Background We are a retired couple in our 60s who have cruised about 8 or 10 times previously, only with P&O, mostly on the Oriana or Aurora, but once on Artemis. We have always wanted to go on a Maiden cruise - had imagined this would be something unique, with special events and special entertainment. We made a reservation on the day bookings opened and got a "guarantee" cabin for the grade we had requested. We also subsequently added the one week cruise immediately following - visiting 4 ports on the Spanish and French Atlantic coast. Travel to Southampton We drove down to Southampton taking advantage of the free parking offered for this cruise. The queue from well outside the dock gates took an hour before we reached the unloading point. There was then quite a long queue (in the rain) before we got inside the terminal building. As "frequent" P&O cruisers we had the advantage of priority check-in once we were inside, but even that was quite slow due to the number of such passengers arriving. Once on board at 1.30pm our luggage arrived within a couple of hours. It may be that the long queues to reach the ship and subsequently to check-in were a result of this being the first time that P&O have had to embark so many passengers. The Ship Ventura is the first large ship in the P&O fleet - taking around 3,400 passengers I believe, as compared to 1,800 or so on the Oriana or Aurora. She is built to the standard we have come to expect with P&O - well fitted out, beautifully furnished, excellent artwork everywhere. As she is designed to attract a new type of cruise customer (families with young children), the lounges and public areas are more open and "walk-through" than we are used to and we felt the lack of quiet places to sit down in comfort and read or relax. The bars are all spacious, although the three largest - Havanna, Tamarind Club and Metropolis are regularly used for entertainment, much of which is relayed at a volume which appears to be designed for those who are hard of hearing. The theatre is outstanding - up to the class of the best London theatres, seating 750+, with comfortable seating and excellent production facilities. The Atrium and shopping area is OK with more shops and more space than we have seen on the smaller P&O ships. There is a limited library, but no dedicated library reading room as on the Oriana or Aurora. Our Cabin Our cabins - A622 on deck 12 for the Maiden Cruise and B406 on deck 11 for the one week follow-on cruise, were identical, with reasonable space, excellent furnishing, a terrific walk-in wardrobe area (more hanging space than we have seen on other ships) and a typical, adequate bathroom/toilet with shower. The cabin had a balcony with two semi-recliner chairs and a small coffee table. There was a flat screen TV, excellent tea and coffee making facilities and a fridge. Our cabin stewards were first rate as we have always found on P&O ships. One of the few snags we encountered with this brand new ship was that public area announcements could not be heard on one of the TV channels as stated, so every time anyone heard the sound of any announcement, everyone rushed to the door and stood in the corridor to listen...... A minor annoyance which should be put right quickly, we hope. The only other "snag" was, we believe, a sign of the times - some films on the TV were free to watch, others required a payment of a few pounds. Just another way that Carnival is seeking to increase income. A similar situation applied to cabin food service - some items were free, others required a payment. The TV has an "interactive" function where one can find messages (usually promoting services from the Spa, Photographers, Tours Team or Art Gallery) and a facility for checking the on-board account expenditure to date. TV channels included Sky News (UK version), BBC World and BBC Prime for nearly all of the time. One comment we would make - something to take into account when choosing a cabin with a balcony - is that the balconies on decks 10, 11 and 12 are set back from the side of the ship and are built vertically one above the other with decent privacy. But we could look straight down into the balconies of cabins on decks 8 and 9 which are staggered out (presumably give larger balcony and/or cabin size). We felt than the people on these lower decks at times felt quite uncomfortable with us looking down on them resting or having drinks or a meal. Dining There are two large self-service cafeterias on deck 15 which are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, children's high tea, an evening meal and a limited midnight buffet. In practice some food is available from 6.30am until the early hours. The restaurants are bright and airy, but with limited space for serving food and the choices reflect that limit. Seating is insufficient at peak breakfast and lunchtimes, even with the small outside area at the stern and the few tables in the area around the covered pool. Breakfast and lunch are also served in one or two of the "main" restaurants, with waiter service. This was our preference on most occasions unless we wished to have a quick breakfast before going ashore. During the daytime there are two food bars on deck 15, one serving pizzas and the other burgers. These are free of charge. There is also an ice cream