Living as we do on the edge of the Solent, we often gawp at the vast liners as they head east through the Solent on their way to exotic climes. And, last week, we were among the passengers aboard the P & O Ventura, on its way to Normandy in the late summer sun.
From the shore, the ships look huge – up close they are even YUUUGER! With a staggering 3,080 passengers serviced by over a thousand crew, the ship was home to three times the population of Brading! Nonetheless, it was easy to find a quiet spot if you wanted.
There were several reasons we decided to dip our metaphorical toes into the world of cruising. Firstly, it’s easy-peasy to get to the terminal at Southampton. The embarkation process was a dream – not like the tedium of air travel at all. And secondly, it was all inclusive. Yup, all you could eat. As you can see, Matt did his best to help with the ballast by piling his plate high from the daily breakfast buffet.
The food in the restaurants was mostly English-style, along with the bulk of our fellow passengers. Despite catering for the masses, the ingredients were surprisingly high-quality. Cat enjoyed fillet steak two nights in a row, including a Wellington curated by chef Marco-Pierre White. Matt was blown away by his calves liver dish.
So far, so not particularly exotic. With entertainment by an English comedian, English food and English-speaking crew, it was England afloat. Even ashore at Cherbourg we hopped aboard this familiar-looking road train, bringing back memories of the Appley dotto.
However, we did manage to integrate with the locals in Cherbourg; dredging up some of our O Level French – enough to order une biere et une cafe au lait, s’il vous plait, which we drank in the hot sun at a pavement cafe while writing our cartes postales.
Our next port of call was Le Havre. Bombed to blazes during the war, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its brutalist concrete architecture. A stone’s throw from the magnificent St. Joseph’s Church was a supermarket, where we stocked up on cheese. Enough to entirely fill our cabin’s minibar, both with the fromage and its accompanying ripe aroma! Shut that door!
Talking of cheese, Matt won the lion’s share of this remarkable Stilton and port concoction. The waiter served spoonful after spoonful of this blended booze and cheese. It sounds, smelt and looked alarming – but it was outstanding. Time to mention the remarkable service on Ventura – we’ve not been so thoroughly pampered for a long time, and every single person was polite, attentive and efficient.
We enjoyed our ‘Freedom Dining’ option, which gave us the chance to chat with fellow passengers over dinner. Some never left the ship, preferring to spend their time aboard enjoying the facilities – pools, bars, buffets, casino and shows. Our time shoreside was quite limited, but the cruise was great way to have a risk-free adventure.