As Dame Helen Mirren cracked a bottle of champagne across the bows of the £300million cruise ship Ventura, it appeared that everything was going to be plain-sailing for her maiden voyage. As she set sail from Southampton, a band played on the quay and corks popped amid a spectacular fireworks party. But disgruntled passengers, who had booked their luxury cabins a year in advance just for the prestige of being on the superliner's first trip, are seeking compensation after discovering it was not the maiden voyage after all. The gleaming ship, with 15 passenger decks, had been delivered early by its Italian builders to P&O, which had then quickly slipped in a two-night 'party cruise' to Zeebrugge. Although it cost from only £350 – compared with the £1,500 starting price of the official first cruise to the Mediterranean – aficionados say the fact that passengers paid for the Zeebrugge trip turned that into the maiden voyage. "We paid a premium to be on the maiden voyage," said passenger Robin Oliver, 58, who says he will take P&O to court if he does not get compensation. "This would have been my third maiden voyage but now it has been ruined for me. It is just pure greed on the part of P&O, who wanted to make some extra cash." Mr Oliver and his wife Christine, from Liphook, Hampshire, were also angry that chef Marco Pierre White, who has a restaurant on board, was on the ship for the party cruise but not the Mediterranean trip last month.
P&Os new £300 million liner VenturaHertfordshire property developer Ronnie Duis, 75, who had paid £4,000 for the cruise, said: "My wife Catherine and I do a lot of cruises and this was supposed to be our first maiden voyage. "It was just the thought of going on a virgin ship that appealed to us. We wanted to use facilities that had not been used before and sleep in beds that had not been slept in. "I don't care what P&O say, as far I'm concerned it is misrepresentation. I shall be standing beside Mr Oliver when he goes to court." A spokesman for P&O said: "Technically and in every respect the Mediterranean cruise was the maiden voyage because the maiden trip is the first trip after the naming ceremony. We made every effort to make this a truly memorable holiday for our passengers."