I have just returned from the Baltic Splendours cruise - my first foray into this type of holiday. I travelled with my husband and both of us are in our early 50's, so fell fairly in the middle of the age range of those on board. Check In We were due to embark between 2 and 4pm and joined the queue at about 2.01. We then sat in a queue of traffic for very nearly an hour. We had chosen the on-port parking as we thought it would be easier but having seen the busses all speed past the cars we would choose an off-port parking scheme another time. However, once we had handed our car and luggage over the check-in process was very quick and efficient. We found our cabin easily and one of our cases was waiting for us. The other two turned up within the hour. The cabin struck us as more spacious than we were expecting. We liked the way there was an open hanging area as I would imagine doors would be a bit of a nuisance in a confined space. There were enough hangers for our use. There is a cupboard with 5 shelves in, which also contained the safe, two bedside tables with two drawers each and another large cupboard with one shelf in the dressing table/desk. In addition there are some small open shelves. We found the storage so adequate that we did not use the cupboard in the desk at all. There was a tray of sweets, a single rose and tea/coffee making facilities with biscuits. The tea, coffee etc were replenished every day. The bathroom was compact but with plenty of space to put everything. Two large towels, two small towels and two flannels were provided. There were also two blue towels for use by the pool. There was a lot to read in the bathroom as there were little labels on everything but I welcomed the invitation to put towels to be changed in the shower otherwise they would be left, as I think it is such a waste to change them every day. Our cabin steward looked after us royally and was always friendly and polite when we met him. I did not sleep very well the first night as there was a constant sound, very like a large fan. I thought at first it was just the climate control fan but gradually realized that our cabin was next to the funnel. If you look on the deck plan and your cabin is next to a large blank area then this is it. As the noise is a constant one I soon got used to it and after the first couple of nights slept much better than I do at home. Dining As we had booked fairly last minute we were on the Freedom Dining option. We started booking every day but as we tended to eat early soon found out that this was not necessary, although I understand there was sometimes a wait if you wanted to eat at around 8.30. We thought the food was excellent. The choice was not wide (only 3 starters, for instance) but we were never unable to find something we fancied. Having said that we are open to new experiences and tried several things that we had never even heard of before and lots that we had not experienced before. I would imagine that people who were "meat and two veg" type of diners may have struggled sometimes and fast foodies definitely would have, but then they had the choice of going to the self-service restaurant. The waiting staff were attentive and mostly very efficient. I did hear one person say that she felt they were not as attentive because you didn't have the same waiter every night and so they were not trying too hard for their tip. I felt this was a very cynical point of view and did not find it to be borne out by any of the staff we had. We were served with cheerfulness and flashes of delightful senses of humor, which were always appropriate. Sometimes we dined with others on a larger table and met some delightful and charming people. Others were quite hard work and once I very nearly got up and left when one man was not only moaning about everything and everyone but when we said we were having a very nice holiday started lecturing us on why we couldn't possibly be. For breakfast and lunch we used the Waterside and Beach House self service restaurants. It was sometimes quite difficult to find a table, especially for the first couple of days. However, most people were happy to share and it was another good way to meet new people (I twice missed things I wanted to go to because we had met such lovely people and were enjoying talking to them). It also seemed to get easier as the cruise went on, so whether meal times became more staggered or whether people were taking their food elsewhere to eat I don't know. We also used the Saffron restaurant for a waiter-served breakfast on one occasion, which was very nice but we preferred the self-service. We also ate at the White Room, which was an absolute delight. Everything was cooked to perfection and served beautifully. We tried to book again, but they were full. We did not use East (but heard good reports of it) or the Ramblas tapas bar (where we understand the choice was a little limited) Entertainment We found this to be mixed. There were six "comedy nights" in the Tamarind bar, each consisting of two comedians. Each two did a set each for two nights and then two new ones came on board, so we saw six comedians in all. Some were very funny and some died a rather horrid death in full public view. It's all down to personal taste, I suppose, but given the age of the audience "lager lout and shagging" material did not hit the mark and perhaps the booking of that particular comedian was a mistake. The Ventura Theatre Company worked their socks off. We didn't see all the shows but I think only missed one. They did 4 different shows in the course of our cruise, three times each night they were on. Sometimes the material they had to work with was better than others but they really did try their best and mostly succeeded very well. It was hard to get a seat in the theatre for the middle show but if we couldn't get there early just went and did something else first and went to the late show. The other entertainers in the theatre were generally good and Gary T Thompson was brilliant, as were the Soul Brothers. Bars They are plentiful and varied. We favored Tamarind and Metropolis, but it wasn't always easy to get a seat. Tamarind had a band that played music to dance to, Metropolis had a jazz band and a video wall showing realtime images of various