Having never been on a cruise before we found a 2 night mini-cruise on the P&O Ventura over the August Bank Holiday weekend (Southampton to Guernsey and back).
My first point would be that if P&O run this mini-cruise again they should probably consider making it 3 nights and try and include Jersey as a port of call, it would have just been a slightly better length than 2 nights, which was perhaps a bit to short to fully appreciate the cruise experience (and also its nice to see multiple places).
As it happened, having been to St Peter Port fairly recently, we didn't actually disembark, so stayed on the ship all day, hoping to take advantage of the reduced crowds...sadly most places seemed closed, so this plan wasn't quite as smart as we thought!
Anyway, lets go back to the beginning...in terms of pre-journey information, that was okay, but I feel they could do better and give a 1 page idiots guide to arrival and embarkation. The process was actually seamless, but for example there is no-where on the P&O website that mentions liquids in your luggage. It may be obvious to regular cruisers, but to airline travellers its a valid concern, we had no idea whether we could take full sized shampoo for example or not (albeit google came to our assistance and re-assured us that if we really wanted to, we could).
Physically getting on the ship was far quicker than expected, we got given a fastrack card on arrival at the terminal, no idea if that was just luck or not, but our boarding process was very quick, it felt under 30 minutes...until we got on the ship.
One point that is worth making, is that as this was a mini-cruise we only had 1 suitcase, which we could have carried ourselves, however the brochure made it sound like you had to check it in. Again its unclear whether this was required, or merely suggested, clarity would be better here.
So when stepping on-board it was a bit crowded, but not ridiculously so, we had a welcome photo and then walked towards the lifts (there were plenty of staff to direct people). However the lifts themselves were atrocious.
I have never been in any building with such poor lifts and I can't really see why merely being on a ship they should be so bad, at least one was out of action the entire time and two at some points. They appeared to randomly skip floors (or perhaps in reality the display was just not updating quickly enough) and took forever to arrive. Most people gave up and just walked. Whilst I appreciate things can get crowded on embarkation and disembarkation, when I say these lifts were bad, I mean the whole time, even at seemingly quiet times. I feel they need an overhaul.
So then we went into the cabin, met the friendly cabin steward and went for a walk around (the cabin was okay, although very dated looking, especially the bath room, I won't say more as I've written a section on the cabin below).
We explored the top decks initially and people were already getting into the swing of things, with some already in the pool (quite how they managed that so quickly I have no idea)! The pool's themselves however were very small, much smaller than I'd imagined them to be (even having seen pictures), the whole pool side areas felt quite crowded and more for the hen parties on board than quiet couples, so we never went in, but the water did feel quite cold when I tested it, so I don't feel we missed much!
The pool side bars felt a bit rowdy, but nothing over the top, we never saw any trouble (despite mentions of fights and so on, on this ship in previous cruise reviews we found)!
This is when we got our first taste of the excellent service, we were just standing by a railing and managed to end up with a couple of very reasonably priced cocktails within minutes. Overall I must commend the staff, the service was excellent, everyone was very helpful, polite and incredibly efficient too, we did tip on top of the standard included tips at dinner, but now I feel slightly bad we didn't tip for drinks too (which being British we wouldn't normally do, but we recently saw a documentary on the wages of cruise ship employees which made us feel bad).
Now onto dining…our first taste of the food, was the Waterside buffet, which had a constantly replenished array of snacks and main dishes. It was okay, not spectacular, but then I don’t think it was meant to be, acting more of a quick and easy place to grab something. There was only a minimal queue and reasonable variety, although finding a window table was rarely possible, generally by going into the second room it was possible to find a table (the only exception being upon disembarkation, where everyone had to vacate their cabin’s before breakfast, which created a huge bottleneck).
For the first night, for dinner we booked the Epicurian, which is one of the ‘Select Dining’ options available and frankly we were impressed. I popped down a bit early to request a dairy free option (and pre-ordered to make life easier for the chef) and in all honesty it surpassed my expectations. The food (and the service) were both excellent, with very reasonably priced wine to accompany the meal too.
The second night we ended up opting to upgrade to Sindu (an Indian themed Select Dining option) and again we were not disappointed, once again the food and service were excellent.
The main disappointment with dining was the regular options, which we didn’t try for dinner, purely because the menu just looked a bit rubbish. One thing I noticed, was that (if I recall correctly) every single menu option had dairy in, which isn’t a big deal for many, but in the modern world of allergies and dietary requirements creates an unnecessary headache, surely it wouldn’t kill anyone to create at least one dairy free option (I’m sure the same could be said for gluten, so why not kill two birds with one stone). All that said, of course as I mentioned previously in the restaurants we went to the chef’s did an amazing job of creating special options for me!
