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Ventura cruise 2013

In June 2013 we did a 14-night Western Mediterranean cruise from Southampton on Ventura. The ports of call were Valencia; Barcelona; Monte Carlo; Civitavecchia; Ajaccio; Gibraltar; and Vigo, which was a last-minute substitution for La Coruña. In addition there were six full days and a half-day at sea – the first three days, the individual days after Ajaccio, Gibraltar and Vigo, and the morning of the Gibraltar day. As usual I blogged during the cruise. This page serves both as a link to the individual blog posts and also as a summary and review of the cruise as a whole.

First, the links to the blog entries:

And now for the review:

We had a good cruise, with some reservations. It’s brought home to us that what we like most about cruising is visiting the ports; the itinerary. In previous years we’ve enjoyed the number of sea days in a 14-night cruise, but this time we were less happy (Val especially) – there was definitely one sea day too many at the beginning, and we didn’t really enjoy the last one or two either. We were thinking beforehand that maybe we’d do a fly-cruise in 2014, and we’ve come home with a definite decision to do that.

As I said, the ports were the best part of the cruise. We especially enjoyed Barcelona, the excursion at Civitavecchia, and Ajaccio. There were parts of the afternoon at Monte Carlo that were excellent – I particularly remember eating an ice-cream in front of the Prince’s palace looking at the views over the harbour, and I also enjoyed the casino area, and the port area. Val wasn’t so sure about anything other than the old town area, and getting from one good spot to another involved hot walks through much less interesting areas.

The highlights on board were all to do with eating and drinking, I’m afraid: the meals in The White Room, East, and the Glasshouse were all very enjoyable (maybe a bit less so in East, to be truthful, especially for me). We also enjoyed the excellent wines we had in the Glasshouse; in fact, I will now agree that (despite my previously-expressed reservations) the switchover from the previous venue, Ramblas, to the Glasshouse is indeed a big improvement. It would have been ever better if they could have changed the decor – there have been very few changes – but the food and drink there is a much better. We also had a couple of very good late evenings in Metropolis.

Another aspect that we enjoyed (to our surprise, it has to be said) was the entertainment. We went to six after-dinner events in the theatre – a show, two sessions with Ray Turner (a comic who sings), one with Mark Gold (another comic who mainly tells gags), and two with Gareth Oliver, a ventriloquist with a modern approach. We would have gone to a second show if we could have got in, as well. Of these we enjoyed all except Mark Gold. This was unexpected – on our most recent two cruises we haven’t done the entertainment at all. But it was good to have something to do after dinner instead of just hitting the bars straightaway, or creeping back to the cabin.

If there were pluses there were also minuses, I’m afraid. These were mainly in two areas: food and drink issues including the food in the MDR, and the port times. Let’s take them in turn.

Food and drink issues: First, we were generally a bit disappointed by the quality of the meals in the MDR on this cruise. I can’t remember anything really special from the main menu: everything was very bland. The food wasn’t horrible, or anything like that, but for the first time we were conscious that the meals were produced en-masse and not individually. On previous cruises we’ve thought that the MDR food was better than it had any right to be; on this cruise it tasted like what it was. Val did rather better than me – she had four dishes from the ‘Regional Specialities’ section of the menu. These were a Lancashire Hotpot on embarkation day, a lasagne when we were in Italy, Spanish meatballs when we were in Vigo, and a cheese and onion quiche on the last night of all. She says that these were all very tasty, and I can attest this as regards the lasagne and the quiche which I also had. But everything from the main part of the menu was just a bit disappointing. I’m not sure why this is. It could be that we’ve become more discerning in the last few years, and it is true that we do eat out more than we have in the past and maybe have more experience against which to judge the MDR meals. But it could also be that the quality has slipped just that little bit.  As I said in the blog posts, we felt that the difference between the food in the speciality restaurants (where meals are individually prepared) and in the MDR was greater this time than  on previous cruises. It was all prepared well, and the presentation was also good, but the taste was lacking. I have no evidence to back up my next statement, but what we experienced was what I would expect if the quality of the main ingredients themselves had dropped. Is this a sign of cost-cutting?

Secondly on the food and drink issues, we were a little disappointed with the availability and advertising of drinks around the ship in the various bars. We mainly drink wine, and on previous cruises each bar has had a wine list. Possibly quite a short list, but they all had them. What we found this time was that there were no wine lists in the deck bars, or in the Red bar, or even in Metropolis. Wine was still available in all of them, in fact, but you had to ask what they had, and then go through a convoluted conversation to identify what you could have. The big exception was the Glasshouse, of course, which had a lengthy wine list, but all at rather higher prices. It almost looks as if there is a policy to serve only simple drinks, or drinks that each bar specialised in, around the ship: beers at the deck bars, cocktails and spirits in Metropolis and the Red Bar, and speciality wine in the Glasshouse.

