My boyfriend and I were new to cruising this year and have just disembarked the Ventura ship with P&O Cruises. It truly was the holiday of a lifetime and whilst we have no other cruises to compare this to, we do have reasonably high expectations and lots of previous experience of high quality holiday packages.
We booked this cruise very last minute (just 17 days before embarkation!) and therefore wondered if we were too late to book certain excursions or for my boyfriend to hire a suit for the black tie events.
Everything was so straight forward and easy to organise. We had access to the P&O ‘cruise personaliser’ online which enabled us to book excursions, book a reservation at ‘East’ restaurant, order a suit etc. I was very impressed with this personalised touch and the way we could see our personalised holiday itinerary at a glance before we’d even arrived.
Let me get to the holiday itself! Everybody looks for different things on holiday but I genuinely believe this ship had a wide enough choice of everything to suit the vast majority of people. I personally enjoy: excellent food, engaging entertainment, space to relax in beautiful surroundings, exercise and spa facilities and a well-equipped and comfortable room. My boyfriend enjoys these same things as well as lively nightlife and the opportunity to socialise with fellow holiday makers.
Ventura boasts a wide range of restaurants, both a la carte and buffet styles. AMAZING food! We were allocated a table at the Bay Tree restaurant, 2nd sitting which tended to be around 8.30pm. Reading some other reviews, I can see that some people don’t like having allocated meal times but for us it worked well. We enjoyed knowing we had a table reserved at this top class restaurant and I loved the nightly process of getting myself dressed up for the occasion! The menu varied every night (7 nights) and every night the food and service were brilliant. I am a vegetarian and was concerned that my options may be limited or repetitive. How wrong I was!
I enjoyed delicious concoctions that I’ve never tried before most nights and even the soups were varied across the week, all equally tasty. My boyfriend was blown away by the food and loved the fact that he could order 2 different mains in a night if he fancied it for no extra charge! Desserts were also fabulous and varied every night. The waiter service was 5 star, with our waiter remembering after the first night that I like a peppermint tea after eating. Amazing when you consider the masses of people those waiters serve every day and the fact that they’re never on board for very long!
The buffet restaurant was very good for breakfast – a wide choice of cooked food (including vegetarian sausages!), continental style food and lots of fresh fruit. We didn’t tend to use the buffet for meals other than breakfast as we were booked in at the Bay Tree but the one night we did opt to go there for dinner, we were again very impressed.
We had 1 evening meal at ‘East’ and my word, it was one of the best oriental restaurants we have dined at. And we’ve been to a lot! The food was an explosion of tastes and the service was impeccable. For an extra £15 per person to dine there for an evening is well worth it. A restaurant of that standard in London would cost about £70+ per head for what we had.
There is a wide variety of food available throughout each day too; including BBQ grills on some days, freshly prepared pizza to order, ice-cream and the buffet restaurants. Not to mention afternoon tea and inclusive room service. I am not a drinker so can’t comment on the alcohol available, however I love a mocktail and there were some excellent varieties on board. For just £2.50 a drink, they were the best value for money mocktails I’ve ever had. We bought a ‘soft drink’ package where we got 20 drinks for £35. Super value for money! My boyfriend had the odd alcoholic drink and was impressed with the quality but noted that they’re not particularly cheap.
We stayed in a balcony cabin on deck 14 (Riviera deck). Excellent cabin with great facilities. The bed was queen-size and extremely comfortable. The interactive television gave us access to a range of inclusive films and shows and we could also order room service via the TV. The bathroom was well lit with lots of towels provided, a large mirror and perfectly adequate shower considering we were on a ship! The balcony was a very nice added luxury – the morning views were spectacular and we spent a few afternoons on our balcony playing chess (borrowed from the on-board library) and sipping afternoon tea!
The room-keeping was superb and beds were made at least twice a day, with chocolates left on our pillows after every evening meal and towels shaped into animals! The cabin was spotlessly clean upon arrival and maintained to a high standard every day. We were very impressed with the fact that we didn’t see our luggage after we checked in at Manchester airport until we checked in to our cabin. The same for the journey home, we left our luggage outside the cabin the final night and were reunited with it back at Manchester airport. Very well organised!
We enjoyed a whole host of nightly entertainment in the theatre and various bars. We enjoyed soul singers, West End style shows with singing and dancing and stand-up comedians. We also made use of the casino which was pleasantly low priced with minimum bets being just £2 for blackjack and three card poker. My boyfriend actually ended our cruise up by about £50 in the casino so that was a result!
