P&O Cruises’ Ventura (Blog Part 1)
Cruising is a brilliant way to see multiple locations all in one holiday alongside fine dining and great entertainment. Disabled cruising is often easy as you take away any need to fly unless you choose to do so. Many of the cruise lines share similarities such as Royal Caribbean which is often compared with P&O on many levels. I personally prefer P&O since drink prices are cheaper without the service charge Royal Caribbean add on to every drink bought but also you can take alcohol on board P&O’s fleet to have a drink in your cabin. However, families with children often prefer Royal Caribbean since the larger ships have a lot of entertainment from climbing walls to surf pools. Cruises often have a greater level of disabled facility than hotels abroad perhaps may have. They are often a very accessible form of travel for people with disabilities, especially those with limited mobility. This is because you can travel without flying if you choose a cruise that sails from the UK (Southampton in the case of P&O). There are what are called ‘fly-cruises’ where the cost of your airline ticket is included in the purchase price of the cruise. If possible, book out of season cruises as this definitely brings prices down but keep an eye on your chosen cruise as even school holiday cruises will fluctuate a lot in price over time. ‘Relocation cruises’ are often the biggest bargains as this is where you fly/ drive to one place and then return to a different location so the cruise ship can begin sailing a different route. Obviously each different season, route, class of cabin and ship results in variations in price. Each ship can have a different level of disabled access so make sure to check them out or ask me to do this for you by emailing DisabledTravelWithGeorgina@gmail.com For a full review of Ventura’s facilities then please read on. Ventura had many strengths in terms of access but it also had weaknesses. Some of the things that I found difficult were due to ports changing to tender (small lifeboats that you board to sail from the ship to the dock land) and were due to lifts breaking down. However, many of the issues I address are due to the ship layout so these won’t change year by year. Pre-Cruise Essentials Prior to your cruise you must fill a questionnaire out and send it across to email@example.com about your disabled Ventura needs. This form includes questions about your mobility, hearing and visual impairments and other medical conditions. If you are taking your own wheelchair then you have to know the measurements of this if you are planning to store this in your cabin. Also, it is very very important to have travel insurance that covers cruise travel and ‘repatriation’ which means you can be airlifted off the ship if necessary. Make sure to declare every single health condition you have so you are fully covered. MusteringThis surprisingly had no information on what a wheelchair user would do in an emergency since the lifts don’t work. However, on questioning a member of staff we realised that they would come to get you and use specialised wheelchairs that take you down the stairs. But I shouldn’t really have to ask… Ship InteriorVentura is a large ship so it’s important to take this into consideration when booking this. People who struggle with walking distances may need to consider taking a wheelchair or mobility scooter aboard. The flooring of Ventura is mainly carpeted in places such as hallways and restaurant seating areas. The main exceptions to this were the self-service buffet food area and bathrooms. This obviously gives more resistance when pushing a wheelchair so if you are propelling yourself then this can be tiring. A safety feature that impacts on disabled cruising a lot and is present throughout the ship is the metal door bases that are raised a couple of inches above floor level. These are obviously an essential feature to allow heavy doors to fully close in the unlikely event of fore or flooding but they create a bumpy experience for a wheelchair user and a more difficult push for whoever is pushing.
Unfortunately this safety feature makes life hard again when a wheelchair user tries to go outside on the Deck 7 Promenade Deck. This deck has a walkway all around the ship with deck chairs to watch the sea as you sail. You can usually walk around this fully, however, there are a few problems for someone with limited mobility. The doorways to exit have large metal bumps you have to cross and the doors are heavy; this is normally compounded by the sea breeze resisting them opening. There is a dedicated disabled exit which has a smoother ramp system but when we pressed the silver button we found the automatic door opening system was actually broken (August 2017). Some of the ramped doorways also open into an area where you would then have to climb a few steps so for a permanent wheelchair user these doors were then un-usable. The promenade walkway is smooth but can have some wet patches depending on weather and sea conditions. There is a particularly narrow door to continue around this circle so a wider than usual wheelchair would potentially struggle here. There are also two flight of steps you have to use of you want to make this promenade into a full circle. This is because there is a crew only area so every passenger has to go up one deck for a small section.
One thing that is worth noting is that Ventura’s passenger corridors are very tight for wheelchair users cruising – particularly when the cabins are being cleaned! During cleaning, trolleys are left in the corridors which leaves a space only just large enough for a wheelchair with a very good driver! Lifts Interestingly, all Ventura’s lifts, with the exception of the glass panoramic lifts over the Atrium in the centre, always face forwards so you can use this to help you find your way around the ship. Obviously for people with limited mobility, lifts are key to mobilise around the ship. Depending on where you are in the ship (front, rear, central), there are different banks of lifts that you can call. I found during my 17 night cruise that various lifts broke down and were not expected to be working until we returned to Southampton. That was disappointing as it meant that two whole floors (15 & 16) were completely off limits for wheelchair users, minimising the sunbeds available for those in wheelchairs. I addressed this with the Customer Services Manager who gave us a complimentary meal at the paid-for Indian restaurant on board.
One of my major comments about lifts relies on your fellow passengers and impacts your disabled Ventura experience. This varied in severity but I often found seemingly able-bodied passengers using the lift and not moving to allow wheelchair users access. Often we had to wait for a considerable amount of time to find a lift with suitable space. This wasn’t so much of a problem when we didn’t want to get to a specific place at a certain time but when we wanted to get to the onboard cinema for the starting time, for example, we had to set off with enough time to get there. This was more of a nuisance or an inconvenience really and nothing that P&O themselves have done wrong but perhaps there needed to be more lifts in certain areas to reduce crowding.