Cruise118.com’s Simon Brotherton cruised around the Mediterranean on one of P&O’s most popular ships, Ventura. Making her debut in April 2008, P&O Ventura fast became a favourite with the line and is today P&O Cruises' biggest ship apart from Britannia, which made her launch last year to much international fanfare. At 956 feet and featuring 14 passenger decks, she certainly offers plenty of opportunity for exploration as I found out for myself when I became one of the 3,192 passengers she caters for each cruise. First impressions I boarded Ventura in Venice for that most popular of itineraries, the Mediterranean cruise. Now, the Italian sunshine and the atmosphere of that most romantic of cities perhaps had something to do with my reaction when I first caught sight of Ventura but though I’d been on a cruise ship before I wasn’t quite prepared for her sheer scale. And this isn’t even the biggest ship!? From the ground looking up, there’s admittedly not that much to see, except for row upon row of balconies lining the ships side and just visible windows of the lofty bridge. After stepping aboard however, the ship’s sense of reserved design soon became clear. She was stylish without being too in your face, clearly aimed at the British cruiser and also clearly benefitting from her 2013 refit. The atrium was both classy and functional, being the location of the captain’s reception and all various shops and boutiques.
Ariel view of P&O Ventura

Ariel view of P&O Ventura

This vessel isn’t about wowing you by having the biggest waterslide, the most state-of-the-art gadgetry or the most abstract piece of modern art and clearly intended to appeal to British sensibilities. With that in mind, I’d heard opinions that P&O was a line geared towards older cruisers and while it was true that there were plenty of older couples on-board and that they seemed more than at home, I didn’t feel out of place and saw plenty of younger families making their way to the buffet and already splashing around in the pool. Something I must admit took a bit of getting used to was the deck navigation, as depending on which floor you were on, you couldn’t necessarily make it from one end of the ship to the other without moving up or down a deck.  Admittedly some of this was down to my patchy navigational skills but I’m told that all cruise ships are not designed this way. A room with a view I was lucky enough to be staying in a balcony stateroom on-board and it didn’t disappoint. Plenty of space in the main bedroom area and a separate wardrobe area sat well with my must-unpack-and-put-everything-in-its-place-immediately sensibilities and it wasn’t long before I was heading for the balcony, coffee in hand to take in the Venetian view. Admittedly not the most expansive of spaces, these balconies nevertheless offer enough room for two people to sit and relax and are a great way to enjoy the views in private and as I found out, make the most of the occasional room service breakfast. Indeed, in another nod to British sensibilities, a kettle and tea/coffee were also a welcome addition and not something you’ll find with every cruise line. Dressed for dinner A big part of cruising is of course the food. Being vegetarian, though I knew there would be at least something for me every day, I was nevertheless surprised by the choice I always had at the breakfast and lunch buffet. Continuing the acknowledgement of Britishness, a Full English was always an option each morning (with veggie replacement sausages on request for the likes of myself) as well as a wealth of continental options. When it came to evening dining, there were always at least two vegetarian options and when it became apparent of my requirements, I was told I would be able to select from one of the other dining room’s menus if I chose. Indeed, it was the Ventura catering staff’s business to ensure that the menu featured something from the speciality venues every night. The service was always impeccable and considering the large amount of people the ship catered for I never felt rushed.
Marco Pierre White's The White Room

Marco Pierre White's The White Room

Now about that speciality dining. I’d been told before I cruised that everyone should try a speciality dining venue, despite the fact that it’s not included in your cruise cost. Ventura is home to both Atul Kochhar’s Asian fusion venue Sindhu and Marco Pierre White’s The White Room, so I thought it would be rude not to try both. When you consider you can eat for at least half the price of what you can at your local restaurant and choose from a variety of expertly prepared dishes you’re not likely to find there, it’s more than worth it and needless to say the service, presentation and most importantly taste, were all of the highest standard. An entertaining evening Considering the oft-mentioned British sensibilities, you’ll forgive me for thinking that the entertainment on-board Ventura was going to be somewhat ‘Pontins’ throughout the cruise. While it’s true that there were pool parties, dress ups, stand-ups and the like, the entertainment in the main theatre was never short of classy, with theatre-review performances and talented solo artists more often than not hitting the perfect note and delivering shows that you’d be happy to pay for if you were back home exploring a city’s theatre district. In another nod to Britishness, the traditional pub hosted quizzes and karaoke and conveniently backed on to the on-board casino, completing the British cruiser’s go-to hangout spot. You may think such an environment is the last place you’d want to spend time when seeking cultural immersion in the Med but in truth, its’s a fun place to be to take a load off at the end of the day. Other club venues hosted talented tribute artist throughout the cruise and drinks were served to your seat (very tempting when no actual money changes hands!) Facilities I’ve already mentioned that Ventura is never going to win the best waterslide prize and while the Beachcomber Pool on the Lido Deck was always popular with the kids, it was clearly wasn’t designed with just them in mind. The Reef youth centre however clearly was and its presence proves that P&O think about families with kids. Indeed, Ventura’s a family ship and as such the whole family is welcome in all its pools, just don’t expect any plunging drops and high-powered water guns. The admittedly small Oasis Pool is in fact an ‘endless’ pool and exclusively for adults, great if you like to put in some ‘lengths’ as part of your fitness routine.
P&O Ventura's Beachcomber Pool

P&O Ventura's Beachcomber Pool

The aforementioned pool is conveniently located to the ship’s spa and gym, the latter of which I frequented on a number of occasions. More at home with the free weights, I was pleased to see there was a more than adequate selection as well as all manner of exercise and weight machines, including treadmills which are conveniently situated to offer you the perfect view out to sea. If you prefer to keep fit competitively, there’s also a dedicated Sports Deck on-board. To sum up, you’d really struggle to have a bad cruise on-board Ventura. The most important things – food, service and entertainment are all top class and while kids could admittedly find a wider choice of things to do on-board other cruise ships, they’re always made more than welcome.
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