N603 Review.

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N603 Review.

Post by towny44 » 07 Mar 2016, 15:26

Somewhat later than I had planned and quite long but hopefully of interest to some of you.

Review of Caribbean roundtrip cruise on Ventura Jan – Feb 2016

Our first foray beyond a 17 day Eastern Med. Cruise saw us boarding Ventura for a 28 day roundtrip to the Caribbean. This cruise included 8 Caribbean islands plus Madeira on the way out and Ponta Delgado on the way back leaving us with 18 sea days, quite a change from all our previous cruises.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and the 6 sea days together outbound and 5 inbound were pleasantly employed with a mixture of activities and sunbathing to keep us occupied. However as Pauline uses a wheelchair our demands were more limited than others may have, and with the sun on our balcony on the outward journey we did spend quite a bit of time in our cabin.

For those considering this cruise in future here are some pointers:-
The weather after Madeira improved daily and a port side balcony cabin was excellent for sunbathing.
Seas were a little lumpy from time to time, but never too uncomfortable.

We had no tender ports although initially the Captain thought we may need to tender in St Kitts, this turned out to be the only port needing a shuttle bus other than Madeira, and so not an issue for saver vs select fares.

For wheelchair use, St Maarten, Tortola, Martinique, Ponta Delgado, Madeira and Barbados were the best, Antigua not too bad, St Lucia and Grenada were appalling, St Kitts we did not bother.

On the return the weather up to Ponta Delgado was excellent for sunbathing, but obviously it cooled down quickly thereafter.

Embarkation – I am not a fan of P&O’s attempts to change the embarkation process to improve the experience for passengers, IMO it doesn’t.

We had a 3:30pm boarding time but decided to arrive earlier as per usual. We stopped the car to unload luggage and hand it over to CPS at 1:15, conveniently adjacent to Mayflower’s terminal entrance, but quite a long way from the end of the queue of already waiting passengers. We had to wait for a porter before we could leave the car to the already present CPS chauffeur, so joined the queue about 1:30. The only reason for the queue as far as I could see was the slow process of handing out health questionnaires and having to show our E-tickets to be given a check in card. Having 2 or 3 people check E-tickets and adding the health questionnaire to the pre-printed E-ticket would speed this procedure enormously.

We were eventually given a check-in card (G or H I think) and despite several delays in check In due to security backing up, we were eventually on board by about 2:45, so ahead of our scheduled time. But if P&O were to do security first then all the delays would be encountered together and even if this did not result in any earlier boarding I suspect that passengers would feel the procedure was better.

Anyway our cabin was ready, but our cases did not arrive until 3:45, and the whole procedure felt far more drawn out and fraught than our experiences with Celebrity.

Muster Drill – this was delayed from 4:15 until about 5:00pm, but really the only reason for reporting this is to highlight an incident at the lifts after the drill.

As per usual the last thing the Captain says as the drill finishes is to request that all passengers give precedence to wheelchair users when using the lifts. Our MS was the glasshouse on deck 7 and our accessible cabin is served by the forward lifts. As the nearest lift opened there were several passengers spread out along the back wall, anyone who has pushed a wheelchair on Ventura will know that you need to push the chair right to the back wall to have enough room for you and the chair. So I politely asked if some could move to the side, to be met with blank stares and incredulous looks that someone with a wheelchair should invade their lift. Knowing there was ample room if they did move I pushed forward fully expecting at least one person to vacate the back wall, silly me no-one is going to give up a wall in case they fall over. So despite moving to one side myself I did have to push the chair until it met someone’s ankles, then as we were getting off on deck 10 the lady with the offending/offended ankles loudly said “well wasn’t that the rudest man you ever met”, so for the next few days I introduced myself as Rudy over the dinner tables.
Not until almost the end of the cruise did I see this lady again, this was in the mid ships lift foyer on lido deck, it was quite busy and the lifts were slow and I suddenly noticed the same lady from day one as she failed to get in a lift on the far side accompanied by lots of disgruntled muttering. As the opposite lift nearest us arrived she suddenly said “I’m not missing that one” and set off like a rugby player pushing everyone out of her way and was first into the lift as everyone else looked on in amazement.

Entertainment – For our P&O diehards I thought I should start with what they do best, and in all honesty this cruise had the best on board musicians and guest artists of any cruise we have ever been on. From the “Hungarian” Orchestra, through Electrix and Serious Sounds, the two party bands to Megan and Joe, a rather sweet engaged couple, who sang to backing tracks mainly performed in Metropolis, but they both had excellent singing voices.

I suppose over 28 days you do expect to see rather more guest artists than on a 14 nighter, but this cruise did seem to have far more than double the number, and a high percentage were well worth seeing.
The best IMO were :- 4Tunes, The Spinettes, Ben Makisi, The Opera Boys, Worby & Farrell, Gareth Oliver, The Opera Boys plus a number of tribute acts that were worth listening to.

For those who like to dance there were the usual daytime classes from the on board professionals, as well as some line dancing with the entertainment staff and Salsa etc. with the headliners, and most nights they had dancing in the Atrium which was usually well attended.

Dining – For the first time with P&O we used the buffet for dinner on a few nights, mainly Indian, Asian and Italian theme nights, and we were agreeably pleased with our choice. It is nowhere near as crowded as daytime and the tables are set with placemats cutlery and napkins. It is also much quieter and more peaceful than the MDR, and far easier to order a drink from the waiters. We only ate from the theme menus and found the selection to be adequate and very tasty, I know I will get some flack but I thought the Indian food here was far better than our previous experiences in Sindhu.