bar for which there is a charge. We had an excellent pizza for lunch on one occasion, but did not sample the burgers or ice cream. There are a number of evening meal options on Ventura, but at the time of booking it is necessary to make a choice for dinner between "Club" dining (the same table every evening at one of two restaurants - Baytree or Saffron - at either 6.30pm or 8.30pm) or "Freedom" dining - eating in a third main restaurant (The Cinnamon) at a time of your choice without reservation. We had chosen Club dining second sitting at a table for 8 and apart from one or two evenings when the galley was struggling to cope, we were seated promptly and looked after by excellent restaurant staff very well. We met some people who had chosen Freedom dining and heard that at peak times it was necessary to make a reservation the day before if you wished to eat at a particular time. In addition to all those eating options, there are three alternative dining venues for which there is a cover charge. The "White Room" - conceived and inspired by Marco Pierre White, we were told - had a charge of £20 per head for dinner on the Maiden Cruise, but this had increased to £25 per head for the following one-week cruise. "East" had a charge of £15 and £20 respectively and "Ramblas" also had a charge, but we did not enquire. We heard good reports of the White Room and it was fully booked by the second day of each cruise. The menu there did not attract us sufficiently to justify the additional charge. We did eat at East and had an excellent meal from an interesting menu. There did not appear to be any difficulty in getting reservations there. We did not sample Ramblas, but friends tried the Tapas snacks available in the bar area (I think is was 3 Tapas for £2.50) and said that this was very good. Several of these would make a light lunch. The food was generally good, although there are signs of economy in the choices available and the quality of some dishes and the reduction in provision of fresh vegetables.. Beef in particular, was of poor quality on several occasions and the "standby" offering of sirloin steak at dinner was inedible on a couple of occasions. Staff were very embarrassed about this and promptly offered an alternative. Meals came out from the galley ready plated - your choice of main course on a bed of rice, pasta or potatoes with minimal vegetable decoration and the waiters then added another potato choice and one vegetable of the day by silver service. There were 4 formal and 4 informal nights on the maiden cruise and 2 of each on the one week cruise. The rest were "smart casual". We were impressed that nearly everyone made the effort to comply with the dress code on formal nights and it was a pleasure to see even small children smartly kitted out - some even in scale size DJs! We suspect that those who chose not to "play the game" ate in the cafeteria on formal nights and kept clear of the main public areas. Daytime entertainment Much is made of "Cirque Ventura" - an area on the highest deck with equipment (and trained staff) for trampoline, flying trapeze, juggling, walking on stilts, etc. Workshops are held (for which there is a charge, I believe). This will appeal to young people, but only operated in good weather. There is limited space for deck quoits and shuffleboard and 4 table tennis tables. There are - as always - many scheduled daytime activities to suit most, but not all, tastes. But with the ships spending more days in port than at sea, these activities are less important. There are 4 swimming pools - none reserved for adults only - and plenty of sunloungers, so long as you are prepared to look around and not stay close to a pool. There is a comprehensive Spa and hairdressing / manicure salon. The steam room and sauna are not mixed sex on this ship which is a shame and the facilities did not therefore appear to be used much. There was much promotion of the various massage services available. The gym / fitness center was very good, although, to my shame, I only used it three times. Evening entertainment This is a very subjective matter and our comments can only reflect our own tastes. One overall comment - we found the music much too loud, especially in the shows performed in the Havanna venue. Even in the Metropolis bar we had to move away from the area where music was being played, in order to hold a conversation. Luckily we happened to carry earplugs in our luggage and we made use of them on several occasions…! There were 3 venues in use each night - the arena theatre, the Tamarind Club and Havanna. Each venue had three performances, enabling people to see 2 of the shows if they wished, as well as having dinner. The theatre company shows were terrific - the best we have seen on any P&O ship - and contained elements of dance, song and acrobatics. There was over-reliance on the lead male singer (an excellent voice, but finding it tough to perform 3 shows a night) which was a shame because there were other members of the team with good voices as well. We had a classical pianist on each cruise and both attracted a loyal following. The Tamarind Club was billed at the Ventura Comedy Club. There was a comedian or a duo there almost every night. We suspect that P&O have some way to go to discover and retain good comedians. Comedy