There were 2 black tie nights during our 7 night cruise and these were great fun. There were lots of on-board photographers to capture the moments and whilst we didn’t purchase any photos, we enjoyed the novelty of being treated like celebrities!
In the daily ‘Horizon’ newspaper that was delivered each prior evening, there was an outline of sporting activities for the following day. Unfortunately for my boyfriend, these events were unattended and therefore didn’t take place. There are sport courts on board but my boyfriend only got to play me and a random child! I suspect people are too busy soaking up the sun to want to play sports but if they’re advertised as being on, it wouldn’t hurt the staff to try and encourage people to attend.
Despite what some people have said about Ventura being over-crowded and packed out with children and teenagers (it is a ‘family-friendly’ ship!), we found this not to be a problem. I did pay extra for access to ‘The Retreat’, which in hindsight I’ve realised was unnecessary as there were lots of quiet areas with empty sunbeds throughout most parts of the ship. The only area I avoided like the plague was deck 15, (Lido deck). This was where families with children and teenagers congregated around the pool and it would have been difficult to claim a sunbed here or to relax as the music was always loud all day. But of course, that’s what some people love and enjoy – if I came on board Ventura as a child, this would have been perfect!
‘The Retreat’ was not at all pretentious as another reviewer claimed it to be, nor was it empty. It was actually fully booked the day we embarked and we were lucky to be able to book it. It was wonderful to have waiter service on these comfortable and well spread out sunbeds. I spent lots of time up there reading books and sun-bathing!
One thing I have learnt for next time is not to use the ‘Oasis Spa’! I booked myself in for a hot stone massage on the first day. Relaxing as it was, it was not worth the extortionate price. It was as good as a massage at a ‘Bannatyne Spa’. These cost half the price charged on Ventura. There is a cheeky 10% service charge added on at the end. The first mention of this was after the masseuse asked me if I’d enjoyed the massage and I said I had. You then feel obliged to pay the extra 10% service charge. I would have preferred to know about this before I booked the treatment, had I known it would cost nearly £100 all in I would have left it!
I found the ‘Oasis Spa’ to be generally over-priced for what it offered and the staff here are clearly on commission and trained to use pushy sales techniques, which was disappointing. The masseuse tried to force expensive Elemis products on me after my treatment to which I had to refuse 2 or 3 times before she accepted that I wasn’t going to buy.
I took part in a yoga class one morning and have to say, it was of a better standard than my usual class at the gym! The instructor was clearly highly trained and experienced and offered a great class that I’d recommend to anyone.
We did 4 excursions during our cruise. A tour of beautiful, mountainous Montenegro first. This was a 5/5 trip, excellent organisation and value for money. We saw some beautiful sights and tried some local food which was really eye-opening. We visited a waterpark in Corfu which was again, 5/5. The waterpark was one of the best we’ve been to, rivalling parks in Florida! We could have done with an extra hour there before being picked up but it was a great day. We had a tour of Rome, 4/5. It was good but just not quite to our taste as much as we expected due to the very long drive there and back and the sheer crowdedness of the city. We should have expected this in hindsight. It was great to see Rome but it was too much to cram in a day really. Our final excursion was a beach trip in Corsica. I would only rate this 2-3/5. This was because the beach was very average with no sunbeds, very over-priced beachside eateries with slow service and not a long enough length of time at the beach. We actually had to get a taxi back to the ship because we were 4 minutes late to meet the coach and our names hadn’t been written down on this particular excursion so no one knew we were missing!
There were a huge range of people on board Ventura, ranging from families with young children to solo pensioners. We spoke to various people in the restaurant, the bars and ‘The Retreat’ and all of them were lovely. There was no evidence of pretentious attitudes or people being rude to staff which I’d read about in 1 review. There is a problem with people reserving sunbeds with towels on the busy Lido deck. It clearly states in Horizon that this is not allowed, so people who are complaining about this are well within their rights to move peoples’ belongings from sunbeds to sit down. My boyfriend did this one day when he wanted to sit in this area for the sail-away party.
We were made to feel like complete royalty throughout this cruise by all staff we met. They can’t do enough for you and service is always with a smile. Anyone who complains about lack of service here must have some serious delusions of grandeur because unless you expect a personal butler, I don’t see what there could be to complain about!
We have already put down a down payment for next year and can’t wait to return, I would recommend this cruise ship to anyone who is looking for an extra special holiday and something truly unique.