P&O Cruises’ mighty Ventura is special to me for a number of reasons. She was the first cruise ship I ever worked on back in 2009, and I spent much of 2015 and 2016 cruising on her for long periods with my husband. It’s safe to say that she, alongside Oceana, is my favourite P&O Cruises ship (although this could change after I cruise on Britannia in the summer).
The last time I was on Ventura was back in 2016, so I was delighted to go on board for a few hours a couple of weeks ago to see what changes had taken place after her March 2018 refurbishment. Before going on board, I read many comments in the P&O Cruises forums stating that not much had changed since the refit. Actually a lot of work has been done that guests can’t actually see, which is probably why she doesn’t look very different. I’ve outlined the main changes below:
- Over £1 million spent behind the scenes in the theatre
- Engineering and technical work – including scrubber installation and propulsion system maintenance
- Deck maintenance – including new AstroTurf, varnishing and painting of the hull and ship’s superstructure
- Soft furnishing and carpet updates in some public areas, cabins and suites
- New flooring and furniture in Waterside and The Beach House
- Refresh of the Photo Gallery, including a range of new products on sale
- Refitting of the on board shops which are no longer managed by Harding Brothers
As this is a cruise ship review I’ll discuss the main areas on board, so that new and experienced cruisers can learn more about the ‘Big V’ as has been affectionately nicknamed by crew.
Both Ventura and Azura have very similar 31-foot high central atriums, which span three decks. Soft cream and beige tones meet with lots of glass, dark marble and soft lighting which changes colour at different times of the day. Each cruise the Captain will host a Gala cocktail party to welcome guests on board. This space is also used to give talks, dance classes and live music performances. Bordering the atrium you will find Tazzine café, The Red Bar, Shore Excursions, Reception, the Loyalty and Future Cruise Sales desks, the Art Gallery and the shops. The Glass House sits just off of the atrium area.
Bars, Cafés and Lounges
Head up to Deck 18 and you will find my favourite bar on the ship – Metropolis. If you head to the far sides of the room you will have a fantastic view down the side of the ship, whilst the panoramic rear windows afford spectacular sea views. This is always my go-to bar for cocktails, pre-dinner drinks and, if you like gin, an extensive gin menu. It sometimes takes guests a couple of days to find this bar, so it is often a quiet spot on a sea day.
Tazzine is my first stop on a sea day. I love heading down to this café for a Costa Coffee caffeine fix and a pastry. Up until late morning pastries and muffins are free for anyone purchasing a drink. After this time cakes and other sweet treats take over. The carrot cake and Victoria sponge are delicious!
Tazzine is located on Deck 5, close to the atrium. It gets very busy on sea days, so it’s worth getting there early if you want a seat.
The Red Bar
Situated just off the atrium, this piano bar plays host to quizzes during the day. In the evening it gets busy with people enjoying a pre or post dinner drink. Since I was last on board, this bar has had new carpet, but not a lot else has changed.
The Exchange/Fortunes Casino
The Exchange serves as Ventura’s only on board pub, a popular place to watch live sport during the day. At night, karaoke and quizzes take over bringing the pub alive. The Exchange can be a bit of a thoroughfare due to its close proximity to the theatre. Attached is a casino with a number of gaming tables and slot machines. I didn’t notice any obvious changes.
Ventura’s bar come nightclub is one of the ship’s most lively venues in the evening. If you enjoy tribute acts, karaoke or cabaret then this is the perfect spot for you. I love the fact that the lighting changes colour altering the ambience immediately. I also really like this as a late-night venue. As Ventura often attracts a younger audience, Havana is often busy until the early hours of the morning. I’m not aware of any changes made to Havana but the bar was looking very good during my visit.
The plush exotic furnishings of Tamarind Club make it a great venue for cabaret acts, guest speakers and live music. During the day the area is pretty quiet and its location – set off the main thoroughfare on Deck 7 – means many people walk past it without going in. However it’s a good entertainment venue and popular spot for Peninsular Parties. There was some new tiling around the bar area but generally the décor is the same as before the refit.
