Daniel Roche, aged 14, star of BBC Outnumbered, tells us all about his family cruise with P&O on Ventura with his dad William, his mum Judy and his fellow teen friend James Perks, 13, where they sailed to Montenegro, Corfu, Rome, Corsica, Genoa, Florence, Naples, Dubrovnik, starting and ending in Venice.
‘This is literal hell,’ thought Perks and I as we stood in what was perhaps the seventh or eighth queue that day, and by far the longest. We were all thinking the same thing: when were we going to get to our room? Why were we still queuing? Would this cruise even be good, seeing as my father hates ships and my mum gets awful seasickness, and none of us had even ever been on one before? But now, weeks afterwards, I thank whatever strain of uncharacteristic patience that kept me there for doing exactly that, there on that long, painful first day, because it would be the only bad day in two fantastic weeks of exploration, new-found friendship and pure relaxation.
After flying to Venice in the early hours of Wednesday morning, my parents, my friend James (Perks) and I didn’t really know what to expect. We had two weeks of this foreign lifestyle, stuck between days of lying, sunbathing and swimming around the Ventura and other days of exploring as much of one of the many destinations as you could within the hours provided. It seemed almost too good to be true, which is why we were sceptical of whether or not we would actually enjoy this unique experience.
So, eventually, we boarded the ship after repeated queuing with the somewhat optimistic ideology that was ‘wherever there is something worth seeing, there will be hundreds of others seeing it with you.’ Now, I’m proud of that quickly thought-up phrase, for it was probably what saved dad from literally breaking down in all of the crowds, and was definitely one of the few times that a phrase like that has actually proved itself truthful to us.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the absolute contrast between reactions to the suite upon entering. Whereas I was running round like a puppy, exploring everything and absolutely failing to get over the sheer scale of what was to be our extremely luxurious home for the next fortnight, Perks was seemingly underwhelmed. When I had calmed down a bit, I found him carefully building a tower of milks by the TV; this would soon seem oddly relevant due to the gallons of coffee and tea being made at ungodly hours in the buffet on nights to come.
Then it hit me, he was used to this; Perks, whilst on holiday, would go for the best hotels and restaurants around, the luxury of this room didn’t really shock him. By no means did this mean he didn’t appreciate it and come to love it as I did, but it showed how nice the rooms must have been if they had felt so much like 5 star hotel suites that Perks, quite an active character, didn’t feel the need to jump around in joy.
Exploring was, surprisingly enough, as I’d expected. We had nine destinations: Kotor in Montenegro, Corfu in Greece, Rome in Italy, Ajaccio in Corsica, Genoa in Italy, Florence in Italy, Naples in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia and finally back to Venice in Italy, where we’d disembark. I’d assumed from early on that, to get everything out of the scenic, critically acclaimed places we’d be exploring in the small amount of time provided, the creation of a rigid and strict routine was in order so that we didn’t miss out on anything.
In every single place we went to, Perks and I made sure that we visited at least one significant local building - the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the forts in Kotor & Corfu and the hikes that came with them. That was just the start of it. We bought an item of clothing as well as a small souvenir to do with every place we went. As you can expect, my luggage weighed a lot more at the end of the trip than at the beginning of it.
To top it all off, what was perhaps the best part of going to all these new places was the last requirement of our ‘days-out’ was the traditional and local meal that we would photograph, devour and that we will never forget. Shark medallions in Kotor, a platter of Tuscan meats in Florence, a restaurant-special pizza in the home of pizza that is Naples, they all contribute to the amazing experience that it was briefly seeing these cities.
The only times I was ever peeved by these days out was when I missed out on an element of my routine in certain areas, or when I failed to get any sleep on coaches due to the incessant talking of the guides, that I couldn’t even listen to because their English wasn’t fantastic. However, I can’t actually criticise the guides for they all did their jobs exceptionally well and the guide who took us round Pompeii was so enthusiastic and helpful about this topic that I genuinely felt bad that something so important and interesting to him was becoming a tourist trap.
Thinking back on it now, most of the memories of the cruise don’t actually come from the ship itself. Memories on the cruise don’t even really have to be remembered seeing as I’ve contacted every single one of my newfound friends on one social networking site or another, and we discuss what happened on it regularly. In five years I’ll think of when I visited Kotor and climbed a mountain-side fort with Perks, watched some mountain goats fight, ate shark for the first time and reminisce of how he bought that ridiculously flashy t shirt for a joke with a giant holographic eagle flying across Montenegro in capitals, and it won’t be Montenegro I remember but it will be the fun I had on the fortnight I spent living on the Ventura.
I worked out whilst walking round Florence that this strange feeling I was getting about memorable events was because I wasn’t used to this. My holidays are the kind where we rent out a flat or house for a week and really get to know the place we’re in. This was a different experience, one that neither Perks nor I were used to. I realised quite quickly that if you were looking for pure exploration of a different place or different culture, the Ventura, and I’m guessing cruises on the whole, weren’t a good way of doing it. Yes, I have memories that I will cherish for life from these places, and yes, I left them feeling that I’d explored them enough, but in reality I had barely scratched the surface of these wonderful and bustling cities.
