In June 2013 we did a 14-night Western Mediterranean cruise from Southampton on Ventura. The ports of call were Valencia; Barcelona; Monte Carlo; Civitavecchia; Ajaccio; Gibraltar; and Vigo, which was a last-minute substitution for La Coruña. In addition there were six full days and a half-day at sea – the first three days, the individual days after Ajaccio, Gibraltar and Vigo, and the morning of the Gibraltar day. As usual I blogged during the cruise. This page serves both as a link to the individual blog posts and also as a summary and review of the cruise as a whole.
- first was about pre-cruise activities: travel to Southampton and embarkation;
- then a quick post about the changes I could see on board Ventura that were a result of her refit in the early spring;
- the first full day, and the formal dinner;
- some more sea days;
- then we were into the ports of call:
- the sea days between Ajaccio and Gibraltar, and between Gibraltar and Vigo;
- and the final sea day before Southampton;
- we used the speciality restaurants : East, The White Room, and the Glasshouse, here and here, and the prices of wines in the Glass House here;
- and finally getting off the ship and going home.
We had a good cruise, with some reservations. It’s brought home to us that what we like most about cruising is visiting the ports; the itinerary. In previous years we’ve enjoyed the number of sea days in a 14-night cruise, but this time we were less happy (Val especially) – there was definitely one sea day too many at the beginning, and we didn’t really enjoy the last one or two either. We were thinking beforehand that maybe we’d do a fly-cruise in 2014, and we’ve come home with a definite decision to do that.
As I said, the ports were the best part of the cruise. We especially enjoyed Barcelona, the excursion at Civitavecchia, and Ajaccio. There were parts of the afternoon at Monte Carlo that were excellent – I particularly remember eating an ice-cream in front of the Prince’s palace looking at the views over the harbour, and I also enjoyed the casino area, and the port area. Val wasn’t so sure about anything other than the old town area, and getting from one good spot to another involved hot walks through much less interesting areas.
The highlights on board were all to do with eating and drinking, I’m afraid: the meals in The White Room, East, and the Glasshouse were all very enjoyable (maybe a bit less so in East, to be truthful, especially for me). We also enjoyed the excellent wines we had in the Glasshouse; in fact, I will now agree that (despite my previously-expressed reservations) the switchover from the previous venue, Ramblas, to the Glasshouse is indeed a big improvement. It would have been ever better if they could have changed the decor – there have been very few changes – but the food and drink there is a much better. We also had a couple of very good late evenings in Metropolis.
Another aspect that we enjoyed (to our surprise, it has to be said) was the entertainment. We went to six after-dinner events in the theatre – a show, two sessions with Ray Turner (a comic who sings), one with Mark Gold (another comic who mainly tells gags), and two with Gareth Oliver, a ventriloquist with a modern approach. We would have gone to a second show if we could have got in, as well. Of these we enjoyed all except Mark Gold. This was unexpected – on our most recent two cruises we haven’t done the entertainment at all. But it was good to have something to do after dinner instead of just hitting the bars straightaway, or creeping back to the cabin.
If there were pluses there were also minuses, I’m afraid. These were mainly in two areas: food and drink issues including the food in the MDR, and the port times. Let’s take them in turn.
Food and drink issues: First, we were generally a bit disappointed by the quality of the meals in the MDR on this cruise. I can’t remember anything really special from the main menu: everything was very bland. The food wasn’t horrible, or anything like that, but for the first time we were conscious that the meals were produced en-masse and not individually. On previous cruises we’ve thought that the MDR food was better than it had any right to be; on this cruise it tasted like what it was. Val did rather better than me – she had four dishes from the ‘Regional Specialities’ section of the menu. These were a Lancashire Hotpot on embarkation day, a lasagne when we were in Italy, Spanish meatballs when we were in Vigo, and a cheese and onion quiche on the last night of all. She says that these were all very tasty, and I can attest this as regards the lasagne and the quiche which I also had. But everything from the main part of the menu was just a bit disappointing. I’m not sure why this is. It could be that we’ve become more discerning in the last few years, and it is true that we do eat out more than we have in the past and maybe have more experience against which to judge the MDR meals. But it could also be that the quality has slipped just that little bit. As I said in the blog posts, we felt that the difference between the food in the speciality restaurants (where meals are individually prepared) and in the MDR was greater this time than on previous cruises. It was all prepared well, and the presentation was also good, but the taste was lacking. I have no evidence to back up my next statement, but what we experienced was what I would expect if the quality of the main ingredients themselves had dropped. Is this a sign of cost-cutting?
Secondly on the food and drink issues, we were a little disappointed with the availability and advertising of drinks around the ship in the various bars. We mainly drink wine, and on previous cruises each bar has had a wine list. Possibly quite a short list, but they all had them. What we found this time was that there were no wine lists in the deck bars, or in the Red bar, or even in Metropolis. Wine was still available in all of them, in fact, but you had to ask what they had, and then go through a convoluted conversation to identify what you could have. The big exception was the Glasshouse, of course, which had a lengthy wine list, but all at rather higher prices. It almost looks as if there is a policy to serve only simple drinks, or drinks that each bar specialised in, around the ship: beers at the deck bars, cocktails and spirits in Metropolis and the Red Bar, and speciality wine in the Glasshouse.
Finally there were the port timings. We knew from various Carnival UK statements over the last couple of years that the ships have been slowed down by a knot or two on passages, and we’ve seen the revised itineraries that this results in. Now we’ve experienced it. We seemed to be sailing from many of the ports at around 4 o’clock; at Ajaccio we were away at 2 o’clock. This was a bit of a disappointment; we would have liked more time in some of the ports.
All of the above makes it sound as if we had a bad cruise. Well, we didn’t, we enjoyed it, but there were enough downsides to make us feel that we don’t want to do a traditional 14-night ex-Southampton cruise with lots of sea days again, unless the itinerary was special or new to us e.g. a Baltic cruise.