Finally there were the port timings. We knew from various Carnival UK statements over the last couple of years that the ships have been slowed down by a knot or two on passages, and we’ve seen the revised itineraries that this results in. Now we’ve experienced it. We seemed to be sailing from many of the ports at around 4 o’clock; at Ajaccio we were away at 2 o’clock. This was a bit of a disappointment; we would have liked more time in some of the ports.

All of the above makes it sound as if we had a bad cruise. Well, we didn’t, we enjoyed it, but there were enough downsides to make us feel that we don’t want to do a traditional 14-night ex-Southampton cruise with lots of sea days again, unless the itinerary was special or new to us e.g. a Baltic cruise which we are very much thinking of for 2015. It’s also true that we may be underestimating the problems we’ll have packing for a fly cruise in Europe, in which case my next cruise report will be saying ‘Southampton here we come!’. But for our next cruise we’ll look for one that has fewer days at sea, more days in port, and hopefully ports that we haven’t previously visited.

10 Responses to “Ventura cruise 2013”

  1. […] I’ve just written the summary and review from our recent cruise on Ventura – you can find it here. […]

  2. Stuart says:

    Hi Tom, we were also on this cruise and like you enjoyed it. I have to say that I agree with you on some of your minus points about the cruise. The port times seemed very short in some of the places and I found myself wondering whether I should have known this at the time of booking. As far as I know there is no indication as to the port times at the booking stage.

    I have a conspiracy theory about Vigo, as you know the reason for going there was because of high winds at La Coruna. In the event it was very calm. I think that our captain must have had a golf date with the captain of Independence, my evidence for this was the rather jovial ships hooter banter that went on between the two ships when we left port.

    I think that I was lucky with my choice of food in the MDR as my wife’s choices and those of others at the table didn’t look that good on occasions. We thoroughly enjoyed East and went there a couple of times as well as the Glasshouse where we did lunch. We found the buffet food also very good, even though getting a table was occasionally manic at peak times.

    This was our first time on Ventura and although a lovely ship, the manic rush for sunbeds in the morning (we didn’t compete) made it feel more like Ocean Village than P&O. I like sea days generally but not so much on this ship but its difficult to pinpoint why. I think we probably enjoy the smaller ships better, maybe next time will have to be on Adonia?

    Oh by the way I agree about the submarine lectures, after a large lunch and the dim lights I remember blinking at the point where some American got into a barrel with a breathing tube and opened my eyes at nuclear subs. I just hope my snorring didn’t get too loud.

    Thanks for the entertaining blog, always good to read.

    Cheers,
    Stuart

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the comment, Stuart. I should have mentioned the buffet – Val took to having a small plate of curry from the buffet at lunchtimes because it was always tasty. We always had breakfast there as well – generally just muesli and bread rolls. It was good, and we also had some good conversations with other passengers.

  3. Alex McMaster says:

    Tom

    Great cruise blog – thoroughly enjoy reading your trip report.

  4. Karen says:

    Hi Tom

    We sailed on Ventura this year too (different cruise) and we were wondering if you happen to know what the champagne in The Glass House was? It was excellent and we didn’t take notes. Very entertaining blog by the way.

  5. Karen says:

    Thanks Tom, enjoy your next adventure x

  6. simon mendelson says:

    Hi Tom.
    I have just discovered your very detailed & comprehensive blog.
    I was a chef on The Spirit of London & the original Oriana way back in 1973 / 4.
    I had sailed round the World twice before I was 21.
    I then spent 40 years travelling the world (not continually.)
    Now at 60 years old my wife & I are beginning to get more into cruising from a punter point of view.
    We have just returned from a two week Caribbean cruise on the Azura which we though ally enjoyed which was our fourth cruise in total & our second time with P & O.
    I need your help on a few opinions please.
    We booked a getaway fair for the Azura as above & paid £1250 each which included every thing for a inside cabin on C deck cabin 524 for freedom dining flying from our home airport which is Manchester which we were more than happy with & ticked all the right boxes.
    We spoke to many other passengers, all of which had all paid different prices, one couple with there grand daughter had over paid £5000 for the same cruise.
    One couple had paid £1000 & booked only 3 days before they came on the ship & two couples who had won there cruise in the Daily Mail.
    As you are an extremely experienced cruise critic of which I am not.
    We would like your help & opinion please.
    We are now looking at a two week Eastern Mediterranean cruise sailing on the 3rd or 10th September this year sailing from either Venice or Genoa.
    Questions.
    What are the main differences between Azure & the Ventura.
    Is it better to book now or wait for the cheaper Getaway fairs come out & any other relevant information?
    Reading many peoples reviews, we want to try other cruise lines what are your opinions but are very satisfied with P & O.
    What are the main differences between the major players in the cruise business?
    We are interested in cruising the Amazon & South America.
    Any advice would be more that appreciated please.
    Regards Simon

