Last year I had the pleasure of going on my first ever cruise. This was on P&O Britannia for two weeks sailing around the Mediterranean to and from Southampton. The ports of call were Cadiz, Barcelona, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Cartagena and St. Peter Port in Guernsey. We were originally meant to go to Gibraltar instead of Guernsey but a few months before the cruise this got cancelled and changed to Guernsey by P&O. We were also meant to go to Monte Carlo after Barcelona but due to poor weather conditions we couldn't dock there and it would have been unsafe for the tenders. As compensation we stayed overnight in Barcelona and were allowed to go out in to Barcelona for the evening if we wished (we didn't).
Before I give my review I will give a brief background into who I went with and the reason why. I went with my Husband, my Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law. This cruise was booked by my in-laws for my Husband's 30th Birthday. Both my Husband and myself were 30 last year and my in-laws paid for my Husband for his Birthday and my Husband paid for me for my Birthday. As I previously said this was my first cruise, I didn't really know what to expect. My Husband did a couple of cruises as a child/teenager but nothing else since then, but my in-laws are frequent cruisers and love it.
I don't wish to upset people by my next comment, but I wouldn't have particularly chosen to do a cruise if it hadn't have been booked for me. My in-laws went on the Maiden Voyage for Britannia and booked this cruise whilst they were on board. This is not me being ungrateful, quite the opposite, I couldn't be more grateful, but cruising didn't majorly appeal to me. However, I got excited and started planning things for the cruise. For Christmas 2015 I made up a cruise hamper for my in-laws for their Christmas present, which consisted of essentials needed for a cruise such as hand gel, alarm clock, extension cable, note pad, pens, highlighters, travel water bottles, laundry bag, emergency ponchos, and so much more, and draped a Union Jack flag inside it to represent Britannia. I also made up gift bags for the day we left for Southampton (we stayed overnight in a Holiday Inn in Southampton the night before the cruise as my Husband has family who live in Southampton so went to visit them as well), and that consisted of things such as sweets, a bottle of water, tissues, hand gel, a keyring made up about the cruise, and a t-shirt that I had made up for each of us on Vistaprint to wear when embarking on the ship (everyone actually wore them too and we had good comments too, which was good). It was booked 16 months beforehand, and about 2-3 months before the cruise I started to get nervous. I worried more about being ill and getting sickness. I was still excited don't get me wrong but was nervous as well, and I believe the nerves took over somewhat.
Anyway, back to the cruise. We arrived in Southampton the day before and checked in to the Holiday Inn on the docks. We took advantage of the cruise and stay package, which included bed, breakfast and parking for the two weeks of the cruise, as well as taxi transfers to and from the cruise terminal. I would recommend this if anyone is thinking of staying overnight the night before their cruise and are driving down to Southampton. It meant as well that we could pack a very small overnight bag purely for the hotel in Southampton and throw all the dirty things in the boot of the car and not take them on board with us. The Holiday Inn was pretty good too, and would stay there again. The room was ok, staff were friendly and the breakfast was buffet but again ok.
We checked out of the hotel around 10.30-11.00am on the morning of embarkation. We waited for our taxis to take us to the cruise terminal (I honestly didn't realise how close it was- if I had walked to the end of the hotel I would have seen the ship!). We went completely mad on luggage! For four people for a two week holiday there was a total of around 9 items of luggage, not to mention our carry on bags! This was our fault really as we took so much with us because we weren't really sure what we should take! A lesson we have learnt for future reference! We got in to the departure lounge by around 12.00pm. We sat waiting for a while then my Mother-in-Law requested assistance for boarding, so we got checked in a little quicker and was on board before 1.00pm. Checking in was relatively quick once we were allowed to go to the checking desk. We went to board the ship and as silly as this is going to sound we stepped on board and I didn't realise straight away that we were actually on board! I thought for a minute that we were in a little section between the gangway and the ship! As it was my first cruise my Husband filmed my reaction to stepping on board and I think this was the point that I didn't click on that we had actually stepped foot on to the ship! First impressions of the ship (once I realised that I was on board) were fantastic! What a beautiful ship!
