Ventura - Weekender
Despite P&O's new Ventura being another Grand class Princess whose sisters Crown Princess and Emerald Princess were already in service, to be followed in autumn 2008 by Ruby Princess, there was no hesitation booking the Weekender for the 12th-14th September 2008 when the cruises went on sale on the 2nd April 2007.  We certainly weren't swallowing the 'Superliner designed for Britain' claptrap so it was yet another research mission as we both wanted to try a Grand class and this was a cheap way to go about it.  The only problem was booking opened at 8.30am when I was out for Millennium sailing to refit so it was down to Pam to do it.  She had never gone direct before.  Online booking crashed so she phoned.  After trying to get through for 25 minutes she finally managed to book us mini suite L106. There are only two on Lido deck forward so a prime position.  The idea of a suite came from Pam saying I could book what I wanted so I told her to be careful or I'd book a suite.  After that we talked ourselves into it.  Well I fancied trying out the butler while she wanted to play Lady Muck.  We hoped it was worth the price even though it was still cheaper than Princess Grill on QM2 for the same length.

On the 18th March 2008, Amelia from P&O phoned Pam about the suite.  She said there had been design changes so there wouldn't have a whirlpool now, separate shower or dressing area.  Normal bathroom, wardrobes along the wall yet the cabin itself and balcony would be larger (and extra 35sq ft and 50sq ft respectively) but we can move if we wanted to.  Huh???  Makes no sense to change anything then.  Pam told her she'd discuss it with me and let them know but the following day she received another call.  They really wanted us out and suggested we moved to 411.  How????  They were waitlisted!  How far would they go to get and out and why?  Well she never heard from them after that.

Ventura arrived on the 6th April and we began to view our trip with trepidation.  We hadn't expected her to be so ugly.  But then there are many ugly ships out there with spectacular interiors.  As the months passed many people gave the ship bad reviews while others said her interior was marvellous.  I'd even been told while on Independence of the Seas that Ventura had no 'Wow!' factor.  Artemis had surprised us.  Perhaps Ventura would as well.  Pam received the tickets in a nice wallet complete with P&O luggage tags.  Lovely!  Better than the normal cheapy thing.

The day arrived and it wasn't too bad weatherwise.  Pam was stuck in traffic and the Boat Show this end didn't help.  We went to the terminal and the car parking people were messing up, with some cars in the row we were told to park over two spaces.  Pam said she wasn't going to take any photos of
Ventura so I did, even of the rust down the side she spotted.  I'm afraid to say the ship is even uglier close up.  Her Princess sisters aren't the greatest design in the world but miles better aesthetically because they were meant for that line.
The queue into the terminal was horrendous, snaking onto the pavement.  The norovirus forms were on a table outside rather than given you at check in.  No one told you they were there.  We just saw people crowded around a table and wondered what was going on.  Inside it was stifling but check in itself was a breeze.  We had the boarding photo taken and went on.  People were right.  There was no 'Wow!' factor whatsover.  The atrium was pretty drab compared to other ships we'd been on and the top of it reminded me of Arcadia's.  The cabins weren't ready until 2pm but that didn't stop us looking for ours anyway, peeking into a couple of others along the way.
What a disappointing suite for the money!  It was just a bigger cabin with butler!  Talk about misleading.  They really ought to have L106 and L107 is a different category.  It is very poorly designed.  The bathroom door opened outwards, almost hitting the bed.  The bathroom was quite small and had very little storage space.  Very nice toiletries supplied if you like that sort of thing.  Pam does, I'm not bothered.  There was no DVD player as advertised.  We had an iron but no board.  The hairdryer had a US plug.  In the cabin itself there was a couple of drawers.  The balcony, while a reasonable size, had a crap view.  Looking at the plans it appears to be one of the best views on the entire ship but in reality you have rails in the way above the bridge and can't even access that area.  Being in a 'suite' we had a complimentary box of chocolates (the ones you buy for £8 and are better on the other ships) plus a bottle of champagne.
We went to the Waterside for lunch.  There wasn't a lot of choice and certainly nowhere to sit so ended up on a stool by the Beachcomber Pool.  We ordered a glass of wine each and when they eventually came they were in tumblers because they'd run out of glasses.  This was rapidly turning into a farce.
