventura Theatre Company, or so Neil Oliver told us when he introduced it. The stage for the show had been significantly dressed with 4 video screens, two huge snakes on either side of the proscenium and various other jungle / temple sets. The show is basically about two explorers who encounter various tribes, animals and gods as they travel on their quest. The roles of the performers had clearly changed for this performance with the busy singers from the previous shows relegated to dancing and background tasks. The stars of the show this time were to be the adagio couple and the two male acrobats. With various pieces of music ranging from Disney’s Hercules, The Lion King and Tarzan to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings the performers entertained us with a slick and professional show. It was during the adagio couple’s main performance, in fact just before their bow, that the show stopped abruptly with an announcement from the Captain. Just before the show we had heard an announcement for an “assessment party” to make their way to Deck 7, Zone 3, but wondered what it was for. Well, the Captain’s message made it very clear. A number of people had reported the smell of burning on the open decks, and this is what was being investigated. The Captain made it very clear that a full check of the ship had been carried out and that everything was clear and no fire had been found. He had been in touch with the nearest authorities on land to ask if there were any environmental problems that could be causing the smell and it was confirmed that there were forest fires on shore. Within a few minutes the show was reset and continued, to great applause from the audience. Overall it was a great show, only spoiled by the attitude of some of the audience on the way out, who complained that the Captain should have waited to announce that the ship was not on fire until after the show had ended. Never mind putting 4,700 passengers’, crew and performers’ minds at rest, just don’t interrupt their entertainment. Selfish or what? Ian joined us for the last few questions of the quiz. It was a shame he hadn’t arrived earlier as our performance was rather dismal and he knew 2 of the answers we had got wrong. Only thirteen tonight. The only consolation was that the ship wasn’t on fire! Day 15: Friday 15th August 2008 – At Sea Today was another relaxing sea day. The weather is still bright and sunny, although it is noticeably cooler than before. We are sailing up the coast of the Iberian peninsular toward the Bay of Biscay. We slept in, getting up at about 10.30. Ian had been to the spa for a thermal treatment, although he didn’t stay very long. We went to Tazzine on deck 5 for a drink. Unfortunately, their coffee machine has broken so we made do with soft drinks. No spare parts until we get back to the UK. We also had a couple of muffins. As I have finished my book, I went to the Library to get another. I chose Thomas Harris’s ‘Hannibal Rising’. I have seen the film so I wanted to see what the book was like. We went for an early lunch again today. Ian had chips and ham and I had steak and Cumberland sausage pie with chips. We ate in the buffet again today. After lunch, we wanted to find somewhere quiet to read. There was a pianist in the Red Bar, so we thought we would try ‘Metropolis’; this was much quieter. We sat looking out over the back of the ship. Ian finished his Julian Clary - ‘Murder Most Fab’, the end was very disappointing; he then went for a walk. I stayed in the bar until 5.15, managing to finish ‘Hannibal Rising’ – quite gruesome, but with some more interesting plot twists and characters than the film. We both returned to the cabin to get ready for our final formal night, the Gala Dinner. On the way to dinner, we stopped in the Atrium to have our portrait taken on the stairs. Goodness knows what that will look like! At dinner, we only had Alvin and Sheila for company as the other four were going to the White Room for dinner. Ian started with an assiette of salmon followed by a lemon sorbet. His main course was beef Wellington. I began with baked Camembert, followed by a mushroom broth (very hot and thick), with beef Wellington for my main course. I also had a dessert tonight: a selection of mini chocolate desserts. I then had some brie and port-infused stilton, followed by a Drambuie. Ian had a raspberry soufflé for his dessert (Note from Ian – This was nowhere near as good as the one I had in The White Room). After dinner, we were a little stuck for entertainment. Unusually, there were no singers tonight and we didn’t fancy the comedian (Mick Miller). Instead, we went to the classical concert in the Tamarind Club. This featured a classical guitarist accompanied by a flute and backing track. They were quite good, although at times the combination produced some odd sounds. The Radetsky March? Following the concert, we went to first the Red Bar and then Metropolis for cocktails. The ship was quite busy tonight. Our final event was the syndicate quiz. We did quite well tonight, scoring fifteen, although the winning teams scored eighteen. Who was the astronaut who stayed behind in the Apollo 11 capsule? (Not the one who drew the short straw!) What is diplopia? What instrument did Benny Goodman play? What is important about 14th July 1955 in the UK? Answers to follow tomorrow! Day 16: Saturday 16th August 2008 – At Sea We had another lie-in today, eventually getting up at about 