PRIOR to setting foot on the Ventura, my seafaring days were made up of extremely rocky ferry crossings across the Irish Sea and a couple of overnight trips from Hull to Holland.
Hardly glamorous and did little to encourage my wariness that a cruise ship holiday was as great as everyone says they are.
Over the last few years, I’ve been on a quest to share my love of travel with my twin sons Finlay and Joseph so we have used planes, trains, buses and cars to venture across the US and Europe.
Fab times but undoubtedly tiring for me in the planning and execution of our road trips.
Our 2015 two-week American adventure brought me up short, as half way through I was rung by a consultant to say that a lump at the base of my neck was thyroid cancer, not to worry as it was treatable but he wanted to book surgery dates.
Needless to say, I returned home bone-tired and fretful.
Undergoing surgery on 6 September 2016, I vowed to myself that in 12 months’ time, I would be on a ship balcony toasting goodbye to the year with a glass of bubbly.
I was, thankfully, given the all clear in December. Meanwhile my sons passed their driving tests, exams and we celebrated them reaching 18. It’s fair to say, it was a roller coaster year.
And so, with weeks to go before Joseph started university and his brother completed his final college year, new horizons beckoned for us as family.
My twins face the longest time apart so I wanted a holiday that would be something special for us all.
But did the two week P&O cruise around the western Mediteranean on the mammoth beast that is Ventura do that? Read on.
As we embarked, I have to admit to nerves on several fronts - would I cope with life at sea, would my sons enjoy it, would we feel hemmed in?
A cruise is a totally different experience to a land holiday and for first timers, it takes a couple of days to acclimatise being in an ocean-going bubble.
One main difference is that you are in a cash-free culture. All food is free on the boat but excursions, drinks, beauty treatments, certain restaurants and activities costs extra and it’s all added to your bank card. You can keep a tally of it via the TV in your room but I found it quite liberating not to have to carry cash about or worry if I had enough currency to hand.
Our two week trip left Southampton and sailed to Cadiz, Barcelona, Cannes, Rome, Sardinia and Gibraltar.
My cabin was spacious and highly comfortable with its own balcony. I came to love that private haven - breakfasting on it, spending hours reading or watching the ocean go by as my tired mind recharged. Tea, wine, water were all enjoyed looking out on to the glistening Med.
At night, the door would be left fully open as I was lulled to sleep by the soothing sound of the ocean - I have never slept as well.
The two days it took to reach Cadiz allowed us to catch up on sleep, explore the 19-deck ship and learn the ropes of daily life. Though my legs were wobbly in the early days, the sea bands worked brilliantly - they’re a must for any cruiser.
One of the best things about the holiday was choosing not to have wifi on sea days.
For two days at the beginning and end of the holiday, we put away our phones.
The boys were busy with their new pals - another set of 18-year-old twins - taking part in the activities.
To my surprise, ballroom dancing proved a hit with Joseph, while juggling and line dancing were tried by Finlay.
For me, it was so peaceful to be without social media or outside contact as I sat on my beloved balcony and realised a cruise can be as busy or quiet as you want.
I’d walk most days around deck six and seven for 30 minutes to stave off extra pounds from the fabulous food.
The warm air, lapping waves, stunning sunsets and occasional spotting of leaping dolphins and whales made it one of the loveliest routes I’ve done.
The ship’s excursions offered great value for money - guided tours, tickets arranged, it’s all done for you. All you have to do is step off the ship and onto a coach.
Having previously spent hours poring over timetables, ticket prices and routes, to have someone do it for me was great. One trip I fancied was full so try to get at least a couple pre-booked before boarding.
We went into Barcelona and had a guided tour of the majestic Sagrada Familia Church.
In the 1880s, Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí took over the design and construction of a new church for the city.
It remains unfinished to this day yet is still recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seeing daylight stream in through the different coloured stained glass windows, casting breathtaking rainbow shadows amid the inner sanctum brought tears to my eyes. Wherever you looked, there was some architectural quirk.
For me, this was the highlight of our shore days and having the day there made me decide to return for a weekend - that’s the beauty of the cruise stop offs, they’re like a taster menu.
It had to be pizza for lunch when we docked at Naples, the birth city of the classic dish.
