On the April 6, P&O Cruises’ newest ship Ventura arrives at her home port of Southampton for the first time. At 115,000-tons, she will be the largest cruise ship designed purely for the British market.
With a total capacity of 3,574 passengers, she is 40 per cent larger than Cunard Line’s legendary liner QE2. She is also a complete break with the company’s past. Even the name is new and has never been used for a P&O ship.
At first glance, Ventura probably looks familiar to anyone who is a regular cruiser in the Mediterranean or Caribbean. That is because her layout and appearance is essentially the same as Princess Cruises’ 115,000-ton Grand Princess-class cruise ships.
Built by the Italian Fincantieri shipyard at Monfalcone near Venice, Ventura is the fifth of six Grand Princess-class vessels. The final in the group, Ruby Princess, enters service later this year with Princess Cruises.
At 19 decks high, Ventura is divided into three distinct areas: Main entertainment and dining on Lower Decks 5-7; Passenger cabins on Decks 8-13, plus a few on Decks 5 and 14; Sun, sport and children on Decks 15-19.
The heart of the ship is the three-deck high Atrium on Decks 5-7, with its four enormous granite arches representing the four points of the compass. This is also the main entrance for the ship.
On the lower level of the Atrium is Chapter One, the library and P&O Cruises’ first dedicated bookshop; the Cyb@centre for internet access; Explorers, where shore excursions can be made and Tazzine, a speciality tea and coffee caf� by day and cocktail bar by night. The main shops and the reception desk are on Deck 6 of the Atrium whilst another cocktail bar, the Red Bar, can be found at the top.
The three main restaurants, Bay Tree, Saffron and Cinnamon, are situated on Decks 5 and 6 whilst the main entertainment venue for the ship, the two-tier Arena, is forward on Decks 6 and 7.
The state of the art, 785-capacity Arena is also the home of Ventura’s theatre company and has the capability to show 3-D movies and to offer exhilarating flying circus performances.
The upper level of Arena is on Deck 7, also called the Promenade Deck, where most of the evening activities take place. Incidentally, the Promenade Deck also has an old-fashioned wraparound external promenade.
Aft on the Promenade Deck is Havana, Ventura’s main nightclub. Designed in a modern Cuban-inspired d�cor, this room is also a major daytime entertainment venue where dance classes and quizzes are held. In addition, it features the unique Scalextric at Sea, a huge Scalextric Grand Prix-style track, which is bound to be immensely popular with passengers of all ages.
Between Havana and the Atrium are East, one of the speciality premium restaurants and The Tamarind Club, a lounge decorated in an Indian style and the ship’s comedy club. Also on the Promenade Deck is Ramblas, a Spanish tapas and wine bar. Although basic light dishes are complimentary, more substantial tapas, paella and seafood cost extra.
One deck below Ramblas is The Exchange, described as an “urban bar designed with an industrial warehouse ambience.” Here, a live band plays each night and there is also a dance floor and video jukebox. Nearby is Fortunes, Ventura’s casino. With gaming tables and slot machines, this gambling area is relatively small compared with American-orientated ships.
There are no less than five pools on board. The two main pools, Beachcomber and Laguna can be found on Deck 15, the Lido Deck. Each has a pair of Jacuzzis attached whilst the Beachcomber has a sliding roof and can be used in all weathers. These pools also have their own bars with a pizza and grill area close by.
Young children have the use of a paddling pool aft on Deck 16, the Sun Deck, whilst above the extensive spa and gymnasium area is an “endless pool” with a constant flow of water for swimmers to swim against whilst staying in one place.
Finally, the Terrace Pool is a large family pool and is situated in a horseshoe-shaped area aft of Deck 14. This pool is overlooked by the terrace of the Beach House buffet restaurant.
The use of famous chefs on passenger ships is nothing new. In the 1920s, the Japanese NYK Line employed a well-known French Cordon Bleu chef, Paul Boettiger, aboard its classic liner Asama Maru.
However, whereas Monsieur Boettiger worked in the galley and supervised the food, today’s celebrity chefs only provide advice on meals.
On Ventura, one of Britain’s most successful restaurateurs Pierre Marco White has designed many of the dishes served on the ship.
Mr White’s company, White Star Line, operates a number of top London restaurants in addition to Frankie’s Italian Bar and Grill chain of Italian restaurants, which he set up in partnership with the top jockey Frankie Dettori.
As Ventura is part of the Grand-class of ships, originally designed for the American market, the spa and keep fit areas are above the bridge. This means there is no panoramic lounge facing forward such as the wonderful Crows’ Nest aboard Aurora, Oriana and Arcadia.
In fact, with such an activity-driven ship as P&O’s latest, there appear to be few “quiet” areas. The Art Deco-style Metropolis jazz-club lounge situated behind the funnel on Deck 18 does have magnificent ocean views, but also a huge video wall to show major sporting events.