needs to be good and reasonably sophisticated to attract a wide audience and when comedians have to rely on bad language, smut and sex in order to present an act, that is not to our taste. We feel that this is also not appropriate for an audience which includes young children (who were still around at the shows at 10.45pm) The other cabaret acts were sometimes OK, but not of the standard we have met on previous P&O cruises. This was particularly disappointing as we had expected the Maiden cruise, at least, to be something special and to have some top class entertainers. One act that did stand out was called "Legends" on the Maiden cruise. Children's facilities We did not have children with us. On the maiden cruise there were - we believe - only about 40 children on board. On the subsequent cruise there were 400 children. We were told there will be 800 or more on board during school holidays. We understand that the facilities for children are excellent and they certainly have a large dedicated area and dedicated staff to organize their day. For passengers without children, the impact of large numbers around the pools is significant. Ports On the maiden cruise we visited Barcelona, Villefranche, Livorno (for Florence), Santa Marghareta, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Alicante and Gibraltar. On the one week cruise we visited Vigo, Lisbon, Bilbao and Brest. We booked ship excursions (actually coaches to transport us to the city and back so we could "do our own thing") for Florence, Rome and Santiago de Compostella (from Vigo). The coach service was reliable and the attendant guide good on 2 occasions and poor on one. Elsewhere we explored locally, making use of the shuttle bus provided into town where appropriate. We like to explore on foot at our own pace, not in a crowd. We research for walks and sights of interest on the internet before each cruise and always try to find a suitable restaurant for an inexpensive lunch in a non-touristy area. We usually get recommendations by posting questions in the appropriate Forum in the sister website www.tripadvisor.com There was an initial problem with disembarkation by tender at Villefranche (the first time they had done this with a full complement of passengers) and on a couple of other occasions there were problems getting ashore because of a lack of shuttle buses to take passengers out of the port area. We hope these are teething problems which will be sorted. Final Disembarkation This operation ran smoothly and once we had remembered what color our suitcases were, we found then easily amongst the vast collection in the arrivals hall at Southampton. The car was easily found and the journey out and home uneventful.

P&O Ventura - First Impressions

Ventura Cruise Review by brissle

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: April 2008
  • Destination: Western Mediterranean
  • Cabin Type: Outside Twin with Balcony and Shower
Background We are a retired couple in our 60s who have cruised about 8 or 10 times previously, only with P&O, mostly on the Oriana or Aurora, but once on Artemis.
We have always wanted to go on a Maiden cruise - had imagined this would be something unique, with special events and special entertainment. We made a reservation on the day bookings opened and got a "guarantee" cabin for the grade we had requested. We also subsequently added the one week cruise immediately following - visiting 4 ports on the Spanish and French Atlantic coast.
Travel to Southampton We drove down to Southampton taking advantage of the free parking offered for this cruise. The queue from well outside the dock gates took an hour before we reached the unloading point. There was then quite a long queue (in the rain) before we got inside the terminal building. As "frequent" P&O cruisers we had the advantage of priority check-in once we were inside, but even that was quite slow due to the number of such passengers arriving. Once on board at 1.30pm our luggage arrived within a couple of hours. It may be that the long queues to reach the ship and subsequently to check-in were a result of this being the first time that P&O have had to embark so many passengers.
The Ship Ventura is the first large ship in the P&O fleet - taking around 3,400 passengers I believe, as compared to 1,800 or so on the Oriana or Aurora. She is built to the standard we have come to expect with P&O - well fitted out, beautifully furnished, excellent artwork everywhere. As she is designed to attract a new type of cruise customer (families with young children), the lounges and public areas are more open and "walk-through" than we are used to and we felt the lack of quiet places to sit down in comfort and read or relax. The bars are all spacious, although the three largest - Havanna, Tamarind Club and Metropolis are regularly used for entertainment, much of which is relayed at a volume which appears to be designed for those who are hard of hearing. The theatre is outstanding - up to the class of the best London theatres, seating 750+, with comfortable seating and excellent production facilities. The Atrium and shopping area is OK with more shops and more space than we have seen on the smaller P&O ships. There is a limited library, but no dedicated library reading room as on the Oriana or Aurora.
