P&O Ventura Mini Cruise Day 3 – Bruges
We had a fabulous nights sleep and The Channel has been incredibly calm. We’ve hardly felt any motion at all while on board which we’ve been grateful for as we have two novice cruisers with us who we’d assured wouldn’t notice a thing. This could be because Ventura is such a large ship carrying over 3000 passengers and nearly 2000 crew over it’s 19 decks, 9 restaurants and 11 bars. Sadly four days simply isn’t enough to sample it all but I’m trying my best!
By 7.30am we were already docked in Zeebrugge, which means sea port of Brugge or Bruges to us Brits, a gorgeous, historical Belgian town unlike the industrial port filled with containers and cranes I could see from my balcony.
We had a relaxing a la carte breakfast in the Bay Tree (one of three main dining rooms on board). The menu was wonderfully British, the grandparents enjoyed smoked haddock and kippers while I played it safe with a full English featuring traditional back bacon and Cumberland sausages you’ll never see on the American cruise lines. There are daily specials too along with a selection of cereals, omelettes and fruit juices as well as unlimited hot tea and coffee.
After breakfast we disembarked to find free transfer coaches waiting on the dock side. A tour guide took to the mic to explain How to DIY Bruges and highlighting the must do’s – basically beer, chocolate and waffles! The shuttle dropped us in Blankenberge, about 10 minutes drive from the port. The town itself was quite pleasant with a carousel Finn insisted on riding, a main shopping street and a beach and promenade. We crossed the road to the train station to purchase our tickets which cost just 5 each return if you show a cruise card and then boarded the hourly double decker train (42 minutes past the hour and bang on time) for the 10 minute ride to Bruges. P&O do offer a coach excursion to the medieval city at £36 per adult but it was so easy to travel independently I can’t imagine they sold many.
One great things about P&O is the destination guides which are waiting for you in your room on arrival, these 4 page, fact packed sheets are a huge help with maps, public transport info and even details on local delicacies. They really help you plan your day ashore where other cruise lines are less forthcoming with info as they always seem to want you to book an overpriced excursion.
We arrived at Bruges station and then followed the crowds and signs to the city centre. It’s a beautiful city and coincidentally not dissimilar to Oxford where we started our adventure. I was pleasantly surprised by the shopping as we meandered streets filled with high street names housed in gorgeous medieval buildings but sadly for me it was a bank holiday so most were closed but I suspect it saved us a fortune. We found the main central squares which is called The Markt and the girls enjoyed a shared a half carafe of red while the boys drank Belgian fruit beer in the sunshine at one of the bars that lined the square.
We were planning a boat ride around the canals but the queues were huge so we contented ourselves with a waffle and fresh cream on the canal bank before walking back to the station in time for the hourly return train (4 mins past the hour) and then an awaiting coach shuttle back to the ship in time for afternoon tea and scones in the Waterside buffet. We had a quick dip in the indoor pool and then the sun came out so we braved the outdoor pool which was surprisingly warm before it was time for a quick shower ahead of dinner.
Tonight we were dining at the main restaurant, we’d been allocated Saffron restaurant, one of two freedom dining restaurants on board. We arrived around 7pm and requested a table for 5. There wasn’t one available immediately so we took a pager and enjoyed a pre dinner drink in the atrium and within 20 minutes the pager went off and we returned to the restaurant and were quickly seated at a lovely window table. I enjoyed tomato soup followed by a roast turkey and then Bakewell tart which was enjoyable but possibly not the fine dining experience I’ve enjoyed on other ships.
Finn was insistent on kids club so I signed him in for movie time then the grown ups went to the Havana Lounge. We enjoyed an excellent Motown Show by The Electrix which got Grandma and I dancing followed by a few rum and cokes before bed, dreaming of a lazy sea day ahead.
P&O Ventura Mini Cruise – Day 4 Sea Day
It was a lazy start to a sea day and I caught up on the blog and checked email. Wifi is available on Ventura and is fairly fast and reliable although it’s not cheap. The packages on offer include 250 minutes for £62.50 or 100 minutes for £35 with no unlimited package option so you must remember to log in and log out to avoid wasting minutes.
We just made the al a carte breakfast in the Bay Tree which closes at 9.30am. I resisted the full English and went for Scottish pancakes and maple syrup. After breakfast it was time to explore as we’d still not experienced all of the ship so we took the lift to deck 18 to work our way down. We found Metropolis a lovely crows nest style bar at the rear of the ship and agreed we try and sample a glass or two in there later. We also found The Epicurean fine dining speciality restaurant which has a lovely outdoor dining area. Those lucky enough to stay in suites can enjoy breakfast here too.
We worked our way down through the decks, stopping to show Finn the basics of chess on a giant outdoor chess board on deck 15. Deck 7 has a promenade deck, an undercover but outdoor walkway which loops around the ship. There are several shops on Deck 6 & 7 around the atrium which were packed with sea day cruisers looking for presents and bargains. We mostly resisted the temptation but did add to Finn’s ever growing teddy collection with a Ventura bear.
It was nearly midday so we stopped off in the Glass House for a bottle of red which doesn’t go far when there’s four of you! Then as the sun was shining it was up to top deck to find a sheltered spot and there were plenty of sun loungers and thankfully no chair hogging from what I could see. Soon it was time for one of my favourite sea day pastimes the al a carte lunch and we were quickly seated in the Saffron Restaurant at a table for 5. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the menu at first glance but opted for a chicken curry while the grandparents went for a steak and mushroom pie. The curry was absolutely delicious, one of the best meals I’ve had on board and even better than the food we had in East. The grandparents enjoyed the pies judging by the clean plates they left.
Finn wanted to watch a film, Into the Woods which was showing in the Tamarind Club on Deck 7 and grandma and grandad volunteered to take him which allowed Andy and myself to enjoy another glass of red from the wine box in our cabin. A few hours later there was a little knock at the door and he was back and wanting to go swimming. We went to the indoor pool which was ice cold so braved the outdoor one which was slightly warmer in the sunshine. We shared a small cooked to order pizza from the pool side pizzeria and Finn had a Calippo lolly for a pound from the adjacent ice cream parlour.
We went back to our cabins to relax before dinner and chose a film from the hundreds of new releases available for free on the TV. A really nice feature is you can pause and save where you’re up to for later which was a good job as it was time to change for dinner.
It was formal night and a chance for Finn to try his new DJ suit and dickie bow. He looked adorable and Daddy and I scrubbed up OK too! We went to Saffron for 6.45pm and were seated at a window table within minutes. The gala dinner Marco Pierre White menu was lovely with choices including rib of beef, lobster or lamb. We indulged in the full four courses and I had game terrine, marmite soup, lamb and then strawberries soaked in prosecco.
After dinner we took the lift to the Metropolis bar to enjoy yet another bottle of red as the sun began to slowly sink into the sea. At 8.30 we went to the Havana Bar to watch Junnk, a sort of boy band who sing and play percussion instruments made out of rubbish. We’d actually seen them in their branded t shirts on embarkation day and mistakenly thought they were a stag do! They were fantastic entertainment and the bar was packed so I took Finn down to the front to sit and watch the show. He absolutely loved it and the group stayed around to have photos and selfies taken with all the kids after the first of their two sets of the evening. Finn was getting tired so we left the grandparents to their rum and cokes and stepped out onto the promenade to watch the sun finally set. We then returned to our cabin to watch the end of our film, Captain America and The Winter Soldier which went down well with a seven year old Marvel fan, and get some rest ahead of our final port day in Guernsey.