As avid cruisers, this was our first cruise in the winter for New Year and it ended up a choice between Cunards Queen Victoria and POs Ventura, both offering similar itineraries from Southampton to Amsterdam for New Year and as we've sailed with PO before, we decided to trust the brand we know, big mistake.
"Discover the best of Bruges and celebrate the New Year in Amsterdam" is what the brochure said.........
What it failed to add is that you're highly unlikely to get there in the winter unless the weather is perfect and the seas are calm, why..... the Ventura only has a 5 metre tolerance to maneuver up the narrow canals to Amsterdam and does not have the same type of thrusters as the Queen Victoria (who made it), least that's what we were told by the captain as the we approached Amsterdam in the early hours of New Years eve, then turned around!
This was a cruise with an advertised itinerary of Southampton, Bruges, Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Southampton, which turned out to be Bruges with 3 days at sea! As a consequence we spent 2 days over the New Year drifting in the North Sea on an over crowded ship with very little entertainment or things to do. To cap it all off, the final evening after dinner we thought we'd try our luck in the casino only to find signs on all the tables and machines saying it was closed, presumably because we'd came home early to Southampton and we were no longer in international waters!
Knowing what we know now, we would never have booked the Ventura for this cruise and why PO would plan this ship and itinerary is a mystery. Apparently this same New Year cruise was on the smaller Oceana last year, maybe they got greedy and took a risk on the bigger ship, who knows.
Overall, apart from Bruges which is a beautiful city any time of the year, this cruise was a disaster and we would certainly not recommend it to fellow passengers. PO had no 'plan B' despite the obvious indications that we would not make Amsterdam, they offered a lukewarm apology at best from the captain and no compensation whatsoever, not even a free drink, despite what I would consider a major change on the itinerary advertised. We will certainly not be returning to any PO cruise ships in the future.
Embarkation / Disembarkation
An excellent start to the holiday, early arrival, small queues and on board within 45 minutes so no complaints there. Just as swift a departure, called at 9.15am and in the car by 10.00am.
We had a balcony cabin on R deck (14), the cabins are a decent size and well laid out with plenty of storage although they are starting to look rather tired and dated. This deck is just under the main pool deck and food hall and we had read reviews about noise from sunbeds, but we thought as it was winter this would be ok, we were wrong, the noise from dragging chairs and tables was constant from around 7am until late in the evening.
My previous experiences with PO dining has always been very positive however this was by far the worst dining we'd experienced on any cruise ship in the main dining room. We were on freedom dining and allocated to the Saffron restaurant, overall the experience was slow with poor service, bland food and really small portions, like Gammon, egg, few peas 4 chips!
Although this was freedom dining, New Years was changed to a set dining time and this should have been the highlight of the cruise. Wrong again, the whole evening spoilt by the fact that we sat at 8.45pm, asked 4 times for a waiter to serve us drinks which we eventually received when we were being served our dessert around an hour later. I seen some people walking out of the restaurant to go and collect drinks themselves from the red bar nearby, not what I would call a fine dining experience!
The usual combination of live bands and tribute acts, overall standard was average. Other than a few movies there was very little on offer during the day, however this is probably because we not supposed to be on the ship!