Ventura was christened in spectacular style by Dame Helen Mirren in 2008. Britain’s screen siren commanded a team of Royal Marine Commandos to abseil down the side of the ship and, within seconds, the bottle of champagne shattered triumphantly into a million pieces.
This 3,092-passenger ship ushered in a more contemporary look for P&O Cruises. Rising 15 decks, the family-friendly Ventura is a version of Princess Cruises’ Grand-class ships but it feels uniquely British. This is the workhorse of the company’s extensive series of short-break cruises as well as voyages to the Mediterranean, Canary Islands and the Caribbean. It is a great choice for those dipping their toe into the cruising scene for the first time, as well as seasoned cruisers.
Where to eat
The Bay Tree Dining Room (only reached by the aft lifts and stairwells) offers traditional set dining at 6.30pm or 8.30pm at assigned tables which P&O call ‘Club Dining’. The Cinnamon and Saffron restaurants offer 'Freedom Dining', which means passengers can turn up anytime between 6pm and 9.30pm and sit where and with whom they like. The food itself is of a consistently good quality and is geared to British tastes.
The Epicurean at the White Room is one of the most elegant restaurants at sea. Seasonal British ingredients are prepared by P&O Cruises’ executive chefs who have come up with a menu that is lighter but still pushes the boundaries of traditional cruise cuisine. A night here is worth the supplement of £40. On sea days the restaurant also plays host to Master Pâtissier Eric Lanlard's outstanding Afternoon Tea.
Sindhu at East is under the direction of Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, who has not only created a menu showcasing his sublime fusion of Indian and British cuisine, but has personally trained all the chefs. Any evening in this vibrant room is a real delight and the cover charge of £20 is a steal.
The Glasshouse is a popular ‘gastro-pub’ under the direction of wine connoisseur Olly Smith. To accompany the eclectic array of keenly-priced wines there are delicious small and large plates of ‘tapas-style’ comfort food. Prices are kept intentionally kept low and certainly don't indicate sub-par produce!
Where to sleep
Ventura offers eight types of accommodation, and as the ship is targeted at families and multi-generational groups, a large number of cabins have sofas that convert into beds for a third person, or beds that pull down from the ceiling. Accommodation categories are graded according to size and location, while some cabins have obstructed or partially obstructed views. Grades of cabins include: Inside, Outside, Balcony, Family Suites and Suites. Solo travellers are also catered for thanks to 18 single cabins added during a major refit in 2013.
What to do
Perfect for chilly days, the Beachcomber Pool on Lido Deck has a retractable roof for swimming in all weathers, and is a delightful spot to relax in the whirlpools. Further forward on Lido Deck, the main Laguna Pool also has two whirlpools and plenty of sun-loungers, with the added advantage of being close to the Laguna Bar and Frankie’s Grill and Pizza Bar. There are clubs for youngsters aged two to 17, a night nursery for kids under four as well as family-friendly pools, and optional early eating times.
The adults-only Retreat is a luxurious open-air spa terrace with deep-cushioned sun loungers and airy cabanas. There are oodles of fluffy robes, cold towels and iced water infused with fruit essence, as well as drinks and snacks from a healthy-living menu that is available throughout the day. As a chill-out zone it is hard to beat and worth every penny of the daily entrance fee. There are also alfresco spa treatments; while one deck below is the Oasis Spa with sauna and steam grottoes and a tropical shower.
The Arena Theatre is a large show-lounge and venue for West-End review-style shows, tribute acts, presentations and recently-released films. The Headliners Theatre Company offers twice-nightly high-energy performances with top production values that traverse musical genres the whole audience loves.
The urban warehouse-themed Exchange is packed from morning until the small hours. The ‘age of steam’ is evoked with two model trains that run around the top of the bar and a superb collection of vintage railway posters. There is a range of beers, lagers and cider on draught, while the more adventurous can sample an array of pilsners, ales and stouts from micro-breweries around the UK. Passengers also flock to Havana, the ship's Cuban-themed nightclub, for all the sultry passion and colour of Latin America.
What I loved
Perched high above the sea at the stern on Sky Deck, Metropolis has panoramic views out to sea and is a perfect hideout to enjoy a pre-lunch tipple. As a venue for cocktails I can think of nowhere better, and as an added attraction, the innovative floor-to-ceiling video wall displays dramatic cityscapes.
Seek out the small plunge pool at the aft of Sun Deck during school holiday cruises as this is often an oasis of tranquillity. On sea days Sindhu at East is open for lunch for a ridiculously low cover charge. It is also worth noting that one of the few smoking areas is located at the starboard corner of the undercover Beachcomber Pool area and can be a nuisance to non-smokers.
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