We have done 4 previous cruises, all with Celebrity (Equinox, Silhouette twice and Reflection) but when looking for a fjords cruise it was this one on Britannia that appealed based purely on itinerary. The price was not a major factor at ... Read More
We have done 4 previous cruises, all with Celebrity (Equinox, Silhouette twice and Reflection) but when looking for a fjords cruise it was this one on Britannia that appealed based purely on itinerary. The price was not a major factor at the time but was certainly welcome as less expensive than Celebrity, plus our first non-fly cruise, which not only saves more money but is a lot easier and gives flexibility for luggage - great for when you have to pack suits for formal nights and a fair bit of clothing knowing we could have any kind of weather. This review is not written purely as a comparative exercise, but given our only previous points of reference have been on Celebrity it was a natural thing to do, so I will draw out the main differences we noted and which we preferred. Some things are really the 'little extras' that add to a more luxury experience, that come with Celebrity, but we also acknowledge they come with a price tag. So drawing attention to them is not necessarily a criticism, simply an observation of what you may not get with P&O but which you pay for to get on Celebrity.
Once booked we did have some apprehension as it seemed most people who'd sailed both lines came down clearly in favour of Celebrity, and a couple of forums online seemed to attract some horribly snobby people. We don't mind dressing up for a formal night but do object to people who seem to think that cruising is only about dressing up and when conversations turned to the newly introduced drinks packages 'attracting the wrong sort of people' we wondered what we were letting ourselves in for! Luckily I found some other groups with more normal people and while we appreciated there would be more formality than Celebrity have, we were prepared to embrace it.
In advance I had looked into what we'd do on each of our port days and one thing I did notice was how much more affordable the ship's own excursions were compared to Celebrity. We prefer to do our own thing, or go with a small private group, but for various reasons found that harder to sort this time on 2 days so opted (initally reluctantly) to book with P&O and were pleasantly surprised at the cost.
The only other reservation I had which we could do nothing about, was the amount of children on board, as this was our first cruise in school holidays. Having got 4 kid between us, all now grown up, we do enjoy being able to avoid other 'little darlings' on our holidays but due to a number of factors had booked this knowing it would be holiday time, but hoping that the fjords would be less of a family attraction than a Med cruise.
On the day we embarked we had stayed a couple of hours from Southampton and had opted for inclusive car parking with CPS. Their directions, along with sat nav, were nice and clear and we found our way to the correct gate easily. We'd been given an arrival time of 3pm and had heard mixed stories about whether we'd be able to get on early or would have to wait. As it worked out, we arrived at the dock gate around 1.30pm. CPS staff directed us efficiently and advised we would have to wait in a queue for a little while, We saw some people who knew the score taking cases out onto trollies but we just waited for only 10-15 mins before being asked to drive forward. Another CPS person then told us we should unload our cases and take a trolley as there were very few porters now. There was no feeling of being rushed, she was polite and helpful and it was a nice calm experience. We handed over the key and headed off to a loading area just across the road where our trollies went onto a conveyor belt and we went to the departure area. We were able to pack my husband's suits into a proper suit carrier and put that through as checked luggage which made things much easier, especially as we had in our hand luggage one small wheeled case containing bottles of drink :) Yes, we were allowed to take a litre each of wine or spirits, plus whatever soft drinks we wanted, for drinking in our cabin, so we took advantage to save us a bit of spending money.
More helpful staff inside checked our tickets and then gave us a card with a letter on it, telling us to go wait in the lounge until called, saying we would have enough time to get a drink if we wanted; this was around 2pm. There was plenty of seating and a small but well stocked cafe. We were duly called into the line for check in around 2.45 and this moved along nicely so no standing waiting too much, and so we met our 3pm time in the end!
We made our way onto the ship and the first thing we noticed was that we were greeted with a smile but no glass of bubbly! We were directed to some lifts where we noticed there were also stairs - these aren't always open on 'normal' days and the lifts did have quite a wait on them but we weren't lugging the drinks up the stairs! Once out the lift we made our way to the cabin and were delighted to find our cases were already there waiting for us. Full cabin review is provided below
We'd taken a look at the Horizon daily leaflet telling us what was going on and when. There was quite a lot on but we're not really into doing a lot other than maybe a quiz. Similarly, we were not majorly fussed on the theatre shows unless something had seemed exceptional. We were pretty sure in advance we'd be fairly low key on this week, so this review doesn't cover entertainment to any extent. We didn't go to the Headliners theatre which is where the main shows are, generally twice nightly, and also used for other events during the day. Although we chose not to go to any shows on board, I did like the fact they had late sessions so one could comfortably eat at say 8pm and then go to the late show after. On Celebrity we often found ourselves having to get ready early to get to the first show and then eat, as we rarely enjoy eating dinner earlier. We did make it into the studio, another small theatre style venue, but that was only for muster! We decided to take a wander around the ship before things got busy and get an idea of what was where, and give an idea of where we'd want to be spending our time over the next week.
The first thing we had found out was the lift and stair locations. There are fore, mid and aft lifts, but staircases only fully available for and aft. In mid the stairs only go to deck 7. This caught us out a few times as we often lost track of where we were and decided to walk stairs only to find there weren't any! There are also some areas where it's not possible to walk through so you need to be at the right level. More than one occasion we went down to deck 6, arrived at the Oriental restaurant and could go nowhere else without going back up to deck 7 and across. My Fitbit did well during the week! The ship is big and very long and this is most obvious when finding your way round. The little map we were given on embarkation was invaluable along with the wall plaque diagrams by the lifts. Took us a little while find those as they are not very obvious as signage goes. The lifts were definitely one of the less impressive things. In any lift area there seemed to be a couple that we never saw in action. Lifts were slow to arrive, and sometimes seemed to skip floors out altogether. On one occasion in a lift it announced deck 11 but was still at previous deck 10, the lift floor indicator was flashing between 10 and 11 and then we stopped at 12. We got out saying we'd get the stairs back down a floor only to realise we were mid ship and no stairs. The lift/stair thing never ceased to be something of an irritant!
The overall feel of the ship was one of size but well used. I've described the different areas in more detail below, but our overall impression was of space and simplicity. Decor was uncluttered and unfussy with an immediate contrast with the vast range of art on Celebrity ships, which is found pretty much everywhere, in any corridor, any wall space and on all stairwells. I generally preferred this more simply style on Britannia, although in some areas a little more colour wouldn’t have gone amiss. Where we did appreciate space was in the atrium where it was given over to seating for the bars/cafes downstairs. It was also used as a space for showcasing the restaurants and activities, and worked well for that purpose; it manages this as the guest services area is kept away from the central space. What I did feel the ship lacked was a central focal point for activities in evenings as there is a different focus in different areas at different times. If you like Celebrity with the cafe on 5, Martini Bar on 4 and then music from 3 with people generally all involved from each deck, you will miss this on Britannia. That's not to say we didn't find a nice 'home' in the evenings but it is a very different feel, more low key.
When we had done our last cruise on Celebrity Reflection we had felt a bit disappointed in a number of areas where we felt that the basic provision in terms of bar space was same as on the smaller ships in the class, pretty much same layout, but catering for an extra deck of passengers. To us it felt busy and harder to get service, and we were concerned about how things would feel on the even busier Britannia but the increased ship size of this P&O flagship meant it did not feel overly crowded. Another vote in favour of P&O so far, things were looking up a lot more than we'd expected Read Less