My husband and I have just returned from our first cruise and although we had a fabulous time I would like to let others know some tips if you have never cruised before. We travelled on the P&O Ventura from Southampton and from the start it was a very smooth operation and we were very impressed at the organised way it all started compared to the "cattle market" airports we were used to. Only one tip here - when you drive up to the terminal if you have booked car parking they are there waiting for you very efficient but make sure you unload your baggage quickly because as my husband went to look for a trolley to load our luggage onto a chap got into the car to drive it to the car parking - I was still trying to unload the luggage from the boot so be quick! Once inside the terminal all went extremely smoothly and very calming.
Once on the boat you have to realise it is enormous and all the time you are bumping into people all looking as lost as you are! Even seasoned cruisers found the Ventura very large and hard to find your way around. The cabin we had was an outside cabin with balcony which was very nice. In fact the whole ship was very tastefully decorated but a bit on the tired side.
First of all I will tell you all the positives which far outweigh the negatives and wouldn't want to put anyone off a cruise but just point out the little things we would have found helpful to know in advance. We had set dining - there are 2 times for this 6.30 or 8.30 we chose the latter and had a table for two which turned out to be the best on both counts. If you choose the earlier sitting be prepared to rush some days as the trips can run late but if you have children the earlier sitting is probably the best time. A table to for 2 is best because if you sit with others on a table for 6 or 8 you find you have to wait until the last person has finished their course before you are served the next course. We were told some funny stories from other seasoned cruisers about waiting for elderly passengers to finish chewing their steaks whilst the others on the table waited! the food itself is very, very good - 5 course dinners with very attentive waiters. You can opt for freedom dining but that is in the other restaurants where it is buffet style help yourself - very good food the same as the restaurants. There are other restaurants on board which you have to pay a supplement for - passengers highly recommended the Beach House food if you fancy a change. Be prepared for girls to come round every day all day to try and sell the other restaurants where you pay a supplement. It can become a little irritating. We decided not to go to the restaurant for waiter service for breakfast because again you have to sit anywhere and they will fill the big tables first and we found it easier to go to the buffet Waterside restaurant. Again the choice is massive. Men do need to wear long trousers in the evening in the restaurants. There are plenty of poolside loungers but some do reserve whilst they then go for breakfast but this didn't get too silly but the staff don't prevent it happening. They issue a daily newspaper the Horizon which will be delivered to your cabin during the evening and lets you know the dress code for the following evening and any information regarding the next day's port. It also lists the entertainment for the following day so that you can decide which bar you want to go to. This is a negative for the late 8.30 diners - by the time you have finished your meal and make your way to the various bars they are full and you have to sit where you can. The entertainment was very good and there is something for everyone of all ages. We were told because it was a "Strictly" cruise there were more younger people on board than usual on the cruise and in fact there were 7 weddings on board on our cruise.
The service from the waiters at the poolside and restaurants and bars was excellent.
Port and shore excursions were very good and the guides were excellent. A few tips here though. The P&O rep was very "school ma'am" with the passengers and there seemed to be a conflict of timings with her and what passengers were told in the Horizon paper and she would tell you off if you were too early! The organisation of the trips left a lot to be desired at some ports like Gibraltar and Monaco passengers were left in the very hot weather queuing up at the port to get back on board the ship. This was due to the fact other ships were in dock at the same time and all passengers from all ships were ferried through the same system so it can take hours. We found the excursions very good but a tip for Rome is men as well as women have to have their knees covered so wear long shorts and women have to have their shoulders covered if you are visiting the Sistine Chapel. It was an excellent excursion but a very long day in the heat and I would advise you to have a day off from any excursions the next day and just do your own thing. If you are a person who likes to go shopping make sure you don't do all the organised excursions because you don't get time to shop.