After an average meal we went to do a little exploring and began to notice the interior designers' adoration of all things brown!  Now people call Queen Victoria 'Mrs Brown' but I'm sure that has nothing on this.  For a P&O ship the P&O basics were missing or even different right down to uniforms.  It was weird.
The Red Bar was a nice room, despite the bits of brown.  We particularly liked the tables.  It would be interesting to see what it's like at night.
Ramblas is a Spanish-style restaurant tucked away by the side of a bar.  The menu outside looked interesting and I quite liked the room despite it having bland decor.  Maybe it's better at night.
The floor at the entrance to the Arena Theatre was nice.  The theatre itself was a disappointment.  It was fairly small for a ship holding over 3000 passengers.  Small theatres must be something in the Princess design since Oceana's is as well whereas similar-sized or smaller ships have larger.
The Tamarind Club is an Indian theme and another nice room.  It is fairly spacious compared to many.  East is the Asian restuarant.  We booked a table for that night.  Havana is a nightclub and has a lot of blue hiding the brown.  We came across a few people in this room all with the same opinion as us.
We headed out to the Promenade Deck.  It was raining and sunny.  We were very disappointed with this area.  The deck was very narrow and you could just get two people walking side by side down it. Designers are so obsessed with cramming in as many cabins as possible at the expense of deck space I suspect they never even cruise!  The chairs were nice and begs the question why they can't be across the fleet instead of those vile things even Cunard use?
There is some confusion with a particular door either side as you walk forward.  It doesn't say it's crew only so you assume it's a way back in.  It wasn't even locked.  It's only after you go inside and find you can't go further than the door at the bottom of the stairs you realise your mistake.
Talk about encouraging jumpers!  What a stupid thing to put along any deck.  The rails aren't that high to start with so someone, after a few, could play silly buggers and drown.
We walked around the dolphin's mouth, as I call it, and it's the only proper public forward viewing area on the entire ship.  It's not very sheltered from the rain however as we were still getting wet.
We went back to the cabin to await lifeboat drill.  We'd already met our steward Agnelo and now we met our butler Anil.  Pam wanted the champagne opened, which, as I pointed out, was a bit daft with muster imminent.  Our muster station was the Arena theatre on deck 7.  It's a hell of a walk from deck 15!  I already had a bad leg after an accident the night before.  Afterwards it turned out to be quicker going up the stairs than using the lift.  The lifts were dreadful due to being too far apart.  No sooner had one pinged upon arrival than the door closed by the time you reached it.  I sat waiting for Pam who arrived not long after I'd got there and she said I'd run.  With my leg???!!!  This is another bad design due to cramming in so many cabins at the expense of public areas.  We decided to watch sailaway from the comfort of our 'suite' and finish our bubbly.  Anil arrived with canapes and fruit.  The capapes were nice, once I'd removed the chopped red pepper sprinkled on the top from my half.  We were meant to sail at 5pm but cast off ten minutes early and blasted three times.  One good thing about this ship as opposed to her Princess sisters is her loud horn.  It can even be heard from the house, unlike QM2's which they claim can be heard ten miles away.
The new UK Carnival office was coming along nicely.  Stick a Princess funnel on it and you have Ventura!  As we neared the boat show we blasted resulting in them parping back.
While the passengers on the Red Funnel waved at us, everyone above cheered and waved while a guy on the bridge waved as well.
After making the turn for Cowes we spotted the paddle steamer Waverley returning from another trip.  She looked so cute and teeny out there.
Horizon, the daily newspaper, was completely useless.  It told you nothing much like when what was open when apart from the shops.  The ship board activites were lacking to say the least so I watched EastEnders then we went to East for dinner.  We paid £25 and it wasn't worth £5.  There was a poor choice on the menu and the actual food was so so.  Quite small portions too for the money. Apparently if you are on a two week cruise it only costs £15.  Talk about ripping people off!  We went to the shops.  This was one area sorely lacking compared to their other ships.  Things also seemed to be more expensive.  If you want a fridge magnet, go to the photo shop for something even more pricey.  The things they had like lanyards etc were white instead of blue too.  They also had one bear (again wearing a white top) only no money went to Great Ormond Street Hospital as on the other ships.  We dumped the stuff, grabbed our coats then went on deck for night shots.
