I'll get my moan out of the way first !
We booked the cruise last January, specifically for the overnight stop in the centre of Amsterdam, to allow us to easily come and go from the ship, and venture back into the city for the "night life". A month after our booking, we were told that for "operational reasons" we would now be stopping at Ijmuiden overnight Instead, and being coached in an hour each way. A few months later we were told the schedule had changed, and we would not sail the first day but rather go straight to Ijmuiden, so we didn't arrive at 8am but rather at 10.30am, so we didn't get into Amsterdam until 12 noon.
This cocked up our plans and we were given the option to cancel but lose our deposit, and not given the option to pay the tax ourselves. A bit of investigation identified that the operational reason was that Amsterdam have introduced an €8 per person tax, and they aren't willing to be dictated to, but despite repeated e mails and calls they aren't willing to admit this. There is no way that the fuel used sailing there faster, the coaches through the night, and the 385 nautical miles sailed before our next port ( 100 miles away) make this a good decision for anyone.
Now that I have got that off my chest, the rest of the break was excellent !
We went on Ventura a couple of years ago, and it has had a refit since, so all the public areas are well maintained. We have been on a couple of TUI cruises since we last went on P&O a year ago, so have something to compare them to. Without any doubt the decor and the food quality / choice on P&O is better, with more in the way of activities. However, the standard of service is far below that of TUI, and has dropped since we last sailed P&O (since the dropped the tipping?). It's not that it's poor service, it's more that it is just functional, and there is no attempt to interact with passengers, which does have a big impact on the atmosphere onboard.
The show team at night of drama school kids were of as high a standard as we have seen at sea, and all their shows were excellent. I can't say the same for the other entertainment that came an left the ship, who unfortunately appeared more than once, especially the comedienne.
Our stop at Bruges was very good, but unfortunately our stop at Guernsey was cancelled due to high winds preventing the launch of the tenders. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but other passengers said that it was the fifth time this year that they have aborted the port, which makes you ask why they bother if this is the case.
Embarkation at Southampton was speedy, as was our disembarkation which went very smoothly an hour ahead of schedule.
Booked superior balcony as larger cabin for 4 adults (travelling with 2 daughters in their twenties). Room exceeded expectations with complimentary items e.g. Champagne, brollies, binoculars, fruit, and bath robes. Good to have a bath as well as a shower.
Large balcony on same level as lifeboats, but obscured by partitions. Above the Horizon room, but no noise at any time. Only disruption came from being directly above side thrust engines, so all the room vibrated when manoeuvring into the docks first thing !
Cabin steward Rajesh friendly and accommodating with any additional requirements e.g. Cleared out the fridge for us to put in drinks we had brought on board.
Visited the Gassan diamond factory near Rembrandts house which is free and educational. Albert Cuyp street market is large and worthwhile. Vondelpark has a good cafe/pub the Blau Theehaus. The Ann France museum is €10 but has to be booked time slots online 3 months ahead, although we turned up 3 hours early and they let us in. The smaller canal boats are just outside this museum for €16 and are more fun than the big boats at €12 near the central station. The kids did the sex museum at Damrak €5 and thought it comical, although by then they were high on space cakes we got at Paradox coffee house opposite Ann Frank museum. Be aware that coffee shops are for cannabis and cafes are for coffee, and the whole city smells of cannabis as it's is smoked openly in all areas.
Looked nice from a mile away since we didn't dock !
Whatever you do, do not take the self guided ship excursion into Bruges. They were asking for €37 per person, and yet they lay on a free bus from the ship to Blankenburg station in the next town, where you catch the train for €5 return into Bruges (15 minutes). No need to pre book as they are hourly and specifically large for the cruise passengers descending all at once.
The city is more cultured than Amsterdam, and thrives on chocolate and beer. Save your money and bounce around from shop to shop tasting the free samples of chocolate, and spend the money on beer ! Would recommend going to the Bruges museum in the acentral square, but straight to Duvelorum bar on the second floor where there is a balcony with views, and try the flights of beer with accompanying chocolates paired for their different tastes €10.