Prior to my first cruise, my impressions of cruising were a little hazy. I imagined it as a cross between a carry on film, and a venue filled with young up for it people. A little more research made me anticipate that the up for it people might be in their 6th decade, but it still sounded like a place full of wonder. Seven bars! An all night casino! Unlimited food! What could possibly be bad about that?
Due to current health constraints that prevent me from flying, the cruise I selected was a 7 day tour of Europe, which started at Southampton, and featured four stops along the way. Here I will look at the good, the bad, and the big surprises of my voyage. Before you click away, I just want to stress that CRUISES are AFFORDABLE. Really, I’m not particularly flush, and my week away cost me £649. Not cheap, I’ll grant you, but I’d been imagining prices in the thousands. This included ALL food, and all onboard entertainment as well.
The ship was huge. Like, the size of a whale, can barely comprehend it huge. It towered above the port like a giant behemoth, regal and white, with flags flying. As we strolled around the ship, the size started to recede, as it was far longer than it was wide. We navigated around the many pools, down the elegant staircase into the Atrium, and sipped the welcome champgane flute.
Everywhere was very glossy and polished- the boat was a mere 2 years old and it felt very glamorous. There seemed an endless amount of things to do, and we wanted to eat everywhere, drink everywhere, swim everywhere- with four pools, six jacuzzis, 8 places to eat and multiple bars, this seemed a doable if challenging feat. There were1546 cabins available ( to give you an idea of the amount of people on board) and though we asked for an upgrade, we were told that the ship was full. The air was full of excitement and adventure, and though loads of people were moving into their rooms, it didn’t feel chaotic at all.
Read on for more- and be warned, there are a LOT of pictures.
I had opted for the cheapest cabin on board, which was an inside stateroom. I was worried I’d feel claustrophobic, but a lot of thought had been put into the design and layout, and the room felt compact but not tiny. It featured a double bed (two beds pushed together), bedside cabinets, a TV, tea and coffee facilities, including a kettle, a small table with sweets welcoming us (yay!), a fridge and a separate wardrobe area where we could hang clothes.
There was a small bathroom which featured White Company toiletries and the decor was bright and modern. There were a lot of mirrors which gave the room the impression of being larger. The only weird thing was the lack of light, as it was hard to tell what time of day it was. The bed was very comfy though, and the sheets felt expensive, and they got turned down daily. Each night we’d find a chocolate on our pillow, with the words ‘catch a falling star’ printed on it. That made me happy!
A friendly steward showed us around, and told us how to order room service or extras (via the phone or TV) and told us we’d get our room cleaned daily. I liked the room, it felt plush and pretty, and though it wasn’t five star, it is a BIG step up from a Travel Lodge. We didn’t need to tip him for this service- I’ll get to the tipping etiquette later…
The boat operates on a cash free system, as your room key is also used to buy drinks at the bar, or snacks in the shop. On checkout you settle up the balance. If you’ve been in a drunken haze for a little while and want to check the damage, you can bring up your account details on the TV screen in your room. Apart from booze there’s really not much to spend cash on.
I’ve already mentioned that there were a LOT of dining options available on board, but I want to elaborate even more. There are a few ways to eat on board- wherever and whenever you like- either in the buffets (depending on the time of day), with one buffet open 24 hours. The menu there changes by the day, often going with themes such as ‘South American/Cajun’, ‘French Bistro’, etc. There were also two fast food joints to eat at- Frankie’s Pizzeria where you got pizzas and Frankie’s Grill, where you could eat tasty burgers by the pool. I had been a little worried about the vegetarian options on board but everywhere catered for me- I had almost too many options, which is a pleasant experience.
There were also three restaurants you could pay for, the Marco Pierre White ‘White Room’, an Eastern fusion place called East and a tapas bar called Ramblas. Prices ranged from £5-£30 depending on your choice, but I never actually ate there? Why? I’m getting to that…
There were three main dining rooms on the ship called Cinnamon, Saffron and Bay Tree. I say ‘main’, but what I mean by that is that they held their mealtimes with silver service waiters, and dinner included five courses plus tea and chocolate. These were all FREE to go to, though you had to attend your meal at an allotted time slot- 6-8pm, and 8-10pm for example. You could sign up to something called ‘Freedom dining’ which gave you flexible eating times, but meant you changed your table each night.
