Ventura - Cruise Break
P&O announced on the 7th March 2011 all seven of their ships would be in Southampton on the 3rd July 2012, to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  The Grand Event, it was called.  I was already going on Oriana and my American Facebook friend, Greg Fitzgerald, had been added to my booking.  Towards the end of October, he decided coming all that way for four nights wasn't worth it, so suggested we booked the three-nighter on Ventura immediately preceeding it so we'd come in with the other six.  Neither of us were keen on the ship but it would be a great photo opportunity so I booked on the 28th and they charged £359 each for inside twin B745.  They had changed their policy so now the deposit was due about 90 days before the sailing date, so the 1st April.  Well, in December 2011 he informed me while I was in the Caribbean he was been promoted at work and now couldn't go.  I paid it off on the 19th March and on the 13th June an email arrived saying Le Havre had been ditched for Guernsey.  Suits me, unless we can't get off!

The day arrived.  Ventura was the only cruise to date I have really hated so would it be the same after more than three years?  After all, she was yet to have a refit so would have just as many millions of shades of brown as last time.  Time to find out!  Independence of the Seas was in and Alison Miles from Twitter would be off again.  I was hoping they'd follow so I could get some forward views instead of bum ones.  Great Expectations returned to service the afternoon before in her new green livery but there was already a problem before my trip.  I aimed to get the 12.15pm, half an hour later than usual, only the waiting passengers had been told they were taking a break.  Since when????  Then they let people aboard but were checking for smoke, an engineer even going to the engine room at one point.  The thing had been re-engined but smelled the same.  THV Patricia was already in and would be staying until the Grand Event three days later.
I got a taxi since I had new shoes and it was raining again.  They were calling Red B when I went up to check in and I was E, so not long to wait.  When it was called, the lady who checked me in said she was also going on Oriana on the 3rd July.  Security wasn't that long and it was onto the ship.  Despite the cabins not being available until 2pm, I found mine before 1.30pm and my steward Luis said I could go in.  It was similar to the one I'd had on Grand Princess and very spacious.  There was added UK sockets above where the US ones were on Princess, but they were quite loose.  I didn't look to see if there was a European one behind the beds as on Princess.  The beds were meant to be put together after the booking was changed but that hadn't got through so Luis said he'd do it later.  I headed to the Waterside for lunch.  It's a little annoying they close at 2.30pm when people are still embarking.  Lunch was very nice but I was completely ignored by the wine steward until a couple sat at the table.  They had come from Brands Hatch, were a few doors down from me and it was their first cruise.  The husband suffered seasickness on cross channel ferries from Dover so worried about this.  Back to the cabin and the TV was dreadful.  If MSC can supply Italian stations for their core passengers (plus French and German), why the hell can't Carnival UK pay for British ones instead of the usual BBC Worldwide and Sky News????  The info channel was 100% Princess, right down to waiting FOREVER for one piece of info to come around again.  The best thing was on Channel 3 - wall to wall Canberra!  I call it the Canberra Channel.  Some was good, some was sad, such as showing her going to the beach in Pakistan and leaving her there.
My case arrived as part of a BBC South programme from 1998 was showing.  Muster was at 4.15pm - damn!  That meant we'd follow Indy out.  The Captain was Paul Brown, who had been on Aurora during my first three cruises on her.  My muster station was Havana on the Promemade Deck and, despite many chairs empty, people still chose to stand, especially the elderly.  Ridiculously, P&O still don't do a roll call meaning people can still skip it.  After ditching the life jacket it was onto the Prom deck and inside the dolphin's gob for our very windy sailaway, but at least it was dry for once.  Hotspur was back running on the Hythe ferry route and Indy was at pier head when I got outside.  The crew onboard THV Patricia were doing something on the stern deck while forward ones waved us off.  Up ahead, passing Fawley, a Coastguard helicopter was preparing to do a medevac from Indy and didn't leave until they were around Ryde.
I had planned to stay out until we'd passed Cowes but it was far too windy and I was fed up being sprayed so went shopping!  It really is a shame logo stuff is a fraction of what it used to be, especially clothing for women.  Plenty of tops for men but all women had were T-shirts, unlike when I began cruising with P&O, which was only in 2007.  Disappointingly the 175 stuff on sale was what had been on Aurora almost a year before.  There was nothing specifically marking the Grand Event, which was only three days away.  It was all expensive plates, mugs etc plus heritage fridge magnets and a few other things.  I bought Canberra but finding someone to take the money wasn't easy.  In the end, I had to go to the sundries shop and she had no bags so had to get some for the lady in front of me.  I sat in The Tamarind Club for a while.  Others in there had drinks even though it wasn't open.  Why do bars on P&O have such stupid opening times???  Makes it difficult with so many closed to get even a soft drink.
As I walked back to the cabin, I spotted a big white thing disappearing on the horizon so popped out and saw we were close to Nab.  Indy was heading towards the Bay of Biscay as they began a two week Med cruise while we'd go the opposite way towards Zeebrugge.
We hadn't been gone long and were already rocking quite a bit.  When I returned to the cabin, I found Luis had done the bed already.  I signed up to the internet and they only offered pay as you go, thirty minutes for £10 or an hour for £15.  As I was also doing a pre-Grand Event blog, I wanted to get most of it saved as a draft before uploading while on Oriana, otherwise I wouldn't have signed up at all.
Dinner was 8.45pm for second sitting.  I had requested a table for eight and got one for two.  The Bay Tree Restaurant is the one at the stern, where the lift goes right down but you can only use the stairs to go anywhere else.  It's a typical P&O feature, as well as having one midships, also found on Oriana and Aurora as well as the early Grand class.  A Welsh lady called Christine was put with me, having asked for a table for six.  One thing really annoying about this restaurant is it's directly below Havana so the thumping music comes through.  Kudos here to the waiting staff, especially my head waiter who did my dietary requirement as it had been on Aurora.  They couldn't believe Cunard give you the advance menu and a pen without discussing it.  The show in the theatre was Reflex, something to do with '80s music which was actually very good.  So many of this type are naff but not this.  The Max Headroom-type character who would pop onto the screens even did a spoof of Michael Fish dismissing the impending hurricane, among other things.
Afterwards I met Aad and Nicoline and sat in the Red Bat as we remembered our dear friend, my lovely Ben van Zeijl, who sadly lost his cancer battle four days earlier.  The card about the funeral had arrived that morning, which is why I'd aimed for the later ferry.  I needed to get my head together before leaving home.  The funeral would be held on the 3rd July, the day of the Grand Event, and time I was on the harbour tour.  I had asked my dad to find out if it was too late to send flowers, but it wasn't.  I had told Ben when I last saw him on the 7th, I would be there if I could, so quite ironic it was the day I boarded Oriana, who, with Aurora, were two of his favourite non-Holland America Line ships.
Zeebrugge!  Since it was my twelfth call since 2007 and third this year, I didn't bother getting up.  Although I was rudely awakended by an awful vibrating, making me wonder if Artemis was channelling herself through Ventura!  Went back to sleep until after 11am.  I just love P&O pillows.  They are ideal for the ear I broke in 1978 because they don't cause it any pain.  And so breakfast/lunch and they had a gorgeous chilli which thankfully was cooked without red peppers.  Well done, P&O!
 


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© Patricia Dempsey 30th June-3rd July 2012
Not to be reproduced without permission