We spent the morning meandering through the narrow busy streets of the old town, opting to eat at a well-known pizzeria. Five minutes past midday, it was packed solid.
The pizza was OK, not world shattering but we tucked in.
In the afternoon, we took a ship excursion to Pompeii - £50 each for a coach there and back, tickets and an expert guide was brilliant value.
I was shocked when he told us the Romans invented cats eyes, using pieces of white marble in between the dark stones on roads. Halifax’s Percy Shaw obviously refined them for modern day use.
Cannes was pretty but expensive - £20 for a chicken salad in a local café. We enjoyed the little white train tours from the port front.
At ten Euro and 50 minutes long, the recorded guide is packed with information on the town that is a favourite with Hollywood A listers and the mega rich.
My least favourite stop was Gibraltar, having been there years ago I was not particularly impressed then but the boys wanted to see the monkeys and the rock. Use your sterling though as our £26 breakfast would have set me back 44 Euro if using them.
I loved leaving the ports, my sons went to the sail away parties by the pools where there were live acts, dancing and singing. I’d prefer to stay in my haven and sip a chilled wine as the world gracefully glided by.
Worry that my sons would be bored proved fruitless as they went along to the 18 - 25 year social get together held the night after departure and palled up with a few others.
From then on, they’d meet every night at 10pm to tackle different quizzes, see acts, take part in karaoke and enjoy the night club.
Over 150 chefs dish up 16,000 meals a day around the clock. My two were highly impressed that after a night clubbing, they could go to a buffet up to 2am and enjoy an array of fresh food - instead of the usual toast or rice pudding at home!
We did not have a bad meal. We chose Freedom Dining, which meant we could eat at any time to suit us. Set dining is cheaper.
Most nights we ate on our own - giving me precious time with my sons, savouring time together.
The four formal dining nights was a new experience for us. Dressing up to the nines to eat was something different - but again we threw ourselves into cruise culture and I loved seeing my sons suited and booted.
Passengers really glam up - ball gowns, sparkly outfits, hair pinned up - but for many this is all part of the holiday, switching off from their everyday life.
We also opted to pay extra to eat at Ventura’s three Select Dining establishments - my favourite was The Epicurean.
And so a year to the day of my operation, I opened a bottle of bubbly and on my balcony, my handsome sons and I toasted ourselves and our futures. I felt blessed.
We then had a fabulous evening meal at the Epicurean - eating steak, wild boar and duck against the backdrop of the ocean as the ship powered on.
We also went there for afternoon tea as, created by one of the world’s best patissiers, Eric Lanlard, the savoury sandwiches were lovely while the desserts were as beautiful to eat as to look at.
Sindhu, the first restaurant at sea from Atul Kochhar - the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star - was top class in service and food. The Glass House was created in partnership with wine expert Ollie Smith.
The food was good but the slow service was slightly disappointing while the waiter had little knowledge of wines and I was surprised when he said they did not have Chardonnay available.
A total crew of 1,100 tend to 3,000 passengers. Many a luxury hotel and eaterie could learn from the first class standard of food, service, cleanliness and smooth running of what is akin to a small town at sea.
Entertainment was top class - comedian Roy Walker’s son, Mark, was popular though I did think his worn jeans and trainers didn’t quite fit with the glammed up audience.
We loved singers Josh Adams and quartet The Jack Pack.One act was Bernie Flint - those with long memories will know him as Opportunity Knocks longest running winner of 12 weeks. Obviously he would appeal to folk of a certain age but Finlay loved his act. It was gentle but wry humour.
I realised I had found my sea legs when the captain announced we could not dock in Sardinia due to 65mph winds. But in the best British tradition, we carried on cruising and enjoying ourselves.
As we returned to the UK, I was sad our bubble had to burst - we agreed it had been one of the best holidays we’ve had and would go on another cruise for sure.
Each day brought a new horizon - and so it is now for my sons. My aim to take us all on an unforgettable holiday was achieved. I’d kept my promise.
Planning a visit?
Sheron Boyle and her sons enjoyed a holiday with P&O Cruises, who are offering a 13 night cruise on Ventura (N824) from £1,329 per person for a inside cabin. Departing Sept 2, 2018 the price includes kids' clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board. Leaving from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Cagliari and Gibraltar.
For more information click here.