The ship was entirely different. Perks and I, being the ever so slightly antisocial individuals we are, got into our room not expecting to use any of the kid’s facilities. We thought we’d just explore the ship after dark; keep fit in the gym, go night-swimming once or twice and just hang out, like we did back in London.
But that’s the main thing: the ship isn’t like London; it’s its own little world. The only reason we actually ever entered the kids club was because, after exploring every inch of the ship there was to explore, Perks was determined to see inside the dubious Reef. Within minutes of peering round the door, we were flooded from behind by over-enthusiastic youth workers and corralled in due to pure social awkwardness. Now Perks’ first reaction was to turn to me and whisper, “Let’s bolt,” and I won’t lie, I was willing to go with him. That was, until, one of the older people there called us over and invited us to play UNO.
It turns out the ship had a good way, and also sad way of doing things. Because of the possibility of going on the cruise for one or two weeks, when we had arrived there were people on their second week as well as people who had only just got on, and were staying for either one or two. This meant that for the awkward, not entirely eager people like us we had people who had already been on for a week and were used to this bizarre situation where we forced together. Age and gender barriers disappeared, within two weeks I’d met some people I will genuinely miss and probably the nicest people I’ve ever encountered before. What one of the particularly large and friendly Welsh Morris family, all of which had been on around five or six cruises before, said explains it well, “You can’t do it without the kid’s club. If you don’t, you won’t enjoy the cruise.’
It’s as simple as that: the kids club made the cruise fun for all of the family. Sure, with all the different pools and gyms and clubs and restaurants and lounges and shops and everything else you could imagine, it was definitely fun to an extent for children and parents. But the kid’s club really did make it as enjoyable as being in London is.
Unfortunately, this had a sad side to it. One whole week of late nights of coffee and 3am buffet in, we were faced with the sudden and heart-wrenching dilemma of having to say goodbye to these varied and amazing characters we’d spent the last week with. We had to say goodbye to the Morris family, and those with cruise romances had to end their romances, and those who led solitary lives back home had to say goodbye to being social. We celebrated this with an all-nighter, which went from moshing to house music in the Havana nightclub, to endless tea and coffee in the buffet, to watching the sunrise over the city of Genoa to ending it over a fresh out of the oven breakfast of bacon and sausages.
Without realising it, we found ourselves taking their place in a way when the new kids came in; we were the new introducers, the glue that held all the people together until they became genuine friends. And it continued, we took down their names on social networking like we had with the people before, we spent hours upon hours with them in the 24 hour buffet and we became strangely close to them within such a short space of time. It really is the weirdest part of the cruise: the fact that within such a short space of time I became so close to these people, closer than I am to most of the people I’ve known for three years in my school.
Whereas we might not have spent all of our time in the kid’s club, it was always good that it was present. After sleeping through the afternoon of a day at sea, it was where we’d look for people, as they would look for us. It was open until midnight, which was longer than enough seeing as the much beloved buffet and Havana were open later than that and it felt better knowing that it was there. With table-tennis and table-football always on offer, as well as FIFA and card games, no matter who you were it hard something to entertain you. Without it, we wouldn’t have met these wonderful people and wouldn’t have enjoyed the holiday anywhere near as much.
As for the facilities on the ship other than this, there was but one disappointment: the gym. Every single restaurant, swimming pool, bar, lounge and shop lived up to expectations. Prices were a tad high, but that was expected seeing as it was at a high standard, but service was endlessly friendly and the facilities were all hygienic and enjoyable. The only facility that did irritate me was the gym, as I am heavily into rugby, and got kicked out of the gym for being too young and without adult supervision. I felt it wasn’t necessary for me to need my dad present just to run on a treadmill for half an hour, so it stayed with me.
By the end of the fortnight of fun that was the cruise, I genuinely didn’t want to go home. With previous holidays, I’ve been unhappy but acceptant about the end; with the Ventura I wasn’t. I was angry, sad, stubborn and really disgruntled; I did not want to go back home. With all of the friends we’d made, all of the midnight tea, coffee and buffet, all of the fascinating cities and the altogether atmosphere of the ship, we didn’t want to leave. Now, weeks afterwards, I still understand that mentality. Sure, I’m still talking to them on social networking and I still have the memories and the souvenirs and the photos, but I am not happy that this cruise is over, and I think that says something in itself about the altogether quality of the Ventura.
A 7-night Fly-Med cruise on Ventura costs £849 per adult and £509 per child.
Departing August 27, 2014, the price includes flights from selected UK airports, inside cabin (upper pullman beds in use), all meals, afternoon tea and entertainment. Ports of call are Venice, Kotor, Corfu, Rome, Ajaccio and Genoa.
More info: PO Cruises