Author: Ian Roxburgh
I tend to use a number of cruise lines, depending upon the itinerary being offered and, from time to time, return to P&O. This time it was to the Greek Islands on Ventura in April 2017, a first on that particular ship. While I notice some negative changes - something that is, I fear, common across all of the cruise lines - I think P&O continue to offer a very good product and one that tends to suit my particular tastes; the more traditional, British style of cruising. First of all, the staff and crew provide an excellent service and there is a feeling of being welcome on board. Excursions, drinks, gratuities, etc. remain reasonably priced in comparison with the major American lines where these things have become, frankly, a rip-off. Entertainment, from guest lectures to theatre shows to invited performers, was generally superior to that which I have experienced on other lines. The Headliners worked very hard and are certainly talented but the themes of their shows have become rather predictable.....and clichéd. There was a very good - and varied - selection of films on offer in the Arena Theatre on sea days. I enjoyed, too, the formal nights where the vast majority of passengers comply with the dress code. I still tend to opt for traditional set dining and am pleased that this remains on offer, but there is now, commendably, the choice for those who prefer freedom dining. Catering was my one major disappointment and confirmed comments read in previous reviews. A highlight of cruising for me has always been the dining experience but, sadly, this is no longer as it was. Evening dining in the Bayview Restaurant I would describe overall as adequate, occasionally good but rarely memorable. I particularly missed the fact that the waiters at dinner no longer appear to have time to develop a real rapport with their guests. They once had the time for a bit of chat and banter and there was something very special about the way that they used to very quickly learn about your little likes and dislikes and cater for these accordingly. They do try their best and I apportion no criticism to them but perhaps they now have more tables to cope with and, given the freedom dining setup, training is less focussed. The menu in the self-service Waterside Restaurant at lunch was again adequate but singularly uninspiring most of the time. The speciality restaurants, for which a cover charge - increasingly expensive - is made, are very good. Would it be over-cynical, however, to suggest that the drop in standards in regular dining is a deliberate attempt to push passengers towards these venues? What about Ventura itself? Overall a lovely ship and reasonably well maintained. The cabins, I felt, were a little smaller than what I have been used to, especially the bathrooms, but this did not, in any way, detract from the overall experience of the cruise. The chairs in the cabin had seen better days but this was only a niggle. There seemed, always, to be at least one elevator out of service and this often meant a bit of a wait at busy times. Unrepaired wheelchair/buggy damage is evident in most of these and perhaps, given the noticeable increase in the number of these mobility aids being used around the ship, not surprising. There was one occasion, in the second half of the cruise, when a main engine malfunctioned but this was rectified quickly and with no noticeable effect on the itinerary or timing. This itinerary was excellent; quite a number of relaxing sea days and it was great to have full days in most ports. On my last cruise with P&O, I found that half-days were the norm and this seemed inadequate. Perhaps this is the best time of year to go, before the season gets fully underway and there is greater competition for berths. Resorts are much less crowded too. Another big plus for P&O is the provision of a good shuttle bus service where needed and where they are permitted to operate one by local regulations; free of charge for those on Select Fares. We were unable to enter the port of Katakolon as scheduled due to exceptionally high winds but were delighted by the fact that arrangements were made to visit Cartegena instead. My hope now is that P&O don't choose to pare back any more, further reducing standards. I, for one, would be prepared to pay a little more on the overall fare rather than see any further cutbacks that could become seriously detrimental to what is currently a very satisfactory product.