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
Initial reaction was that it felt smaller to equivalent on Celebrity, narrow between the foot of bed and wall was our first view. However as we looked round we realised things were better than our first reactions suggested. Yes the desk was smaller, the cabin a bit narrower and the bathroom smaller but there were plusses. Storage was actually really good, on balance preferable layout for us than on Celebrity. There's no wardrobe by the bed but instead an alcove area between bathroom and main cabin where there is a whole wall for wardrobe space. It doesn't have a door so clothes are hanging 'open' but that wasn't a deal for us at all, if anything it felt more accessible. This meant a lot more hanging space than the Celebrity wardrobe, and a generous 30 hangers provided but we were told that if we'd wanted more we would have been given them on request. No storage cupboard above the bed, but more useful and accessible storage on the shelf above the hangers. There was then a vertical cupboard with 5 decent depth shelves, plus the safe. This, along with 2 generous drawers and a small shelf on each bedside unit plus a single good sized shallow desk drawer, meant we had more actual storage in the main cabin than I felt we had on Celebrity. The bathroom was smaller, and with less storage than Celebrity though, and at times did feel quite cramped in there. If somebody needed the loo and the other was using the shower, they weren't going to get out that shower until the loo user got out! That was my main gripe but for just a week it wasn't a real big thing, and the other storage did help make up for it.
Celebrity do provide robes and slippers but I found out late on that this isn't standard for P&O though you can buy at a reasonable price (I brought my own with me as luggage was less of a problem!). The other area where Britannia came out poor relation was in balcony. The width was probably about the same but much more shallow. To sit and recline with feet up you'd have to turn sideways along the balcony, so not room for 2 to do that. There are 2 chairs and a small table but it is a limited space.
The cabin was spotless, and well maintained during our week. Towels are good sized (my main hang up on any hotel is a towel that doesn't cover me!) and changed as required. Bed was comfy and temperature good - very efficient air con when we wanted it, warm enough when we needed it. Overall the cabin was good and with great storage for its size; I'd happily book the same again.
We docked right in the town and on leaving the ship could have walked along the harbour to the main shopping area. However we chose to explore some of the lovely little hill streets, away from crowds and get some of the more 'authentic' feel. Doing that we then circled back to the main town and visited the cathedral. This cost 50 NOK entrance (about a fiver UK money) but was a lovely little gem. Only spent about half hour in there but glad to have seen it. The streets where the main bars and shops are located are picturesque, even in the grey drizzly weather, with one brightly painted street standing out - it was signposted near to the harbour simply as 'the colourful street'. We didn't eat or drink anywhere - prices are very high and we had a ship with free food close by! We were happy just to mooch around, enjoying the buildings and a lot of wall art, and didn't go to any museums etc. We spent a few enjoyable hours this way, stopping to admire hordes of jellyfish in the harbor close to the ship, before boarding. If you want a quite and inexpensive day, Stavanger is a lovely little town to just enjoy a stroll in
When I'd tried to book the mountain railway there were very limited tickets so I chose to do a ship's tour. We booked a Norway in a Nutshell trip, partly because a colleague from the US had visited Norway and taken one of these before so it came highly recommended. This trip was to include mountain railway to Myrdal with a waterfall stop on the way, then another train to Voss where we would have lunch. Then coach ride back to the ship with another waterfall stop. A total trip time of 6.5hrs leaving at 9.15 and this was what we saw as being our highlight day.
When we met our guide we were told that the trip was to be reversed as the train tickets hadn't been available so we started on the coach. After about an hour we arrived at the waterfalls, along with many other coaches. We were told we had 10 minutes, and I saw with some dread that the toilet queue was probably not far short of that. Luckily I persuaded our coach driver to open the toilet on the coach so I was able to have a bio break and see the waterfall. About 30 mins later we were parked up in Voss and at a hotel where a buffet lunch was laid on. The lunch was plentiful and very nice, hot and cold foods, desserts, drinks.
The only problem was that we were sitting down to this at 11.20, at the start of a 2hr stop in Voss. All at our table agreed this felt quite early and we would have preferred a longer stop at the waterfall and a later arrival for lunch, though I guess the lunch times are depending on the hotel who probably cater for a number of these in a day. Voss is a pleasant town by a lake but not overly spectacular and 2 hours was quite a time to kill.
From Voss we boarded one train to Myrdal, then changed to the Flam railway. A stop midway to see another spectacular waterfall, complete with singing siren, then return to Flam. The scenery was wonderful but sadly the weather was not as kind as it could have been and we didnt have many stopping opportunities for photos. An enjoyable day but not as wowed as I had hoped I might be.
The sail out though is spectacular taking a very long time, well into the night, and passing very close to rocky shores on both sidesView All undefined undefined Reviews
We bought tickets for the funicular railway in advance and if you plan to do this, dont plan to buy them on the day or you will spend ages in a queue. We bought tickets online that are valid all day, and headed there quite early and beat all queues, being waved on instantly. The railway is about 15 mins walk from where we docked. It is only a short ride (about 6 mins) to the top and there are toilets and cafe, and then lots of walking options. We took a walk of less than 10 mins to a lake which we couldn't walk round due to building work but admired from the side open to us. There are paths that take you back down to the town but we were lazy and took the train back. We then headed off exploring the town itself. We had a Rick Steve guide with us but it is very walkable and easy to just wander round on your own. There are lovely old parts, especially at the Bryggen where many old wooden buildings now form a craft centre. There are some impressive monuments further into town away from the harbour. Again we resisted the eating/drinking locally but if we had wanted to there are plenty of options. Everything is compact so doesn't take too much time, and we also included a visit to the fortress overlooking the town, though we didn't pay to go up the tower which was covered in scaffolding. We had to be back on the ship by 2.30 but the ease of getting round this charming town meant we didn't feel rushed. A lovely place, thoroughly enjoyed it
Not knowing much about this place I booked a ship's tour to Briksdal glacier, selecting the option of taking troll cars (like a 6 seater golf buggy) to the glacier rather than the 90 min hike. This time the weather was gorgeous and the coach took us past stunning mountain scenery in an amazing light. the morning reflections on the lake as we set off were just fantastic. We had a photo stop by a lake and small waterfall before heading off to Briksdal. The scenery for the whole journey was breathtaking.
At Briksdal we had a short time to spend a penny, take some photos and then join the queue for the troll cars. These took us up the mountain for about 20 minutes, including a drive right past a large waterfall with its spray. You WILL get wet here! Then on leaving the car we had to walk about 10-15mins up to the glacier. It was very steep intially but only for a few minutes, then more comfortable. You cannot go right up the glacier itself but certainly close enough to get a true feeling of awe at the scale of it. This was our holiday wow moment right here - absolutely amazing.
My only criticism would be that we could only stay there about 10-15 mins as we had to get back for the troll car to meet the coach at a particular time, though the time did also include free drink and cakes! This was well organised as we were taken to a separate area to help ourselves to some lovely cakes, no limit on numbers we tried it seemed! If I was to visit again I would probably try to organise private transport so we could spend longer at the glacier but the journey was still one of the best trips I've done anywhere.
Back at the ship and we dropped our bags and came out to explore round the little town, walking out to see both new and old churches. We spent more time walking (now in a lot of heat and bright sun!) than we did in either church but it nice to see them. The old church which is closer is well worth a visit for the interior, with pews with doors on that still have family engravings