My partner and I (72 and late 60s) went by coach with Intercruises to Southampton on 29th April, 2018, to board P&O Britannia for 12 days cruising to Portugal, Spain and Ibiza.
We were quickly transferred from the coach to the embarcation lounge, but my partner discovered she had left some important hand luggage on the coach which was by then on its way back to the M3. I explained our plight to the baggage handling supervisor who phoned our coach driver, and he returned to the ship and handed the bag to a much relieved Jill. Fantastic service from Intercruises personnel!
Once on board we quickly found our cabin on Deck 9, where the cabin steward introduced himself. Ours was a balcony cabin, and although it was not large, what space there was had been used carefully to provide reasonable storage space. However, the shower room has just enough room between the washbasin and toilet to open the shower door. Our luggage soon arrived and we had time to shower and change before dinner in the Peninsular restaurant. We were on Freedom dining (no fixed sitting),and could eat in either the Peninsular or Meridian restaurants.
Both the Meridian and Peninsular restaurants serve the same extensive menu. 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. I thought the food had suffered since our first cruise on Britannia in November, 2015, with increased use of pre-prepared (probably bought in frozen) dishes, especially desserts, which are not even good (and the sherry trifle and baked Alaska were quite unpleasant). On our previous cruise we had found that the hot dishes were served hot, but several of our main courses on this cruise were no more than lukewarm. There is far too much use made of salt and sugar, which is really unhealthy - no wonder P&O have not adopted the practice now common in some restaurants of stating calorie, fat and sugar content of all menu items. Even the smoothies - which are usually promoted as a healthy way of getting your 5-a -day - were so sweet that I could not drink them, and as well as being far too salty the vegetables were sometimes also overcooked. Most main courses are often covered in sauces. Sauces should be served separately to allow diners the option of not having them. I had roast lamb one night and this was one slice of reasonably lean meat and three slices of fat. On another night I had darn of hake which was full of tiny bones that were impossible to remove and I had to ask for it to be replaced, which meant my partner had finished her main course before my replacement choice had arrived. The kitchen staff seemed incapable of getting ice cream from the freezer to the table before it melted - on one occasion I was served a dish which had more the appearance of soup than ice cream.
I also felt the waiters were under pressure to get diners out of the dining room as quickly as possible, and there was no time between courses or for interaction with the waiters.
We had our first two breakfasts in the Meridian restaurant, which was a leisurely and pleasant way to start the day. Unfortunately on both occasions my perfectly cooked poached eggs were cold and the toast was rock hard. Subsequently, we had breakfast and light snacks during the day in the Horizon, and dinner in either Peninsular or Meridian restaurants. Waiters in the Horizon generally were very good, but sometimes a little over eager to clear tables before passengers have actually finished, but that is better than leaving tables covered in dirty dishes. We never had any difficulty finding a table which is credit to the staff when the restaurant is very busy throughout the day. The food assistants were very helpful, and quick to replenish dishes so there was never an occasion when we had to wait for food. Our only criticisms of the Horizon would be that afternoon tea is just an extension of the lunch service with too many hot dishes and that salad is not always served with the afternoon snacks. When salad is available it is frequently served as a mixture covered in oily dressings rather than as individual unadulterated items. The food choice in the Horizon is extensive, but the labelling of dishes should be improved, including a translation/explanation of unfamiliar foreign dishes, and highlighting of dishes which contained nuts.
It is difficult to get the ambient temperature right for everyone but we thought the air conditioning in public areas was too cold, especially around the lifts and stairwells. Fortunately I remembered this from our previous cruise on Britannia and remembered to take a casual jacket to wear in the dining room.
Cruise ships have to prevent the spread of illness in such a confined space where several thousand passengers are in fairly close contact, and there are hand washing facilities at the entrance to the Horizon, as well as hand sanitiser stations. There was a member of the catering team stationed at the wash basin to remind customers to wash their hands, but they did not stop passengers who walked in without doing so. On our final day we witnessed a cleaning crew in protective clothing entering a cabin on deck 15, which led us to think there might have been a sickness problem, so all the measures to prevent sickness on board may not have worked.
We had only one interaction with the Reception staff, and Holly dealt with our problem sympathetically and professionally.
One of the things we had previously liked about Britannia was that the Atrium was a music-free zone, but unfortunately this is no longer the case, and it now plays recorded music and has a resident duo in the evenings. The duo are actually very good but I would still prefer quiet when enjoying a cocktail before dinner.