cities by night. There were also: Ramblas which had a Spanish theme and was very handy for a drink after the theatre; Exchange which was supposed to be like a pub and was the only bar you could smoke in so we tended to avoid it; Red which very often had a pianist tinkling the ivories and was very laid back; Tazzine which was a coffee bar with delicious hot chocolate and Havana which was the largest and most underused. The seating in Havana was surrounded by waist high partitions, which meant that when seated you couldn't see the stage properly. It was also used for the family entertainment and as they were rather thin on the ground on our cruise, always seemed to be rather empty. The bar waiters circulated frequently and efficiently. Swimming etc There are four pools, which when weather allowed were well used. The Oasis pool is for adults only but all the others are family pools. One had a roof that could be open or closed as weather permitted. The Oasis pool was supposed to have a machine that created a current for continuous swimming but it did not work for the whole of our cruise. Pools and Jacuzzis were often roped off - presumably for cleaning and maintenance. The gym was well equipped with plenty of machines of torture. We did not use the hair and beauty facilities. The sun decks were well equipped with plenty of sunbeds and we never failed to find one when we wanted one. Excursions As this was our first cruise we booked excursions in most of the ports, but next time I probably wouldn't. In most cases there was either a shuttle bus (sometimes free) or a hop-on hop-off tour (and quite often both) that would get you to the city center or around the major sites. Having said that we did enjoy the excursions we took part in and for St Petersburg it was by far the easiest thing to do because of having to purchase an individual visa if you were not part of an organized group. The worst one was probably Tallinn, where the guide used a remote microphone and we all had headsets. Unfortunately the pitch of voice of the guide and the questionable quality of the equipment made it very difficult to hear what she was saying and I came away feeling I new nothing of the beautiful city. That one I would definitely do by myself with a guide book. The Bad Bits Sorry, but nothing is perfect and there were some things that were not done well. It did say in the book that was sent out in advance of the cruise that a photocopy of the picture page of your passport was needed if you were doing an excursion in St Petersburg. Unfortunately it did not say it anywhere near the excursion pages but in the small print at the front. Being a voracious reader I saw it and went prepared but many, many people had to queue for a long time to get photocopies on board. Big print on the St Petersburg excursion pages would have completely prevented that happening. In general the size of the public spaces was not enough for the number of people on board. For instance the dance floor in Tamarind could really only take about 50 people comfortably. This one is really petty, but worth a mention. The knives for dinner were simply not sharp enough. They must be almost new but they had no cutting edge. This sometimes gave the impression that meat was tough but once you had hacked your way through it the chewing was easy. The staff on Reception failed, on each occasion that I went there, to give anyone their full attention. I work on a reception desk so I do know a bit about it. They were always listening in to what their colleagues were doing and nearly every time the person who was supposed to be helping me would wander off and get involved with another person's query without being asked to. This meant the queue was much longer than it ever needed to be. The excursion to Tallinn was advertised as being one-and-a-half hours walking. Two evenings before they sent out a flier saying this was a misprint and it was in fact 3 hours of walking. The flier invited anyone who may have difficulty with this to visit Explorers and talk to them. Only - when you did go to Explorers it was to find a notice on the desk saying that they were closed until 7pm of the day after next making it almost impossible to speak to them before the excursion. Poor. There was not a great deal of entertainment laid on during sea days. Films were shown but usually for those not going ashore on excursion days. It would have been very nice to have put a couple of extra on for sea days as the weather was very windy and it was not always possible to be doing something outside. The Tate Modern talks were OK but the other major thing offered was digital photography and some of those had a "nominal" fee (sometimes as nominal as £20). I did go to some interesting talks on Russian art but would have appreciated more for adults to do that was not a quiz or bingo. In conclusion We had a lovely holiday and really enjoyed sampling so many different countries. We thought the food excellent, the staff hard working and the entertainment good to excellent. We also met some lovely people whose company we enjoyed. However, I feel that P&O are in danger of falling between 2 stools here. They are pushing the family side of Ventura and seem to have failed to realize that a lot of their loyal cruising customers would also want to sample her delights. Nearly all of them are saying that they will not go on her again so P&O will have to find a new customer base for her and children are at school for a lot of the year. One of the main gripes of the regulars was that the captain was not much in evidence, which was certainly true. We didn't mind but lots of people did. And therein lies the rub, really. We did meet some very pleasant sociable people but I have to say that by and large I have never met such a load of old moaners in my life and it is that which would put me off cruising as my next holiday. We got to the stage where we avoided questions like "are you having a nice time" and "is this your first cruise" because it seemed to start people off on a rant. I think the lady behind me in a queue once was a fine example. As she stood behind me she said "Another queue. It's all queuing on here. I'm fed up with it". There was one other person in front of me! No wonder the captain kept a low profile!

