I was lucky enough to get a cabin on the Ventura Welcome Party Cruise, especially considering that the entire ship sold out within an hour of going on sale. With that kind of popularity, the Ventura immediately had a lot to live up to. And to be honest, she delivered pretty well.
The 2-day itinerary set sail on Friday 11th April from the port of Southampton and cruised to Zebrugge (Bruges) and back. This was a cute itinerary that gave just enough time to explore the ship and enjoy a break away from it all. For those onboard that were new to cruising, this particular choice would have been perfect as a taster.
From the outside the Ventura looked huge. Although I knew she would be 115,000 tonnes, I just wasn’t prepared for her breathtaking size and stature in the dock. The strangest thing was that once onboard, she actually seemed quite small. It was very easy to find your way around and walking from one end of the ship to the other wasn’t the hard slog it would first appear to be. It didn’t take long to get our bearings and learn where the main rooms were.
We were most pleased that our cabins were ready within ten minutes of boarding. We had booked a junior suite with a balcony, CC grade on D deck (deck 9) which was positioned mid-ship. The cabin was tastefully decorated and spacious although deceptively narrow. It was a nice to touch to be greeted by a bottle of champagne on ice and Belgian chocolates which, I can assure you, didn’t last very long!
Whilst touring the ship it was clear that the designer Nick Munro had done a fine job. The interior decoration was elegant throughout; I particularly liked the Moroccan feel of the Tamarind Club, the contemporary Asian style of the East restaurant and the cool colour changing LEDs in the Havana Club.
There is a wealth of bars, restaurants and spacious meeting areas. For those not wanting formal club dining the choice is endless.We ate in the Saffron restaurant on the first night, taking the earliest sitting at 6.30pm, the 8.45pm sitting being just that bit too late for us. The meal was good and the service was excellent. It can’t be easy to pull off that level of service when all the guests arrive at the same time but the staff sailed through it.After dinner we opted to see the comedians Sean Meo and Mark Maier in the Tamarind lounge. If I’m completely honest they were a letdown. Both had a really hard time squeezing laughs out of the crowd, but then that’s what happens if your jokes aren’t funny. It was a shame that we missed the Chronicles show in the Arena theatre which by all accounts was excellent.
On the second day, naturally, passengers were encouraged to pay for an excursion to Bruges for the grand sum of £38 each, with many passengers taking it up. However P&O Cruises did actually provide a FREE shuttle bus at the quay side to take us to the local town of Blankenberge where a train could be caught to Bruges for around 6 Euros return and a journey time of 12 minutes.
Following our pleasant trip into Bruges, we donned our formal wear and ate in The White Room. This ‘Select Dining’ restaurant had a cover charge of £30 which may seem high but once you’ve tasted the food you’ll understand why it was worth every penny. (On longer duration cruises I am told that the cover charge decreases according to the number of nights onboard)The meal was truly amazing and of an incredibly high standard as you would expect. The asparagus risotto was to die for and I could’ve eaten another portion of the prune and amaretto ice cream quite easily!No sooner than finishing our desserts, Marco Pierre White made an appearance. We had the opportunity to meet him and get photos taken which we took full advantage of. He was a very charming man, well spoken, polite and showed a great interest in his fans. Meeting him was definitely the highlight of the evening and possibly even the cruise.
After dinner we managed to catch tail end of the Legends tribute show in the Havana club. The Elton John act was top class and sounded uncannily like the man himself, it was just a shame we missed Kylie and Freddy Mercury. We then went on to flutter and lose in the well equipped casino before heading onto the Saturday Night Fever show. Having seen the movie more times than I can remember, I was convinced that it wasn’t possible to mess up such a classic. How wrong could I be? It was a ‘tragedy’ if ever there was one!
In the first few bars of the opening song, it was already clear that the guy playing the lead, Tony Manero, was singing slightly out of tune. This was a real problem because the main plot of the film isn’t about the acting but the singing and dancing, taking one of those elements away kind of ruins the point of it all. It didn’t get much better for Tony when his mike stopped working halfway through. I’m not sure if there was an electrical fault or someone just switched him off to save our ears. Whichever it was, that was the final straw, we upped and left the theatre along with quite a few other audience members.
I can’t say that Tony Manero tainted my perception of Ventura at all even though I feel we may have been ‘guinea pigs’ to iron out any teething problems. The ship itself is an innovation at sea and all her new features and experiences will definitely appeal to all ages. I think she’s an impressive addition to the P&O Cruises fleet.