Britannia was a beautiful ship. I loved the Atrium and Starburst, the shops were good (there was a Pandora on board so I was happy!), and we loved The Live Lounge, Headliners Theatre, Brodie's, The Limelight Club and The Crow's Nest, and the entertainment that was in them. We used the quiet area on the top deck at the front of the ship for sunbathing on sea days, except for one day when we were on the Lido Deck by the main pools because it was windy and the top decks were closed off. We used the cinema, which was a nice bonus and found reception to be very helpful.
For food we were on Club Dining and allocated first sitting for our evening meal (6.30pm) in The Oriental Restaurant. Our waiters and wine waiter were brilliant and very accommodating. We also used The Oriental Restaurant for breakfast, which again was excellent, used the Horizon Restaurant (buffet), which was also good, room service, which was prompt and fresh, The Peninsular Restaurant a couple of lunchtimes, which again was good and went to The Limelight Club for dinner and a show (this cost £22 per person, but was worth the money). We also tried the grab and go/burger bar a couple of times, and had no problems with this, but I wasn't too impressed with the burger as it had mayonnaise on, which I don't like and didn't know until I took it back to my table, but if I knew I would of asked for one without mayonnaise and I think they would do it for me, so I'm not putting them down for this. You wont go hungry on Britannia! All waiting staff were good and the drinks staff were good around the ship. Cost wise drinks were similar to that in some pubs, maybe slightly more expensive, but not by much.
For entertainment we used mainly Headliners Theatre, The Live Lounge (night club) and Brodie's (the pub). We loved the venues and their acts. We also used the on board cinema (I saw part of the latest Dad's Army film (I've seen before but didn't find it that good) with all the family, and my Husband and Father-in-Law went back to see (I think) X-Men Apocalypse, which they enjoyed. Pulse, who were the resident band in The Live Lounge were brilliant, as were the Britannia Show Cast who we saw in Headliners Theatre, but the one we weren't so keen on were The High Tides Duo, who were the resident duo in Brodie's. We saw Sam Bailey (X Factor winner) and Jimmy James (soul singer) in Headliners Theatre, who were both brilliant, and we saw Peter Piper (comedian) in Headliners Theatre and The Live Lounge, who I thought was brilliant and so funny. We also saw comedian and impressionist Mark Walker (Roy Walker from Catchphrase's son), who was also funny. We saw Dean Andrews in The Limelight Club who did singing, but is famous for his acting in The Last Tango in Halifax, Being Eileen, Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars. He is definitely worth seeing, he is brilliant. He needs to make an album! We took part in the big money bingo at the end of the cruise and also went to some talks between us. Me, my Husband and my Mother-in-law went to An Audience with Captain David Pembridge, who was the captain of Britannia whilst we were on there. He was a great captain and was funny too. He made the best decisions on the ship and made us all feel welcomed as well. Whilst waiting for this talk to start there was a talk by a lady who was on Human Planet, so we caught the end of it, which was interesting, and my Husband went to another of these talks the next day and said it was good. Can't fault the entertainment on board really. Me and my Husband went to Marco Pierre White's book signing and got our photographs taken with him by the on board professional photographers. Marco had signed these as well and they were put up on display in the photo gallery for us to purchase, which we did. We went to the Captain's Gala Party on the first formal night, which was good, the first Sail Away Party, which got us in the spirit of the cruise, and the Great British Sail Away Party, which was when we were leaving Cartagena. The Captain held an additional cocktail party as compensation for not going to Monte Carlo, which we popped along to and thought was good too. My in-laws are in the Petunis Club (think that is right but please forgive the spelling!), so went along to a cocktail party for Petunis Club members, which they enjoyed, and got free Gin and Tonics! The Chef's Parade on the final but one evening was a good atmosphere (not a Baked Alaska Parade, which was stopped a few years ago), and I got to try Baked Alaska for the first time too, and enjoyed it, but didn't eat all the meringue.