Ventura’s two-tier theatre can accommodate around 800 people. During the day it often serves as a cinema and in the evening guests can see a variety of performances including comedians and West End style shows.
Over £1 million has been spent behind the scenes in the theatre, although visually the décor looks the same as before. New lighting, an LED screen to enhance stage shows (Azura and Britannia already have these) and production equipment updates will enhance guests’ experience of the theatre.
Ventura has three main dining restaurants – Saffron, Cinnamon and Bay Tree. Saffron and Cinnamon offer Freedom Dining, a flexible option allowing guests to eat anytime between 6.00pm and 9.30pm. Tables for two often go quickly, but the restaurants will provide you with a buzzer, which allows you to go and have a drink whilst waiting for a table. Bay Tree offers fixed Club Dining with two sittings at 6.30pm and 8.30pm.
If you like fine dining then a visit to The Epicurean is a must. Last time I was on Ventura the cover charge was £30, but this fee included three sumptuous courses and amuse-bouche. The Epicurean has not changed during the ship’s refurbishment and its luxurious décor and relaxed atmosphere remain the same. In warmer weather diners can eat outside on deck on the restaurant’s private terrace. In the past my favourite courses have included smoked salmon (sliced at the table), duck three ways and a rum banana dessert. The wine selection is superb and the service is always impeccable.
Celebrity chef Eric Lanlard does a spectacular afternoon tea at The Epicurean for around £15 per head (this price may change on certain cruises). I really recommend trying it if you have a sweet tooth, as it’s far superior to standard afternoon tea on cruise ships. I cannot wait to try The Epicurean on Britannia soon!
The Glass House
My husband and I were fortunate enough have dinner with the lovely Olly Smith when we were on Azura a couple of years ago. He is a delight to be around and he is very attentive to guests. Olly has selected around 40 wines from across the world, which can only be purchased in The Glass House when on the ship.
Light bites and main courses are available for lunch and dinner, which can be accompanied by Olly’s wine flights. The Glass House Tasting Menu is my favourite meal on any P&O Cruises ship. For £30 guests get a three course menu (plus cheese) accompanied by wine. The event is only open to a small selection of guests and is unique because you are told about why each course is paired with the wine. Dining at The Glass House incurs a fee, which includes a small cover charge with any additional supplements on top. I used to visit The Glass House a lot during the day as they served the best coffee on board! Some of the soft furnishings and the carpet have been updated since my last visit.
Michelin star chef Atul Kochhar’s signature restaurant offers Indian cuisine with a modern twist. When I worked on Ventura in 2009/2010 this restaurant was an Asian fusion venue called East. It works well as Sindhu, although the décor has changed very little over the years. My top dishes include a trio of curry, beef tenderloin, soft shell crab and chicken biryani. I recommend the trio of ice creams for dessert.
I tend to favour the booths in Sindhu as they are tucked away, but there is plenty of privacy as the tables are well spaced out. A cover charge applies for this restaurant and the cost can vary depending on the cruise. I didn’t notice any refurbishment changes in Sindhu.
Waterside and The Beach House
P&O Cruises offer a different theme buffet each evening, a popular dining option for many guests. From Italian and Indian cuisine to Asian and Mexican menus, guests can eat in the buffet in smart casual dress when they want to opt out of a formal night. The buffet opens from 6.30pm onwards for evening meals (snacks from 10am-6am) and children’s tea is offered from 5.00pm-6.30pm. At the aft end of the ship there is additional seating, which turns into The Beach House cover charge restaurant at night. The Beach House serves a tasty selection of kebabs, seafood, burgers and ‘steak on a stone’ amongst other dishes.
Both Waterside and The Beach House have been revamped during the refurbishment and the current design is very similar to Oceana’s renovated Plaza now. Modern seating, a blue and beige colour scheme and new flooring gives these areas a light, airy feel.
Ventura has four main swimming pools. The 11 metre Laguna Pool is situated on Lido Deck close to the pizzeria, burger grill and ice cream parlour. Breakers Bar overlooks the Laguna Pool and is a popular spot to view sailaways. There were a lot of workmen working by the Laguna Pool area during my visit.