    • Tom says:

      Simon

      Thanks for the comment.

      You asked a number of questions which I’ll endeavour to answer. But first, I’m glad to hear you had a good time on Azura and are looking to enjoy more cruises.

      First the easy one – the differences between Ventura and Azura. Not a lot, actually, but there are some. Ventura has a sliding roof over one of the midships pools, and (as a result of that) doesn’t have a movie screen there (the roof mechanism would clobber it). On Ventura you can walk right round the ship on the Promenade without having to go inside her. You do still have to go up a level to get to the clamshell section over the bows, but the access stairs are outside, not inside. (On Azura I believe they put some additional balcony cabins where the external staircase is on Ventura.) The lounges & bars have different names and slightly different decors, but in general they’re very similar. The biggest difference is probably the Glasshouse, which on Azura is completely redesigned from what’s on Ventura, which was Ramblas. That has now been changed (in name) to a Glasshouse and it offers wines and food just as the one on Azura does, but the actual room itself hasn’t changed. Other than that, the ships are very similar, and once you look at cabins then they’re effectively identical. They are sister-ships, in fact, two of a number (at least five) – Princess have the rest.

      Time to book: that’s an interesting one. I recently checked the price of our Baltic cruise on Azura and I was surprised to see that it was a couple of hundred pounds more than the price we’re paying. True, there’s now a higher level of on-board credit which probably goes a long way to even it out. That’s the Select/Vantage fare, btw – we booked very early so we had to book that fare type. There is an argument that says that we might have seen the end of the really cheap deals – the economy is growing, unemployment is falling and maybe there’s a feel-good factor in the air, and that could all result in a surge in bookings which would mean that P&O wouldn’t have to reduce the fares. On the other hand, there are stories that the fly-cruises aren’t selling very well so perhaps there will be big savings later. The truth is, you can never tell in advance. My best advice would be to pick a fare that you feel happy with, and when you get on board try not to listen to people who paid less than you! There’ll always be someone who paid less, but if you just chase the deal you could end up missing out. One more thing, if I may: if I was doing a 14-night Med fly-cruise on Ventura I think I’d do it from Genoa, simply because you would then have lots of time at Venice. if you do it the other way round, you get lots of time at Genoa….

      Other cruise lines: it depends on whether you’re talking about lines active in the UK market, or not. If they are UK-based lines, or even foreign lines cruising out of Southampton, then most passengers will be British and the ‘feel’ of the cruise may not be much different from P&O. But if you do a fly-cruise in the Med with Princess or Celebrity, say, then the passengers will be predominantly non-British and the feel of the cruise will be very different. We certainly enjoyed our cruises with Celebrity, including meeting our fellow passengers. Little niggles, however, were the price of drinks, especially wine, and the 15% gratuity added to everything. But we are seriously thinking of going back to Celebrity in 2015.

  7. simon mendelson says:

    Hi Tom.
    About your comment about the quality of the food.
    We got talking to a man on the Azura which we sailed on from the 10th January 2014 on a 14 day cruise around the Caribbean.
    He just happened to work for a food manufacture that supply’s P & O with all there mixed & prepared salad’s eg coleslaw, potato salad & many more.
    He stated that the main buyer from P & O only purchase the cheapest salad etc that money can buy without exception.
    I am also married to a top level food scientist who worked for a major food manufacture for 33 years. She could tell you many home truths about what really goes on in some UK & foreign food manufactures.
    I have now retired from spending 41 years in the catering & hospitality business.
    Having said that since 2008, I know from my own experience profit margins have been squeezed to death for many company’s of all sizes.
    People demand blood & don’t want to pay for it or at least pay as little as possible.
    I personally spent 15 years in the private event business & can tell you some unbelievable true stories from both wealthy & not so wealthy people I have come into contact with.
    It boils down to you get what you pay for, but not always.
    For my money the food on the Azura recently was excellent & would recommend anybody to have a cruise on there.

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