The furniture in the atrium and other public areas has stood up well to the intervening years since our cruise in 2015, but there are signs of wear on banisters, and carpets. The carpet in our cabin was badly stained in places. We also were not greatly impressed by the cleaning of our cabin before we boarded - I found a used tissue under the bed on arrival, and the glass screen on the balcony was quite dirty. Obviously maintenance has also been cut back - the hinge on the shower screen was broken.
The beds are fairly comfortable, but, because we were woken by the alarm call to our neighbours' cabin every shore day, we rarely got a full night’s sleep. The docking process causes the ship to vibrate so if our neighbours' alarm call had not prevented further sleep this completed the job.
I used the gym a couple of times and it is an excellent facility, and very well equipped. However, it is let down by the changing room, where very few of the lockers actually lock, and there is only one shower which was cold. I could not find a member of staff to ask about the equipment which was more high tech than I am used to, or replace the empty sanitiser dispensers.
There are three formal nights on this 12- night cruise, and these were very well observed. The first formal night also combines the Captain’s welcoming address in the atrium. Captain Dunlop is an amusing speaker and gives the impression of loving his job and his ship, although his daily broadcasts were a bit "Hi De Hi".
Most passengers observed the ship's dress code but there are always exceptions such as the man who wandered about the ship in a sleeveless vest and shorts, usually carrying a glass of beer, even in the shops.
The only show we went to was a performance by Sam Bailey, but it was standing room only, and since our discomfort outweighed our enjoyment of her performance, we left after two songs. We enjoyed the dance demonstrations by the resident dance teachers, Andy and Victoria (sorry I do not know their surname), which were in the Crystal Room, but the resident singer is far too loud for a small venue, and we could not tolerate being in there when she was on. We also enjoyed the syndicate quizzes in the Marlowe suite hosted by members of the entertainment team. Jo, Shannen and Martin were pleasant and amusing hosts, but Lewis seemed to regard it as a chore, and gave the impression he would rather have been doing something else.
The ports of call were Lisbon, Cadiz, Barcelona, Ibiza, Cartagena, and Gibraltar.
We had visited Lisbon on a previous cruise, so knew that it was a beautiful city, and this time we took a full city tour on a local open top bus which is as good a way as any for seeing it but of course you miss out on walking the streets and savouring the local atmosphere. Unfortunately it was quite a cold day for May, and also showery. The return to the ship was shambolic, which was blamed on the port authorities, but there can be no excuse for keeping elderly, and in some cases infirm, passengers standing in a bitterly cold wind for almost half an hour whilst they sorted out the embarkation process.
In contrast the weather in Cadiz was warm and sunny, perfect for strolling around this picturesque city with its attractive open spaces and parks.
In Barcelona we again took a local open top bus tour, and again the weather was showery and cold. Fortunately it cleared up long enough for us to walk back from the main square along Las Rambla and back to the ship. Obviously more time is needed to see the many well-known sights of this very large city, but the tour took us to some of the best known places such as the Sagrada Familia, and Nou Camp Stadium, and gave us a good flavour of the place.
In Ibiza the weather was again a pleasant temperature for strolling around, and we walked up to the castle for a good view of the town, with the ship in the background. It was a Sunday so many shops were shut, but my overall impression is that there is not a lot there.
Cartagena is a very attractive walled town, and for anyone interested in archaeology there is probably quite a lot to see. I was not prepared to pay to see old ruins, but we took a look at the amphitheatre which is visible through railings. From what we could see of it, it is heavily restored. Cartagena is a good shopping place, and easy to walk around, and we had very nice coffees at El Mirador Del Mediterraneo, on Paseo de Alfonso XII.
There is not much to say about Gibraltar. We have been before, and we were due back on board at 2.00pm so did not have time for more than a quick walk to the duty free shops. You have to leave any purchases with the crew for collection before disembarkation.
Our last two days were sea days before returning to Southampton, and there was a heavy swell most of the way, causing the ship to roll, and we both felt a bit queasy, but Britannia is well capable of withstanding much worse.
Disembarkation was not very well organised. We were told to be ready for disembarkation at 8.15am but when we arrived at the assembly area we were told that we would be sent off according to who had arrived first, so the time we had been given was totally irrelevant. Although we had got there about 25 minutes before our allotted time, we did not get off until 8.30am, and when we got to the baggage collection area my suitcase was not in the designated place and I had to go hunting for it. In doing so I found that many suitcases had been taken to the wrong place, which is astonishing when you consider how many times the crew will have carried out the process of disembarkation.
The cruise represented reasonable value, and on the whole we did enjoy it, but the unfavourable comparison with our previous Britannia cruise will probably put us off going on Britannia again.
Very attractive town with lovely parks