We chose this ship and P&O because Cunard did not sail at the time we wanted. It was our first time to the Caribbean and coincided with our 40th Anniversary. We had not expected Ventura to rival Queen Elizabeth and chose a Superior Deluxe Balcony cabin for the extra room and facilities indicated. In this respect Ventura provided all we asked for with a good walk-in clothes space and a generous-sized bathroom.
However the soft furnishings were rather shabby and the bed/settee sagging and uncomfortable. This is inexcusable when you have paid extra for a comfortable cabin which you want to spend time in. Nor did four days without heating help - or the lack of interest by the staff on reception - one of whom suggested we were lying about ever having complained. All was eventually sorted - but it is not how you wish to start your holiday. At least we were near the lifts and just two decks up from the main dining rooms, so it was easier to walk. Our cabin steward was friendly, efficient and helpful.
Whatever else the Ventura is, it is not Cunard and has little wow factor or style about its public areas. The grand atrium is anything but and the scenic lifts are bit of a gimmick. I was surprised to learn that the dance floor at the bottom was introduced in a recent refit as it seems something of an afterthought.
Photographs of the tightly packed sun loungers around the various pools on the upper decks suggested these would be like Clacton on a Bank Holiday Monday and so they proved. As we are not into sunning ourselves to a dark shade of mahogany this was not on our agenda and one advantage of cruise liners of all kinds is that you can pick and choose the parts you wish to inhabit. My partner, however, greatly appreciated a swim at the crack of dawn with a few other hardy souls.
Both of the daytime speakers - criminologist going out and army/war-time expert on the return leg - were excellent. And they played to packed audiences. There were some good films on most afternoons and later on we discovered more were available on the TV. Entertainment could be found in some of the bars and club areas but the headline acts were in the theatre. The Headliners house troupe of singers and dancers were excellent and of West End standards. But the support acts on other evenings were somewhat second rate and the three comedians without exception terrible. One was so bad we walked out - only to find half the audience following us. Someone needs to do some equalities training within the entertainment department. Some of the 'jokes' are not acceptable in the 21st Century and given that the average age of the paying guests on this trip were 60 and over these comedians need to tailor their acts rather more - it is not clever to insult your audience.
Food - well there's plenty of it. But not of very high quality, rather bland and, with very few exceptions, very forgettable. The menus are huge - and given that you are given very little time to peruse them it would be better to reduce the options and improve the quality. Marco Pierre White was supposed to have devised menus for formal nights but this got a bit out of kilter on this trip which rather spoils the point of dressing up for something special. And expensive ingredients are sometimes highlighted but are actually subservient
when they appear on the plate which is just not on. We had a regular table for two on the second sitting and I must say our table crew worked their socks off and were always affable and obliging.
There are other dining options at extra cost. The Epicurian calls itself fine dining and aims higher but falls victim to gimmicks which are unnecessary at best while on a long 28 day cruise like this one become stale and rather irritating. Wine is generally far cheaper that on Cunard albeit with a more limited choice.
Another paid-for dining experience is Sindhu - an Asian establishment overseen by Michelin starred Atul Kucher - but we found it very little if at all better than our local in London. And who ever thought that the horizontal bamboo screen was a suitable sound barrier from the cacophony of chatter as people walked by on the main internal deck? Or for that matter, the walls of passenger mug shots outside to gaze upon?
The biggest surprise was Ollie Smith's Glasshouse wine bar. Food can be a bit hit and miss at many wine bars but this had that standout ingredient TASTE. My first lunch here was calves liver - two large, tender, perfectly-cooked pieces simply bursting with flavour. On later visits we had excellent fish and chips and you could also opt for light bite platters by choosing three items from an extensive list. All excellent.
Port and shore excursions were generally as we expected but while initial embarkation had been faultless disembarkation was a nightmare. This was made worse by us being from the theatre. We were encouraged to come down from the rear of the theatre - where most people enter from - and then the person in 'charge' got all huffy about people standing and started spouting health and safety. All the outer seats were taken by people with mobility issues so we had to scramble over them carry heavy hand luggage. My back was put out for several weeks as a result. The MC then said people would leave from the front row but he completely ignored dozens of others streaming down from the higher tiers on the far side until people in the second and third rows complained very vocally. To be fair he was on his own and back-up stewards were really required to prevent cheating. But this fiasco made a mockery of health and safety.
The cruise was good overall, with calm seas and excellent weather. That said we will probably not venture on the Ventura again or any other large P&0 cruise liner. We have booked Oriana later in the year and hope that this may be more us. We've heard good reports and it has just had a refit. Here's hoping.
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