P&O Ventura Mini Cruise – Day 1
After a much anticipated wait our first cruise of 2015 is finally here! Today we board P&O Ventura for a cheeky four night mini cruise and we’re taking Andy’s Mum (Grandma) and step dad (Grandad Chris) who have never cruised before. The itinerary includes a stop at Zeebrugge where we’ll be taking a train to Bruges and a tender into Guernsey weather permitting. Our seven year old Finn will be showing Grandma the ropes and I’m looking forward to sampling P&O ahead of a longer Christmas and New Year cruise on Britannia later this year.
Possibly the only disappointment is that the cruise is just a four nighter but I have managed to extend it into a six night holiday with a night at Grandma’s on the Friday and an overnight stay in Oxford on Saturday. Thankfully we dodged much of the bank holiday traffic and arrived at the Holiday Inn a few miles outside the city centre just after midday. I did look at trying to book in Oxford itself but the hotels were outrageously expensive, one night at the Malmaison was more than we paid for the four night cruise!
We took a 10 minute, £10 cab ride into town but there’s also a park and ride bus service a 5 minute walk from the Holiday Inn & Travelodge at Pear Tree Roundabout. The taxi took us through tree lined streets to a city centre dominated by stunning colleges and church spires.
We wandered through the gorgeous streets, peeping into cloisters and squares admiring the university buildings. You can pay to go in to most but we were happy just to stroll around and mingle with the thousands of daily visitors the city attracts. It really is breathtaking and we even managed to keep Finn interested when we explained that many of the Harry Potter Hogwarts scenes were filmed here.
Last week ahead of our trip I was googling things to do and spotted that Jersey Boys was on at Oxford’s New Theatre. I’d seen the show in London a few months ago and loved it but Andy hadn’t and as the music is of Grandma and Grandad’s era we thought they’d love it too. We collected our tickets and then went in search of a glass of red and somewhere for a pre theatre dinner.
The street that the theatre is on is lined with restaurant chains including Zizi, Ask and Jamie’s Italian. Many were fully booked but we managed to organise an early evening table at a gorgeous French restaurant called Cote Brasserie. Before we ate we strolled to the river and found a pub with a beer garden. The sun was shining and I had a glass of red in my hand – all was right with the world!
Before long it was dinner time and we enjoyed a wonderful steak and peppercorn sauce dinner for the adults and a Croque Monsieur for Finn, washed down with a bottle of Merlot. The food and service was excellent and we were right to book in advance as the restaurant soon filled up and many potential diners were turned away while we dined.
Following dinner it was a short stroll back to the theatre for a pre show drink. We took our seats high in the balcony with a great view of the stage. It was a fantastic show delivered by a talented cast playing well loved hits we all knew. It’s a great show although I suspect Finn learnt a few new words as the language was a little lively at times! We escaped during the finale to beat the crowds and jump into the only black cab at the rank for a short ride back to the hotel. All tired but happy after a great start to the holiday.
P&O Ventura Mini Cruise – Day 2
The big day began with a Holiday Inn buffet breakfast and by 9.45am we were in the car and on our way to Southampton. The traffic gods were smiling and we pulled up at the Ocean Terminal at 11.30am where I’d booked parking through the P&O recommended CPS. We were marshalled into a holding area in what looked like a military style parking operation and within 10 minutes we were directed to a drop off area where staff quickly checked us in and whisked away the car. Our luggage was taken by one of an army of porters and we were soon walking into an impressive silver clad terminal building.
We were greeted by P&O staff who gave us our health questionnaires and a card with the letter K. Check in hadn’t quite opened but within minutes they began to call their way through the alphabet and a quarter of an hour or so later it was our turn to head to the registration desks. We were issued with our cruise cards and breezed through security and up the gangway entering the ship through an impressive but compact atrium. Having mostly cruised with Royal Caribbean I’m used to a huge Royal Promenade but the atrium was small and perfectly formed and arguably more tasteful than some of the glitzier American ships. We were greeted with the ubiquitous ship’s photographer and waiters offering wine and soda packages which we chose to decline on such a short cruise. P&O don’t offer an all inclusive package however they do allow you to bring alcohol on board to consume in your cabin so we’d packed a box of Spanish red for our room and decided to pay as we go on a bottle or two with dinner on board.
