It's been about a week and a bit since we got back from our cruise, and finally am on top of the washing for me to be able to put down a proper review.Our cruise to tbe Baltics on Ventura (booked when they first opened bookings last year!), was the first for me and my two sons. The wife has been on Oriana before.Firstly, I will say that the new Ocean Terminal in Southampton, very efficient, and was impressed at how easy it was to not only get in, but how organised the embarkation was, it took about an hour from dropping the car off to being onboard.One matter that did keep recurring on the ship was the issue of the Norovirus that had been evident from a previous cruise. Although you can see most staff were doing their best to play the seriousness of it down, the ship was in a state of red alert. I think by the end of the cruise, the norovirus was pretty much contained, though it'll always be there.Took a while to get my bearings around the ship, found a few dead-ends sometimes, but that wasn't a problem. The Tamarind club felt like it was a corridor most of the time which was strange, the Havana club is a nice layout at the back of the ship, and did host the Scalextric sessions during ship days. Have to admit, I was a tad disappointed with the Scalextric, as I was anticipating a huge layout, and found one that was roughly 12' by 8', and also kept breaking down, but it was fun while it worked, especially when an octogenarian Iris, beat the pants off hardened boy-racers!!The Waterside restaurant was supposed to be self-serve, but due to the norovirus, had to be manned, which made it a manic visit in there and finding seats could be difficult. Secret here is, don't be afraid to share a table with people, a cruise is supposed to be a sociable thing. You wouldn't believe that a few times people just didn't want you sat at 'their' table!! Each breakfast and evening we ate in Saffron, and our waiters were Rajesh and Santosh, two top blokes, very attentive and nothing was too much trouble. Our wine waiter was Sid, who we found to be a great guy as well, and helpful. The dinner menu's we found to be on the whole really nice, a good variety. Yeah there were a few times things didn't go quite to plan, but they were sorted out quickly.Breakfast times, however were absolutely manic, and at times disjointed. One other issue we found was that although we had asked to be put on a large table, we were put on a small table for four, which at times was a very tight squeeze. Head Waiter was unable to move us, and even at breakfast times, we were put on the small tables, so did feel that although P&O advertise this as more of a family orientated ship, we were segregated from other people because we were a family. But I digress.Reports from the boys about the kids clubs were that they were fantastic, and when we got onboard, found a good schedule for the whole cruise, and the boys were never bored, and at times, hardly saw them. Think it helped on this cruise that there were only 80 children onboard. Facilities in the kids clubs were good, and they defo liked the Cirque Ventura when it worked (weather permitting!)Disappointed that we never saw the captain, think at best I saw the Staff Captain about two or three times, but due to the norovirus, the Captain's Reception/Gala, was cancelled. Most people were disappointed with this, which I concur with. Not expecting to become best friends with them, but to either hear or see the Captain now and then would be nice.Photographers on the ship have a difficult job in parts getting their photos right, and we found two stood out from the rest. Lynette was defo one of them, and another chap whose name I forgot was the other, but they had a natural flair for it, and more often than not we bought some of their photos.There were four formal nights, and the rest was smart casual. Formal nights were great, wife loves them, as she has a bit of a wardrobe for this, including her favourite blue sky dress. Smart casual is something I take issue with. Many a time I saw people wearing t-shirt and jeans in there. Was not impressed with this, especially if in the case of my two boys, we were more dressed informally with ties and shirts for me and the boys, and a smart dress for the wife. Think they need to have informal nights to maintain a decent standard.Cleanliness of the ship was patchy, with some of the cleaners either over-zealous, or slack. Found the Arena theatre is way too small, and I think many people were disappointed to miss out on some good shows.The astronomy talks by de St. Croix (sp?) were well done, and if you do a Baltics cruise to Russia, hopefully you will get the guy we had, who knows everything about Faberge, Russian Dolls and all things Russian.We opted for an part-obstructed oceanview cabin with pullmans, but the view wasn't really obstructed, and was nice and comfortable, bigger than we anticipated.To summarise, although the cruise was a nice one, and we didn't let the few days of bad weather ruin things, just felt there was something missing. Still can't put my finger on it. Will say wife and I were well rested after the holiday, which at the end of the day, says that it's worth it. I just think that the ship could have had a few better features on it, and I don't feel I got the true P&O feeling that I was expecting.Still the wife and the kids, plus mother-in-law are booked on Azura next year, so be interesting to see how it compares. For me, the Baltics are definitely an area I would recommend you visit once or twice in your life.Would I go on P&O again? Probably, but more than likely not on Ventura, unless I know that they've got on top of the ships issues. There are so many other cruise companies out there with nice ships, you've got to try them all!!