Our Cabin Our cabins - A622 on deck 12 for the Maiden Cruise and B406 on deck 11 for the one week follow-on cruise, were identical, with reasonable space, excellent furnishing, a terrific walk-in wardrobe area (more hanging space than we have seen on other ships) and a typical, adequate bathroom/toilet with shower. The cabin had a balcony with two semi-recliner chairs and a small coffee table. There was a flat screen TV, excellent tea and coffee making facilities and a fridge. Our cabin stewards were first rate as we have always found on P&O ships. One of the few snags we encountered with this brand new ship was that public area announcements could not be heard on one of the TV channels as stated, so every time anyone heard the sound of any announcement, everyone rushed to the door and stood in the corridor to listen...... A minor annoyance which should be put right quickly, we hope. The only other "snag" was, we believe, a sign of the times - some films on the TV were free to watch, others required a payment of a few pounds. Just another way that Carnival is seeking to increase income. A similar situation applied to cabin food service - some items were free, others required a payment. The TV has an "interactive" function where one can find messages (usually promoting services from the Spa, Photographers, Tours Team or Art Gallery) and a facility for checking the on-board account expenditure to date. TV channels included Sky News (UK version), BBC World and BBC Prime for nearly all of the time.
One comment we would make - something to take into account when choosing a cabin with a balcony - is that the balconies on decks 10, 11 and 12 are set back from the side of the ship and are built vertically one above the other with decent privacy. But we could look straight down into the balconies of cabins on decks 8 and 9 which are staggered out (presumably give larger balcony and/or cabin size). We felt than the people on these lower decks at times felt quite uncomfortable with us looking down on them resting or having drinks or a meal. Dining There are two large self-service cafeterias on deck 15 which are open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, children's high tea, an evening meal and a limited midnight buffet. In practice some food is available from 6.30am until the early hours. The restaurants are bright and airy, but with limited space for serving food and the choices reflect that limit. Seating is insufficient at peak breakfast and lunchtimes, even with the small outside area at the stern and the few tables in the area around the covered pool. Breakfast and lunch are also served in one or two of the "main" restaurants, with waiter service. This was our preference on most occasions unless we wished to have a quick breakfast before going ashore. During the daytime there are two food bars on deck 15, one serving pizzas and the other burgers. These are free of charge. There is also an ice cream bar for which there is a charge. We had an excellent pizza for lunch on one occasion, but did not sample the burgers or ice cream.
There are a number of evening meal options on Ventura, but at the time of booking it is necessary to make a choice for dinner between "Club" dining (the same table every evening at one of two restaurants - Baytree or Saffron - at either 6.30pm or 8.30pm) or "Freedom" dining - eating in a third main restaurant (The Cinnamon) at a time of your choice without reservation. We had chosen Club dining second sitting at a table for 8 and apart from one or two evenings when the galley was struggling to cope, we were seated promptly and looked after by excellent restaurant staff very well. We met some people who had chosen Freedom dining and heard that at peak times it was necessary to make a reservation the day before if you wished to eat at a particular time.
In addition to all those eating options, there are three alternative dining venues for which there is a cover charge. The "White Room" - conceived and inspired by Marco Pierre White, we were told - had a charge of £20 per head for dinner on the Maiden Cruise, but this had increased to £25 per head for the following one-week cruise. "East" had a charge of £15 and £20 respectively and "Ramblas" also had a charge, but we did not enquire. We heard good reports of the White Room and it was fully booked by the second day of each cruise. The menu there did not attract us sufficiently to justify the additional charge. We did eat at East and had an excellent meal from an interesting menu. There did not appear to be any difficulty in getting reservations there. We did not sample Ramblas, but friends tried the Tapas snacks available in the bar area (I think is was 3 Tapas for £2.50) and said that this was very good. Several of these would make a light lunch.
The food was generally good, although there are signs of economy in the choices available and the quality of some dishes and the reduction in provision of fresh vegetables.. Beef in particular, was of poor quality on several occasions and the "standby" offering of sirloin steak at dinner was inedible on a couple of occasions. Staff were very embarrassed about this and promptly offered an alternative. Meals came out from the galley ready plated - your choice of main course on a bed of rice, pasta or potatoes with minimal vegetable decoration and the waiters then added another potato choice and one vegetable of the day by silver service.