Mostly positive

Ventura Cruise Review by Ronaldson

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: June 2008
  • Destination: Baltic Sea
  • Cabin Type: Inside Twin with Shower
I have just returned from the Baltic Splendours cruise - my first foray into this type of holiday. I travelled with my husband and both of us are in our early 50's, so fell fairly in the middle of the age range of those on board.
Check In We were due to embark between 2 and 4pm and joined the queue at about 2.01. We then sat in a queue of traffic for very nearly an hour. We had chosen the on-port parking as we thought it would be easier but having seen the busses all speed past the cars we would choose an off-port parking scheme another time.
However, once we had handed our car and luggage over the check-in process was very quick and efficient.
We found our cabin easily and one of our cases was waiting for us. The other two turned up within the hour.
The cabin struck us as more spacious than we were expecting. We liked the way there was an open hanging area as I would imagine doors would be a bit of a nuisance in a confined space. There were enough hangers for our use. There is a cupboard with 5 shelves in, which also contained the safe, two bedside tables with two drawers each and another large cupboard with one shelf in the dressing table/desk. In addition there are some small open shelves. We found the storage so adequate that we did not use the cupboard in the desk at all. There was a tray of sweets, a single rose and tea/coffee making facilities with biscuits. The tea, coffee etc were replenished every day.
The bathroom was compact but with plenty of space to put everything. Two large towels, two small towels and two flannels were provided. There were also two blue towels for use by the pool. There was a lot to read in the bathroom as there were little labels on everything but I welcomed the invitation to put towels to be changed in the shower otherwise they would be left, as I think it is such a waste to change them every day.
Our cabin steward looked after us royally and was always friendly and polite when we met him.
I did not sleep very well the first night as there was a constant sound, very like a large fan. I thought at first it was just the climate control fan but gradually realized that our cabin was next to the funnel. If you look on the deck plan and your cabin is next to a large blank area then this is it. As the noise is a constant one I soon got used to it and after the first couple of nights slept much better than I do at home.
Dining
As we had booked fairly last minute we were on the Freedom Dining option. We started booking every day but as we tended to eat early soon found out that this was not necessary, although I understand there was sometimes a wait if you wanted to eat at around 8.30.
We thought the food was excellent. The choice was not wide (only 3 starters, for instance) but we were never unable to find something we fancied. Having said that we are open to new experiences and tried several things that we had never even heard of before and lots that we had not experienced before. I would imagine that people who were "meat and two veg" type of diners may have struggled sometimes and fast foodies definitely would have, but then they had the choice of going to the self-service restaurant.
The waiting staff were attentive and mostly very efficient. I did hear one person say that she felt they were not as attentive because you didn't have the same waiter every night and so they were not trying too hard for their tip. I felt this was a very cynical point of view and did not find it to be borne out by any of the staff we had. We were served with cheerfulness and flashes of delightful senses of humor, which were always appropriate.
Sometimes we dined with others on a larger table and met some delightful and charming people. Others were quite hard work and once I very nearly got up and left when one man was not only moaning about everything and everyone but when we said we were having a very nice holiday started lecturing us on why we couldn't possibly be.
For breakfast and lunch we used the Waterside and Beach House self service restaurants. It was sometimes quite difficult to find a table, especially for the first couple of days. However, most people were happy to share and it was another good way to meet new people (I twice missed things I wanted to go to because we had met such lovely people and were enjoying talking to them). It also seemed to get easier as the cruise went on, so whether meal times became more staggered or whether people were taking their food elsewhere to eat I don't know.
We also used the Saffron restaurant for a waiter-served breakfast on one occasion, which was very nice but we preferred the self-service.
We also ate at the White Room, which was an absolute delight. Everything was cooked to perfection and served beautifully. We tried to book again, but they were full. We did not use East (but heard good reports of it) or the Ramblas tapas bar (where we understand the choice was a little limited)
Entertainment
We found this to be mixed. There were six "comedy nights" in the Tamarind bar, each consisting of two comedians. Each two did a set each for two nights and then two new ones came on board, so we saw six comedians in all. Some were very funny and some died a rather horrid death in full public view. It's all down to personal taste, I suppose, but given the age of the audience "lager lout and shagging" material did not hit the mark and perhaps the booking of that particular comedian was a mistake.
The Ventura Theatre Company worked their socks off. We didn't see all the shows but I think only missed one. They did 4 different shows in the course of our cruise, three times each night they were on. Sometimes the material they had to work with was better than others but they really did try their best and mostly succeeded very well.
It was hard to get a seat in the theatre for the middle show but if we couldn't get there early just went and did something else first and went to the late show.
The other entertainers in the theatre were generally good and Gary T Thompson was brilliant, as were the Soul Brothers.