Another tip is some of the ports have sightseeing buses which are a cheap and good way to get about if you don't want the expense of the organised trips. Cadiz is a very good port for shopping and very cheap. Hang on until you have done all the trips with regard to buying from the duty free shops on board - you can find cheaper alternatives particularly perfumes at the ports. You will also find they reduce things towards the end of the cruise so look out for bargains then.
With regard to formal dining - 4 on a 2 week cruise are usually held on a sea day so that you have time to prepare. We did find though that on the other nights there were 2 themed nights we did not know about - one was a 60/70's night and the other a "tropical" night. So if you want to be prepared take an Hawaiian shirt with you!
Be prepared to be sociable with fellow passengers because they are the best people to advise you on things you don't know. You will not get any advice from P&O. We had free on board spend with our cruise and other passengers said to decline the "tipping" deduction they make from your spends. It is better to tip your own waiter and steward as you see fit. We appreciated that advice because you would tip them on top of what P&O deducted from your account but don't do it just to avoid tipping at all! Other seasoned passengers told us they felt the Ventura was too big with over 3,000 passengers and even they kept getting lost. They preferred other smaller P&O ships. They also said they found the food, entertainment a higher standard than other lines and the drinks were cheaper than the American run cruise liners. The prices on the drinks is on a par with pub prices at home. They add 10% extra when you are in Spanish waters because the Spanish have their own taxing system!
We had a couple of ports where a tender was used and this was the ships life boats which wasn't a problem for us but some of the elderly had issues so check if you have any disabilities that you can go ashore.
To summarise we had a lovely time and would definitely cruise again. I do think however that P&O could make a bit more effort to help first time cruisers with information. On board they do a daily "solo" travellers tea and I completed a questionnaire on board and after the cruise to suggest they could hold a first/second day coffee morning for first time cruisers to give them advice and answer any questions they may have. It does come across that P&O are only interested in selling another cruise to their "regulars" with the discounts they get.
Clean but a little tired - marks on the bedside lamps.
Embarkation was very efficient.
Booked as one excursion - little train tour. Monaco is beautiful and full of beautiful cars! How the other half live.View All 13 Nice Walking Tour Reviews
Interesting talk by guide again on the little train tour.View All 10 Royal Palace Reviews
Lovely to see Nice as well as Monaco and their version of the Statue of Liberty! Interesting talk by guide.View All 17 Scenic Drive Reviews
You can't go here and not see Pisa. Lovely to see.View All 141 Leaning Tower of Pisa Reviews
Incredible and interesting facts given by our guide.View All 193 Colosseum Reviews
Fantastic city and excellent tour. Very expensive but worth it. I spent most of the day with my head looking skywards at all the amazing buildings and artwork. Not to be missed. Exhausting 10 hour trip though.View All 122 Sistine Chapel Reviews
Wonderful very busy and very hot.View All 131 St. Peter's Basilica Reviews
Excellent to actually be there and see the size of everything. Even the Swiss guards.View All 84 St. Peter's Square Reviews
Not working which was very disappointing. Not told this before the trip even though the water hasn't been running for 2 years! Naughty for them not to tell us when we booked the excursion it was covered in scaffolding! Felt conned, P&O only told us when on the cruise when we had booked months in advance!View All 84 Trevi Fountain Reviews
Again amazing and booked with the other trips as one.View All 140 Vatican Museums Reviews
Nice portside but very little to do here.
Not worth it. Wished we hadn't booked it. Just contained a coach trip to see a tower!View All 2 Iles Sanguinaires Reviews
Loved Cadiz - although we didn't book a tour we loved walking round the town and found it lovely with great shopping especially perfumes. Try the Churros they are amazing.
Very lovely place and saw all the historic sites. Be careful of the slippery paths in the town though.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Excellent excursion - went on cable car to top of the rock to see monkeys and amazing views. Walked down to St. Michaels Cave which was incredible and then on to the Siege Tunnels which was very interesting. Could do with a whole day at Gibraltar so that we could visit the town as well. Miss out Vigo and spend a day at Gibraltar P&O!View All undefined undefined Reviews