This two week cruise to the Med was our second P and O cruise - the first having been to Norway on the Aurora in May. We had read a few negatives reviews of Britannia, but were looking forward to experiencing this new ship, and went with ... Read More
This two week cruise to the Med was our second P and O cruise - the first having been to Norway on the Aurora in May. We had read a few negatives reviews of Britannia, but were looking forward to experiencing this new ship, and went with an open mind.
We were kept in the terminal long after our allocated time. We arrived at 2.45 for a 3pm embarcation, and it was 3.50 before we were even called forward to the queue for the reception desk to receive our cards. The terminal was chaotic and crowded, and it was almost impossible to see any vacant seats, or even where the queue started, and our enquiry about this met with a very scathing response from the membert of staff issuing the coloured queue cards. Fortunately, the lady at the reception desk itself was warm, friendly and really made us feel like she wanted us to have a good time! Once on board, we discovered why some people had mentioned the lack of a midships stairway - having decided to skip the queue for the lift, we discovered that we had to walk to the rear of the ship to find a staircase, then walk back along the right deck to our midships cabin.
Cabin (Port side, midships):
The initial impression was excellent. Attractive decor, huge tv, nice balcony, good bathroom with one of the best showers we have experienced, with a glass screen and door. However, we later discovered a build-up of scum and dust in the nooks and crannies of the bathroom, so appeared to be sharing the dirt of previous cruisers. Disappointing, on a new ship.
Considering their were 3,600 passengers on board, the muster was handled fairly well (following directions from the staff, we discovered that there IS a midship stairway but it was accessible only by the crew under normal conditions!) and we were soon up on deck for the sailaway party. It was a bit grey and cold in Southampton, so not a huge turnout, but the Entertainment Manager, Tracy Clegg, introduced her team, who were all very enthusiastic despite the weather.
Britannia, as we expected is very modern and chic, but a bit bland compared to the older, traditional cruise ships we have experienced, like the Aurora and the Emerald Princess. Although the public rooms are beautifully furnished, it did have the feel of a hotel rather than a cruise ship. The Atrium is magnificent in size, but if it were not for the sculpture hanging from the ceiling, we could almost have been sitting in the shopping mall we had visited in Southampton, looking up at the next level of shops! There is an excellent selection of bars and sitting areas, and a superb theatre.
The two things that bugged us were the lack of a traditional wrap-around Promenade deck (there is a small walking track on the top deck, but you have to go round it 7 times to walk a mile) and that missing staircase. Before the cruise, I thought I was on the side of the reviewers who said "it's a small thing - get a life, you're on holiday, just queue for the lift!" However, there are times when the lifts ARE very busy, and it is quicker to walk, but it meant walking to either end of the ship to get to a staircase, and it does become a nuisance when you are in a midships cabin.
Entertainment and activities:
The resident theatre group were excellent performers, and the shows (rather than being the same as on the other P and O ships) were conceived to make the most of the technical facilities available on this new stage (including having the height to fly in full-size back cloths - impressive, on a ship!). Purely a personal, subjective, view, but I found the LED wall on the stage a little overpowering when the bright colours and patterns made it difficult to see the performers! As a hearing aid user, for me the sound balance was appalling – the driving thump of the drums and bass guitar made it impossible to hear the singers much of the time.
Guest performers were very good and varied - and we went to the theatre on most nights. We also went to the Limelight club when Madeleine Bell was performing - great food and a great experience, and well worth the additional premium. Madeleine Bell has a great rapport with her audience, but we felt that a couple of her song choices were self-indulgent, tuneless and unsuitable for the situation. There were musicians and bands in the various bars, and they all seemed to be very popular. There is a big emphasis on celebrity chefs, and on this cruise we had James Martin, Antonio Carluccio and Marco Pierre White on board.
The Entertainment Manager and her team were brilliant, and led a range of activities throughout the cruise, as well as providing introductions and thanks for the performers. They provided the most energetic sailaway parties we have yet seen!
Daytime activities seemed to be really varied, although we didn't actually attend any except port talks, the interview sessions with the celebrities, and the guest speaker Martin Woodward, who was incredibly interesting.
The Captain, David Pembridge, was always entertaining in his announcements - even when there was an electrical problem which lost power to many cabins on the second day. The cabin stewars kept things superficially clean, and we felt his friendliness was a bit forced, unlike previous experiences. Bar and waiting staff were generally very attentive and friendly, except for a few in the MDR. The public areas were kept spotless by the hard-working cleaning staff. (They were, however, given extra work by some passengers who seem to think it acceptable to drop litter anywhere they choose!!) We did find that a few of the shop and sales staff (and some of the theatre company) tended to look down their noses at passengers, and were very 'clique-y' and aloof - seeming to be more concerned with their own appearance than with being friendly or helpful.
The ports of call were good and varied, although we had to miss Naples because the wind made it too dangerous to use the tenders, but instead we were able to visit Toulon, by berthing in La Seyne sur Mer, which was a delightful town for a stroll round. The other ports were Valencia, Barcelona, Civitavecchia, Ajaccio, Alicante and Gibraltar. Although the weather was not great overall, it did not spoil our enjoyment of the holiday, and we had a couple of really hot sunny days in port. Because we didn't want to visit Rome, we took an excursion from Civitavecchia to Tuscania, an old walled town out in the countryside, stopping on the way back at a restaurant for a taster lunch of cheeses, hams, olives, and wines. This was a superb excursion, and for us disproved the theory that cruise-line excursions are bad value for money. We thought it was excellent value. We did further excursions in Ajaccio and Gibraltar, which were also good, although Gibraltar was a complete washout - the torrential rain meant that everyone who went ashore had to have a complete change of clothing on return to the ship, so big queues for the driers in the laundry!
We were allocated the Peninsular restaurant for Freedom dining for dinner. (Here we felt the decor was very drab for a new ship!) Preferring a table for two, we rarely had to wait more than five minutes to be paged when a table was ready. Menus were reasonably varied, although on a couple of nights we struggled to find something that appealed to us. The quality of the food was very good, but the standard of service varied greatly from excellent to very slow and casual, depending on the area of the restaurant in which we were seated. When there was nothing we fancied on the menu, we ate in alternative restaurants. Sindhu was superb - decor, service and wonderful food. Definitely worth the pricey additional premium! We ate in the Beach House (part of the Buffet area) on three evenings, and had superb food and service each time. (There is also the Epicurean retaurant, which was beautifully decorated, but we didn't try it as the menu had no appeal.)
We had breakfast and lunch in the Horizon Buffet, and couldn't fault the selection or quality of the food on offer. Although busy at peak times we always managed to find a table or sat (under cover) out on the Lido deck. There are also a number of outlets around the Lido deck offering packaged items for lunch, plus an ice cream counter, which we felt was quite expensive.
We were out of the cabin by 7.50, and our allocated disembarcation time was 10.30. We sat intially on the Lido deck, with a coffee, but as it was cold we then went to our proscribed waiting area, the Live lounge. We were called at 10.20, and off the ship very quickly to pick up our bags, and we were soon in a taxi back to the Holiday Inn (which was excellent, by the way!) to collect our car.
Overall, a really enjoyable cruise in a a very stylish modern ship. However (like many of our fellow passengers, we discovered) we prefer a more traditionally-styled cruise ship, and will be back to booking the older ships in future. We are in our earloy 60s, and it seemed to us that P and O are chasing potential younger cruisers with the Britannia - they may well succeed. Read Less