We booked this cruise because of the 5 destinations we had never been to 4 of them: La Coruna, Cadiz, Gibraltar and Lisbon. Malaga we'd visited many times but nonetheless it was still great to go back. All the ports were excellent. The cruise overall was an excellent value for money deal. Also, we've booked a 2017 cruise on the Ventura with an elderly relative and a wheelchair user so we used this opportunity to check out the ship's facilities which seemed excellent. I'll report back on how that trip goes in August 2017.
We travelled by rail to Southampton - a dangerous thing to rely on in the current Southern Rail crisis as it turned out but we left a huge margin for delays and train cancellations.
The Ventura is huge and we are relatively new to cruising but the ship felt spacious and, very occasionally, not particularly crowded. The public areas were clean and well presented. My greatest fear was getting caught up in lengthy embarkation and disembarkation queues, and thus wasting precious shore time, but, apart from Gibraltar, getting on and off was handled very efficiently throughout and many passengers seemed to stay on the ship in most ports anyway. There was only half a day in Gibraltar which was not enough by general passenger consensus. Most of the ship's population seemed to want to get off to grab some duty free. Port and ship staff just couldn't process everyone on and off before the scheduled departure time and the queue was nearly an hour to get back on.
We had a basic balcony cabin B612 which was excellent. The double bed, apart from the annoying two singles pushed together scenario, was otherwise comfortable and our cabin steward superb. The TV access to our on-board account worked but was incredibly slow. WiFi was expensive at some £12 per day for the intermediate package (ie. no streaming) so we used that on sea days.
Outbound, the ship rolled around quite extensively in the Bay of Biscay - surprisingly so (to me anyway) for such a big ship and it was not stormy by any stretch. That coincided unfortunately with our booking in the Sindhu restaurant which was a bit wasted. Yet the food there (and in the Epicurean) was mostly delicious although there was far too much of it. Most of the time we opted for freedom dining in the evening and sat at tables with 6 - 10 people rather than wait typically 40 minutes for a table for two; that proved enjoyable overall and it was nice to meet new people each evening. Freedom dining menus also made it easier to manage portion size compared to the speciality dining and the overall food quality was excellent; I really do not understand some of the reviews that criticise the choice and/or quality of the meals on this ship.
Other meals we tended to go for the self service options which had some deliciously healthy salady things as well as mega-calorie options. I can quite believe the unashamedly blatant factoid in the Horizon newsletter that the average passenger gains 7 - 14 lbs on a cruise like this (and so should attend the exercise sessions!). I put on just 2 lbs which was a relief really.
Service throughout the ship - in the bars and restaurants - was pretty faultless really given the scale of the operation and numbers of people involved. We went on a 'behind the scenes' tour of the ship which, although a tad expensive, was fascinating, awesome in parts, and most reassuring. A fascinating half hour on the bridge was the highlight of my time on the Ventura.
The port excursion desk staff were friendly although not that helpful at enabling independent touring which was actually quite easy in the ports visited. The P&O port guide leaflets highlighted the key must-see sites in each location but generally omitted to show where they were on the map or explain how to get there. Other websites had provided us with the information needed to do our own thing. In La Coruna, for example, we took a (superbly efficient) train to Santiago de Compostela for 19 euros return (for two) rather than £72 for the coach excursion - far more thought and planning involved for sure, but fun also. We did book a P&O excursion for Gibraltar (Secrets of the Rock) which was absolutely superb and really helped make maximum use of the limited time there for us as first-time visitors.
The Horizon daily newsletter and hotel team broadcast the huge variety of activities available. I particularly enjoyed the astronomy lecturer on sea days. I tried out a spa back and neck massage treatment which was excellent and my partner swore by the efficacy of a few acupuncture sessions. There were a number of free health related talks but you did need to be prepared for a hard sell should you opt for an individual follow up session. For example, we had some very dubious "body composition tests" carried out following one of the talks which, according to the 'professional', pointed to the urgent need need to invest in a course of detoxifying tablets costing many hundreds of pounds. As ever, it's always best to take results like these away and review what to do in the cold light of day. Not surprisingly, a large area of the ship seems solely geared towards shopping or otherwise extracting money from passengers.
Entertainment was mixed and down to personal taste. So I'm not going to comment on it!
Final disembarkation was fine for us - we weren't in a rush because Southern Rail had cancelled our train. We were off the ship and out of the terminal ahead of our notified disembarkation time. However, there was some chaos and visible frayed tempers in the Tamarind Bar during the process I think because the system for managing the large groups of passengers was a bit random and unfair.
So, a most enjoyable trip and the first cruise for which I am delighted to award an overall excellent rating. This experience compared very favourably to a much less satisfactory short cruise on the P&O Oriana which I've also reviewed on this site.
Great - plenty of space. Compact bathroom but well designed. Double bed was two singles pushed together but comfortable apart from the gap.
Walked to the station on arrival and took the train to Santiago de Compostela. Fantastic. Managed to see much of La Coruna too on the return to the ship.
Spent the whole day walking round Cadiz. Fantastic.
Great day walking up to the castle from the dock and then down to the town. Picasso Museum is open every day contrary to the P&O Port Guide leaflet.
Fantastic way to maximise the use of half a day here which was not long enough.View All undefined undefined Reviews