Ventura has now completed her inaugural summer season and is starting her first winter season in the Caribbean. Since her launch in April we have welcomed on board over 4,000 travel agents and some 57,000 passengers. Many of you, your staff and your customers have let us know your views on this extraordinary ship and because of this interest, and our shared passion to deliver a holiday like no other, I thought that I would write to share with you my views on "Ventura so far".
As we anticipated, her first year of operation has seen large numbers of our past passengers wanting to experience the ship. She has also played host to unprecedented numbers of newcomers who have been attracted by her innovation, scale and choice.
In general newcomers have reacted very favourably to Ventura and we continue to see this as our primary focus. That said, we have had some challenges in marrying the differing needs and expectations of a new audience with those who have travelled with us many times before. Indeed the first year of operation for any ship is always its most difficult and the team on board have worked extremely hard to consistently deliver against our passengers' expectations. Their commitment has been rewarded with customer satisfaction scores that are now comparable to her fleet companions.
Customers aren't just telling us what a fantastic holiday they've had; they're also telling visitors to the growing number of cruise dedicated online review sites. A large majority of recent reviews on such sites gave Ventura an overall rating of 4 stars and above, and an overwhelming number awarded 5 stars. Don't just take my word for it though, read exerts from these reviews, which I have included as an addendum or, better still, visit one of these sites for yourself.
Despite eliciting such praise from our customers, we continue to review and enhance all elements of Ventura's operation and I am pleased to be able to share with you some of the changes we'll be introducing.
Freedom Dining We have experienced particularly heavy demand for Freedom Dining at peak times, especially during the summer school holidays. In order to realise this concept to the full, and thereby ensure that it does indeed offer customers the flexibility that they desire, we have increased the number of tables within the Cinnamon Restaurant and will be introducing specialist software to enable the team to effectively manage the utilisation of the range of restaurants around the ship.
More significantly though, passengers will no longer need to book a table in advance. Instead they can enjoy the ultimate freedom of arriving at the time they would like to dine and, where possible, they will be seated immediately. This is the system that we operate on board Oceana with great success. Additionally, our entertainment scheduling is being improved and phased to offer increased choice and flexibility at a range of times, thereby alleviating 'peak time' demand.
Beach HouseIt's not just the main dining rooms that will offer an improved service, the Waterside food court and adjacent family dining restaurant, The Beach House, haven't escaped our attention. The standard of presentation is being enhanced in both these food courts and The Beach House will evolve to offer an additional informal dining venue with waiter service. This will offer customers, particularly families, another plated meal option.
Balcony FurnitureI also have some good news for passengers travelling in one of Ventura's 880 balcony staterooms next year. In spring 2009 we will be introducing new furniture including a reclining chair, which will allow sun-lovers to make even more of their balcony. This will have the added advantage of helping to alleviate the high demand for loungers on the open deck, which we experienced during the summer school holidays.
SunloungersI acknowledge that sunbed availability has been an issue during some of the summer school holiday cruises. In order to address this we have decided to devote some of the space originally allocated to Cirque Ventura on Deck 19 as an additional sunbathing area. This will give those passengers who like to spend some time relaxing in the sun more space to do so. We will retain the bungee trampolines which have been a real hit with passengers aged from 8 to 84! And we will continue to offer the Cirque Ventura circus skills school teaching the art of juggling, tightrope and stilt walking.
New TerminalOf course, some of the challenges presented by welcoming such a vast ship into the P&O Cruises fleet aren't just on board; the sheer number of people boarding this vessel has inevitably meant a greater requirement for car parking. This has been at the forefront of our minds when planning for the brand new cruise terminal currently under construction and, as a result, the new terminal will be better able to accommodate such demands when it enters use next year.
The reviews online, the customer satisfaction scores and the letters we regularly receive from our customers, all indicate that Ventura is becoming a much loved member of our fleet, with the children's clubs, East, The White Room, Cirque Ventura, the stage shows and our staff on board all cited as reasons why customers' holidays on board Ventura are so extraordinary. We are sure that the adjustments we are making will compliment the experience and further enhance the success of Ventura.
In summary, Ventura is carving out her own substantial niche within the P&O Cruises fleet and is offering the contemporary and innovative holiday experience that she has been created to deliver, and is appealing to the very customers that she was designed for.
The P&O Cruises brand, and the ships that help define us, is constantly evolving to ensure that we remain Britain's leading cruise line. Azura is destined to add another string to our already eclectic bow, as you'll discover in our next announcement on Tuesday 25th November.
Thank you for your support thus far and I, the ship's officers and crew and my management team look forward to working with you as the next remarkable chapter in our history unfolds.
Managing DirectorP&O Cruises
Exerts from online reviews:
Review by Jones, Rotherham on 26th Oct 2008 "We went as a group - myself, husband, 2 children aged 11 and 12, husband's mum and dad, his sister, her partner and daughter aged 3. We read lots of reviews on here and wondered if we had done the right thing, now having been on her all the negative reviews have gone out of the window. The ship is modern, big, and a joy to travel on".
Review by Thomson, Motherwell on 26th Oct 2008"We have just returned from our recent cruise on board Ventura. We had a fantastic time, we ate each evening in the Cinnamon Restaurant and we also had a superb meal at The White Room. The service in the restaurants was excellent and although we opted for freedom dining, we had the same waiter for most of the duration of the holiday. Our two teenage children, aged 17 and 15 years old, spent a large amount of time with the many new friends that they had met in Decibels (teenagers den), they had such a good holiday that they did not want their vacation to end. I would remind people that the ship is in fact a family ship and even although there was over 300 young people / children on board it was hardly noticeable".
Review by: martin, Doncaster on 11th Oct 2008"We were on Ventura canaries cocktail n816 this was our 1st ever cruise and I have to say I was a little worried after reading some negative reviews on this site, we had a wonderful time & I would more than likely return to this ship. We were on freedom dining, ate in the waterside & beach house mainly on port days & used cinnamon a couple of times on sea days, no complaints on either side & there was always plenty of choice! We ate in Marco's restaurant once, plenty availability for bookings in advance & I have to say the food & service was fantastic & worth the supplement! Just wish I had the chance to try East as well, maybe next trip! We were always able to find spare sunbeds they may not always be where you want, but are available".
Review by: jackson, trimdon grange on 30th Sep 2008"Sailed on the 31st of August to the canaries. After reading the reviews was a little concerned but we had a brilliant time. The ship was lovely, inside cabin spacious with a lovely walk in wardrobe and adequate space. Been on Aurora and Oceana and loved both ships and this was just as good. Food was excellent, so was kids club for our 7 year old in fact we hardly saw him. The theatre group was very good but I must say the musicals were very modern and I do prefer something where I know the songs and can join in. The food was of excellent standard in the restaurants, waterside, beach house and frankies grill. Did not try east or white room restaurants as was more than happy with the bay tree restaurant. All in all this was an excellent value for money holiday and beats any package holiday. We will continue to cruise with P&O for many years to come already booked for Ventura in June".