The service in the buffet had improved tremendously since our Azura cruise 2 years ago and was up to the standard we experienced on Britannia last year. The tables were cleared and cleaned very promptly which definitely improved your chances of finding a seat, even at the busy times during breakfast.

We had freedom dining in Saffron MDR which as I state above we thought was very noisy, in some areas making table conversation rather difficult. This seems to be a design flaw with the Grand class which for those yet to sail on Britannia has been improved due to Britannia’s much better layout, and the way the serveries have been screened off means they no longer intrude into the dining area.

Service in the MDR was patchy, some waiters being far better than others; however we only had one very slow service experience. But to highlight the difference in standards my wife only has the use in one hand, so she often needs to have her meat cut for her, on Celebrity as soon as I start to cut her meat the waiters will rush to take over, this seldom happens on P&O, in fact on this cruise it happened only once on the last night.

The quality of the MDR food was a bit variable but overall perfectly acceptable, my favourite was the lamb shank, however we were both a bit disappointed with the quality of the fish dishes on this cruise, or maybe it was the way it had been cooked. The choice of vegetable accompaniment was often poorly thought out, one night I had tiger prawns flambéed in brandy and garlic butter with stir fried vegetables, most of which was broccoli florets which had probably been boiled, certainly not stir fried, and the prawns were a bit rubbery as well. The executive chef was Trevor Glass and I hope he has not switched to Britannia for our August cruise.

We also ate in the Epicurian, Glass House and the Beach House and enjoyed all three, although I would not choose the Epicurean loin of wild boar again, nowhere near as tasty or tender as normal pork loin, but I had been warned by the waitress that some customers thought it a bit tough, so it was totally my fault. The extra attentive and personal service is nice for a change and the food in the speciality restaurants is generally of a higher standard than the MDR.

Ship – Ventura looked in fine shape for our cruise there were some signs of rust here and there, but this was constantly being attended to, along with the varnishing of all the wooden areas. I asked one of the crew how frequently they had to re-varnish the wood and the answer is every 3 months.

The public areas were all kept clean and tidy and there were few signs of tired looking carpets and furniture. Our cabin furnishings were in good condition, although the carpet was showing signs of stains, but during the cruise the carpet was cleaned to get rid of the worst stains.

We quite like the layout of the Grand class ships, especially the fact that they have 3 show lounges as well as the theatre which enables P&O to offer quite varied entertainment most nights. There are some problems not least the M1, which is what I call the starboard corridor on the promenade deck; this does get very busy when the theatre and Havana shows finish and pushing a wheelchair along here at these times can be a bit daunting.

Disembarkation – towards the end of the cruise you are invited to choose your disembarkation time which for standard passengers started at 8:45, passengers carrying their own luggage and inter-cruise coach passengers disembark from 7:45, breakfast is available from 7:00am.

Or this was the plan, however on the day as we approached 8:30 announcements started advising us that due to the extra luggage on board it was taking longer to offload than anticipated. This was despite the same number of cases going aboard 28 days earlier, and the fact that due to anticipated windy weather on Monday morning we had increased speed and arrived about 6 hours earlier than planned. Eventually we started disembarking about 9:15 and then you enter Mayflower’s woefully inadequate luggage hall, just about every bit of floor space is covered leaving almost no room to manoeuvre a trolley or indeed park it out the way while you search for your bags.

Just as you think the worst is over you then have a half mile trek over very rough pavements to the CPS car park, and in my case two journeys one with the luggage trolley then back to collect Pauline in the wheelchair. So, about 10:30 we were just leaving through gate 20 onto Redbridge road at the M271 roundabout, quite a bit later than our normal departure of 8:30-9:00 am from the ABP car park after an Eclipse cruise.

In Summary – would we go on a long cruise with a lot of sea days again, yes I believe we would, but maybe not next year.

Was the cruise value for money, yes even though we have to book early to guarantee getting an accessible cabin I think it was, our past passenger reduction and TA discount reduced the brochure fare by 10% giving us a C deck balcony cabin for just under £100pppd. We then had a further £400 saving with the free parking and our shareholder OBC. Probably nowhere near as good as some last minute saver fares, but maybe they didn’t get a C deck balcony.

How does P&O now compare against Celebrity; improvements are noticeable, but, IMO, they still need to improve further, however we would, and probably will book something with them for 2017, mainly because they have far more Southampton itineraries to choose from.

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Re: N603 Review.

Post by qbman1 » 07 Mar 2016, 15:32

Interesting read, thanks for posting. Like you, we rather enjoy the sea days on a Caribbean Transatlantic

Ben Makisi and the 4Tunes are good, aren't they ?

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Re: N603 Review.

Post by barney » 07 Mar 2016, 15:34

Cheers towny :thumbup:

We are thinking about a late saver in November on a similar cruise of 24 nights so well worth reading

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Re: N603 Review.

Post by Jan Rosser » 10 Mar 2016, 00:15

Thanks for posting your review John - apart from a few little annoyances it sounds as if you and Pauline enjoyed your transatlantic cruise. Once you hit the warmer weather on the way over its such a relaxing trip I find and personally I enjoy the days at sea - haven't done a transatlantic cruise for a couple of years but quite fancy doing it again after reading your report :thumbup:

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Re: N603 Review.

Post by Happydays » 10 Mar 2016, 15:34

Thanks for your review, I enjoyed reading it. I'm trying to get my husband to go on a transatlantic cruise flying to Barbados then sailing home. I may have some success as he doesn't like the over night flight home from the Caribbean.

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Re: N603 Review.

Post by Gill W » 20 Mar 2016, 16:00

Thanks for your review.

That woman in the lift - some people really do beggar belief!

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