When cruise lines advertise their cruises it’s most likely that you’ll see the newest and most exciting cruise ships. The majority of cruise ships owned by the major cruise lines are over 10 years old, with many being over 20 years old.
I recently took a cruise on a brand new mega cruise ship, her name is Iona and she is massive, she’s over 4x the size of the Titanic and can hold well over 5000 guests.
What I wanted to know after disembarking my cruise on Iona was did I enjoy this cruise because of the cruise line or because of the exciting new ship, if I cruised on an older smaller ship from the same cruise line, would I enjoy it as much or would I feel ripped off that the older ship didn’t have everything that the larger ship did.
There were actually differences between the two that I had never considered, such as differences in the way the formal night dress codes were enforced, but more about that later.
To find out how the ships compare I booked a cruise P&O’s Ventura, she was built back in 2007 and is just over half the size of Iona in terms of gross tonnage.
I had visions of the ship falling apart, things leaking and being broken. I had been on other cruises on ships of a similar age where there would be buckets in the corridors to catch leaks and you’d often find things frayed or cracking.
I’ve found that it’s a lot more about how well a cruise ship has been looked after rather than her actual age, but I didn’t know how well Ventura had been looked after.
I had heard that the cabins onboard Ventura were, to put it nicely, ‘dated’ and I didn’t know if I would enjoy the cruise as much with less choice of restaurants and entertainment.
P&O’s Iona and Ventura Have Very Different Atriums
When I boarded P&O’s newest ship Iona there was an immediate wow factor. The central atrium area was one of the first places we visited and it is split over multiple levels with glass walls on both sides.
It very much felt like a fancy hotel and you could tell that everything onboard was new.
I was worried that walking on Ventura wouldn’t have this same wow factor.
In some ways, the wow factor was definitely there, but comparing the atriums of Iona and Ventura you can see the differences.
P&O’s Ventura has a very classic atrium design, you’ll find this style of atrium with the glass elevators on a lot of the older Princess ships as well as those owned by P&O.
Personally, I really liked this design and I loved how they would have live music here every day.
I prefer the design style of Iona’s atrium but I know that many people have described it as being like an airport or like a shopping centre.
The wood and colours in Ventura’s atrium is something that dates to the ship to the late 2000s.
There were certain lounges onboard where you’d find chairs that I felt dated the ship but we very rarely found anything that was actually broken or damaged.
P&O’s Ventura had a big refit in 2018 and this is probably why. The actual fittings and furnishings on Ventura probably aren’t that much older than Ionas.
Iona and Ventura’s Decor Differs
When it comes to larger pieces like this tree in the glasshouse though, they have been there for years. I quite like it, it’s something a little different, but I do think it gives away the ship’s age.
I Loved My Cabin Onboard Iona
One of my favourite things about cruising on Iona was the amazing inside cabin we had, it was small but perhaps one of my favourite cruise ship cabins.
To learn more about the cabin, check out this post: P&O Iona Inside Cabin Photo Review – Space, Bathroom, Cleanliness and More.
I loved the decor, it was incredibly well designed, bright and airy and the bathroom although small was great.
The showerful was powerful and I know lots of people will be pleased to hear that there was a shower door instead of a shower curtain.
I knew that my cabin on Ventura wouldn’t have the same design or look as new as the cabins on Iona. Cruise ship cabins are one of the areas of cruise ships that seem to date quite fast, I’m not sure if it’s because of the number of cabins but it isn’t easy for a cruise line to just update 1500 cabins.
The main priorities for me when it comes to cruise ship cabins are, is it clean, is there enough storage and will I have a good nights sleep here?
I’m happy to report that I had some really good sleeps on this cruise.
Ventura’s Cabin Was Clean and Comfortable
The design of Ventura’s cabins definitely is dated and the bathroom is showing signs of age. I’m not too sure why but the shower was really quite low down, I’m only 5’6 so it wasn’t a problem for me, but anybody 6ft or taller would have to kneel down to use the shower.
