A discussion with Captain Alistair
Clark, Executive Purser David Sheperd
and Cruise Director Leon De Ste. Croix
about the role of the Ventura in the P&O
Cruises fleet and the British cruise
Richard H. Wagner
The British cruise market is in the early stages of a
transformation. "It's a growing market. I think cruising
was [thought of] in Britain as something only the rich
could do. More and more people now are viewing
cruising as the perfect holiday rather than what was the
case for many, many years in the UK- - fly over to
Europe," noted Leon De Ste. Croix, Cruise Director on
P&O Cruises' Ventura.
Cruising is now seen as an economical and convenient
way to holiday as the ships take people to a variety of
places, without the annoyances of packing and unpacking,
at a reasonable price that includes accommodations,
meals and entertainment. "The mindset about cruising has
changed; the people's perception of cruising has
changed. The perception in the States has always been
that cruising is something that almost everyone can do but
that has not always been the case in the UK but that has
changed over the last six or seven years."
This transformation has drawn the attention of all the
major cruise lines and they are deploying ships to
Britain. However, P&O Cruises has been serving British
passengers for 170 years and as a result has an advantage
over the other lines in its understanding of the British
market. "We are very experienced with dealing with the
British. British identity, British values and expectations
- - although expectations are always shifting. Also, with
a lot of other cruise lines, it is hit hard everyday, bang,
bang, bang, very, very pushy. The British as passengers,
as people really, don't want that all the time. They like to
dip in and out of it - - enjoy it and step away from it;
have time to read a book or have a quiet meal. From my
experience of working with other cruise lines and I have,
it can be a bit of what Brits would see as OTT - - Over
The Top. So, you have to get that balance right and I
think we fit that niche nicely."
At the same time, the public is demanding more
from cruising than it did in the past. Thus, while P&O
has the advantage of tradition, it must also adapt and
innovate. It cannot "become blinkered to other ideas
because you can't afford to - - you have to keep an eye on
everything else. We are always endeavoring to give
more than people expect."
One of the ways that P&O has adapted to the changing
market has been to introduce two large 116,000 gross ton
ships into its fleet. Ventura was the first of these,
entering service in 2008.
Ventura, and her sister Azura, are based upon a design
that first debuted with the Grand Princess and which had
been developed by Princess Cruises for a decade prior to
Ventura's entry into service. During much of that time,
Princess was a subsidiary of P&O and thus P&O was
familiar with the design. More importantly, P&O was
aware that the design was popular with British cruisers.
"Certainly, when I was on Crown Princess, there were a
lot of British people - - 300 or 400 a cruise - - and they
enjoyed it," commented Captain Alistair Clark.
The primary attraction of these large ships is that they
enable P&O to offer guests a variety of choices within
one ship. "These ships have gone down exceptionally
well because they are dynamic, they are innovative, [the
passengers] have the freedom of choosing where they
want to eat, they have a variety of entertainment, and the
big ship feel. A lot of passengers do like that," explained
Mr. David Sheperd, Executive Purser.
"The choice factor comes in here. [We have] our Club
Dining but we also offer our Freedom Dining and we
have our specialty restaurants as well. There are three
shows whereas the traditional ships in the fleet have a
6:30 dinner and an 8:30 show and an 8:30 dinner and a
10:30 show. Those who go to dinner at 6:30 go to the
8:30 show, then dancing and then retiring. On here, they
have that option if they wish or they have an option to
choose where to dine every evening."
Mr. De Ste. Croix added: "A young family might want to
spend time with their youngsters so they could come to an
early show in the theater, 7 or 7:30 because we do the
three show format on here. Then they could go and drop
off the kids at the night nursery where they would be
looked after by the youth team while they go and enjoy an
adult evening and pick up the kids later on. So they get a
bit of quality time themselves. Some of the older
generation might want to come in for a 7:30 show and
then go to a classical concert and then go dancing. So
things are structured a little bit differently on this ship.
Because it is a large ship we are able to offer a very
broad range of events, entertainments and tastes. Its
Thus, there is no single Ventura cruise experience but
rather a variety of experiences that passengers can select
from to design a holiday that meets their own needs and
tastes. In short, Ventura is an embodiment of P&O's
aversion to the notion that in cruising "one size fits all".
This same aversion is reflected across the P&O fleet
with the different ships offering a variety of styles and
options for passengers to choose from while at the same
time maintaining an overall P&O flavor.
"We have our passengers who prefer the more
traditional, two dinners and two shows and smaller ship
feel -- the more intimate feel which Artemis is delivering
and which Adonia will deliver next year. Again, it
comes back to choice - - small ships and large ships."
Mr. Sheperd explained. (P&O also has four mid-sized
ships - - Arcadia, Oriana, Oceana, and Aurora).
The fleet is also divided so as to give people the choice
of a family holiday or of an adults-only experience. "We
recognize that some of our passenger profile will be
teachers for example. They want to get away and they
want to get away from the children, which is
understandable. And there are people who don't like to
have children around them. So we can offer that choice to
that particular profile. We have Arcadia and we have
Artemis, which are adults-only ships. We are very much
a family ship on Ventura."
Mr. De Ste. Croix added that with regard to the
entertainment, "the style is a little bit different. Certainly,
our main evening shows on here appeal to all age groups
and there are lots of very different styles of shows. On a
regular two week cruise or 21-night cruise, all the shows
are very different in style. When you go to the Artemis
and the Arcadia, they hold it more toward the tastes of
those who want adult-only cruising."
Another overlay is the level of formality onboard. Two
of the ships have a two-tier dress code with formal nights
and smart casual nights while the others have a
three-tiered structure that also includes semi-formal
nights. Again, it is matter of giving people choices.
While the British public is becoming more and more
receptive to the idea of cruising, the fact remains that
Britain is not located in the Caribbean and some people
who are new to cruising are apprehensive about the
weather. In particular, they worry about the notorious
Bay of Biscay, which ships must cross to get to the
Mediterranean or the Canaries. However, Captain Clark
pointed out that Ventura "handles it very well - - like any
big ship; we are all exactly the same. The number of
times in a season that is rough in Biscay are so few, it is
not a big factor."
Cruise ship interview - Ventura - P&O Cruises - Captain, Executive Purser, Cruise Director
Left to right: Captain Alistair Clark, Cruise Director Leon De Ste. Croix and
Executive Purser David Sheperd.