Bars
They are plentiful and varied. We favored Tamarind and Metropolis, but it wasn't always easy to get a seat. Tamarind had a band that played music to dance to, Metropolis had a jazz band and a video wall showing realtime images of various cities by night. There were also: Ramblas which had a Spanish theme and was very handy for a drink after the theatre; Exchange which was supposed to be like a pub and was the only bar you could smoke in so we tended to avoid it; Red which very often had a pianist tinkling the ivories and was very laid back; Tazzine which was a coffee bar with delicious hot chocolate and Havana which was the largest and most underused.
The seating in Havana was surrounded by waist high partitions, which meant that when seated you couldn't see the stage properly. It was also used for the family entertainment and as they were rather thin on the ground on our cruise, always seemed to be rather empty.
The bar waiters circulated frequently and efficiently.
Swimming etc
There are four pools, which when weather allowed were well used. The Oasis pool is for adults only but all the others are family pools. One had a roof that could be open or closed as weather permitted. The Oasis pool was supposed to have a machine that created a current for continuous swimming but it did not work for the whole of our cruise. Pools and Jacuzzis were often roped off - presumably for cleaning and maintenance.
The gym was well equipped with plenty of machines of torture.
We did not use the hair and beauty facilities.
The sun decks were well equipped with plenty of sunbeds and we never failed to find one when we wanted one.
Excursions
As this was our first cruise we booked excursions in most of the ports, but next time I probably wouldn't. In most cases there was either a shuttle bus (sometimes free) or a hop-on hop-off tour (and quite often both) that would get you to the city center or around the major sites.
Having said that we did enjoy the excursions we took part in and for St Petersburg it was by far the easiest thing to do because of having to purchase an individual visa if you were not part of an organized group.
The worst one was probably Tallinn, where the guide used a remote microphone and we all had headsets. Unfortunately the pitch of voice of the guide and the questionable quality of the equipment made it very difficult to hear what she was saying and I came away feeling I new nothing of the beautiful city. That one I would definitely do by myself with a guide book.
The Bad Bits
Sorry, but nothing is perfect and there were some things that were not done well.
It did say in the book that was sent out in advance of the cruise that a photocopy of the picture page of your passport was needed if you were doing an excursion in St Petersburg. Unfortunately it did not say it anywhere near the excursion pages but in the small print at the front. Being a voracious reader I saw it and went prepared but many, many people had to queue for a long time to get photocopies on board. Big print on the St Petersburg excursion pages would have completely prevented that happening.
In general the size of the public spaces was not enough for the number of people on board. For instance the dance floor in Tamarind could really only take about 50 people comfortably.
This one is really petty, but worth a mention. The knives for dinner were simply not sharp enough. They must be almost new but they had no cutting edge. This sometimes gave the impression that meat was tough but once you had hacked your way through it the chewing was easy.
The staff on Reception failed, on each occasion that I went there, to give anyone their full attention. I work on a reception desk so I do know a bit about it. They were always listening in to what their colleagues were doing and nearly every time the person who was supposed to be helping me would wander off and get involved with another person's query without being asked to. This meant the queue was much longer than it ever needed to be.
The excursion to Tallinn was advertised as being one-and-a-half hours walking. Two evenings before they sent out a flier saying this was a misprint and it was in fact 3 hours of walking. The flier invited anyone who may have difficulty with this to visit Explorers and talk to them. Only - when you did go to Explorers it was to find a notice on the desk saying that they were closed until 7pm of the day after next making it almost impossible to speak to them before the excursion. Poor.
There was not a great deal of entertainment laid on during sea days. Films were shown but usually for those not going ashore on excursion days. It would have been very nice to have put a couple of extra on for sea days as the weather was very windy and it was not always possible to be doing something outside. The Tate Modern talks were OK but the other major thing offered was digital photography and some of those had a "nominal" fee (sometimes as nominal as £20). I did go to some interesting talks on Russian art but would have appreciated more for adults to do that was not a quiz or bingo.
In conclusion
We had a lovely holiday and really enjoyed sampling so many different countries. We thought the food excellent, the staff hard working and the entertainment good to excellent. We also met some lovely people whose company we enjoyed.
However, I feel that P&O are in danger of falling between 2 stools here. They are pushing the family side of Ventura and seem to have failed to realize that a lot of their loyal cruising customers would also want to sample her delights. Nearly all of them are saying that they will not go on her again so P&O will have to find a new customer base for her and children are at school for a lot of the year.
One of the main gripes of the regulars was that the captain was not much in evidence, which was certainly true. We didn't mind but lots of people did.
And therein lies the rub, really. We did meet some very pleasant sociable people but I have to say that by and large I have never met such a load of old moaners in my life and it is that which would put me off cruising as my next holiday. We got to the stage where we avoided questions like "are you having a nice time" and "is this your first cruise" because it seemed to start people off on a rant. I think the lady behind me in a queue once was a fine example. As she stood behind me she said "Another queue. It's all queuing on here. I'm fed up with it". There was one other person in front of me! No wonder the captain kept a low profile!
Ronaldson’s Full Rating Summary
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