I know that people were shorter in the olden days, but I don’t think 2007 counts!
On Large Ships Most of The Extra Space is Cabins
When it comes to cabins, one of the biggest differences between smaller and bigger cruise ships is the number of cabins.
It isn’t uncommon to see a larger cruise ship that has basically the same facilities as the smaller one, but with an extra few decks of cabins in the middle.
Ventura has 6 and a half decks of cabins and Iona has closer to 9 and a half.
That does mean a lot more stairs to walk up but I don’t mind that.
Beyond the physical differences on the ship, I was unsure if I could enjoy the actual cruise as much on Ventura. There were so many restaurant and entertainment options on my Iona cruise that I worried that it would be boring.
Was The Entertainment Different?
Both cruise ships have big theatres and lots of live music and I didn’t notice a big difference in terms of which activities were offered, there were, of course, more choices on the bigger ship.
Iona has things like a cinema and splash park that Ventura doesn’t have.
In addition to the theatre, Iona has another performance space in the central dome, this meant that sometimes we would go to the theatre shows and sometimes to the shows in the dome.
It felt as though the shows were repeated more often on Iona, but I suppose that makes sense for the number of passengers on board.
Despite both ships being at reduced capacity Iona definitely did feel busier than Ventura. We would often have to stand to watch the dome shows and some venues we never managed to get into during our cruise.
The App Had to be Used on Both Cruise Lines
When I was on both cruises we had to use the cruise lines app to book theatre shows.
You might find that on some cruise lines certain apps or pieces of tech and only available on newer ships as they’re rolling it out, but all of P&O’s ships now use the same App.
During the cruise shutdown of 2020 Princess cruises took the opportunity to fit all of their ships with their medallion technology and many other cruise lines used it as a time to catch up all of their cruise ships to the same standard as the newer ones.
The Smaller Size Was Great in Some Ways
One big benefit of cruising on the smaller ship compared to the larger one was how much easier it was to walk around the ship and to just pop back to your cabin if you forgot something.
On Iona we were right at the end of the ship and I didn’t time it but I’m sure if I was at the other end and wanted to pop back to my cabin I’d be gone for 10-15 minutes, on Ventura we never had that problem which was nice.
It wasn’t quite the same as being on a river cruise ship where you’re only ever a few metres from your cabin, but it was nice to be able to wander around the ship without too much trouble.
If you are somebody with mobility issues, or who doesn’t want to walk up 10 flights of stairs smaller ships can be a really good choice.
Personally, the longer walks work well for me to burn off some of the cookies I’ve eaten in the buffet.
The Formal Nights and Dress Codes Varied
P&O are an interesting cruise line in the way that they do formal nights and dress codes.
Most cruise lines will have the same rules across the entire fleet but things were different on both of our cruises.
I’m not a big fan of enforced formal nights on most cruises so I liked the way that Iona had one ‘formal’ night per week and as far as I can remember it was only enforced in the main dining rooms.
On Ventura we had 3 formal nights on our 12-night cruise and the dress code also applied to a couple of other lounges and areas onboard.
This isn’t a problem lots of people love the formal nights and dress codes, but it just goes to show that just because you’ve enjoyed a cruise on one cruise ship, you can’t necessarily assume that you’ll like a cruise on all cruise ships in the fleet.
One thing that I can’t compare between the two though is the way that the ships handle bad weather. Some people say that smaller ships handle it better, some say that larger does, to be honest, I don’t really know.
On our Iona cruise, we had no problems with the weather at all, but our Ventura cruise was the roughest cruise that I’ve ever been on. To find out how we dealt with it, and why I wouldn’t take this cruise again, check out this video next:
Taking a Cruise: Recommendations and Resources
Book a Cruise
Get Travel Insurance
Shop Cruise Gifts and Merchandise
Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide
Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.