P&O Ventura Mini Cruise Live Review – Part 1

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.

Jersey Boys

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.

Click here for part 2.

A – Z Of Family Cruising – Q to Z

 Q - Z

Q is for Queasiness, Queuing and Quantum Class

Queasiness is something many novice cruisers worry about. Before our first cruise I was very concerned that we wouldn’t find our sea legs and might suffer but once on board I discovered that the you hardly feel the ship move and we enjoyed 14 nights on a Caribbean sea that resembled a mill pond. I’d packed sea sickness tablets and those elasticated pressure point wristbands but thankfully we didn’t need them. We’ve since sailed in much rougher waters, including the infamous Bay of Biscay and only on one occasion did I reach for the medication when my son Finn was a little green. Modern ships have stabilisers which cancel any rocking and help passengers avoid motion sickness and the larger ships are so huge that they cope extremely well in even the roughest of seas. In the very unlikely event that you do suffer while on board then the shops do sell medication, wristbands etc. and in extreme cases if you visit the ships medical centre they’ll give you an injection that should help you enjoy the rest of the cruise.

Queues are occasionally inevitable on board and when a ship carrying 4000 passengers docks and everyone tries to depart at the same time there can be problems. Likewise if everyone decides that 8pm is a good time to dine then there could be a lengthy wait for a table at dinner. We always take a sensible approach and have a leisurely morning, allowing the crowds to depart the ship before heading ashore or try and dine that bit earlier when you’ll be seated within minutes and get great service. Plan carefully and you avoid the frustration of a very British pastime.

Quantum Class is Royal Caribbean’s latest addition to their fleet and are spectacular looking family friendly ships. They have been specifically designed for colder weather itineraries so they include lots of fun indoor activities such as dodgem cars and indoor skydiving. The interior rooms even have a virtual balcony, a great concept where one interior wall has a projection of what is actually happening outside. We’ve not yet had the pleasure of sailing Quantum Class yet but its definitely on my must do list!

R is for River Cruises and Reviews

River Cruises feature much smaller ships than ocean cruises and the itineraries take in the sights, sounds and destinations of many of the world’s greatest rivers. Some of the ships look stunning and many are luxuriously appointed featuring seven star cruising with ultra all inclusive packages. Sadly they just aren’t family friendly. We enquired when at the cruise show last year and the staff confirmed they weren’t suitable for travelling with children. My river cruising adventures will just have to wait until Finn heads off to university!

I love reading what people thought of a cruise ship and online reviews are a great place to find tips and to research a forthcoming cruise. My favourite review sites include Cruise Critic and Cruise.co.uk but there are also a growing number of blogs on the subject too so thanks for reading this one!

S is for Speciality Restaurants, Swimming Pools and Sail Aways

Speciality restaurants are an additional dining option on board and have a small cover charge which is paid in addition to your cruise fare if you wish to dine there. Many ships now have celebrity chef themed establishments, premier steak houses or high class Oriental or Indian eateries. The cover charges vary depending on the cruise line or the restaurant choice but as an example we’ve just paid £20 per head to dine at Atul Kochhar’s East on Ventura. I’d definitely recommend you treat yourself while on board if your budget will stretch. The food and service is usually exceptional and they’re a real bargain compared to the cost of fine dining at a similar establishment on dry land.

Swimming pools can usually be found on the top deck and there are usually two or three pools and maybe even more on larger ships. Be warned they can be very deep and very often they don’t actually have life guards so you may want to pack arm bands unless your kids are really strong swimmers. For younger children there are often splash zones or shallow paddling pools often close to the kids club. Please note that toddlers in nappies (even swim nappies) will most likely not be permitted in the pools for health reasons.

Sail Away Parties are a highlight of any cruise and usually happen 3 or 4 times during a 14 night break. The entertainment team take to the top deck and whip the crowd into a frenzy as waiters ensure the drinks are flowing as the ship heads out of port. Be sure to head up and join in the fun.

T is for Tips and Tenders

Cruise ship staff work their socks off and the quality and standard of service far surpasses that of any hotel on land. The majority of the team on board are paid a modest salary and take an additional share of the tips as well as the daily gratuities which are added to your on board account. This is a daily charge of around £5 a day per passenger and is a way most cruise lines try to simplify tipping and ensure backroom staff you might not see also benefit. Gratuities are then divided between all the staff on board but you can also tip extra to an individual if you feel you’ve received amazing service. The daily gratuity is technically voluntary and you can go to guest services at reception and remove this if you wish. Personally I’ve never done that as I think the staff work tirelessly and deserve every penny, in fact we usually tip over and above the charge for team members who have gone out of their way to make our holiday special.