Staff explained that cabins wouldn’t be ready until 2pm and directed passengers to deck 15 where the waterside buffet was serving food. We found a bar by the Laguna pool and raised a glass of red to the cruise ahead before a bit of an explore. We took a stroll around top deck to get our bearings and soon stumbled across The Reef, a fantastic kids club at the rear of the ship on deck 16. There’s a fabulous little soft play area and pedal cars for the youngest age range however Finn was much more excited by the kids pool and the Playstations he could spot in the Surfers Room for the 5-8 year olds. We signed him up although I suspect he’ll hardly get a chance to go on such a short cruise but the facilities looked excellent.
Next we visited the Olly Smith endorsed Glasshouse wine bar where we enjoyed a reasonably priced bottle of red at £16.50, a refreshing change from overpriced wine on American cruise lines. We were tempted by the tapas but sadly they weren’t serving food until after the muster however I’m sure we’ll try it later in the cruise. Soon it was 2pm and time to access our cabin which was B604 on deck eleven. It was surprisingly spacious and well laid out with a walk in wardrobe and a decent sized balcony. The only slight issue were the two twin beds but I had a quick word with our cabin steward Beverly who promised she would rearrange as a double and we also asked her not to bother setting up the third bunk at night as Finn would jump in with us . A nice additional touch in cabins with children was a ‘welcome’ helium balloon and a bag of jelly beans.
After we’d unpacked we headed to the Waterside buffet for a bite to eat. We entered via the Beach House which by day is an extension to the buffet restaurant serving the same breakfast and lunch menu but in the evening is a speciality restaurant offering a Frankie & Bennys style menu for a small fee. The buffet was busy but the staff were helpful and we were quickly seated at a table for 5, I enjoyed a mini Sunday lunch of gorgeous roast beef and Yorkshire pudding followed by a lovely slice of chocolate gateaux.
After making a little progress on our box of red, we grabbed our life jackets and went to our muster point in the Tamarind Lounge. I was surprised that no-one checked our cruise cards or ticked us off a list, it seemed a little lax in comparison to some other lines we’ve cruised with. After the muster we went to the indoor heated Beachcomber Pool which has a retractable roof. Finn loved showing off his newly found swimming skills to Grandma but its worth noting the pool is very deep and I couldn’t even stand up in the shallow end. There are no lifeguards at any of the pools so close supervision is absolutely necessary if you have small kids.
After a quick dip it was time to shower and change for dinner. I was plenty surprised to find complimentary White Room toiletries, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. I suspect if I’d bought the same in Selfridges it would be at least £20! The shower was powerful and hot, a good quality hair dryer was appreciated and in no time I was ready for dinner.
It was Grandad’s birthday so we were treating him to dinner at East, the Atul Kochhar speciality restaurant on board. I’d booked for a party of five as I wanted Finn to join us but he had a precautionary hot dog beforehand as they don’t do a kids menu and it’s not particularly child friendly although he enjoyed the desserts! Our table was booked for 6.30pm and we were the first there but it soon began to fill up. We enjoyed the sharing appetisers featuring chicken and garlic wrapped in leaves, prawns and salmon. For my main I had a lamb rendang and the others had fillet steak served with sweet potato and rice. The meal was enjoyable but perhaps a little underwhelming and personally I’d have preferred an amazing curry, the like of which ironically you often find daily at the buffet on cruise ships. The real highlight however was still to come as we all ordered the infamous chocolate bomb, a chocolate sphere filled with white chocolate mousse and fruit coulis which melts as the waiter pours a hot chocolate sauce over it. That alone was probably worth the £20 cover charge!
Following dinner we caught the end of a movie themed show in the Arena main theatre. I wasn’t massively impressed but it definitely improved with a Mama Mia track and an explosive closing James Bond medley featuring pyrotechnics and gun shots.
After the show we went to the Havana Bar for a nightcap just as a band called Serious Sounds took to the stage with a Caribbean inspired reggae set. We ordered rum and cokes to continue the Caribbean theme and I’d have been happy to stay up all night but Finn flaked so we said good night to the grandparents and went back to our cabin to get some sleep ahead of a day in Bruges.