Close by the Beachcomber Pool benefits from a retractable roof, allowing guests to swim when the weather is bad. This is located next to the entrance to Waterside and Beachcomber Bar. One of my favourite features of this pool is the lighthouses that appear to hold up the roof. You will find that all of the swimming pools have a bar nearby and waiters continuously walk the decks in search of any guests requiring a beverage.
To the rear of The Beach House, you will find the Terrace Pool (Rivera Deck) and children’s splash pool and plunge pool (Sun Deck). The Terrace Pool’s location at the very rear of the ship means it’s a great spot when leaving port.
My go-to outdoor spot on Ventura is the Oasis Pool on Sun Deck, an adult only area with two Jacuzzis (you’ll find a number of Jacuzzis on board). This area is fairly sheltered as it is overlooked by The Retreat (a cover charge relaxation area) and sunbathing space. The pool features a current you can swim against, although it is one of the smaller pools on board. If you want shade, peace and quiet and exclusivity then you can purchase day passes to The Retreat. This area has more upmarket sunbeds and towels, sofa areas, attendants and an inclusive lunch. There used to be a massage area in Ventura’s Retreat but this has now been removed. The area has been refreshed with new furniture and an improved canopy area.
The AstroTurf has been updated in many areas. It has also been added to Deck 19, making it much more of a sunbathing area.
I spent a lot of time in Ventura’s gym, which I deem to be one of the best I’ve come across at sea. The choice of cardio machines is endless, the studio space is plentiful and there is a good selection of weight machines. Spa facilities include a steam room, sauna and heated ceramic benches. There are a number of treatment rooms, a hair salon, nail studio and relaxation lounge. I didn’t notice any visible changes in the spa or gym during my visit.
Azura and Ventura are known for their excellent children’s facilities and friends of ours with children have always been positive about the activities on offer. The Reef club is split into four age groups ranging from 2-17. There is a night nursery for children aged between 6 months and 4 years, open from 6pm-2am nightly. All of the pools (apart from the Oasis Pool) are family-friendly and children’s tea is offered in Waterside daily.
One of the biggest changes during Ventura’s refit was a complete overhaul of the retail area. Harding Brothers no longer operate the ship’s shops, instead a company called Dufry have taken over. Dufry have brought in an exciting array of new products and the shops look much more modern and inviting than before.
The Photo Gallery has also had an update, and I was impressed with the choice of electrical equipment now on offer for purchase (including Bose products). It looked like the Photo Gallery corridor had new carpet, which brightens up the area considerably.
P&O Cruises claim to have put new carpet in every cabin and suite throughout the ship. A number have also had soft furnishing updates as well. I had a look in a couple of standard balcony cabins and a suite, which all appeared to be well cared for and in good condition.
For anyone new to P&O Cruises, all of Ventura’s cabins include tea and coffee making facilities, interactive TVs, a make up and turn down service, room service (many items are chargeable but breakfast is free), a pamper pack, fridge, A/C and a safe. The room service menu was revamped last year and, although many dishes incur a charge, the selection of food on offer is much better than it was before the change. Guests can expect to find lasagne, chicken tikka masala, paninis, pizza and sharer boxes, amongst other comforting dishes.
Guests have the choice of booking the following cabins: inside, outside, balcony, suite. There are different levels of cabin within these categories. Cabin size varies, but a number of the standard balconies on C Deck are much larger than standard balconies on other decks. A superior deluxe cabin is an excellent choice is you want a bit of extra space without paying suite prices. Both Azura and Ventura have larger suites than Britannia.
In conclusion, Ventura is looking much fresher than she was the last time I was on board in 2016. Whilst there hasn’t been masses of cosmetic work done that I can see, it’s good to know the company are continuing to invest money in the bones of the ship (the Deck and Technical Departments). Like a vehicle having an MOT or service, without constant maintenance behind the scenes, none of us would be able to enjoy these wonderful vessels. As ever, she remains charming, friendly and very much a home from home for me.
Shortly after my visit to Ventura, I went on board her sister ship Azura. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and photos of Azura very soon. You can read my other P&O Cruises ship reviews here. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates at the top of this page.
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