My partner and I (both in our late 60s) flew from Manchester to Barbados with Thomas Cook on 21st November, 2015, to board P&O Britannia for a fortnight cruising around the Caribbean islands.
The flight was delayed by about an hour, but when we got to Barbados we were quickly transferred on to a local bus for the 45-minute journey to the port. The local buses are not up to European standards, and are cramped with no luggage space so we had to sit with our flight bags on our laps, but it was a fairly short journey, so not too much of a problem.
We then queued for a short time in a large hangar-type structure to go through security checks before being allowed on to the ship. It was relatively painless, and once on board we quickly found our cabin (E623) on Deck 10, where the cabin steward Sada introduced himself, and made us feel welcome. Ours was a balcony cabin, and although it was not large, what space there was had been used carefully to provide adequate storage. However, we are both slim, and I do not know how some of the larger passengers we saw would cope with the shower room, which had just enough room between the washbasin and toilet to open the shower door. Unfortunately our luggage did not arrive before we wanted to eat, and we had to go to dinner in the clothes we had travelled in.
We had our first meal in the Horizon buffet restaurant, which was pleasant and a considerable improvement on the buffet restaurants on Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Constellation, which are the only other ships we have cruised on. Subsequently, we only had breakfast and light snacks during the day in the Horizon. Waiters were sometimes a little slow to clear tables, but generally were very good. The food assistants were very helpful, and quick to replenish dishes so there was never an occasion when we had to wait for food. A special mention must be made to Mickey who went out of his way to find us some salad when it was not on the menu (we realised afterwards that salad is not served with the afternoon snacks but is always available for lunch or evening meals).
The food choice in the Horizon is extensive, and my only complaints were that the scrambled eggs at breakfast contained too much salt, and the salad pots served at afternoon snacks all had either onions or spicy seasoning in them, neither of which I eat. We did find the location of food a bit puzzling at times, and labelling of dishes should be improved, including a translation/explanation of unfamiliar foreign dishes.
Hygiene is a constant headache for cruise ships and there are hand washing facilities at the entrance to the Horizon, as well as hand sanitiser stations, and on our last day there was a member of the catering team stationed at the wash basin to remind customers to wash their hands, which led us to think there might have been a problem, as this was the only time we saw that. However, some of the assistants would not hand over trays until they had witnessed you sanitise your hands, which I thought an excellent idea.
We had opted for freedom dining, and had evening meals in either the Meridian or Peninsular restaurants. Both serve the same extensive menu, and they are both excellent with nothing to choose between them, although we tended to favour the Meridian. Service is first class, and the reception teams are super efficient at getting you to a table with minimal delays, even on formal nights when they can be very busy. The food is superb, and the hot dishes are served hot, not lukewarm as we have sometimes experienced even in good quality hotels in European countries.
We were looking forward to seeing the ship because it had been launched with considerable fanfare earlier this year, and were mostly favourably impressed. The décor is a bit drab in places, and art works are unremarkable (bordering on cheap and cheerful), but the lounge areas are very pleasant, and comfortable places to relax. Several passengers commented on the atrium being underwhelming, and it is true that the staircase (which is obviously a focal point) could have been made much more attractive by a different use of colour (it is brown), but the furniture is very attractive and is also very comfortable. I particularly liked the fact that there is no music or other entertainment here, but other passengers felt this was a detriment. One of our complaints about the Celebrity Eclipse was that there always seemed to be a band of some sort playing in the atrium, and because it is an open space which goes upwards through the ship, the sound carries and it is almost impossible to escape the noise. I would settle on a compromise of soft piano music to satisfy those who need some form of music, but hope P&O stick with the present arrangement.
We did notice that some of the wall coverings are already scuffed and marked, and several of the lift buttons on the landings have come off and have not been replaced, making the ship look older than it is. In the Horizon restaurant, some of the seating is cloth and some is vinyl, and the cloth seating is quite badly marked in places. It will not be long before the ship needs a refit.
Probably the most important fact is that the beds are very comfortable, but this has to be tempered by saying that we rarely got a full night’s sleep. On port days the docking process causes the ship to vibrate and this shook us awake at about 6.30am, and at about 8.00am the tannoy announcements about disembarkation make sure there is no chance of a lie-in.
