This was our first cruise and, on the whole, we thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t praise P&O enough for the extremely smooth transition from Venice Marco Polo airport to the ship. We didn’t have the usual scrum round the baggage carousel. We just sailed through (please excuse the pun) customs, where a bored looking official gave our passports a cursory glance, and then the P&O staff guided us to the very comfortable coaches and onward to the Ventura. Our cases were delivered to our cabin later on. On arrival at the Ventura, I must admit it did feel like we were herded like cattle through the registration process. However, it was all done very quickly and efficiently and then we were on board.
Our cabins weren’t ready yet but we were advised to go to Deck 15 for tea and coffee and an announcement would be made later. Unfortunately, we had arrived at lunchtime and the Waterside Buffet restaurant was packed with people. We couldn’t see one free seat. We were exhausted from getting up at 2am to go the the airport and we just wanted to sit down with a cup of tea. We scouted around for a seat and I noticed the Beach House bar outside and the fact that a few people were smoking on one side. I guided my, by now irritable, husband outside and told him to sit on a bar stool and light up. I then went and found the tea and coffee machines and we started to feel a little bit more human.
Soon afterwards, there was an announcement that the cabins were ready and we went to find ours on Deck 9. We had booked a superior de-luxe cabin and we were delighted with it. It was spotlessly clean and bright with plenty of wardrobe and storage space, fridge, kettle, hairdryer, two TVs, vanity table and a sitting area with a sofa and chair and a decent sized bathroom (bath with shower). We couldn’t have been happier with the cabin. The other positive point about our cabin was the fact that it was extremely well sound proofed. You couldn’t hear any noise from neighbours. Any outside noise almost disappeared when you closed the balcony doors. The only sound we heard was if someone let their cabin door slam or if people were talking loudly in the corridor. Our steward kept the cabin spotless during our two weeks and we were always well supplied with tea/coffee/milk, plenty of clean towels etc.
We did our own research before we left for the cruise and worked out where we wanted to go, train timetables etc. However, we did book one trip with P&O which was on the Genoa stop. We booked the Portofino trip which was around £63 each as there is no way we could have found our own way to Portofino easily. It was a lovely trip and we were glad we went on it, although we would have liked to have had more time in Portofino. We felt a bit rushed.
For the Civitivecchia stop, we had already decided to make our own way to Rome on the train. The port authorities were very helpful in that they had set up an area where they were selling the train tickets and local bus tickets for the station bus. We purchased a return BIRG ticket to Rome for 12 Euros each, which is extremely cheap considering that the journey takes almost an hour and the ticket could also be used on the Metro and bus systems. We also purchased the local bus tickets we needed to get to the station, which cost 80 cents each. It was all made very easy and I am grateful to the port authorities for that. There were regular trains to and from Rome, approximately every half hour. To compare prices with the P&O equivalent trip in which you paid for a train ticket for a pre-booked seat and guide on the train only (basically just a train journey with help), the cost was £47 each. P&O did employ scare tactics as well on a couple of occasions. On their announcements and I think it was also mentioned in the Horizon newsletter, they kept repeating that Italian railways were notorious for sudden strikes and to make sure we had a back up plan for getting back to the ship. I understand that this is probably true and that there are strikes, but I was slightly cynical about P&O’s tactics. If you get stranded independently somewhere, the ship sails without you. If you are with a P&O excursion, the ship waits for you.
In Ajaccio, we took the local open top bus tour which cost us 10 Euros each. The equivalent P&O excursion was £41 each (Introduction to Ajaccio).
We took the train from Monaco to Antibes - price 15 Euros each for a return ticket. P&O Old Antibes trip - price £30 each. Again there were trains almost every half hour, except over lunchtime.
We were allocated the Cinnamon restaurant and we went there to eat on the first black tie evening. We didn’t realise beforehand that they were promoting Marco Pierre White’s menu on that particular evening. I ordered the soup and my husband ordered the smoked salmon as starters, once we had translated the gobbledegook from the menu. The soup came and it was consomme. We did wonder if it had been made with the Knorr stock cubes that Marco Pierre White advertises. My husband had a large plate with a tiny piece of transparent smoked salmon, a small piece of lemon tied up in a muslin bag and a few other little bits of decoration. The main course was also just bits of food decorating the plates. We were so disappointed...and still hungry, so we skipped the dessert and went up to the buffet restaurant for some real food.
