Ventura, which launched in 2008, and sister ship Azura (2010), aimed to break the mould for P&O Cruises' ships -- bigger, contemporary and family-friendly. The idea was to transform what many people consider P&O Cruises' somewhat stuffy ambience to one more in tune with the times -- as well as making a play for the market all UK cruise lines are chasing: new to cruise. By popular consensus, they appear to have succeeded.
Firstly, Ventura is significantly larger -- by 30 percent -- than any other ship in the fleet (bar Britannia, the flagship). This means there's more room for contemporary amenities such as expanded kids' facilities, a vast spa, numerous dining venues, and lots of recreational activities (three pools, sports court, golf nets). There is also a significant change in décor: the walls are covered in contemporary art and the decor is a combination of rich burgundy carpets and cream-coloured walls: reminiscent of a five-star London hotel.
In fact, it is hard to find signs of traditional P&O Cruises in the hardware -- no card room for example (a mainstay on the older, smaller adults-only ships), no faux fireplaces or trompe d'oeil artwork to be found anywhere. There are also no art auctions, just a gallery with discreetly priced artwork. There's a casino onboard as well, albeit a small one.
The passengers make up is also markedly different. Yes, there are still the over-60s that P&O is known for attracting, but also lots of families with children, especially in the school holidays.
The ship has all the popular mainstays onboard most of the rest of the fleet including wine guru Olly Smith's The Glass House and superb contemporary Indian restaurant Sindhu; as well as adults-only sundeck area The Retreat and a large kids club called The Reef.
The line has had two refits since it first went into service, and one minor one. The most recent, in April 2018, saw the following upgrades: the Arena Theatre was fitted with a brand new LED wall installation, similar to the one found on flagship Britannia and sister Azura. The shopping area was spruced up with a large glass window display and a number of new brands were introduced for sale including Longines and Liu Jo. The Waterside and The Beach House had new flooring, tiling carpets and furniture. Carpets were replaced in many restaurants and public space and Dixons the retail store was expanded.
A mini-refit in 2015 saw Marco Pierre White's The White Room replaced by The Epicurean, a molecular gastronomy restaurant which debuted on Britannia.
Overall, Ventura does a good job of catering to families in holiday times and the classic P&O Cruises passenger outside of those times. The line has also done a good job of keeping the ship contemporary, despite it moving into its 11th year of service.
A typical two-week cruise will have four formal nights and the rest will be 'evening casual', which is defined as open necked shirt and 'tailored trousers' or smart jeans for men; dress or casual separates for women. Most passengers err on the side of smart.
Note that even though this ship is family friendly and has a more relaxed vibe -- formal still means full black tie in the public rooms. Ventura might break many of P&O Cruises' traditions, but dress code still rules -- and that also applies to older children.
The Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7, forward): P&O Cruises doesn't go in for the huge West End-style productions the big US ships have popularised. Instead, expect British comedy; revue-type shows where the emphasis is on the singing talents of the performer rather than what's going on behind her; and magicians, ventriloquists and tribute acts. Ventura's in-house performance group Headliners Theatre Company, put on various singing and dancing revue shows throughout the cruise in the Arena Theatre, and also individual performers from the group were showcased at different spots around the ship. On our cruise the main theatre hosted a genuine star -- Jimmy James, a soul legend (not a tribute act) -- as well as Gareth Oliver, a Britain's Got Talent finalist, who entertained with his ventriloquism and comedy on two separate evenings (in typical British fashion, the daily Horizon magazine stated: "Tonight Gareth returns with a brand new show, completely different to his previous performance -- this time it's funny!"). In 2018 a new hi-tech LED wall was installed, similar to the one on Britannia and sister ship Azura.
There are two main shows nightly in the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 & 7) forward, (times vary; either 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; or 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., to accommodate the two set dining times. The theater doubles as a cinema during the day, sowing a selection of films.
There's plenty of going on all day throughout the ship, with a full programme published daily in The Horizon, which will be delivered to your cabin the night before.
You'll find quizzes and bingo in The Exchange pub (Deck 6, forward) throughout the day. You'll find tennis and table tennis on the sports deck (Deck 19) and deck quoits and shuffleboard on the Sun Deck (Deck 16); bridge and whist take place in the Peninsular Room (Deck 6).
Films are shown throughout the day in the Arena Theatre.
There is a small casino, Fortunes, which adjoins The Exchange. Note there is no smoking anywhere inside the ship, including the casino.
Tazzine (Deck 5, midships): Costa Coffee cafe in the main atrium, serving specialty coffees and pastries.
The Exchange (Deck 6 forward): The ship's pub offers a wide selection of beers on tap and in bottles, as well as sporting events on wide screens and the inevitable karaoke evenings. The ship's casino Fortunes is adjacent and houses the usual game tables and slot machines. Check out its bar -- model trains (look for the Royal Scot and the Flying Scotsman, among others) run around it.
The Tamarind Club (Deck 7): A walk-through venue on Deck 7, where you'll find a dance floor and plenty of seating. This is a populart spot for a pre-dinner drink and you'll also find singers and bands playing here from early evening.
Havana (Deck 7, aft): Right at the back of the ship. You'll find singers or bands on at various times throughout the evening. There is also a guest band depending where the ship is based, which will entertain during the day and at sailaways on the Pool Deck. Havana is also the nightclub, with a DJ and dancing till late and the venue for the early evening family disco. This is also where you'll find Craig Revel Horwood and the professional dancers from Strictly Come Dancing put passengers through their paces, thanks to P&O's ongoiung link-up with the popular BBC show.
The Red Bar (Deck 7): An attractive drinking hole at the top of the three-story atrium which has a pianist playing every evening.
The Glass House (Deck 7): Wine guru Olly Smith's popular spot for wine sampling and small eats.
The Terrace Bar (Deck 15): A lovely spot at the aft of the ship overlooking the pool, with a wrap around balcony with plenty of seating and wonderful views.
Laguna Bar (Deck 15): Main pool deck bar, which is crowded and noisy throughout the day.
Beachcomber Bar (Deck 15): This is beside the part-indoor (there is a retractable roof) Beachcomber Pool.
Breaker's Bar (Deck 16): Overlooking the main pool deck.
The Metropolis Bar (Deck 18): This is the classiest spot onboard and the one witbn the best views, reminiscent of a city centre five-star hotel bar. Each evening a plasma screen showed photos of a different city -- such as New York or London -- with a new city each night over a seven-day period. It's a place to sip a martini and gaze at the night sky.
There are two main pools on the top Lido Deck. The Laguna Pool is the noisy and crowded outdoor one, with two hot tubs and two bars which also serve free snacks such as pizza and burgers. There is also a newly-installed (2017) ice cream shop, selling Jude's icecream. Nearby, the Beachcomber Pool is under a retractable roof so you can swim in all kinds of weather. It has two hot tubs either side. More private (and more quiet) is the smaller Terrace Pool at the aft end of the ship on the Riviera Deck, behind the Beach House. Note: All are deep (Laguna is more than seven feet deep), way deeper than US ships, so keep a watchful eye on children.
The Retreat (Deck 17): This adults-only, for-fee area was added following the 2013 refit and consists of just 49 deck chairs and is bookable on a weekly basis and costs £350 per fortnight, per couple; £200 for a a single for 2 weeks. What The Retreat offers is: 1. Kids free area; 2. Breakfast, lunch and dinner (should you wish), every day. 3. A guaranteed deck chair. The fee includes access to the Thermal Spa, and you are just above the Oasis Pool, so there's easy access to that. There's not much up there apart from the deck chairs, a couples' cabana and changing rooms but on our cruise it was sold out by day two, so it is popular. Note that once 49 passes have been sold, that's it -- in other words it never gets crowded. (Open: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.)
Sports Court (Deck 19): You'll find the Sports Court right at the top of the ship, towards the aft. It is designed as a basketball court, but offers a range of equipment for playing various sports including short tennis, cricket and football. Friendly tournaments for adults and children take place during the day. Directly below here ar the golf nets.
A central focus is the ship's three-deck atrium. Around each deck you'll find a cluster of public spaces, such as a collection of shops, purser's desk, shore excursions, Internet cafe and a Costa coffee bar, called Tazzine. Live bands perform here some evenings, and the Captain's welcome drinks take place here too, but it's not a destination area such as on Britannia.
On Deck 6 you'll find most of the shops, including a handbag shop, jewellers, logo shop and watches. The library is also here; it's well-stocked, and you can sit with a good book or do a jigsaw. There is also a bookshop next door. Off the atrium you'll find Whitewalls Art Gallery, where you can buy or reserve art (note there are no auctions onboard). The photo gallery is on Deck 7, aft. Just before bhere is a Dixons, where you can get chargers, headphones, leads and memory cards.
High up on Deck 16 adjacent to the Spa is The Ivory Suite, whose primary use is for marriage ceremonies, but can also be hired for meetings. The Peninsular Room on Deck 6 is another meeting room.
One nice feature -- though it isn't technically a "room" -- is the full wrap-around promenade deck on Deck 5. It's excellent for walking or simply pulling up a chair and enjoying the view.
There are two small self-service launderettes on each deck, right at the back of the ship.
The ship’s Wi-Fi is available in three 24-hour package options; The Connect Package (£7.75 for 24 hours) provides social media access and internet messaging services; The Browse Package (£12.50) offers internet browsing (with the exception of video streaming), internet messaging, email and social network access; and The Works Package (£24.95) offers web browsing, including YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music streaming, video calls, email, instant messenger services and social media access.
In the Oasis Spa there is a hair and beauty salon offering a wide range of hair, face and manicure/pedicure treatments for ladies and gentlemen. There are 13 treatment rooms, offering treatments ranging from a 50-minute stone massage (£83), to a 75-minute 24 karat gold facial (£230). There are also plenty of deals on offer (especially on port days) such as pre-booking treatments and getting discounts of up to 30 percent.
The Thermal Suite (£12 a day, or £100 per person for a one-week pass) has hot and cold rooms and heated mosaic beds. Numbers are carefully controlled and it is advisable to buy a pass and book a daily slot to guarantee getting in. If you don't fancy paying a fee, there are free saunas and steam rooms in the main changing rooms, just as you enter. The Oasis Pool is located outside the spa and has two hot tubs. Again, it is adults only.
Ventura also has the biggest gym of any P&O ship, with the usual assortment of treadmills, cross-trainers, cycles and weights. There are a huge number of exercise classes (Walk a Mile, Fab Abs, Legs, Bums & Tums etc.), some of which carry a fee, such as Body Sculpt Boot Camp. You can also opt for a Health & Wellbeing Cruise Pass, which includes the boot camp and costs £55.40 per person. Or you can hire a personal trainer for an hourly charge of £47.
The quality of food on Ventura is of a very high standard for such a large ship. The menus in the three main dining rooms (MDR) change daily, and there is a special Gala Menu on formal nights, put together by Marco Pierre White.
Two of the main dining rooms (Cinnamon, Saffron) offer 'Freedom Dining', which means you can turn up anytime between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and sit where and with whom you like. The third MDR (Bay Tree) offers set-time dining which P&O Cruises calls Club Dining.
Cinnamon (Deck 5, midships): P&O Cruises has really upped its game when it comes to the food in the MDRs, with both adventurous and varied dishes, and superb service. In fact, if you chose just to eat here or Saffron or Bay Tree, rather than in a specialty restaurant, you would not be missing out as both include guest cuisine such as Indian and Far Eastern dishes, as well as six course Gala Dinners on formal nights with menus prepared by Marco Pierre White. A typical menu might consist of chicken liver parfait or wild mushroom risotto to start. Mains will include a fish or shellfish dish, a vegetarian option and one or two meat dishes such as roast leg of pork and braised beef. Or you can stick to the Classics -- prawn cocktail, Caesar salad or tomato soup to start, then fillet of salmon, sirloin steak and breast of chicken, which is available every night. There's also a good selection of very British puddings (desserts) such as sticky toffee pudding, Bakewell tart or baked treacle tart. On Formal evenings, starters might include something special such as a game terrine or oak smoked Scottish salmon; mains might include roast duck or prime fore rib of beef (there are no Classic Favourites offered on Gala evenings). 'Marco's Menu' might feature a dish such as lobster. There is usually a Champagne Sorbet between courses, too. Open 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saffron (Deck 6, midships): Saffron offers the same menu as Cinnamon, but is open throughout the day. Open daily for breakfast (7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.), lunch (12:15 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.), afternoon tea (4:00 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.) and dinner (6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.).
Bay Tree (Deck 6, aft): Bay Tree offers the same menu as Cinnamon and Saffron, but has fixed-time seating in the evenings. Breakfast is served on port days (from 7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.) and there are two fixed seating times in the evening (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.).
Waterside (Deck 10, aft): Waterside (open 7 a.m. – 6 a.m.) is the self-service buffet perched high up on Deck 10. It incorporates the Beach House (6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.; and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.), a smaller area more towards the aft of the ship. Both offer the same food, but the latter is a calmer area adjoining the main buffet area. A children's tea is served in the Beach House (starboard side from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.) every day; afternoon tea is served from 3:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the port side (for free) and also in The Epicurean (for a fee). Most nights there will be a themed food night such as Indian, Mexican or Thai, which are very popular, as evidenced by the queues. There is always a roast as well.
Frankie's Grill (Deck 10): On the Pool Deck during the day Frankie's Pizzeria serves delicious stone-baked made-to-order pizzas; you can also buy ice creams from £1.95. On the first night of the cruise the Pool Deck is turned into an open-air buffet with live music.
There are three specialty restaurants, two formal ones -- Epicurean, which serves molecular gastronomy cuisine and Sindhu (formerly East), the upmarket Indian restaurant. There is also one informal restaurant, which has proved popular on sister ship Azura and replaces Las Ramblas on Ventura -- The Glass House by UK wine expert Olly Smith -- which is a for-fee tapas-style restaurant.
The Glass House (Deck 4, aft); a la carte: The Glass House has a relaxed vibe -- it invites you to drop in and grab a table, or just hang at the bar -- it's also more of a walk-through space than an actual restaurant. Three small plates are £5.25, and might include chorizo, warm quail Scotch egg, garlic mushrooms or salt and pepper tempura prawns. Large plates are good value -- you can get a sirloin steak for £5.50. The food is OK, nothing special, but where Smith's involvement is evident is the extraordinary selection of wine from all over the world, and it's pretty reasonable, too. A bottle of excellent New Zealand sauvignon will set you back £12.50 (it would be at least double that on dry land).
The Glass House offers Food & Wine Pairing Dinners twice a week for £30 per person, which includes a four-course meal, with wines with each course, plus a wine guide to talk you through the choices. There are also wine talks on certain days of the cruise, hosted by the head sommelier (not Olly Smith), for a maximum of 30 people: for £10 per person you can enjoy a talk, two glasses of wine and several different dishes.
Sindhu (Deck 7, midships); £15 to £25 depending on the length of the cruise: Sindhu takes up a large amount of space on Deck 7, the main Promenade Deck, and is set in a gorgeous room -- red carpet, white upholstered chairs and dark wood tables give it a very authentic Indian feel -- as does the menu, which offers a variety of outstanding Indian dishes. Dinner menus are changed twice a cruise and starters might include shammi kebab (spiced lamb cakes), jai tarang (pan-fried hand-dived scallops) and gosht ke dhuandhar soole (marinated smoked beef skewers). For mains, lamb rogan josh, chicken murgh and cod jai pari are sublime. There is also a small bar area which offers tapas-style Indian dishes from £4.95 on selected days at lunchtime. Open 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch on selected days and 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner.
Epicurean at The White Room (Deck 17, aft); £25-£30: Epicurean's position right at the back of the ship high up on Deck 17 gives it a wonderful setting. Inside it's dark, with plush carpets and furnishings inside; and a lovely verandah area outside where you can sit and watch the wake. If you like imaginative, creative cuisine -- the so called molecular gastronomy type -- which has style as well as content, then this is the restaurant for you. The menu presents as traditional -- with provenance playing a big part -- but the dishes are re-interpreted for today's modern palates. So expect starters such as jamon pata negra and pulled smoked Gressingham duck leg or a duo of cured smoked salmons, but presented in an interesting and unexpected way. There are lots of other fun touches: Bloody Mary lollipops to start, a dash of Worcestershire sauce in the centre; salt and pepper oyster and jumbo prawn tempura that comes with an artist's 'paint tube' of sweet pimento sauce; a sorbet designed as a tube of lipstick or a 'poached egg' with a 'yolk' of mango and a 'white' of coconut milk. Mains might include The Epicurean Fish and Chips, Whole Dover Sole or Irish Beef fillet and Dorset Crown lamb rump, again all presented in an unexpected and unusual way. Desserts are also classics such as creme brulee and summer trifle, but with popping candy torte, or flaming caramelised apple crumble -- scorched at your table. All in all an outstanding experience -- and a steal compared to what you might pay for this type of cuisine in a central London restaurant. Open 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Room Service: Breakfast is free, but there is a charge at other times of day.
Ventura has 1,555 cabins, of which 434 are inside, 1,103 are outside and 881 have a balcony.
There are eight types of cabins: Penthouse, Suites, Superior Deluxe Balconies, Superior Balcony, Balcony, Outside, Inside and Singles. The Singles (18 in total) were added in the April 2013 refit (12 outside and six inside). Twenty-three cabins are wheelchair accessible.
Room sizes range from 130 square feet (Singles), 160 square feet (Insides) to 173 square feet for Outside cabins. Superior Deluxe Balcony cabins are 314 square feet (which includes a 42 square foot balcony) and Balcony Cabins are 233 square feet (which includes a 40 square foot balcony or, in some cases, a 72 square foot balcony). Suites come in at 503 square feet (with a 102 square foot balcony) and Penthouses are 742 square feet (with a 216 square foot balcony).
The colour palette throughout varies from a warm burgundy (carpets) contrasted with cream-coloured walls, with darker wood fixtures. There is lots of contemporary art on the walls. All cabins come with tea-and-coffee-making facilities -- look out for the kettles, jugs and cups by designer Nick Munro, who has also made his mark on the cutlery, vases and other items around the ship -- with a good selection of different teas. All cabins also have empty mini-bars and flat-screen TVs, which are interactive, so you can check your bill, watch the ship cam or order a movie, which are charged at a very reasonable £1.99 and can be paused, saved and rewound.
All cabins are made up in the morning and have a nightly turndown service. Note that all plug sockets are UK three-pin so if you are a US or European passenger you will need to bring adaptors. All bathrooms across all categories have a bottle of shampoo and shower gel from The White Company. Showers have clingy curtains.
Inside: Despite being only 160 square feet, do not feel cramped at all. They have two lower beds that are convertible to a king-size bed, two small bedside tables and a writing desk with a TV. There is a wardrobe area with plenty of hanging space and a set of drawers. The bathroom is small, with a shower, or shower over bath, and toilet plus a hairdryer.
Outside cabins have two lower beds that are convertible to a king-size bed with wardrobe and drawer space. The bathroom has a shower, or shower over bath, and toilet. There is a writing desk and TV. Outside cabins may have a window or porthole.
Balcony: Balcony cabins have two beds convertible to a king, bathroom with shower over bath or shower only; a coffee table and a small desk with a chair and a small cupboard where you'll find the tea and coffee. There are sliding glass doors leading to the balcony. The bathroom has a shower, or shower over bath, and toilet. (It is worth noting that if you like a big balcony book a Balcony cabin on C Deck, as they have a much larger balcony than those on other decks -- 72 square feet compared to 40 square feet).
Superior Deluxe: These cabins on Deck 9 give a real feeling of space with a wrap around desk, living room area with a sofa, table and space for two chairs; two TVs (one for the living area, one for the bedroom), a bathroom with a tub, and a big balcony, wide enough and long enough for two loungers a chair and a small table. There is a wardrobe area just outside the bathroom, with plenty of hanging and storing space for suitcases and clothes. Ventura has a lovely touch for those in Superior Deluxe Balcony cabins and above: an atlas and a pair of binoculars.
The bathrooms have a decent-sized tub, which is always a treat, and a shower; White Company products are in plastic bottles and there is a combined shower gel and shampoo dispenser in the shower. There is a single basin and an electric razor outlet.
Suites: All suite passengers enjoy the following special touches: Butler service, daily canapes, magazine and newspaper selection, Senseo coffee machine with complimentary dark, medium and decaf pods included, bathrobes and slippers, a fruit basket (where available), flowers, chocolate and champagne on arrival. Suite passengers can also take breakfast in The White Room if they wish (sea days 8 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. port days 7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.).
There are 24 suites across decks, all of which have the following features: A separate living room with corner sofa convertible to single sofa bed, table and chairs; a dining table which can seta four; DVD player, flat screen TV, MP3 compatible music player; floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors leading to balcony with table, chairs and footstool. The bedroom is not much bigger than the bed, but does have separate balcony access and a dressing area off the bedroom, with an iron and ironing board and trouser press.The bathroom has a full size whirlpool bath, a separate shower (in most cases), and White Company products.
There are two Penthouse Suites, side by side on Deck 12 right at the aft of the ship.
As this ship is targeted at families, a large number of cabins have sofas that convert into a bed for a third person, or sofa beds and beds that pull down from the ceiling that will hold up to four people.
Family: Two AE grade suites at the forward end of Deck 9 sleep six in two bedrooms. There is a main living area leading out to a wrap around balcony; a master bedroom and a smaller bedroom with two beds that come down from the ceiling, as well as a separate shower room.