It has taken a little while to post this review – but still pretty fresh in my mind.
We have been on half a dozen cruises over the last few years – mainly Marella (ex Thomson) but also Royal Caribbean. This was our first cruise with P&O and also our first from Southampton (others were med fly cruises).
Leaving from Southampton was just wonderful – just about perfect start and end to our holiday. The check in process was totally painless, we opted for P&O’s complimentary parking and it couldn’t have been easier. We arrived an hour and half before our check in time, were held in our cars with others for around 20 mins but then called forward to drop off point right by terminal, our car taken and guided up to check in lounge, check in took perhaps 15 mins and then straight on to ship where we found our luggage waiting for us outside our cabin.
Our cabin was exactly as we expected – we had originally paid for a cabin towards the rear of the ship but had been upgrade to one midships. This is a better position with one exception – there are no stairs midships, only elevators.
The cabin was very smart with a small balcony with two chairs (just room to recline them somewhat) and also two chairs inside allowing us to sit inside and enjoy the view depending on weather. Plenty of space to store clothing and pleased that there is no charge for the safe.
One bonus, as newby’s to P&O, is the rule allowing you to each bring a litre of alcohol on board for consumption in your cabin. We brought some gin and also loads of tonics, our steward then provided a daily ice bucket, allowing us to have a G&T each evening which was lovely.
The ship is new, very shiny and perfectly maintained. A big difference compared to RC is the lack of ‘gimicky’ facilities – so no ice rink, crazy golf, climbing wall, flume rider etc. This suited us (travelling without children, ours are grown up) but something to bear in mind.
The weather was mixed but we were very glad we opted for a balcony. There is such lovely scenery in a fiord cruise so a balcony really comes into its own. There aren’t masses of communal areas where you can sit and enjoy the views.
We were delighted with the dining experience. We opted for freedom dining meaning that we could turn up at any time – sometimes we had a short wait if we wanted a table for 2 but never more than 15 mins and they give you a pager. On Britannia there are three ‘main’ restaurants each serving the same food but this does mean more intimate dining than on the RC ship where there was just one main restaurant. Perhaps we were lucky but perhaps half the nights we had tables for 2 by windows which was lovely given the light evenings. The food we found excellent – at least as good as RC and better than Marella. You can see sample menus on P&O website.
We did find the self service buffet a bit of a scrum – very busy at peak times for breakfast and lunch and so where time allowed we opted to use the main restaurant for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Really enjoyed the calmer atmosphere and also appreciated the ‘lighter’ choices for lunch.
One night we tried Sindhu indian restaurant for £20 pp supplement (tip, if you book online before you travel you can secure the time you need. I did hear that there are sometimes last minute discounts if you are prepared to take a chance). We enjoyed the food but perhaps next time will try the Epicuran instead. That said, the main restaurant is so good there is really no need to upgrade.
Drink prices are very reasonable. We like our drinks and our bill came to an average of £40 per day for the two of us. Beers are just of £4, cocktails £7, large glasses of decent wine £7. And no service charge or tax to add (unlike RC).
There are two formal nights on a 7 day cruise, the second one “Black and White” themed but normal formal dress fine for both.
We thought the pool areas were very good – there is one lively pool area with two quite large pools including kids pool and just above a quieter adults only pool. Pools were heated and pleasant to use. Plenty of loungers (although weather wasn’t that hot on our cruise). Excellent waiter service for drinks.
There is an excellent gym which was not busy.
Lots of daytime activities exp on sea days. We enjoyed dance classes and esp enjoyed singing in a choir with the wonderful pianist Adam. We learnt sections of Les Mis which we performed on the last day. Great fun.
The musicians generally on the ship are first class (and I am speaking as a musician). I really enjoyed both the main shows and also the tribute acts (other end of the ship) and dance band (midships) each night.
The ship’s library was amazing – very large and extremely well stocked with a great variety of titles.
A seven day cruise from Southampton is a compromise – and with two sea days (a day to get to Norway and a day to sail back) this was the case for this cruise. Two weeks or at least 10 days would be better but we only had a week available this time.
We called at Stavanger, Olden, Andalsnes and Bergen.
Stavanger. Cruise into port lovely, worth getting up for. We walked around the two, very easy to get to from our berth. Really enjoyed it. Visited Oil Museum (which I liked, my wife less so) and the cathedral plus the old town.
Olden. Here you cruise some 65 miles inland through a narrow fiord (in a 150,000 ton ship). Just spectacular – was great having our balcony on the way in and in the afternoon sailing out. We came ashore and then booked locally for a mini bus up to the famous glacier. Lovely – although vigorous – 45 min walk to the glacier through the most beautiful valley with snow covered peaks around. This was the highlight of our holiday! By booking with the local firm we paid around £35 each instead of £55 with the ship’s excursion BUT we met another couple who have simply jumped on the local bus and paid £10 each or similar!
Andalasnes. Again at the end of a beautiful fiord, wonderful scnenery. The town itself doesn’t have much to recommend - the main tourist options are the scenic train journey or hiking in the wonderful countryside around. We hadn’t booked the train – the official excursion was £80 each (!) and as they block book the train it isn’t straightforward to just buy tickets (although the train station is right in the port 50m from the ship). Also the weather was very overcast and rainy so the wonderful scenery from the train would have been hidden. So we just had a quiet day.
Bergen. Wonderful cruise in to the port again, worth getting up for. The weather was cloudy and drizzly again but we got off the ship as early as we could and walked into town and straight to the funicular railway. This is worth doing BUT important to get there early. We had no wait but queues later stretched down the street. We bought our tickets in advance online but even with tickets you need to queue if it is busy. There are wonderful views from the station above and a nice walk through forest to a lake but it started to rain so we headed back down. The town itself is interesting with a very old area (World Heritage Site) just to one side of the harbor. The ship couldn’t berth in its usual spot which meant a longer walk as were in the adjacent harbor.
We didn’t book any of the P&O excursions. We just though they were too expensive I’m afraid. They seemed to be busy though so perhaps it is just us!
LEAVING THE SHIP AT SOUTHAMPTON
Always sad to end a cruise but the disembarkation process was a joy! We elected to keep our luggage with us (so no need to put out the night before), had breakfast at 7am off the ship at 7.30am, straight through the terminal (past hundreds of cases waiting for other guests) and a 100m walk to the car park. In our car at 7.45 and home (Wiltshire) just after 9am. What a difference from our previous fly cruises!
Can’t wait for our next cruise. Will definitely use P&O again and where itinerary allows will favour cruises from Southampton.
P&O standard and ‘traditional’ approach really worked for us – loved the food, drink prices and entertainment in particular.
Very smart cabin, adequate space, good shower in ensuite. Free use of safe.
Port is very easy to walk into - enjoyed old town also Oil Museum.
Again easy to walk into the city. Nice old areas to explore also funicular railway worth doing - just get there early!
Very easy check in and embarkation. Brilliant!
Marvellous trip up valley along side of lake and then glorious walk up to glacier.