Aside from the restaurants I’ve already mentioned, there was the poolside grill, which did basic burgers, hot dogs etc. and were pretty much as expected (think university canteen rather than steakhouse burgers).
Oh and breakfast too had the usual hot and cold options as expected, it was nice enough and other than the last morning was not too crowded.
In terms of bar’s we tried the Tamarind Club, which had a very impressive band called Serious Sounds. They were a group from Barbados and had impressive vocals, with the Keyboard player even outshining the lead singer on occasions! As with everywhere on the ship, the drinks service here was very attentive and quick.
We had some cocktails at a bar by the pool and again the service was very rapid, the cocktails were nice too, not watery and reasonably priced (generally sub £6 for a large cocktail, which at least compared to London prices is cheap). Wine was around £20 a bottle, which again felt very good value and a beer was (I think) around £4/£5, which is the same as a cheaper London pub.
The other bar I remember, was the British pub themed one called the Exchange, by the Casino, this was showing the football, much to my wife’s horror, however we sat quietly in the corner and had a go on the slot machines as the Casino wasn’t actually open during the day (which was very surprising and a bit odd).
We did actually go to one more place, which was a bar / restaurant called the Glass House, this was very wine focused and offered sets of 3 x 100ml sample glasses for around £10 each, which was a nice way to try a few different wines (they also offered standard bottles or glasses of course).
Now as I mentioned, we didn’t actually disembark in Guernsey, as we thought with the reduced crowds, it would be a great time to explore the ship, however disappointingly we found the entertainment options pretty limited, with many places closed (such as the Casino, which seems a bit short-sighted). There were some shows on at the Arena theatre and a screen showing children’s films in the Tamarind club, but overall it felt like there wasn’t much left for those who stayed on-board (yet somehow the pools were still crowded)!!
In the evening, the entertainment was perhaps more interesting, but after a large dinner, we didn’t really feel like a show, preferring to have a drink or two. It would have been nice if the shows were repeated on different days (perhaps they are on longer cruises), as we had pre-booked dinner before boarding on the first night, which clashed with the only show we really wanted to watch.
One thing that was a bit strange is that the entertainment options were not shown in advance, which was a bit annoying, as we would have planned things a bit differently if we had known what was on in advance.
We asked to have a look around the children’s clubs (as we do have a small child, although she didn’t come with us on this trip) and to be fair they looked pretty good. The only criticism is that they are rigid about the age range, so a 5 year old can not play in the 2-4 year old play room, which is perhaps a bit unfair as it means children who are days apart in age can’t play together (and there seemed to be more in the smaller children’s room, with the older one still good, but geared more towards the much older kids).
The SPA we visited briefly and there is a small pool there, which is adults only, they did also suggest there was a bar there, but oddly we couldn’t find it!
The shops were very limited, surprisingly so, I would have thought they would have packed more in, I could imagine on a longer cruise you’d really struggle to find things you needed and would be very bored quickly of looking around the very limited range on offer.
I can’t think of much else, so onto Disembarkation. We discovered that we had to vacate our cabin by 8 am and were not impressed by this, perhaps that’s normal with P&O, but having spoken to plenty of older cruisers (including both sets of parents) this is apparently abnormally early. Additionally we were not told this until on-board, which was very frustrating as we had made plans based on our assumption of a later disembarkation. Ignoring the fact that it was annoyingly early, surely P&O know the expected arrival time in advance and could let you know when booking (the same for embarking, although at least we found this out before boarding)!!! For people that have to book a train, especially those coming from further afield, how can they possibly plan ahead??? Very poor communication in my opinion.
The other problem with disembarkation was that it didn’t seem to be staggered (I think technically it was, but only in 15 minute slots, which is sort of pointless with circa 3,000 in a confined space), this meant that obviously once again the lifts were an impossibility, but worse still, everyone crowded into the buffet breakfast space, meaning the queues were horrendous and it was impossible to get a table (we managed to find some bar stools outside by a closed bar, but others weren’t so lucky).
So overall, the drinks were good value for money, the Select dining was excellent, but the normal dining looked disappointing. The buffet was okay, but unexciting and very poorly co-ordinated on the last morning.
Overall the ship just felt very dated and in need of an overhaul, I was surprised to read it was only around 10 years old and has already been refurbished once! It felt as if the décor / facilities were probably older than that.
The cabin was okay, but not spectacular (more details in the review below) and overall I guess the value for money was okay. It wasn’t a cheap weekend by any means, but considering how much cruises can cost I don’t think it was ridiculous.
Now I do want to mention the staff again, as they were all excellent and deserve to be recognised for their impeccable service.
So, would we go again? Well I think we would probably try a cruise again, almost certainly with our little one, as I think she’d really like it, however sadly P&O did not create a great impression so not only would we not go on Ventura again, but would probably be inclined to opt for another operator next time. Read Less