We arrived in Zeebrugge as the sun was rising.  Rowan's husband suggested during my last visit I ought to buy a flat since I spent so much time there!  We went to the Waterside for breakfast.  Choice was lacking as there weren't enough serving stations and you had to ASK for the fried bread!  Makes you wonder what else was available not on display.  The bread was almost as good as on Artemis. It was a little too oily  It was incredibly quiet for a buffet.  In fact, the entire ship was eerily quiet in all public rooms and there was no atmosphere, even in the evening.  There didn't even appear to be any hen parties. It was the most silent Weekender we've ever done.
Then we went exploring and discovered so many disappointments and wastes of deck space.  During this time there were continual announcements for the excursion people.  Do they really need to be called every couple of minutes???  They know where to meet so belt up!!!!!  It never happens on the other P&O ships.  Maybe this is a Princess trait.  Rather disappointingly there was no good view of the bow. There was a viewing area around the sports court BUT it had glass with gaps and the bridge blocked most of it.  What moronic idiot at P&O in the 1990s approved this crap design???  And what moronic idiot now hasn't made changes???  The person who decided the funnel looked great as a bikini wax should be sacked.  At least Oceana's was completely painted over.  This has space for the Princess arches and looks dreadful from the shore but worse close up.  The Sun Deck was so full of sunloungers there was barely any room to move around.  Not even Royal Caribbean are that bad and they utilise the space on their bigger ships.
The much-hyped Cirque Ventura wasn't really anything to write home about and of more interest to kids than adults.  They even had a school bench!  I'm not into rock climbing walls and stuff like that but this really came across as a desperate effort to compete with the American ships.
Metropolis is another much-hyped venue.  How disappointing (my favourite word in this review) to find so much brown AGAIN.  This is where the handle from the original Grand classes had been moved to. When you look at the ship from forward it looks like ears with the funnel as the head.  It was much smaller than I imagined for so many passengers.  It's a sort of rear Crows Nest with a dance floor.
Marco Pierre White's restaurant, The White Room should be renamed The Brown Room!  Everything was a various shade of it, even the menus and napkin rings.  I'm just surprised the napkins were actually white.  I was getting brown fatigue by now so while Pam went to get some car carriers I went for a lie down!
We continued our exploring as we decided where to go for lunch.  We didn't fancy the buffet so decided to go to one of the main restaurants only nowhere did it say what time it opened or even which it was!  It was only the staff in the Cinnamon who told us to go to the Saffron one deck up before we went around photographing it.
After a mediocre meal in the Saffron with miserable waiters and mute fellow guests we finished our interior exploring.  By this time I had well and truly lost any enthusiasm I had for this trip.  It had been killed by the hundred variations of brown.
The casino is right next to The Exchange.  As Pam is on one of the railway routes around the bar, she was quick to point out the mistakes to me.  There was also a bit of bad carpet laying with air underneath.  Again it was just too quiet, even later when the Manchester United/Liverpool game was on.  When we walked back through it later and the picture was frozen there was no real chattering going on.  Euro 2008 was playing in the Golden Lion on the QE2 yet the noise which came from there was deafening.  Maybe everyone was subdued by the brown!
The Cyb@study was a bugger to find.  It was tucked away in a corner past the gangway.  Unusually it was empty despite the number of people still onboard.
Shouldn't the English option have a Union Jack rather than Stars and Stripes???  I had some funny looks from the security people as I took the photo of the caps but at least they had a laugh at the sight of my huge bum sticking out.  The Bay Tree Restaurant was nice and outside we got chatting to a piano player who works the hotels in Bournemouth and his wife.
We went out for the dock shots and it was quite mild.  Unfortunately being parked in 703 because of a ro/ro taking up 705 in the morning meant no close up bow shots.  She was still every inch the Princess though.
Once back onboard we finished our circuit of the Promenade Deck as we hadn't seen the stern.  Bloody hell!  This was even narrower than the sides and much easier to jump off if anyone had a mind to.
The port side of The Beach House and Waterside were closed.  Why have two buffets when they run into each other?  Bloody stupid.  On the starboard side was afternoon tea.  It was packed but again, quiet.  Last I heard Pam say was, "I've got a hot scone" then she vanished.  I bumped into Anil, our butler, who went looking while I sat at a table with a couple.  He couldn't find her so I stayed put and talked cruises with them.  They had done two Grand classes before and preferred them.  They didn't like Ventura at all and won't be going back.  Once I'd finished I returned to the cabin as I knew Pam would either be or go there.