Ventura has of course been designed, like Oceana, Aurora and Oriana, as a family-friendly ship, with an extensive children’s area aft on the Sun Deck. Here, children are looked after by qualified staff with specific clubs set aside for the needs of the four key age groups: Toybox for the 2 to 4 year olds; Jumping Jacks for the 5 to 8s; The Den for the 9 to12s; and Decibels for teenagers aged 13 to 17.
To ensure children are kept active and engaged throughout their holiday, a comprehensive programme of events has been put together, including arts and crafts, games, quizzes, dancing and scavenger hunts around the ship. Noddy, Enid Blyton’s popular character, will also be a regular feature of the entertainment for 2-to-4 year olds, with welcome packs given to all children in this group.
Teenagers, meanwhile, will be able to participate in a signature Rock School and enjoy being a rock star for the day.
During the day, parents will be given pagers so they can contacted if necessary by the Ventura youth crew. There is also an in-cabin baby listening service and a night nursery for children aged six months to 5 years, which is available every night from 6pm to 2am.
In addition to Scalextric at Sea, the whole family will be able to enjoy the thrills of the novel Cirque Ventura, which is situated on the top deck, Deck 19. All passengers will be able to take part in circus activities, including stilt-walking, juggling, the flying trapeze and bungee trampoline. Although most of these will be included in the cruise fare, specific Cirque Ventura workshops will cost extra.
In recent years, eat-when-you-choose flexible dining has become increasingly popular, especially among those who do not wish to sit at the same table every day. A feature of the luxury end of cruising, it has started to appear on larger, high-density, resort-type ships.
The ultimate is NCL’s Freestyle Dining, which is available across its fleet and in all restaurants, whilst on P&O Cruises’ sister company, Princess Cruises, all passengers can choose between traditional dining and Personal Choice Dining.
Bowing to the inevitable, P&O Cruises introduced a choice of dining aboard Oceana with one of the two main restaurants designated to Freedom Dining (bookable anytime from 6pm-10pm) and the other to Club Dining, a standard two-sitting service (6.30 and 8.30pm).
On Ventura, the only other P&O ship to offer these options, Freedom Dining is now available in two of the three main dining rooms, Saffron and Cinnamon although this service will incur a “service charge” of �1.50 per person per day.
Casual eating can be found mainly on the Lido Deck. Close to the pool area is the bright and cheerful Waterside restaurant, where buffet breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea is served. Further aft, with a terrace overlooking the stern, is the Beach House. As well as offering family-style meals, it is also open 24-hours a day for those who prefer to eat late or are just feeling a bit peckish.
Floating Art Gallery
Throughout Ventura much of the artwork and furnishings have been selected to suit contemporary British taste.
British designer Nick Munro was appointed as the design consultant and, although this has been his first cruise ship commission, he has successfully co-ordinated the design of many of the bespoke items such as glass and tableware.
Ventura is therefore a showcase of British art, with some 7,000 pieces from 40 artists on display around the ship. The major works are hung in the three main stairwells and include photomontages by Vanessa Ballard featuring more than 60,000 digital photographs.
P&O Cruises has also formed a partnership with Tate Modern and, on selected cruises, there will be “Tate Talks”, which include creative workshops (for a small extra charge).
There are two speciality premium restaurants on Ventura, the White Room and East. Situated aft on Deck 17, the 174-seater White Room has some of the best ocean views on the ship as well as a terrace for open-air dining.
For his signature restaurant, Pierre Marco White has come up with delicious lunch and dinner menus based on classic Mediterranean cuisine, while those who prefer an Asian meal would enjoy East on the Promenade Deck.
Decorated in a contemporary Oriental style, this restaurant offers a wide range of Asian fusion dishes (please note that both these restaurants will need to be booked in advance and will include a per person cover charge of �15 for the White Room and �10 for East).
Another first for P&O Cruises (although a standard Princess Cruises feature), is Balcony Dining for balcony cabin passengers who wish to celebrate a special occasion with a champagne breakfast or a special dinner for two. This will also cost extra although the standard room service menu remains free.
Ventura has a relatively high proportion of balcony cabins (57%) whilst 71% of the 1,546 cabins have ocean views. There are four basic types of accommodation: deluxe stateroom with balcony; outside twin with balcony; outside twin with sea view and inside twin. Tea and coffee making facilities, cotton towels and robes are standard in all cabins whilst those with balconies have traditional teak furniture.
From April to October, Ventura will offer Southampton-based cruises to the Mediterranean, Canary Islands and Northern Europe. In October, she heads for the Caribbean where she will remain until returning to Southampton in March for the start of her 2009 summer programme.
Built: Fincantieri, Italy
Country of registry: Bermuda
Port of registry: Hamilton
Gross tonnage: 115,000 tons
Maximum speed: 23 knots
Length overall: 290m
Height (from keel): 67.4m
Height (from waterline): 59m
Passengers: 3,080 (regular capacity), 3,574 (all berths)
Passenger decks: 15
Passenger cabins: 1,546 – 1,101 outside, 880 balcony, 445 inside
For more details, visit www.pocruises.co.uk