10.30. Our first call was Tazzine (still no hot drinks) where we had an Appletiser each and caught up on the diary. Ian spoke to some men about the merits of the iPhone and then we went for lunch at Ramblas. Just as we were leaving they repaired the hot drinks machine, good news. The weather was not that great, and most people were staying indoors as it had been raining. Despite this, the ship does not feel crowded. It was gradually clearing as we left the Bay of Biscay and made our way around Brittany toward the English Channel. Today, we had tapas. We had six bowls: two chorizo; patatas bravas; cheese and ham croquettes; prawns; ham and figs. I had a glass of wine as well and Ian had some Cava sangria. It was very reasonable at £5 for the food. After lunch, we decided that we should do our packing. This didn’t take that long and we managed to get it all done whilst finishing watching ‘Finding Nemo’ on the interactive TV. The interactive service is quite good; you can order room service and duty-free shopping, watch a wide selection of free TV and films and keep up-to-date with your spending (oh dear – we have spent much more than last year!) We have been watching ‘Nemo’ on and off for the last four days – the system remembers where you got up to and you can save it and continue when you want to. Once the packing was complete, I sat down to write the ‘Thank you’ cards and prepare the tips. As always, we have had excellent service from our waiters and stewards so we wanted to reward them well. Then I went for a cup of tea and some sandwiches at the buffet. Ian stayed in the room for a lie-down and then we went shopping. He bought an Emporio Armani ring from the jewelery shop and then we sat in the Red Bar for a drink. At about 5.30, we went back to the room to get ready for our final meal. Tonight’s meal was excellent, as usual. Ian started with an egg feuilette and I had some salmon rillettes. We both had a tasty pea and ham soup. Ian had a steak for his main course and I had beef cooked in Guinness with baby onions. For dessert, Ian had a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream and I, predictably, had some cheese. The theatre company were staging their final show tonight called ‘Explosion!’ It was reasonably entertaining, with some excellent choreography, even if it seemed designed to show off their talents rather than entertain us. There were a lot of songs that we didn’t know, but they performed some popular numbers for ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Hairspray’. The staging was excellent, and tonight we were treated to some pyrotechnics! Following the show, we met Alvin, Sheila, Paul and Kay in the Tamarind Club for farewell drink. There was a band playing (too loud) and people were dancing (not us). We had an enjoyable time and then went to our final quiz. I am not sure why we bothered! We only scored thirteen tonight, but at least we are consistent. Last night’s answers are as follows: Michael Collins; blurred vision; clarinet; the last execution of a woman took place. (Thanks to Mr Loydon for pointing out that Donald Campbell also broke the world speed record on the same date) The only consolation is that Alvin and Sheila’s team won with a very commendable sixteen points. Well done to them again. Before going to bed, we watched an episode of ‘French and Saunders’ on the TV, and then went to sleep as we have a very early start tomorrow. Day 17: Sunday 17th August 2008 – Southampton We woke up at six o’clock this morning, a bit of a shock to the system! We needed to be ready to leave by 7.30, so after finishing the last bits of packing we went for a quick breakfast in the Waterside buffet. We spoke to our Assistant Waiter, Vivek, who is leaving the ship today to return to India for a holiday and then went back to the cabin. After struggling with all our baggage (two large suitcases, two trolley cases, one hold-all and a backpack), we disembarked at just before 7.30. I think we went out the wrong way, using the crew gangway, because we managed to miss the main baggage hall. We went through customs without having to show our passports and made our way easily to the car. The only hiccup was that the car’s battery was flat (Note from Ian – I will remember to turn off the Auto Lights and Wipers next time as they drain the battery even when not in use). Ian went back to the car park office and they immediately dispatched their Sure Start van to come and give us a jump-start. He arrived immediately and then we were off! We stopped once for a toilet break at Hilton Park services and made it home by 11.10, ironically about the time we would have been getting off the ship if we had used the disembarkation tickets originally issued to us. We made excellent time and had a good drive – no traffic problems. In future, we will definitely be going for the self-disembarkation option. We were unpacked and had our first load of washing on by noon. So, how to sum it all up? We both agree that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and think that ‘Ventura’ is an excellent ship. We have made some good friends and really liked the places we visited. The only thing that let the holiday down was having to endure the unreasonable complaints of other passengers. WE will certainly be writing a glowing review of the ship and would recommend sailing on her to everybody. We look forward to our Baltic cruise next year – only 354 days to go… Read Less