Anil brought more canapes.  No peppers this time and just as nice as the day before.  Pity there wasn't any more booze!  The decor was turning me to drink!!!!  We set off slightly late and at least were heading home, away from all the brown!
For dinner we went to the Indian buffet in the Waterside.  It was fairly empty for 8pm and again, irritatingly quiet.  The tables were parts of maps and by chance we ended up sat at the best one and all because Pam wanted a bench rather than a chair.  We went back to the shops afterwards because Pam was after a few things then to the cabin and for once, an early night.  I was actually in bed and asleep long before Pam was.  There had been no information about putting luggage out, disembarkation or even tipping!  As Pam opted for Freedom dining (a VERY poor Freestyle), our restaurant tips were included in the bill.  This was the first time we had no idea how much to tip our steward, not to mention butler.
Up sort of bright and early in the morning as we were approaching Calshot.  It was flipping cold.  Hythe looked lovely so I took a photo.  Unlike the other ships, it wasn't an 8am arrival like all Weekenders but a normal 6.30am one.  We couldn't help wondering why.  Waverley was docked in 104 awaiting her 9am departure.
Once we'd docked I was on the lookout for Oriana who was due for 7am while Pam got her horribles who were ahead of her.  Out of the misty haze, she slowly emerged looking every inch as beautiful as she is.  By no means my favourite ship and has her own design faults (as do they all), but a better one than the one we were on and not as much brown!  It was very hard to see her but at least it was sort of light enough to make her out
Before we left, we remembered to get a photo of that annoying bathroom door to show how close to the bed it was when open.
The Martini/Bacardi bottling plant was completely gone.  I'd only just noticed.  Waverley looked cute in front but to get any half-decent photos you needed to stand on the table.
Disembarkation could very easily have turned into a nightmare due to the absolute stupidity of P&O.  When we went to the atrium, I asked when we could go and was told whenever I liked.  That means over 3000 people COULD have been trying to get off at once!  Thank goodness there was no announcement for that.  A few people I spoke to on the way out were as pissed off about the entire P&O experience and the lack of disembarking info as I was.  Even Royal Caribbean aren't that dumb.  We collected our cases and headed to the car.  It was beginning to get foggy as we went to Town Quay for Waverley's sailing and to get the ships in port.  When it began to lift at Eastern Docks, I spotted Lady Madeleine making her way back to the kennel.  I also overheard one bloke in the car park telling another how people go on short cruise to buy cheap cigarettes.  I'm sure a ferry across to France would cost far less and be faster!
Pam dropped me off home and drove back to her own and I was glad to set foot through the door though did go back to sleep for a couple of hours.

So what did I think of 'The Superliner designed for Britain'?  I have finally found a ship I never want to go on again and fully understand why there have been so many bad reviews.  They don't seem to know whether it's British or American for a start.  It's certainly not the P&O we know and love.  It's more like a generic ship with very little P&O references around, ready for transfer to Princess in case it's a complete disaster.  Even basics like plates and uniforms are different.  And the stupid buggers have ordered a second before finding out how this one goes down.  Apart from a couple of stewards (including our own) and our butler, I have never seen such a miserable crew.  I have never seen so many miserable passengers either, including us.  I didn't like NCL and photos of their garish decor literally gave me a headache yet I came away from
Norwegian Gem a convert.  I've never liked Artemis and made no secret of May's trip being research but she was a pleasant surprise.  There are no redeeming features on this hybrid.  If you like brown you'll love this.  Ventura has succeeded in putting me off trying Princess in case it's as awful.  The P&O bods claim over 1000 passengers new to cruising have signed up.  Yeah but that's a third of what this ship holds for one cruise.  They don't say how many have booked again.  While they aim at children, adults are sorely overlooked so it's not really a family-orientated ship when the choices for parents while their little ones are in kids clubs is sunbathing, eating or boozing.  It can never complete with the likes of Royal Caribbean so they are really foolish trying to make out this is any different to a Princess.  Royal Caribbean are attracting the sort of passenger they're aiming at and getting them because they do it right for parents and children.  I will be very surprised if Ventura succeeded even if the current economic climate wasn't bad.  As someone who isn't even 40 yet, I'll stick with the other ships in the fleet for the TRUE P&O experience.

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© Patricia Dempsey 12th-14th September 2008
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