One of the weird things about a cruise is that they like you to socialize, and our table seated ten people. The idea is to chat and hang out with other travelers, but we got three rather morose couples in their forties and felt a little awkward (and young). The food was lovely, but the formal atmosphere was a little stuffy, so we didn’t go there all that much. You also had to tip if you went there- £1.10 per person for each silver service meal, which juts got charged to your room key.
There was also one more place (yes I know, it was endless), which was a buffet in the day, but turned into a seated restaurant at night, with waiter service. It served up quality American diner style food, with Ceasar salad, huge burgers and the like. The food was great on board, I ate so much I gained four pounds in a week. There was just non stop free access, and it was all so tasty.
There was so much to do on the boat, that it sometimes seemed odd that we were even stopping in ports! The bars were large and plentiful and drink were REALLY reasonable, like £3 for a cocktail and £2.50 for a beer. There was a huge array of activities on during the day, to film screenings ion the large theatre, to poker tournaments in the casino. I enjoyed the yoga classes at the gym, and early risers could do the ’1 mile walk round the ship’ if they wanted to be up for 8am.
You could also try tennis, bowls, and even compete for prizes! (no prizes for Connect 4 though). The spa was happy to dish out massages, facials,and, er, teeth whitening, and there were daily lectures about how to stay healthy and ‘have a happy back’.
Every night featured a large programme of events, from comedy acts to mind readers, and all were quality. Like, you’d pay money to see them back home kind of quality.
There was a great theatre crew who performed Saturday Night Fever, culminating in a new performance called Chronicles, a Cirque de Soleil style event which featured women dangling from ropes and men demonstrating serious strength (and rock hard abs). The show was called Chronicles, and my fingers are crossed it will come to the UK.
Though I’m child free, there were a lot of kids on board, and I was a little jealous of their activities- circus skills, a dedicated game room (with consoles!) and an evening ball of their own.
I was a big fan of the pool areas, as each one came with two jacuzzis. I thought on a ship this big it would be impossible to get any private time, but night after night we headed to the Oasis jacuzzi and wallowed happily for two odd hours in private. Every time we left a port a ‘Sail Away’ activity took place, which involved the entertainment team dancing, waving and generally having everyone go a little wild as the sun set.
The casino was opened all day and most of the night, and I also liked to hang out in a bar called ‘The Exchange’, designed to look like a ye olde British pub, complete with Wetherspoon style furnishings. We did Bingo there one night and I was one number away from £700- gutting!
In a really bizarre way, the countries I went to were almost an ‘extra’. The boat had so much to offer, that the chance to get off and see other places was often a difficult choice, as you didn’t want to miss anything. We saw Lisbon, Vigo, La Rochelle and Brest. Each city had a lot to offer, from different food, to cool aquariums, and our boat waited patiently in the port, like a dad watching over his flock (not sure if that analogy works).
We also got a free newsletter every evening, posted into our cubbyhole. It detailed the schedule of events for the next day, so you could plan them- which I thought was a great thing to include. There was a free library to rent books and local guides from, as well as a bunch of boardgames to play.
My favourites extra would have to be the FREE ROOM SERVICE. Yes, really. You can order through the TV or over the phone and out of 50 odd options, 40 are completely free. It was AMAZING- my partner would come back and stare at the mountains of food I’d ordered and go why, and well, ‘Just because I could’, got repeated a lot.
The Bad Points
Though there were many great things about the trip, there were a few points that could have been better executed. I wasn’t a huge fan of the group dining, as unless you get a good group of people, it’s really quite awkward. I also wish that they’d had more late night activities other than bars. The pools and jacuzzis closed around 12/1, and it would have been nice to have just one of them open all night. The same also goes for their cinema programme, which often clashed with port visits and other events.
Things to know
You really won’t need much cash on your holiday. Drinks are cheap, and it’s hard to spend cash on board. They do hold shopping evenings, but they sell tat mainly, so not much pressure there. The four stops are brief enough to help you stay on a budget, and you will get to feel sand between your toes. You never need to give your steward money (believe me, you’ll recognize him soon enough) but it is polite to leave him some cash in the provided envelope at the end of the stay. The sum is discretionary. Seasickness is possible- I was fine, but my partner went a little green, but one call to reception and we had tablets which helped. You won’t feel like you’ve stepped onto Titanic, but you will feel very excited all the time- and the policy of formal and semi formal nights gives everyone an excuse to dress up.
It really IS for everyone, whatever your age, and having lost my cruise virginity, I would say I’m more than satisfied. I will definitely be cruising again!
Check out more info on the P&O Ventura for yourself here.