There were 4 formal and 4 informal nights on the maiden cruise and 2 of each on the one week cruise. The rest were "smart casual". We were impressed that nearly everyone made the effort to comply with the dress code on formal nights and it was a pleasure to see even small children smartly kitted out - some even in scale size DJs! We suspect that those who chose not to "play the game" ate in the cafeteria on formal nights and kept clear of the main public areas.
Daytime entertainment Much is made of "Cirque Ventura" - an area on the highest deck with equipment (and trained staff) for trampoline, flying trapeze, juggling, walking on stilts, etc. Workshops are held (for which there is a charge, I believe). This will appeal to young people, but only operated in good weather. There is limited space for deck quoits and shuffleboard and 4 table tennis tables. There are - as always - many scheduled daytime activities to suit most, but not all, tastes. But with the ships spending more days in port than at sea, these activities are less important. There are 4 swimming pools - none reserved for adults only - and plenty of sunloungers, so long as you are prepared to look around and not stay close to a pool. There is a comprehensive Spa and hairdressing / manicure salon. The steam room and sauna are not mixed sex on this ship which is a shame and the facilities did not therefore appear to be used much. There was much promotion of the various massage services available. The gym / fitness center was very good, although, to my shame, I only used it three times. Evening entertainment This is a very subjective matter and our comments can only reflect our own tastes. One overall comment - we found the music much too loud, especially in the shows performed in the Havanna venue. Even in the Metropolis bar we had to move away from the area where music was being played, in order to hold a conversation. Luckily we happened to carry earplugs in our luggage and we made use of them on several occasions…! There were 3 venues in use each night - the arena theatre, the Tamarind Club and Havanna. Each venue had three performances, enabling people to see 2 of the shows if they wished, as well as having dinner. The theatre company shows were terrific - the best we have seen on any P&O ship - and contained elements of dance, song and acrobatics. There was over-reliance on the lead male singer (an excellent voice, but finding it tough to perform 3 shows a night) which was a shame because there were other members of the team with good voices as well. We had a classical pianist on each cruise and both attracted a loyal following. The Tamarind Club was billed at the Ventura Comedy Club. There was a comedian or a duo there almost every night. We suspect that P&O have some way to go to discover and retain good comedians. Comedy needs to be good and reasonably sophisticated to attract a wide audience and when comedians have to rely on bad language, smut and sex in order to present an act, that is not to our taste. We feel that this is also not appropriate for an audience which includes young children (who were still around at the shows at 10.45pm)
The other cabaret acts were sometimes OK, but not of the standard we have met on previous P&O cruises. This was particularly disappointing as we had expected the Maiden cruise, at least, to be something special and to have some top class entertainers. One act that did stand out was called "Legends" on the Maiden cruise.
Children's facilities We did not have children with us. On the maiden cruise there were - we believe - only about 40 children on board. On the subsequent cruise there were 400 children. We were told there will be 800 or more on board during school holidays. We understand that the facilities for children are excellent and they certainly have a large dedicated area and dedicated staff to organize their day. For passengers without children, the impact of large numbers around the pools is significant.
Ports On the maiden cruise we visited Barcelona, Villefranche, Livorno (for Florence), Santa Marghareta, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Alicante and Gibraltar. On the one week cruise we visited Vigo, Lisbon, Bilbao and Brest. We booked ship excursions (actually coaches to transport us to the city and back so we could "do our own thing") for Florence, Rome and Santiago de Compostella (from Vigo). The coach service was reliable and the attendant guide good on 2 occasions and poor on one. Elsewhere we explored locally, making use of the shuttle bus provided into town where appropriate. We like to explore on foot at our own pace, not in a crowd. We research for walks and sights of interest on the internet before each cruise and always try to find a suitable restaurant for an inexpensive lunch in a non-touristy area. We usually get recommendations by posting questions in the appropriate Forum in the sister website www.tripadvisor.com There was an initial problem with disembarkation by tender at Villefranche (the first time they had done this with a full complement of passengers) and on a couple of other occasions there were problems getting ashore because of a lack of shuttle buses to take passengers out of the port area. We hope these are teething problems which will be sorted.
Final Disembarkation This operation ran smoothly and once we had remembered what color our suitcases were, we found then easily amongst the vast collection in the arrivals hall at Southampton. The car was easily found and the journey out and home uneventful.
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