Summary. My wife and I took a seven day cruise from Southampton to Vigo, Lisbon, Bilbao and Brest. We have cruised about ten times but this was our first cruise with P&O. We liked the ports of call, thought there was a good selection of evening entertainment and found the drinks prices very reasonable. We were less impressed with the food, which although well cooked was uninspiring and too British, and at times we found the atmosphere rather too much like a holiday camp. Overall we enjoyed the cruise and thought it was pretty good value for money.
Arrival/Departure. We drive to Southampton and parked using CPS. There was about a 15 minute wait to check our car in on arrival and then about a half hour wait to check-in for the cruise, but it was all quite orderly. Departure was excellent. Passengers are allocated coloured tags indicating a time to get off the ship. We swapped ours without difficulty to get earlier ones and it took only fifteen minutes to get off the ship, collect our bags, and get our car back.
Food & Drink. We had wanted Freedom Dining but that was unavailable (we booked quite late) and we were allocated to a table for eight in 2nd sitting (usually 8.30pm). Although the ship was full only one other person turned up for dinner at our table each evening. Presumably the other five preferred to eat in the buffet or perhaps one of the extra cost dining venues. We sometimes ate breakfast and lunch in the dining room and sometimes in the buffet restaurants on the pool deck. The quality of the food was consistent and reasonable but we were disappointed with the lack of variety. In the dining room all choices were meat, potato and vegetables. By the end of the week we were longing for pasta or rice dishes. On the rare occasions where a main course was more interesting (e.g. calves liver with pea risotto or barramundi with Japanese noodles) they came with tiny amounts of rice/noodles and then the waiters brought mashed potato and boiled cabbage to heap on the plate! I don't see why it should be necessary to pay extra for the premium restaurants to get a good meal.
Entertainment. Everyone's tastes are different but we thought the quality of the evening entertainment was pretty good and varied. The only disappointment was the guest speaker, Sir Henry Cooper, who was embarrassingly awful. We found less to interest us among the organised daytime activities on sea days, but lots of the events seemed well attended.
Ports of Call. We had read that Vigo had little of interest so had booked an excursion to Santiago de Compostella. Then at the start of the cruise we got a note from the shore excursions team that Santiago was likely to be extremely busy and we might be unable to get inside the cathedral. This was because 2010 is a Holy Year and the day we were in Vigo was a local public holiday. We opted to cancel the excursion and just wandered around Vigo. Perhaps because we had low expectations we actually quite liked Vigo. There's a lovely garden area within castle walls above the town, with great views. Although all the shops were initially closed with it being a holiday, by lunchtime quite a few had opened. We did our own thing in Lisbon, having bought a guide book and got various tips from CruiseCritic and TripAdvisor forums. We took the first shuttle bus into the centre (they drop off and pick up in the Placa dos Restauradores) and went into the adjacent Metro to buy day travel cards. For 4.20 Euros each you get unlimited use of trams, funiculars and buses for the day. We spent the morning walking around the city centre, including a trip up the Elevator de Santa Justa and taking tram 28 over to the cathedral and up to the Castle. In the afternoon we took tram 15 to Belem. As Ventura had moored just upstream from the big suspension bridge we were able to get off the tram on the way back at the fist stop after passing under the bridge approach from where it was an easy walk back to the ship. In Bilbao we also did our own thing. We got the first shuttle bus, walked along the river, took the Artxanda funicular up for great views over the city, then back down and continued around the river to the Guggenheim. The building is great. We were less impressed with the art (?) inside. We then walked back to and around the old town, then took the metro to Areeta to see the Vizcaya transporter bridge. From there it was a 45 minute walk back to the ship. You could shorten the walk by taking the metro out a couple more stops but the walk is very scenic - well worth doing if you aren't exhausted. In our final port of call, Brest, we had booked an excursion to Quimper. We booked one with a guided walking tour of Quimper but quickly abandoned the guide and walked around on our own. With a large group the guided tour was taking forever and we would have seen far less (but perhaps learned more about the few things we did see). Quimper is lovely.
Service. Staff were efficient and generally very pleasant. Compared to other (mostly American) ships we found the waiters less sociable. They did their job but had no conversation, even though their English was at least as good as it has been on other ships.