When your day starts with a driver and a Mercedes picking you up from home, you know it’s going to be a good day. It’s never happened before, and no doubt, it will never happen again, but I’m going to bathe in how my neighbours’ curtains were all twitching for years!
And the reason I had a car to pick me up was because P&O Cruises had very kindly invited me down to Southampton to have a tour of their ship, Ventura. Trust me, when I tell you what I got up to, you will hate me. But if it’s any consolation, I’ve just had to get rid of a dead pigeon in my back garden, (not a euphemism by the way), so swings and roundabouts.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend time on board several ships in the last couple of years, and I’ve even left port once or twice! I’ve never done a full length cruise though, and that’s something I’m definitely keen on doing at some point, but I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast a new cruise line, because they’re all so different.
My first impression … ‘Whoa! That’s one big ship!’ … but then I always say that. But up close, you really get the magnitude of just how impressive they are – quite breathtaking. Paying guests weren’t due on board until later that afternoon so we had the ship to ourselves … well, amongst the hundreds of staff milling about that is, and first port of call (see what I did there?) was to have a wander around a couple of the decks to get a feel for the place.
I would say it’s not as uber UBER luxurious as some of the other cruise lines I’ve worked with – it’s not a ‘marble and gold pillars’ type of ship, but it has a certain homeliness to it .. like you’re at your favourite restaurant, with your favourite people. It felt inviting, and warm with touches of subtle glamour. Everywhere was spotlessly clean and although it was obviously hard to tell what it would be like when the ship was full of people, the ship felt really spacious.
There is so much to talk about, but I’m only going to focus on the two things that really matter to me when cruising, food and exercise! I’ll bullet list further down some of the other stand-out activities and areas of the ship that I noticed, that I think you’ll like.
We were taken down to the Spa and gym area where thankfully we weren’t ask to take part in a Body Pump class but instead we had a 15 minute massage each. I think it’s a great idea offering shorter treatments because it means that are much more accessible to everyone and at £15, really affordable. (They also offer 30-minute treatments for £35.) You’d perhaps be forgiven for thinking that 15 minutes wouldn’t be long enough, but you’d be wrong my friend! Wow, my therapist was amazing … seriously skilled with her deep tissue massaging. One of those massages that really hurts, but good hurts. I would pay to see her every day if I was on board that ship longer!
The spa area is a lot bigger than I thought it would be, with different scented steam rooms, saunas, mud and seaweed scrubs that you can put on yourself if you wanted to spend the day there with your partner … curved, heated beds that you can lie on and just chill all day. A hair and make-up salon, a barber, various beauty treatments – basically, everything you could ever wish for.
I was really interested in seeing what the gym had to offer, what with my body being such a lean machine *ahem* and it was massive! Much bigger than any other gym I’ve seen on board a ship before with all the equipment you could wish for … or not, I know gyms aren’t for everyone (and that’s why the spa is so great!) But for me, I fell in love when I saw a big bank of spin machines! Be still my beating heart. A lot of the machines face outwards so that you can see the sea as you’re cross training or running and because of the huge amount of windows, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all.
There are classes held in the centre of the gym, you can hire a Personal Trainer (£47 per hour) and although I know it gets extra busy on sailing days (as it does with all ships) the opening hours are such that you’ll always be able to find time to work out … if you’re not eating all the food that is, which brings me onto my next point, and the main thing that makes this ship stand out against most other ships I’ve been on – the food and drink!
FOOD & DRINK:
One word, wow. The nicest food I’ve not only ever eaten on board a ship, but the nicest food I’ve eaten in years. We were seriously impressed with not just the quality of the food but the price was fantastic value for money.
We first tasted a few small bites of food when we were treated to a fantastic wine tasting talk put on by a member of staff that worked in The Glass House, one of the restaurants. He was not only knowledgeable, but he made learning about wine fun and interesting which for me, as someone who doesn’t usually drink wine, was hard to do. He paired each glass of wine with a different type of food that paired perfectly, whether it was three different types of cheese with one of the darker reds, to a piece of delicious chicken tikka with a lighter white. I loved every minute.
I didn’t think I’d have room for lunch afterwards, but then we saw the menu and really went for it! All in the name of research of course. We ate at the same restaurant, The Glass House, which is one of several restaurants that isn’t included in your cruise price. Some restaurants are supplemented at a price of £20, Sindhu, the Indian restaurant that Athol Kutcher has inspired, for example, but have a look at this photo and I’ll tell you the price afterwards. What you’re seeing is several long, wooden platters of three dishes – myself and my new friends each chose two dishes each to start with:
I think you can see the quality of the food just from that one photo and trust me when I say that it was all absolutely delicious. Oh My God … chicken tenders in panko breadcrumbs but with a subtle smokey taste … tempura prawns that were the size of my head … babaganoush with freshly baked bread, quail scotch eggs with bacon and mayonnaise, and this is just the starters! We all went on to have steak for our main course (only £8 for a rib eye), some of the ladies had garlic prawns with their turf (I had a date that night so played it safe), but everything was so mouth-wateringly yum that I could eat it all right now. We had no room, or time, to eat dessert, as we needed to depart the ship by 3pm as the paying guests were now coming on board and looking at our food longingly.
As promised, just a few other things to note that I thought you’d find interesting:
- There are often masterclasses laid on, not just wine tasting, but Marco Pierre White has been known to do demonstrations (he’s affiliated with one of the on-board restaurants.)
- There is a Port Lecturer that tells you all about every place the ship docks at so that you know where to go and what to do.
- The theatre is massive and there are often Strictly Come Dancing stars on board to teach guests how to dance. They also run a competition which is then judged, on one occasion by Craig Revel-Horwood himself! P&O Cruises also run 5 Strictly Come Dancing themed cruises throughout the year.
- You don’t have to pay a supplement to have room service. (RESULT!)
- There is food available 24 hours.
- The nightclub only closes when the last guest goes home. (Duly noted.)
- Each guest is charged a £5.50 tip fee per day, so you don’t tip staff as you go, it’s automatically charged to your bill.
- The Tamarind Club hosts not only the biggest crystal chandelier I’ve ever seen, but comedians, musicians, and even karaoke. During the day, it’s more family-friendly and provides entertainment for the children.
- You can take dance classes, painting classes and a whole array of other classes.
- There’s an on-board art gallery, with paintings for sale/sail (ha!)
- There’s an on-board library and a book exchange table.
- There are several choices for eating – either ‘Freedom’ dining when dinner starts at 6pm and you just rock up when you like. ‘Club’ dining where there are two dinner sittings at 6.30pm and 8.30pm and of course the 24-hour buffet.
- Childcare – I didn’t ask about childcare as it doesn’t apply to my family anymore but I’ve left several links within this post so just click on one to find out more.
I wasn’t on board for long, but it was certainly long enough to garner enough of an impression to know whether I’d cruise with P&O Cruises, or recommended them to my friends … and it’s a resounding yes. I know cruising isn’t for everyone, but if you’re unsure, you could always try out a shorter cruise and get a feel for the ship. P&O has been around for 180 years this year and the Ventura was a truly wonderful ship. The staff couldn’t have been more friendly and the food … well, I’m off to the kitchen to see what I can find because writing about that steak has made me hungry!
A big thank you to P&O Cruises for inviting me on board for the day.