During your cruise you may visit some smaller ports that don’t have the facilities for a large ship to dock. If this happens you will visit the port by tender, a smaller boat used to shuttle passengers between the ship and the port. The captain will drop the anchor some way out of the port and generally uses some of the larger motorised lifeboats to transport everyone who wants to go ashore and back. The tenders pull up alongside the ship and you’ll make your way down to the gangway where you step off a platform and into the smaller boat. It can feel a little daunting if the seas are choppy but don’t worry the crew are always on hand to manage this safely. Occasionally if the seas are rough then the tenders will be delayed until it gets calmer or alternatively the port visit may be cancelled if the captain feels there’s any risk. I quite like tenders, its an exciting way to arrive at a new destination and you can often get some great photos of your ship on the way back. Just remember not to rush off for the first one into or back from port if you don’t like queuing.

U is for Upper Deck

Upper Deck is one of my favourite places on board especially in the sunshine. It’s a great place to watch the world go by and there are usually quite a few bars dotted around as well as hundreds of sun loungers for those who want to catch some rays.

V is for Voltage, Visas and Vaccinations

There are a huge range of cruise lines and they all offer different voltage plug sockets so be sure to check before you travel. P&O have standard English 3 pin plugs, RCI and Carnival use American style sockets and MSC hasa mix of both. You can see a comprehensive list here http://www.iglucruise.com/faqs/what-type-of-electrical-outlet-plugs-will-be-in-my-stateroom but my advice is always pack a few worldwide adaptors and you are covered for all eventualities! Many of the widescreen TVs found in modern ship cabins also have a USB charger that is handy for charging phones or iPads.

Be sure to check for any visa or vaccinations you need before travelling, you can usually find details of this in your online check in information. Remember you can only disembark in some ports if you have a visa, such as Russia for example. If you are booking a ship excursion they will often arrange this as part of the package but double check to avoid disappointment.

W is for Wi-Fi, Wristbands and Waterslides

Wi-Fi is a necessity in our family as we run our own business and need to keep in touch with work while away as well as live blogging our adventures. At sea it can be slow and expensive but many cruise lines offer weekly or fortnightly packages which help with the cost a little, just don’t forget to log in and out each time. It often helps to draft emails or posts off line to save valuable minutes particularly if your package is for a set number of hours during your holiday. Although 3G data costs in European are now capped please remember then when out at sea you’ll only be able to connect to the ships GSM network which is charged at International rates not European rates so be sure to turn data roaming off on phones and iPads or you could end up with a nasty surprise on your next bill. If you can manage to wait till you reach port to get online then simply follow the crew, they always know where the free Wi-Fi spots are or failing that you should be able to find a McDonalds with complimentary internet connection in most towns!

If you are travelling with small children they’ll be given a wristband on boarding, this is compulsory and shows their muster station. If your child is in kids club and there’s an emergency that requires you to go to the muster point the staff will bring them to and you should meet them there.

There are waterslides on many of the large scale American and European ships that often twist and turn above the top deck providing adventurous thrill seekers with hours of amusement. Some ships even have huge ‘spray grounds’ with water shooters, power drenchers and much, much more.

X is for Xbox and other games consoles

My little boy is computer games obsessed so thankfully the kids clubs at sea generally feature Xbox’s, Playstation’s or Wii’s as well as child friendly games they can play for free. Some family cabins also offer them as standard too and there is usually a small video games arcade on board where you can pay to play usually by swiping your cruise card. Watch out for free gaming hours advertised in the ship’s daily newsletter.

Y is for YouTube

Youtube is a fantastic resource when researching your cruise and thousands of cruisers have posted videos of ships, cabins and ports of call but be warned, they do range in quality from the woefully amateur to Hollywood style productions. When we booked on Independence of the Seas last year I found a video online showing me every inch of our gorgeous aft cabin, which I absolutely loved. In addition to videos by fellow cruisers you may well find some of the official cruise line videos, travel agents reviews and occasionally a full length TV show about your ship. I spend many a happy hour ahead of our cruises scouring YouTube and if you have something like Apple TV you can even view the videos on your television, its like having your very own dedicated cruise TV channel.

Z is for Zip Lines, Zoos and Zzzzz

Zip Lines can be found on Oasis class ships on Royal Caribbean enabling the bravest cruisers to fly across the boardwalk suspended by just a harness approximately 40 ft above the deck. I did it once and it was absolutely terrifying but a real sense of achievement!

Zoo’s are a fantastic alternative to a cruise line excursion and are usually on easy to use public transport routes too. We often head to a zoo or aquarium when in port and nearly all big cities seem to have them. They’re a sure fire way to entertain kids and can be a preferable option to pounding the streets in a sweltering city.

Zzzzz is for sleep and nothing in the world beats being gently rocked to slumber in a beautifully comfortable bed, with gorgeously fresh clean linen. I’ve had some of my best nights sleep ever on a cruise ship and always wake up relaxed and refreshed for the next day’s adventures.