So, now we’re familiar with P&O, why Ventura in particular? Honestly, for us sceptics, the choice may be made by the fact that, in the currently published schedules, Ventura seems to offer more short cruises than the rest of the P&O fleet combined.
Ventura, and close sister ship Azura are among the larger ships in the P&O fleet, topped only by new flagship Britannia. Although Ventura and Azura are based on the Grand Class platform of, sister line, Princess Cruises, they were originally built for P&O, in contrast to the smaller Oceana, which began life as Sun Princess, before being “re-themed”.
Although considerably larger than the adults-only ships in the P&O fleet (Oriana, Aurora and Adonia), carrying just over 3000 passengers, Ventura is really only a mid-size vessel in today’s world of 5000 passenger floating resorts. So, what’s on Ventura that you’ll find on all P&O ships, what’s unique to Ventura and what’s available on other members of the fleet that Ventura is missing?
Ventura doesn’t have quite as many dining options as Britannia, but more than the smaller ships. In addition to the main dining rooms and buffet, there are two specialty restaurants (Sindhu and Epicurean) as well as The Glass House - a wine bar serving “small plates” and other dishes for a modest cover charge. As you’ll discover in later installments of our review, these specialty restaurants are your friend.
In contrast to the smaller, more traditional, P&O ships, the “pub venue” is less traditional; screens showing sport and music videos replace wing-back chairs and tranquility. Think “6am in a Wetherspoon’s at Gatwick” rather than “thatched Cotswold coaching inn”.
There are four pools aboard Ventura, as well as multiple hot tubs. Crucially, for a ship that does a lot of short cruise sin the North Sea, one of Ventura’s pools can be enclosed by a retractable roof. There’s also an adults-only pool, open to all, next to The Retreat, an adults-only sun deck, featuring more comfortable loungers, which is only accessible upon payment of an additional charge.
Now, time to start looking back at the Ventura experience...
P&O might be the essence of all that scares us most about cruises. You might have had an elderly relative who spent every March visiting the same Canary Isles with them. For decades, their flagship was the SS Canberra, a ship “beloved by guests”, who seem to have been mad for the shared bathrooms and the “innovative” cabin courts that, somehow, turned cupboards into airy and spacious rooms for the discerning. Aherm.
P&O have been on a journey since the days of Canberra; one which hasn’t met with universal approval by those who long for deck quoits and communal showers, but which may have moved them closer to something you might consider.
The original replacement for Canberra was the mid-sized Oriana (1995), joined by the similar Arcadia in 2000. Both of those ships were aimed at traditional P&O customers and today, along with the smaller Adonia (soon to return from a sister line) are adults-only. Other ships added to the fleet since then have seen a continual increase in size with a focus on families and new cruisers.
This process culminated in 2015’s Britannia and a re-branding that saw the traditional buff funnels replaced with royal blue and a giant splash of the Union Jack across the bows. An even larger, 5200 passenger behemoth, has been ordered for delivery to P&O in 2020.
P&O offers a product which is unashamedly aimed at the British market. This means “pub” themed areas alongside the cocktail bars and a menu focused on “British favourites”; speculation that this included some excellent Indian dishes was not entirely true in practice.
Being UK-focused, the line offers a wide range of cruise options, particularly for those who want to completely avoid aircraft. In addition to epic World Cruises, “no-fly” voyages are regularly offered to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, for those that have the weeks to spare. P&O also offer a wide programe of short cruises from Southampton, ideal for those wanting to dip a toe in the water or to arrange a group getaway.
Truly, there's nothing duller than bloggers blogging about blogging, so we'll keep this short...
We’re not a travel agent; we’re not trying to sell you anything.
We pay for our own trips, so don’t owe anybody a favourable review.
In the unlikely event that somebody does want to throw a freebie at us, we’ll make that very clear to you then remain as honest as ever - our future plans do not rely on repeat invites from grateful PRs.
There may be some link or display advertising on the site, but it will be largely machine-driven and is hardly going to involve the sort of cash that could buy us off - we’re terribly expensive.
It’s the end of the week and you’re running off into the sunset, grasping for the first available gin and tonic. We, on the other hand, are just getting ready to board P&O’s Ventura.
We’ll start reviewing every aspect of the experience from next week. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and reaction from Sunday afternoon onward.
So where will this journey into the dark side lead us? Actually, it’s no mystery, given that ships sail to set schedules, we can be quite precise.