Me and my Mother-in-Law went to the spa on our second sea day, which happened to be the day of our first formal night. We both booked and paid for this a few months before the cruise. We both had a fire and ice pedicure with our toenails being painted at the end. My Mother-in-Law had a problem as the lady who was meant to do her treatment was sent off the ship in Southampton due to breaking her fingers and they had no replacement for her. They weren't sure whether they were getting a replacement for her, and we didn't find out if she got replaced. They managed to squeeze her in just before my treatment so we were in the room having our treatments together for part of it. The staff were good and we felt for them as they were being pushed to the limit after being one staff member down. They were friendly enough but were a bit cheeky too, which we didn't really mind as we have a laugh and a joke, but some people may not like this. We really enjoyed the treatment though, and loved the colours of our toenails.
The Cookery Club:
The biggest highlight for me on the cruise, taking away the ports of call/shore days was The Cookery Club. Me and my Husband were booked on to the Masterclass with Marco Pierre White, which was such an amazing experience! Marco was such a nice man, so friendly and polite, and even had a laugh with us. I was sort of dreading this because I am not a big fan of cooking and don't like handling raw meat or fish, but in the end I loved the class (I can't say the same about handling raw meat and fish though!). Everything was all prepared for us and got out at our stations for us. We got to work in pairs, so me and my Husband worked together. We had paper hats and material aprons at our workstations to wear, and as soon as we walked in and gave our names we were instructed to wash our hands first before taking a seat at the table (we were encouraged to wash our hands regularly throughout the class). We had recipe packs with what we were going to do, which Marco signed at the end when having a photograph taken by the professional photographers on board, and could take home with us to try them out at home, which we will do. There were two dishes we did in total, and Marco demonstrated one, we all tasted, then went to make it ourselves and then eat it, then the process was repeated for the second dish. The first dish was Lobster Spaghetti, which was in a tomato sauce. (I did everything until the lobster, which was pre prepared and brought out later, and let my Husband handle it with the lobster!) and the second dish was Parmesan and Saffron Infused Risotto. They both tasted delicious, but I didn't have any lobster. My recommendation with the risotto is that if you are not a massive fan of Parmesan Cheese don't use so much as I found it was too much for me. I love Parmesan Cheese but there was too much of it for me, but that is just personal taste and nothing wrong with the food. We are planning on making these dishes for friends and family (maybe substituting the lobster for king prawns due to the cost of lobster and being able to get it). The on board professional photographers came and took photographs throughout, and we were allowed to take photographs ourselves whenever we liked. The cost of this was £100 per person, but I had mine for free as compensation for P&O cancelling a chocolate class that I had booked and paid for. They called me up a day or so after I booked it to say it was cancelled and as compensation they had refunded my money and gave me the Masterclass with Marco Pierre White for free. I was so glad I did this in the end!
We did two P&O Shore Excursions each, me and my Husband did Easy Pisa and Panoramic Rome, and my in-laws did a pasta and wine trip in the Tuscan Hills I think, and went to a beach when we were in Civitavecchia. Easy Pisa was good, and involved a coach trip to Pisa, a road train to Miracle Square to see the buildings and The Leaning Tower of Pisa, then the road train again around Pisa to see the buildings before taking us back to the coach to go back to the ship. Very good, and well worth doing, especially if you have not seen The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Panoramic Rome was a coach ride around most of the famous sites (not getting off the coach), but part way through going to the Collouseum and getting off the coach for half an hour to take photographs. This was probably my favourite excursion as we saw so much, but I did enjoy Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. Drinks were expensive in Pisa, but we expected it not to be cheap. This didn't stop us from feeling shocked when a can of coke and a bottle of beer came to 10 Euros! On the rest of the shore days we did our own thing. We did the open top bus around Cadiz and Barcelona, which we enjoyed. We also went in the cathedral and tapas bar in Cadiz, visited a couple of bars and shops in Cartagena as well as popping in a local church, a bar and shops in Guernsey, and also visited the German War Museum in Guernsey too, which was interesting. We have said we would like to have a long weekend in Guernsey as it was beautiful and there were other places we would like to see such as the War Hospital. We would have liked to have spent longer in Cartagena as we had to be back on the ship by 1.30pm so didn't have a lot of time to explore the area, and would definitely like to go back to Rome to see more of places like the Trevi Fountain and The Vatican.
