We chose this cruise as we were travelling with an extended family group (9 in total including 3 children) and wanted to depart from Southampton and visit somewhere sunny with beaches. I travelled with my husband and our children (age 1 and 2), my parents-in-law, and my sister-in-law, her partner and son (age 10). We have cruised many times but it was a first cruise for the rest of the group.
We booked a Superior Deluxe Balcony cabin (DE) almost a year in advance on a Select fare, and 2 weeks before our departure noticed on the cruise personaliser that our cabin had changed - to a family suite (BE)! With much excitement we frantically researched suite perks and butlers as had never travelled in a suite before. The rest of our group were in standard balcony cabins.
Priority embarkation was brilliant, we arrived at the terminal, used CPS for parking, and were directed straight into a VIP area to wait to board (coffee and cake provided), however within seconds of arriving we were immediately directed through security and straight onto the ship. We went to a priority boarders lunch in one of the main dining rooms, received a glass of fizz and chose a light lunch from a small but tasty buffet selection. It was very calm and a pleasant start to our holiday.
We then went to find our cabin and were thrilled to find it was double the size of the DE cabin we had booked, and basically had an inside cabin set within its footprint which we used for our two children. The suite gave us 2 bathrooms and double the usual amount of storage in a regular cabin, which was fantastic for all the baby clutter we had with us. There was also a large lounge area with 2 sofas and a double size balcony. We have sailed Ventura twice before (in a balcony and a superior deluxe balcony) but always aft to mid ship. The family suite was however right at the front and we felt far more movement than we were used to, the only disadvantage of our otherwise very lucky upgrade. the balcony furniture banged and rattled against our doors in the bad weather as we sailed down through the Bay of Biscay.
We then enrolled our children for kids club, our daughter was old enough to go to Splashers (age 2-4) and we signed both up for night nursery - however never used it in the end. It turned out that our daughter absolutely loved her club and spent a couple of hours there most days, usually whilst our son napped, giving us some free time either to relax in the cabin or on the balcony, or for family to babysit so we could go out and about. We were impressed by how many hours a day the kids club was open, but think this was just due to it being a school holiday cruise. My nephew enjoyed his age group's club too and the evening sessions there let his parents drop him off after dinner and have some grown up time in the bar and at shows etc.
The ship had just had a refit when we boarded, with carpets replaced, some soft furnishings changed and a refresh of the shops. This smartened the ship up and it seemed in good shape and looked cleaner and tidier than when we had last sailed on her 4 months earlier. The only negative change was that the interactive TV function to check bills and order room service had gone.
We had freedom dining however went for dinner about 6pm every day as a large group. We were very well looked after in the main dining room by very friendly and accommodating waiters, we asked to be seated in the same area every night as these staff looked after us so well. We hardly used the buffet on this cruise as we found it too hectic and tricky to navigate with 2 toddlers and a buggy. As suite guests we were able to have breakfast in the fantastic Epicurean restaurant each morning which was such a treat. Top notch service and cooked to order food in a beautiful and calm setting. The only select dining restaurant we used was Sindhi, once for a romantic dinner for two and on the last day for a special lunch for the 4 of us. Both were excellent and we really enjoyed the food and were well looked after.
Our room steward was also excellent and coped with all our mess so well. The butler however did not seem to do much, we just saw him once every evening when he brought us canapes, menus and milk for our children.
As we were travelling with our young children we didn't really see any of the entertainment or make use of many facilities on board, other than Splashers, the Nursery where we played with our son each day, and one afternoon we managed a soak in the hot tub by the adult only spa pool whilst we were child free. We played in the casino a couple of times and Metropolis was our favourite spot for a drink day or night due to the great views.
We didn't book any excursions and only used the shuttle buses in Madeira and Lisbon, both fast and efficient, with no queues by the time we left the ship after a late breakfast. In each port we just went for a walk, visited a beach, had an ice cream and found a playground. It worked well for us and made it a cheap trip! We would then get back on board for a late lunch. We loved the idea of pizza by the pool but the pizza was very disappointing.
To conclude, the suite was an amazing upgrade, although the location not very desirable. The ship suited us well as a family, and we will be sailing Ventura again in November due to a great price on a Spain & Portugal itinerary.
Family suite, basically a Superior Deluxe Balcony plus connecting Inside, with extra large lounge and double size balcony. Unfortunately located right at the front of the ship where we felt much movement.
Grotty and run down feel as we walked across town to a disappointing beach. Found a great Italian ice cream parlour and kids playground though which suited us well.
Nice old town to visit shops and handy long black sandy beach