There are four formal nights on this two-week cruise, and these were very well observed. The first formal night also combines the Captain’s welcoming address in the atrium. Captain Pembridge is a great communicator, unlike some ship’s captains who can appear stand offish, and his enthusiasm for his ship comes across. His welcome set the tone for the cruise
It was wonderful to see everyone gathered together in their formal clothes, and the dress standard on formal nights was generally maintained, although the casual dress code is largely flouted, with shorts often being worn by men instead of the slacks/jeans specified. I felt that the wearing of swimsuits by both sexes in the buffet restaurant, and in lounge areas or within the corridors and lifts was inappropriate, and an effort should be made to enforce a reasonable dress code inside the ship, including the wearing of some form of footwear - we saw people in all areas of the ship in bare feet.
Our evenings were generally spent in the Crystal Room, where we enjoyed listening to James Murrum’s excellent band playing dance music, before going to the quiz in the Marlowe suite, so cannot comment on the entertainment in the theatre. The Britannia dance teachers – Michael Johnson and Sallyrose Beardall – perform a showdance which is spectacular, but Michael needs to take lessons in compering, as there are only so many times he can tell his audience that they came third in the Showdance championships in Blackpool this year, and how gorgeous his partner is! I attended a couple of their dance classes, and they were very good fun, but he needs to be aware that some of his banter might offend minority groups.
On one occasion we went to the Limelight Club to see the comedian, Jeff Stevenson, who we had enjoyed on a previous cruise, but this venue is totally inappropriate, as it is not suited to large numbers, and a rail which runs round the inner section obstructs the view, and seems to serve no purpose. There is a similar rail in the Crystal Room which is also obstructive and detracts from enjoyment of the band and the dancing. We also tried Brodie’s bar once for a quiz, but found it dark and gloomy so did not go again.
The cruise itinerary sounded interesting and I was looking forward to idyllic palm fringed beaches of white sand, lapped by a turquoise sea. Sadly, the reality is nothing like a Bounty advertisement. We did pass some beaches which lived up to the dream, but the ones we were taken to were tacky, overcrowded, and fringed by bars and fast food outlets. Perhaps our mistake was in relying on local taxi drivers for island tours, rather than using the Britannia tours, though I think the experience would probably have been similar, but very much more expensive.
We were never on a beach for more than an hour or so because the beach was usually just one part of a tour itinerary, so did not bother with sunbeds. However, on St Maarten we used local buses instead of taxis because we wanted to go to Marigot and Maho Beach (to see the planes landing and taking off almost on the beach) and it is easy to go by bus. Marigot is a quiet and elegant place with a very French feel, very different from Philippsburg, but at Maho beach, the one and only time we hired a sunbed, we were charged $10 each for the use of a sunbed, although we were only there for an hour.
Unless you want to buy jewellery, perfume or alcohol, the ports we visited had very little to recommend them. Without exception they are congested with traffic, because the roads are simply not designed to cope with the volume of traffic created by tourism, and the air pollution is very bad. The interior roads vary in quality, the worst being on Grenada, which were badly potholed, and very narrow and hilly, leading to a very uncomfortable, and fairly scary experience, in parts like being on a rollercoaster ride with switchback hills and hairpin bends. Isla Magarita should simply be removed from the itinerary. It is the only port where we were tendered off the ship which I assumed was because the port is not deep enough to cope with a ship of Britannia’s size. Since returning and reading about Isla Margarita on Wikipedia, I now think it may have something to do with fear of piracy, which apparently is common there. P&O issued serious warnings about safety on the island, and their tour buses apparently had armed guards on board, not without reason because there have been several tourists held hostage and/or killed there in recent years. Passengers who went on tours said they enjoyed the nature reserve, but the docking area is nothing more than a strip of stalls selling souvenirs, and a beach lined by dead trees.
Disembarkation was very well organised, and the flight home actually landed early because of strong tail winds. The only minor grumble I have about the flight is that all the Gordon’s gin had been sold before the sales trolley reached me!
In conclusion I would go on Britannia again, but not on this cruise
Small but perfectly formed
Bridgetown is very authentic, but very busy
Attractive port but did not venture out
We did not see much of the island but the 4 year old tree was impressive.
Very attractive island but Philipsburg is a place to leave asap
Antigua boasts having 365 beaches but the only one we saw was unattractive and over commercialised