We have long-term plans to cover some of the more esoteric and high-end cruise lines, but we’re kicking off with a selection of the more popular companies - particularly those that UK residents are likely to find convenient.
In the coming months, we’re going to be sailing on P&O’s Azura, Carnival Triumph, MSC Magnifica, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, Norwegian Jade and CMV’s new Columbus.
So, why are we considering getting on a cruise ship and, indeed, why might anyone else who views the prospect with dread?
For us, there are some key attractions...
One of us isn’t particularly comfortable flying, another does it so often that, come holiday time, isn’t especially keen to do more. And nobody can love airports these days; kerb to gate can take anywhere from minutes to hours, depending on what’s going on at security that day – you have to remove most of your clothing and reduce your hand luggage to its constituent atoms. Then, of course, there’s always somebody in front of you who, it seems, has been living in a cave for a decade and doesn’t understand the basic rules, so will hold up the line for fifteen minutes, denying there’s anything amiss, then exclaiming “since when was moisturiser a liquid?
Worse, there’s the indignity of the flight itself: People trampling nuns and children to death in an effort to be aboard first and grab enough space in an overhead bin for the wheeled shipping container that they’re using as hand luggage; “slimline” seats that render you immobile after two hours; waiting a hour to pay £7 for a, desperately needed, gin and tonic, because, mystifyingly, no airline seems to have mastered quick on-board card payments. No, frankly, it’s all too much and is to be avoided whenever possible.
Both the number and variety of destinations made possible by cruising are big draws. Previously, we have done a lot of trips where we move from city to city every few days, by plane, train or car – cruising allows us to do that without all the fuss of re-packing and trudging to and from stations and airports. Additionally, smaller ships in particular open up a number of destinations that, otherwise, would be impractical to do without taking a month of work and spending days in a car. Places like the more remote Scottish Isles or Arctic Scandinavia which, if you’re not driving, require flights in tiny planes – something that isn’t an option for the nervous flyer.
However, this focus on the itinerary does, for us, lessen the attraction of the cruise industry’s biggest market – the Caribbean. Now, I’m sure there are some nice Caribbean islands, it’s just that we haven’t found them yet. They seem to be great places for parties and nice weather – all things which are also available on the ship, so why bother disembarking?
For people who spend most of their lives busy at work then feeding and entertaining families, cruising does represent an attractive option. More than any other holiday choice, almost everything is taken care of. The cabin is cleaned, the food is cooked, the dishes are done and, if you want, your kids can be imprisoned in an age-appropriate club. Literally, the most taxing choice you have to make is what to have for dinner and whether or not to explore the port.
We love spending time with groups of friends, either at each other’s homes or, quite often, renting a large house for a long weekend. It’s great fun. It’s also not entirely relaxing – somebody still has to worry about shopping, cooking, cleaning and all the rest of it. This is where we think cruises, particularly short ones, come into their own. You can eat together, drink together and hang out in any number of venues together, but there’s also space for occasional quiet time – even if it’s in the spa, having the knots pummeled out of your hungover shoulders.
Wondering who we are, or, more appropriately, whether a recommendation from us is likely to lead to a good holiday for you?
Would some bits of background information help you make that judgement? Well, here goes…
With cruise lines investing billions in new and upgraded ships, the number and variety of cruises available, particularly sailing from UK ports, is increasingly rapidly. Simultaneously, full flights, baggage charges and long lines to clear security make flying an decreasingly attractive way to start and end a holiday.
However, there is scant information available for people like us; who see that a cruise may hold some attractions, in terms of convenience, but are discouraged by their reputation. That’s not to say that there isn’t a wealth of cruise reviews online, but they all tend to be written by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts - as such, they don’t cover the aspects of cruising that worry us (crowds, group activities, confinement), while failing to provide an objective view of areas which are important to us. Food, in particular, is an area in which past experience shows many cruise reviews mistake quantity and gimmicks for quality.
Additionally, the official websites of the major cruise lines are universally awful when it comes to providing key information, such as sensible arrival times for embarkation, clearly relying on travel agents to provide customers with these details and peace of mind.
So, we decided to start the cruise review website that we couldn’t find for ourselves, providing detailed and impartial reviews by experienced travellers and food writers, aimed, primarily, at UK-based travellers. We’ll maintain our independence by paying for our own cruises and, after each one, post detailed reviews covering: