Hi Folks well here is my review of our two cruises on the fantastic Ventura. It is no secret that I’m a Ventura fan and after these two back to back trips, I’m even more in love with the ship and her crew (some of the pax I’m less than in love with, more of which later).
I shall try to keep the review as balanced as possible and will concentrate on the ship and what she has to offer more than the ports of call. The two cruises started with a two day “party” cruise to Zeebruge (N920) and concluded with 17 days of bliss to the Med (N921).
The party cruise set sail from Southampton on Sun 30th Aug, this was the very busy Bank Holiday cruise weekend when five ships sailed on Saturday and four ships took to the waves on Sunday. We set off from home at 5.00am on the Sunday morning in an effort to beat any traffic. Well we sailed down to Southampton (excuse the pun) and were at the quayside by 10.00am. We were directed to park up on the short stay car park and were informed that as soon as they were ready to take incoming pax we would be directed to check in our car. We were told the wait could be in excess of an hour but we realised this as we were so early. Twenty minutes later we were told we could proceed back to the terminal to unload our luggage and then to the long stay area to leave our car. I left Ged with the cases and set off to check in the car. This was done very quickly and the car was soon parked up and I headed back to the terminal where we put our luggage through the “hole in the wall”. Onward and upward into the terminal and we were issued with check-in cards “A”. We took a seat and patiently waited for check-in to commence. I noticed that the “Gold” check in desk suddenly seemed to have a queue forming which was getting longer and longer, it was still only 11.00am and this seemed a little odd. Upon further investigation they had opened up three check in desks and were checking in pax regardless of their allotted card letters. So Ged and I joined the queue and by 11.10 we had checked in and set off on our walk down the terminal to board the ship. Fully expecting to go through security we were surprised to find that we were now all being herded onto a holding area at the far end of the building. We had been relieved of our check-in cards at the desk but noticed other pax still had theirs, it wasn’t long before the woman who had taken them off us came scurrying down the terminal to reunite us with our cards which we would still need for boarding. Confusion reigned supreme as announcements started for pax to check in as all the desks opened. People in the holding area were not sure who the messages were directed at and it took several minutes before we could clearly decipher which message was meant for which area. Anyway, by 11.40 the checked in pax were directed to security and we were hoders of “A” cards so were among the first through. Anyone cruising from the Ocean terminal for the first time would probably think this system of confused messages was the norm and would not have a very good first impression of their holiday. Maybe they only do this two tier system for the “party” cruises but someone should have kept early passengers better informed, as a lot of pax were very confused, including us who are used to a much slicker check in at the new terminal.
Once again for the second time in less than eight weeks I was walking onto the fabulous Ventura followed along by Ged who was in total awe of the ships size. Once through the doors Ged’s eyes were on stalks as he tried to take in the sight of the atrium for the first time. As on the last cruise, there was still very little help given by the crew with regards to directing pax to the Waterside for lunch. We were ok of course as I am very familiar with Ventura and her layout but new pax were only pointed in the direction of the lifts and told to go to deck 15, not an easy task if you are unfamiliar with a ship. We chose not to bother with lunch and I took Ged on a tour of the ship and found myself acting like some kind of ships guide by directing obviously lost pax in the right direction. If I said “When you exit the main lifts, you are facing forwards” once, I said it a hundred times, there were so many grateful pax by late afternoon LOL. We went to find our cabin and, although very early, the cabin girl (Anna) told us that it was ready for us, so we offloaded our hand luggage, and continued Ged’s tour, he had very soon fallen in love with Ventura. Our cabin was R507, one of the larger inside cabins on deck 14 midships, it was very well appointed but had doors on the wardrobes, unlike most of the cabins which have walk in type facilities. The cabin is about 1/3 larger than a standard inside and the extra space makes for a very comfortable stay. We set sail on a cloudy afternoon at 4.45pm and the party cruise was under way. We sailed past Oriana who was berthed in QEII with lots of cheers and blowing of whistles and in the distance we could see Aurora slowly pulling away ahead of Queen Victoria. The mix of pax on this cruise was noticeably young with many groups of young women and a few groups of young guys with the rest of the pax being made up of family groups, and young and young at heart couples. There was just one hen party group with about 15 girls all dressed in matching T-shirts, and several birthday groups all set to party to the max.
So what were the differences between this and a regular cruise? Well firstly of course it’s the pax demographic with generally a much younger crowd onboard, the consequence of this being the entertainment being directed fairly and squarely at this “party” crowd. The ents team went into overdrive with lots of loud karaoke and party games and quizzes, especially in the Exchange bar and casino. The Havana club was packed to bursting for this entire cruise, with the dance floor full at all times with the revellers. On Sunday night the theatre company put on “Chronicles” (a lively, action packed, African themed show) and on the second night Jimmy James (minus his vagabonds) had the party crowd dancing in the aisles in what was the best cabaret performance I’ve yet seen on a cruise. This guy is 68 years of age and still moves and sings like a man half his age. He was joined by the Cruise Director, Rob Boyd, for a show stopping duet. The first night continued well into the wee small hours (we retired around 3.30am) and the following morning we wondered if the captain had given the order to abandon ship as the ship was deserted. We went to the “Waterside” for brekkie and we shared the whole room with about 10 other pax, the rest were obviously sleeping off the party from the night before. We went into Blankenberg on the shuttle and took the 10 min train ride to Bruges, where we spent a stunning hot day soaking up the atmosphere before returning to Blankenberg for a stroll along the beach. Back onboard and the ship set off into the night for a formal night of more excess drinking and eating. The atmosphere onboard was electric for the whole two days with no hint of trouble, but was probably too loud and lively for some pax.
Some people had wondered about the staff and whether they acted any differently on a short cruise, well I can quite categorically state that all the staff were, as usual, fantastic and treated everyone the same as on a normal cruise. The major difference was the onboard drinks prices were higher by about 15% and you could not order in cabin bottles, in fact the relevant pages in the info books had been removed. The cover charges for the alternative dining venues was £5 higher than normal on this cruise.
So all too soon we were back in Southampton and our move to our second cabin for the 17 nighter to the Med. All the info about the move had been posted to our cabin on the last night along with our new cruise cards and the move was a breeze. We moved from R507 to L105 and all we had to do was to move the safe contents early in the morning and the crew did the rest. We had packed separately for the two cruises so our two main cases were still locked and merely needed moving to the new cabin, but all the stuff from the two nighter was still in the drawers and wardrobes. We took the stuff from the safe to our new cabin to find Roy our cabin steward waiting for us, with the cabin all spick and span and ready for us to move into. I knew Roy from my cruise with mum in July, as we’d had L105 then. He greeted us with open arms and it suddenly felt like we’d never actually been away. We then set off into Southampton for a mornings shopping. We were transported into town on the crew shuttle, which was an experience in itself with around 50 Indian guys all talking away in their native tongue to their families and friends at home and each one of them talked a little louder than the last, so it sounded like some lively Indian bar or restaurant with everyone trying to out shout everyone else. Back to the ship and we passed through the crew check in and onto Ventura for part two of our cruise. Back in the cabin we found all the stuff which we had left in the old cabin, had been placed very neatly in the new. All they do is to take the wardrobe rails full of clothes, and drawers full of all personal effects from the old cabin and swap them into the new cabin, simple but very effective. We were back onboard by 12.00pm and had the great pleasure of watching as the next set of passengers replaced the last, and boy what a difference a day makes.
N921 the Med cruise
So as we sit by the Laguna pool drinks in hand we watch as several hundred people pass by, most looking totally lost, all trying to negotiate their way to their lunch in the waterside. Ged forbade me to help as he was sick of me pointing people in the right direction, and I have to admit it was more fun watching people wandering about aimlessly. It was now that the real difference in the pax from cruise to cruise became apparent with the new crowd being a much more senior crowd. This set of pax was even older than the set on the July cruise, though that was full of young families on the first week of the Scottish school hols. Some of them looked so miserable, they looked more like they were about to be hanged than they were joining a fabulous cruise holiday. That look never left the faces of many of these people for the whole cruise. Please don’t take offence if you are an older reader, this is an observation not a personal attack. Soon the crowd was more mixed as a couple of families with children came aboard and a few couples around our age group joined the ship. Soon it was time for muster and Ged and I went to our cabin to finish unpacking, choosing to miss muster as we’d done it only two days before. Soon we were back out on deck to witness our second Southampton sailaway in as many days. Today the weather was a little better and we sailed down Southampton water with Artemis into the Solent and off in tandem to the Med.
The first day at sea proved to be very rough as we sailed through the bay being lashed by wind from the tail end of some hurricane or other. Now this was my first rough bay crossing (I’ve crossed the bay eighteen times now) and I have to say that Ventura handled it very well, though I know some people were ill, and the crew had put out the pick n mix bags for those who felt unwell. There was a CC meeting organised for 11.00am in Metropolis and Ged and I attended and met some lovely people notably terry333 and susieh among others. I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned you by name but I’m awful at remembering people’s names. I’ve only just realised that Terry’s wife is called Linda cos I’ve been calling her Sheila all the cruise, maybe she didn’t realise or maybe she was too polite to point the fact out to me. Susie dashed off soon after arriving as her hubby was one of the unfortunates who were stricken with mal de mare. We saw most of these people around the ship during the cruise and it was nice to put faces to names, even if I did use the wrong name... Sorry Linda. As we got nearer the Med the weather got better and better and by the time we hit our first port of Cadiz things had settled down to what was to prove a hot cruise.
By day two I’d begun to notice just how rude and ignorant some pax can be, charging into lifts was a favourite pastime knocking aside any pax leaving the lift, regardless of age or stability. When will some people learn to wait for the passengers who wish to leave the lift before barging headlong as if their lives depended on them being in that particular lift? I tried several times to pass the time of day only to be met with mild grunts or just blank stares (maybe they were deaf?). The buffet area was another prime site for rudeness and ignorance, with much pushing and shoving to get to the food. There is still the disgusting practice of feeling up to four plates before finding one of a suitable temperature, even though cold and hot plates are clearly signposted. I challenged a couple of pax on this score and was grunted at by one and told to p**s off by another and she was a lady of very senior years, though I use the term “lady” very loosely. On one occasion we were asked to hurry along the server by some irate woman with little or no patience, we were in fact stood behind a gentleman who was very unsteady on his feet and we were all waiting for eggs which were just being delivered, on receiving our eggs the gentleman in front moved off to his seat and Ged and I proceeded along to the next set of food which we required... more mutterings and grumblings from the said woman and I just lost it and turned on her, asking her what her problem was... “ What is your problem madam” I said, “Are you going somewhere special? Are you catching a train or perhaps a plane, we are at sea madam so I don’t see your point in rushing.” She could think of nothing to say and just replied with a curt “Are you enjoying your holiday?” I told her we were having a fabulous time and that we also didn’t mind queuing a little for food, I then walked off leaving her to get her precious breakfast before I was tempted to go over the top and embarrass myself as well as other pax. Of course all the pax were not like this woman, most were charming and a pleasure to chat to, many we had seen on previous cruises and we spent a lot of time chatting to old friends about life between meetings. After a few days we met the nicest family you could wish to meet, mum, dad, three sons ( 8, 15, & 18 and all a credit to mum and dad) and their cousin a delightful young lady, all from the north west, not far from us. I shall refrain from naming them to save any embarrassment on their part. I will however point out that the eldest son was in a wheelchair but that did not stop him being the life and soul of the party 24/7. He was so funny and his disability was soon not an issue. This family had come on this cruise for personal reasons and had been given permission from the schools to keep the children out for this holiday. They were just like any ordinary family, on holiday and determined to make the most of it. It didn’t take long for all the busybodies to start sniping at them. The younger boys were in the pool one day when a particularly nasty woman asked them why they were not at school, to which they replied that they had been given permission by their school to go on the cruise. She said she was leaving the pool as she did not swim with “squaller”. The boys are far too polite even reply to that. On another occasion the guy in the chair held the lift door open for another woman and said to her in a typical northern manner “Here you are love, there’s plenty of room in this lift” to which she replied “I don’t share a lift with anyone who calls me love!” It was beyond Ged and I how people could be so rude to such a well brought up, well mannered family. Yes the boys were boisterous in the pool, but never impolite or rude to any of their peers. The youngest spent most of his time in the kids club and the middle son made friends with several other young guys and had a great time in the bargain. Do some of these old flatulators not realise that Ventura is a family ship, did they not do their research beforehand? The family had their reason for being on the ship during term time but nobody cared to ask why. On another occasion the pushing and shoving to be the first got to “life threatening” proportions. We were outside the city walls in Dubrovnik waiting for our turn to board the shuttle bus back to Ventura. We bumped into the nice family and chatted as we and several others waited. Then the first of several buses arrived at once and it was a damned free for all as the queue disintegrated and everybody pushed and shoved to be the first on the bus. I should point out here that the buses were pulling up onto the left side of the road which meant that the entrance to the bus was in the road on the other side from the pavement, which meant that you had no choice but to go out into the road to board the bus. It was complete pandemonium with about fifty people fighting to get on the bus. We failed to get on the first bus (we were near the front of the queue) and we had to endure another crush as more pax tried to crush their way onto the next bus. The lad in the wheelchair was now in the middle of the road with coach fumes belching from the forward bus directly into his face with seemingly no hope of anyone giving way to him or his dad to get him on the bus. I should add that the drivers were not much help either. Ged and I and the lads dad had to act decisively and shouted for people to stop pushing and let the lad through in his chair. It took a few shouts but eventually we managed to get the lad on the coach and into the front seat. No sooner had the lad sat down than the stampede started again with two old and unsteady ladies, both with sticks, stuck in the middle of it all. Once again Ged and I intervened to allow the two ladies a clear path onto the bus. The pushing and shoving was so bad that either of these two ladies could have fallen into the road and been killed by oncoming traffic. The behaviour of the majority of the queue was appalling and I was ashamed to be a part of it all. I should add that it was still only midday and there was another five hours before the last coach, though you could be forgiven for thinking that the queue thought that the next bus was the last. I know that one day I will be old too, but I sincerely hope that I am more tolerant of my fellow man, a lot more patient and more considerate than many of these older folks on this cruise, and I hope that I still have my sense of humour and am able to at least look like I’m happy to be alive.
Anyway, enough of the grumpy old folks, more about the ship and the crew. There were not many changes since July, though there had been some non slip matting put down in the pool areas. This didn’t really have much effect as it was itself more of a trip hazard. The food was, as usual very good and this time we elected to try freedom dining. This was perfect for Ged and I, though I’d still do club dining with mum in the future. We never actually dined in the main restaurant though we were told by our friendly family that the food was very good, which came as no surprise. We ate in East restaurant on several occasions which was stunning. The service is so lovely with beautiful Asian girls melting you to the core with their stunning smiles and friendly manner. The food was sublime too with the menus changing three times during our cruise. We dined in the Beach House diner too on several occasions which carries no cover charge. They simply use the starboard side of the beach house and turn it into an American type diner for the evening with no need to book, just turn up and if there’s no table you are given a pager and called when your table is ready. The service was excellent in here too. The rest of the time we attended the themed buffets in the Waterside and on several nights we didn’t eat until very late, having been satisfied by the BBQ on deck or a pizza or burger from Frankies. We gave the White Room a miss as Ged did not fancy the look of the menu.
The entertainment was as good as usual on this ship, we went to all the main production shows, which I’d seen before but Ged was new to them and was suitably impressed. The two male acrobats were quite erotic in the sensual way they performed in the show “Chronicles”. Those who saw this show will know exactly what I mean. The cabaret artists we saw were OK but not brilliant, apart from one, a certain Miss Siobhan Philips. I saw her in July for the first time and was pleased to go and support her again. She really is a great performer and thoroughly deserved her standing ovation. I do think they should showcase her in the theatre; she is big enough in sound and personality to fill the Arena. Another artist was Clem Curtis a member of the “Foundations” he was OK but not a patch on the fantastic Jimmy James. We didn’t see any of the tribute acts but were told that they were all very good. The entertainment team did a great job of trying to keep the atmosphere up in the Exchange and got the balance just about right without upsetting too many people. There were several groups of musicians dotted about this huge ship, some great and one or two not so good. There was a pianist in the Red Bar who could really play the piano but I don’t know who told him to add his voice to the music ‘cos he can’t sing a note in tune and was constantly straining his voice.
The cruise director was the American Mr Rob Boyd who was on the whole a very good CD, but why he feels the need to go through the full contents of the Horizon paper at 9.30am on sea days I’ll never know. Maybe that’s the way they do things on American ships, but we can all read and don’t need a full run down each day. I hope the company stops him doing this as this definitely detracts from the atmosphere of the early morning.
They now have lots of daytime activities in the atrium with everything from Yoga to Cocktail mixing demos; these are very interesting but the volume of the sound system needs turning right down as you cannot hear yourself think when some of these people get hold of the mike. They had a very interesting presentation called the V Factor which gave you an insight into the various depts. onboard the ship, they even include a bed making competition which made for amusing viewing as lots of guys tried in vain to beat the speed record set by the demonstrating steward.
They held the usual “Tropical/Pirate” night half way into the cruise, but on talking to many pax (even some older ones) we felt there was room for more than one deck party as this was the best night on the ship. Perhaps one deck party every five days would be good, which would mean two on a fourteen day cruise and three on our seventeen nighter.
There was the usual sailaway parties but the “Great British Sailaway” nearly became a mutiny. The GB sailaway was scheduled for the last port which was Malaga. The morning weather had been stunning but by the afternoon the clouds started to build and it was clear that there was a storm heading straight for us. By 4.00pm the heavens opened and everyone ran for cover as the rain lashed down onto the open decks. People sheltered under deck 16 by the Laguna pool as the decks got wetter and wetter with the monsoon rain. Suddenly the rain turned to hail, damned big hail, some as big as marbles and golf balls. The kids in the pool soon ran for cover too as the hail hit them and no doubt hurt a lot. The CD made an announcement that they were assessing the weather situation and would keep us informed whether the sailaway would go ahead. By 4.45pm the rain and hail stopped and the sun ventured back out. Soon the pax followed suit and ventured back to their beds and tables with union flags in hand ready for their sing song and sailaway. Ged and I went back up to Breakers bar and awaited the start of the party. The party should have started at 5.15pm but at 5.30pm in blazing sunshine the CD announced that the party was now cancelled. There were lots of moans and people just sort of sat there waiting for something to happen. Very soon a couple of female pax took to the stage and started to lead everyone in the traditional songs of the sailaway, they made a valiant effort but most pax only knew the first two or three lines to each song. Still the girls continued and were soon joined by a couple of guys one of them playing the spoons. Then, between songs, someone shouted were’s Rob Boyd and very soon there was a chanting chorus of “Where’s Rob Boyd? Where’s Rob Boyd?” He was, of course, nowhere to be seen, neither were any of his team. It was all very sad and marred what had up to then been a great day. Why they could not have taken the party inside the ship I don’t know, I’m sure we would still have had a rare old sing song in Havana or the Tamarind club.
The showings of films on this cruise were sadly back in the Tamarind or Havana because there was a new theatre company joining at the end of this cruise and the theatre was being used during the day for their rehearsals. Perhaps now they are using the Arena theatre for the films, which is far better.
A few of the cruise highlights for us were the turtles swimming by the quayside in Kefalonia, the city wall trek in Dubrovnik, the shops in Corfu, the stunning scenery in the Adriatic and the lovely people we met and made our firm friends. The crew were as usual brilliant, managing to smile even when taking abuse from some pax. The ship was stunning and spotless and great fun to be onboard. This cruise was on the whole one of the best we’ve had. 99% of all the passengers were a delight, the other 1% were worse than bad. Some people need to lighten up and enjoy what time they have upon this planet.
Ventura is still the best ship in the fleet for me and after his first cruise on her Ged agrees. She’s a big ship with a big heart, she’s welcoming, fun, elegant, lively, and fantastic to behold it’s pity some of her pax are not the same.
I think I’ve covered most of the things that I wished to share and I hope you found this report as balanced as it could be. I sincerely hope that any pax who were on this cruise and are reading this, do not take offence at any of the references to some of the pax. These obnoxious pax were very much in the minority, but young people all too often take the flack for bad behaviour and rudeness so I felt I had to redress the balance just a little.
If you’ve managed to get to this point without falling asleep, thanks for taking the time to read my long report and I hope you all have many happy cruises in the near future.