Britain's most popular cruise ship will be back in the U.K. at the end of March -- just over a year after H.M. The Queen presided over a glittering naming ceremony in Southampton. After six months in the Caribbean sunshine, Britannia will offer a series of short-break cruises to Europe and the British Isles, as well as longer journeys to the Mediterranean over the summer. The 3,647-passenger ship has been designed specifically for the U.K. cruiser in mind, and offers everything from Strictly Come Dancing theme cruises to 70 different British beers and 20 different British gins to the first-ever cookery club at sea - where you could be making pasta with Marco Pierre White or baking with Mary Berry!
Here are the 10 things we love most about Britain's favourite ship.
The Cookery Club
A first for P&O Cruises, The Cookery Club runs lessons at sea in a state-of-the-art kitchen for groups of up to 24 (more if you're taking a family class). During a three-hour session, you'll learn how to make delicious dishes from scratch - sometimes with guidance from one of the many celebrity chefs with which the line has a link-up, such as James Martin, Eric Lanlard and Marco Pierre White. All the prep and washing up is done for you, plus you get to eat your handmade creations at the end. And if you've cooked with a celeb chef, he or she sticks around to eat as well. Classes cost £45 per person for a three-hour class, or £100 per person if hosted by a celebrity chef.
Britannia's iconic triple-deck central meeting point is the focal point of the ship and a design triumph. Dominated by the stunning Star Burst chandelier sculpture, the atrium is equally beautiful by day and by night, with the sculpture subtly shifting colours throughout. It is the perfect setting for a pre- (or post-) dinner drink, taking high tea, a bite to eat from the Market Café, or just a spot of people watching. P & O Cruises has also wisely decided to move the main Reception to a corridor at the side, so you won't be disturbed by people demanding to see their onboard account.
Single Balcony Cabins
Britannia saw the introduction of the first single balcony cabins in the fleet - a total of 15, each equipped with a queen-sized bed and standard-size balcony and bathroom. It's a real recognition and mark of respect for the many solo travellers who choose to cruise with P&O Cruises and want a balcony but not pay a single supplement. There are a further 12 dedicated inside single cabins, and all are situated along one specially-designated corridor at the top of the ship.
The Limelight Club
Britannia has revived the popular tradition of the supper club, where you'll enjoy an intimate performance from a former star of stage or screen such as Jaki Graham, Celia Imrie, Madeleine Bell or Dean Andrews (of "Life on Mars" fame) while eating your dinner is a cosy atmosphere (seating is limited to 144 people). You'll also have the opportunity to meet the performer and get a selfie (or autograph) afterwards if they stop for a drink at the bar.
Created by the in-house P&O Cruise culinary team (rather than a celebrity chef), The Epicurean offers traditional British cuisine with a very modern twist. Combining molecular gastronomy with artistic flair, the food is not only exciting, it's also very tasty. The team has not fallen into the trap of style over substance. Starters might include salt and pepper oyster and jumbo prawn tempura that comes with an artist's paint tube, filled with sweet pimento sauce. Palate cleansers might be a sorbet disguised as a tube of lipstick. Chicken liver parfait comes to your table covered with a glass lid; nside it's full of wood smoke (or some sort of clever flavoured liquid nitrogen), which when opened with a flourish pours out onto your dinner table. You may also find Devonshire white crab, langoustine and caviar cocktail and a simple dish of tomatoes presented in an unexpected way. On selected afternoons, the restaurant also plays host to Master Pâtissier Eric Lanlard's outstanding Afternoon Tea.
The Glass House
You'll find The Glass House across the P&O Cruises fleet, but on Britannia, it's been taken to new heights. Situated high above the Atrium, it is the perfect spot to sample a wide range of superb - and eclectic - wines, chosen by wine guru Olly Smith. The Glass House offers a range of delicious tapas-style dishes starting at £5.25. Passengers can choose from a selection of 40 wines by the glass, hand-picked by Smith himself, or opt for a "Wine Flight' - a taster pack of three regional wines accompanied by tasting notes for just £9.95. Passengers can also enjoy wine tasting dinners and shore excursions to local vineyards led by Smith.
Created by Michelin-star celebrity chef Atul Kochhar, Sindhu has become a mainstay of the P&O Cruises' fleet. The one on Britannia is not only the biggest yet at 140 seats, it is also the first with a bar and Nashta (tapas-size lunch time bites). The cuisine is outstanding - by far the best Indian food you'll find at sea - with some stand-out dishes including jai tarang (pan-fried hand-dived scallops) karara kekda (soft shell crab) and Atul's signature plate of lamb rogan josh, chicken murgh and cod jai pari.
Situated right at the top and front of Britannia, the Crow's Nest offers stunning views from its floor-to-ceiling windows. The bar is a favourite spot for a pre-dinner cocktail, offering a combination of traditional with a modern twist - a theme on Britannia. Tapping in once again to our national obsession with provenance and locality, the Crow's Nest offers a range of 20 gins, all of them distilled in the UK. The Great British Gin Menu offers everything from well-known brands such as Hendricks and Gordon's to to lesser-known varieties such as Silent Pool, the Botanist Islay from Argyll and Tarquin's Dry Gin from Cornwall.
Brodie's is a P&O Cruises' firm favourite, and the one on Britannia is offers a vast number of British beers as part of the Great British Beer Menu - 70 in total, from 56 counties. Beers start at just £3.50 a bottle, and come from all over the country; choices include Punk IPA from Aberdeenshire, Banana Bread Beer from Bedfordshire and Jaipur IPA from Derbyshire. Brodie's also has a superb live band playing most evenings, karaoke and live sports.
The Crystal Room
The Crystal Room is Britannia's show lounge dedicated to Latin and ballroom dancing - as well as Strictly Come Dancing, one of P&O Cruises' long-term partnerships. You can't help but be drawn to the sight of the non-pros leaping up to the dance floor when the live band strikes up a familiar tune. Look around and you'll also spot a number of those spangly costumes so favoured by the Strictly pros, behind glass cases around the room. The Crystal Room will play host to all four of the Strictly-themed cruises this year.