I was a bit nervous about cruising up the North Sea, but it was quite kind, and even when we hit a 60knt localised squall on the way back, it was still steady as a rock! Arriving in Copenhagen late was a big disappointment and impacted our visit there. The captain did announce it was due to heavy traffic, but we found out it was because the Port Authority wasn't going to initially let us dock as we were at red alert because of the Norovirus again. When we did berth, it was at the point furthest away from the city, whereas we should have docked at a point near to the Little Mermaid statue. Managed to get around the city and best tip is to take a canal trip. Worth the money, and a good way of seeing the sites.
Stockholm was a bit wet unfortunately, and if we hadn't booked to go to the Absolut Ice Bar, we wouldn't have got off the boat. We had to tender off the boat, mainly as Queen Vic was in our slot, and we'd arrived late. Big plus point of Stockholm, the absolutely awesome archipelago, offering great views. On the way out, get up to the Metropolis bar on deck 18!Rated 4 for the archipelago only, couldn't comment properly on the city as it was too wet to appreciate.
Helsinki was nice and dry, and arrived pretty much on time. Had to pay for the bus into town, but kids were free. Some nice sites around the city, and after visiting one of the cathedrals, we found a market by the harbour, and a boat cruise around the area.
Onto St. Petersburg, and after the immigration wait, which isn't as bad as people make out, onto our bus. There were 14 boats in that day, so the city was very busy, and there was an Economic Forum running, so security was tight.Weather started fine in St. Petersburg, but deteriorated to heavy rain for most of the day, and felt our guide was very poor. We got to the Hermitage, and although we appreciate we couldn't see all of the museum (would take you something in excess of 10years to do!), most of the group didn't want to spend two hours in an art gallery interpreting eyes, etc. The Russian lunch was okay, but the singers stole the show there with some great singing. After finishing with a Choral Recital, was walked back to the bus by the Church of Spilled Blood. We were supposed to have stopped there earlier, and have some shopping in the markets, but our guide had other ideas. Anyhow, on the way back to the bus after an 8hr tour, our guide managed to lose 6 of the party, not a good thing to do in Russia, but all in all it ended well.Second day was to the Peterhof, and our guide was much better, and the palace was fantastic, even if there were intermittent showers. Definitely worth a visit.A word of advice when visiting, I would recommend using a local tour company like DenRus, Red Oktober, Anastasia as they are registered tour companies, and will cater to your needs, without needing to get a Visa. If you do, then make sure you get most of your sight-seeing done on the first day, because then it doesn't matter if you are late back to the ship. The traffic around the city is horrendous, worse than anything I've seen anywhere. By going in small parties, you get around quicker and you get a more bespoke sort of tour, instead of being herded around on a coach and then finding the coach can't park anywhere cos about 300 coaches are already there!
Leaving St. Petersburg, we went onto Tallinn, which I feel is an underrated (if pricey) town. Take a bus into town, then just walk around. Loads to see, and there's a good Medieval inn on one of the main stretches, just beware, the beer is strong. Definitely would go back there.
Oslo was next after two days at sea (to recharge our batteries after five days of constant stops!), and a nice walk into the city, easy to navigate round. We took a 2hr Fjord cruise from just around the corner, and was worth it to see some great sites and to see how the Norwegians live.Kristiansand was our final stop, and it was nice to just have a final day of being able to walk around, take in the sights and shop. Then it was off and home.