We ate mostly in the buffet restaurant because the food was good and the choice was good most of the time. They usually had a different country’s food each night and this wasn’t a problem normally because there were other choices if you didn’t like the food from a particular country. The only problem we had was on the Tandoori night. Everything was spicy, even some of the salad choices, so if you didn’t like Indian food, there wasn’t much choice that evening. They did have a roast each evening, eg. roast beef, chicken, pork but the chef who was serving it was very stingy and only gave you a couple of very thin small pieces of meat.
Some of the evening entertainment in the Havana Bar was very good. We saw Elton John, Phil Collins and Kenny Rogers tribute acts, which were surprisingly good. In the theatre we saw a young singer called Paul Hughes who sang in the Frank Sinatra/Michael Buble style and we also went to see Tom O’Connor in the theatre as well. He is still going strong and is funnier than some of the younger comedians you see on TV nowadays. A few of the singers we saw were typical cruise ship cheesy singers and we did think that the ventriloquist act was just a step too far so we gave that a miss, but on the whole, the entertainment was very enjoyable.
A Few Negatives
The cost of the food on the Thomson flight. For the prices people are paying for their cruise holidays, not even a cup of tea or coffee was offered. A cup of tea or coffee cost £2.50, Kit Kat biscuit £1.30, sausage roll £3.50 etc etc.
Drinks were quite expensive on the Ventura and I did notice that a lot of people were buying a drink and making it last. Also many people got tea and coffee or water from the buffet restaurant and brought them outside. A few examples of prices: Pint of Carling lager £3.85, small can of Heiniken lager £3.85, glass bottle of Coca Cola £2.50, other soft drinks £1.95.
The Great British Sailaway - at the Laguna Pool and Breakers Bar area. This happened several times on our trip and was akin to Butlins holiday camp entertainment. Jolly, happy P&O entertainment people would lead a sing-along with all the happy sunbathers waving flags and cheering as the ship set sail from whatever port we were at. It was really just a promotion for whatever alcoholic drink P&O were promoting at the time but it was really quite cringe-worthy.
The P&O photographers. On disembarking at each port the photographers were there to take another photo. On each black tie evening, they were there to take a special portrait photo. On another night they were taking a soft focus photo to make you look 10 years younger...and so it goes on. The photos taken on embarking and disembarking cost £11.80 each. The black tie portrait photos cost £17.95 each and the special album to collect all your photos in cost £21.00 so if you were daft enough to buy all of your photos, you could be paying around £200 over the two weeks, which is probably enough for a deposit on your next cruise!
Arriving in Barcelona on a Sunday when all the big stores are closed all day. Not impressed by this. I assume it was P&O cost cutting over port fees. Also, leaving some ports early when we had a sea day the next day. Again, this could have been cost cutting.
Gratuities. There is an automatic gratuity charge of £3.95 per person per day on the Ventura. For us this amounted to £55.30 each over the two weeks of the cruise. Someone we spoke to had one of his charges removed (he was there with his wife) and told us that he was met with quite a hostile response from the receptionist, but he made them take the charge off his account. He said he would rather give the money to his steward and a couple of waiters in his restaurant. You are within your rights to have the charges removed and when you think about it, it is a bloody cheek forcing passengers to pay gratuities. It is not the passengers’ responsibility to tip every member of staff on the ship. We left a good tip for our steward and we left the gratuities on our account but we would seriously consider having them removed if we go on another cruise.
On the whole our experience with P&O on the Ventura was positive with just a few niggles. We have got the cruise bug now and would love to go on another one but we will do more research into other cruise companies before making our choice. I am sure there are pros and cons with all of them.
Our cabin was spotlessly clean and bright with plenty of wardrobe and storage space, fridge, kettle, hairdryer, two TVs, vanity table and a sitting area with a sofa and chair and a decent sized bathroom (bath with shower). We couldn’t have been happier with the cabin. The other positive point about our cabin was the fact that it was extremely well sound proofed. You couldn’t hear any noise from neighbours. Any outside noise almost disappeared when you closed the balcony doors. The only sound we heard was if someone let their cabin door slam or if people were talking loudly in the corridor. Our steward kept the cabin spotless during our two weeks and we were always well supplied with tea/coffee/milk, plenty of clean towels etc.