Firstly, the myths others have written :
1. You can take alcohol onboard as long as it is not excessive. We had no problem and appreciated this mature approach - but the bar prices for beer are the same as UK bar prices anyway.
2. There are men's and women's steam rooms and sauna in the changing areas. There is also a posh steam room at a cost - we never found it nor needed it.
3. There is a Sky News channel and a BBC World News channel on your cabin tv- both worked fine all the way from the UK and around the Caribbean.
Secondly, the holiday:
This was our first time on the Ventura, and after a bit of hanging around at Southampton terminal, once on board the immediate impression was of slick service; our cases arrived very quickly as did some drinks we ordered for delivery to the cabin.
Cabins are comfortable and well designed. We had a basic outside cabin and it had more storage space than most ships we have travelled in. The beds are fine although the pillows are not brilliant (but we are quite fussy about pillows!) The in-room fridge is really useful and there are tea/coffee making facilities with supplies topped up every day. There is an interactive tv system which has a few free and some pay-for films to suit most tastes.
Food is a big part of cruising and there is plenty of choice on the Ventura. On most ships our preference would always be to use the main dining room and be waiter served, but here we found this experience a bit disappointing. This was not so much the food as the service - it was efficient enough, but (with a few exceptions) waiters were not friendly or willing to engage with diners. Breakfast was served at a very leisurely pace in these main dining rooms making it almost impossible to use on port days if you wanted to get off the ship at an early hour for trips, etc. Overall the main restaurants were perfectly adequate and efficient with good (and some very good) food, however there was no real flair here, compared with ships that cater for non-British customers.
The 'Waterside' buffet restaurant was very popular at all mealtimes - it has an excellent choice of food and is expertly managed, tables are cleared constantly so that there's always somewhere to sit. There is also the 'Beach House' open at all mealtimes which was more 'American diner' in its style of food, but you have to queue from 6.30 each evening to reserve a table here. You can get decent pizzas, hot dogs and burgers around the pool deck throughout the day. We didn't try the speciality Asian or Marco Pierre White restaurants as they had a cover charge for menus which didn't look like good value to us, but fellow passengers seemed to like the Asian one.
Entertainment on board is as per the standard fare for most cruise ships. The onboard entertainment team does well at sailaways and for themed parties etc and the 'Headliners' song/dance troupe put on some good shows in the theatre and the Ventura band were the best we have seen on a ship. The staging is worthy of mention too; very West End in some cases! We had a few different comedians and some tribute acts who were all pretty poor in comparison. In the daytime, we did get showings of Premiership football games and the Grand Prix live in the pub-style Exchange bar, which were very popular.
The gym facilities are excellent - plenty of modern equipment and regular fitness classes (although many have a supplement to pay). On sunny sea days there is a bit of a scrabble for sun loungers, but no worse than in many hotels around the world. The pools are lovely and the Oasis pool has a small wave machine for a bit of extra exercise!
Most of the staff are very friendly and appreciate a thank you and/or a little chat. There a few exceptions to this, and sadly I'd include the Cruise Director who certainly doesn't seem to have any passenger liaison aspects to his particular job description. His job seems to consist of reading out a few daily activities over the tannoy, hanging around the bars in the evening talking to his own staff and popping up at the end of theatre shows to take some credit. Read the other Cruise Critic reviews Huey - they're true.
If you're not planning to book any P+O organised trips then don't waste your time talking to the Shore Excursions team. We tried a few times to get a bit of information from them about good beaches to visit, but were met with surly and rude responses each time. Useless. Likewise, if you see anyone from the Spa team around the ship make sure you smile and speak to them, but don't expect any response.
At the other end of the spectrum, not one of the full-time staff, but definitely an asset to the ship was Byron, who was there to help passengers get the most from their shopping in ports of call. Very friendly and approachable on and off the ship, Byron went out of his way to get information, source items and help to get the best price possible on expensive jewellery items.
There are a few design features that felt odd about this ship - for example, the lack of a proper walking/running deck. The Promenade deck is a halfway house - going up and down steps to get right around it, which constantly interrupt your flow. There are also very few public areas on board that have any natural light, where you can sit and read for example, when the weather is not so good. And having the main 'picture window' bar at the back of the ship instead of the crows nest style at the front meant we never used it.
It's a reflection of the family friendly holiday that it aims to provide I guess, but Ventura feels more like an hotel than a ship - with most things running around mealtimes, including port arrival times (8am earliest). We missed things like captain's information about the sailing (there is a noon announcement but it's a bit 'thin' - on a 'sea day' would it really kill the Captain to make ad hoc announcements of interest like "we are passing St Vincent and later today we will pass X and Y"). While the TV maps are all very modern, perhaps add a real map in the library like you get on the Oriana for example, that plot your route in detail.
When it's time to leave, disembarkation is very smooth - with around 6 flights all leaving on the same day and immigration procedures to complete on board ship, this was very well managed.
Overall, we had an excellent holiday - expect the equivalent of a nice 4 star hotel experience and you'll find there's not too much wrong with the Ventura!