At the end of the cruise, as is normal practice, we were given copies of the menus from the head waiter and second waiter who dealt with us on the cruise, and a copy of the ship's log in our room, which I thought were wonderful touches and the ship's log is fascinating. I loved the professional photographers and the photo gallery. I could have spent a fortune, in fact I did, but could have spent lots more than I did! I think the professional photographs are things that appeal for first time cruisers, and I especially loved it as it was seen as a once in a lifetime cruise for us and for special occasions, or for those on special occasions. I think if we cruised regularly we wouldn't have many photos if any, maybe just some celebrity or formal night ones. We had the Platinum package, which was £124.50 (or there abouts) and included a photo album, 8 event/celebrity/portrait photographs of our choice, 16 ship and location photographs of our choice and a copy of our cruise DVD. We had extra prints too. Its not cheap I know, but we wanted them for the memories, especially formal nights and the Masterclass with Marco Pierre White. If we did another cruise I don't think I'd have so many photographs and maybe not a package. The Britannia shop with the sweets, Britannia branded goodies, toiletries and medicines was not that cheap really, but most places are not cheap. The duty free places were good and I loved the jewellery and hand bag sales!
The negatives were the dirty knickers situation in my in-laws' room, but this was resolved and all was well afterwards. Mistakes happen, and I always say as much as they are a nuisance its how they rectify and handle it that matters, and they dealt with this promptly and gave them a bottle of wine as compensation, so all was good. However, I think P&O could have a fairer process with certain things. Two things in particular were The Retreat Spa area where you could pay so much for the day or so much for the whole holiday to go in a private area with separate Jacuzzis, comfortable seating, etc. We couldn't book it before going on board so went down to the Oasis Spa to book it after boarding only to be told that it was fully booked for the whole cruise. We said this was unfair as we boarded early and couldn't get in, so those boarding later had no chance. The other issue was one of the Horizon magazines that we were issued had an advertisement for a tour of the ship. This was about a week in to the cruise. My Husband went straight down to reception to enquire and book on to it only to be told again that it was fully booked and costs £77 per person. Apparently it was advertised on the TV screens, which we never saw, and I don't think other passengers did too, and reception said that passengers that cruise regularly know about it and book it as soon as they board the ship. Again, we were disappointed in this. I think for things like this when you can't book until you board the ship should only be opened for booking once all passengers board the ship to give everyone who wants to do them a fair chance to book. Ok, it may be a rush, but at least its first come first served and everyone gets the same chance.
Overall I loved the cruise, and loved dressing up for formal nights too. As a first time cruiser it took a while to get used to the drunken feeling I was getting when walking around the ship (I don't drink and all I had the whole cruise was a sip of Prosecco to try and didn't like it, so can't blame alcohol!). I also found that high heels don't do you many favours in this department either! I don't think I fully got my sea legs! I didn't like the rough sea day as this was facing my biggest fear of the ship and I couldn't help but worry when announcements of rough sea days were made, but this is no fault of P&O or the ship, in fact the ship handles the sea beautifully, it is an act of God and we have no control, but with Kwells and travel bands it can be handled well. One thing that I felt a couple of times, and it kind of contradicts some of the things I said, but I felt sometimes like there was no escape. There's so much to do so you don't go bored, but I could tell we were on a ship and had no way of getting out or off (not that you would want to get out in open sea!) I told my Husband this and he said maybe two weeks was a bit too long for me, but I quite enjoyed having a two week holiday as normally I only have a week. I have done 10 days with my parents when I was younger, and maybe had two weeks once when I was younger but can't be certain, but otherwise this was the longest holiday I had. I was amazed at how many famous people were on board and how much you could do, and it felt glamorous. Would I cruise again? I think I have the bug, but I did say that I needed to recover from my moments of worrying over rough days, and if I didn't cruise it would be purely for how I cope rather than what a cruise has to offer. However, I have agreed to another cruise and last week we booked up with my in-laws again for a week's cruise to the Norwegian Fjords in August 2017, this time on P&O Azura! I'm looking forward to it, but again I'm worried about the sea! I feel happier about being in the Fjords themselves, its the getting to and from the Fjords that worries me. I'm praying for kind seas and kind weather!
Thank you to my Husband and in-laws for a wonderful cruise holiday, and thank you to P&O for your excellent service and making our cruise, and also my first cruise so special. Read Less