Headliners Theatre is a 936-seat venue at the front of the ship on decks 6 and 7, which hosts musical performances and theatre productions in the evenings. It's a hi-tech space and features a giant LED screen, which provides digital scenery and acts as a backdrop to musical performances.There are three shows per night -- at 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. -- and all last about 50 minutes.
On Britannia, there are four main shows which all use the LED screen to great effect. Brand new is “Astonishing”, a magic and illusion show devised by Britain’s Got Talent magician Stephen Mulhern -- it will leave you thinking "how did they do that?" from start to finish. Other shows include: "Sounds of the Underground", which is a trip through mid-90s London complete with a "Cool Britannia" soundtrack; "Once Upon a Time", a more family-orientated show billed as a 'wedding day fantasy adventure'; "I've Got the Music in Me!", which is a revue show featuring a variety of tracks from the most popular West End and Broadway musicals; and "Gravity", a more daring show billed as a 'futuristic rock musical'. It's a first for P&O in that it's quite risque and the music is modern (i.e. within the past 20 years). The shows really show off the theatre's gadgetry, with stunning lighting and sound effects and dancers 'flying' through the air and over the audience.
As well as the shows, Headliners hosts musical performances from impersonators as well as the real thing: R&B great Jimmy James packed out the theatre on several nights of our cruise. During the day it becomes a cinema.
You won't be bored on Britannia: there's a plethora of games and activities all day, from quizzes and trivia to cooking demos and even line dancing.
Located on Deck 15, The Cookery Club is flooded with light and fitted with the most up-to-date kitchen cookware, TV screens, speakers and a dining table for eating your creations. It fits 25 people (including one disabled-accessible workspace) and more when family classes are fun. All the preparation is done for you, as is the washing up. The current resident chef is Terrence Alexander – who will guide you through the three-hour sessions (£45). Or if the celebrity chefs are on board you can have a class with them. The classes with Marco Pierre White cost from £100 per person; Eric Lanlard’s are £75.
Because the Cookery Club does not have space for an audience, cooking demos take place in The Studio on Deck 7. They are hosted either by one of the two chefs from The Cookery Club, or a celebrity chef if he or she is onboard. The Studio also hosts afternoon films, live radio broadcasts and talks from onboard speakers.
A rolling set of quizzes, trivia and bingo takes place throughout the day in Brodie's pub (Deck 6). The Crystal Room, llocated on Deck 7, just behind the Headliners Theatre, hosts talks from guest lecturers during the day.
There are two venues for dancing in the day: the Live Lounge and the Crystal Room. The entertainment team hosts line dancing and the like in the Live Lounge; the Crystal Room is where the more serious students of dance go to learn new ballroom moves from the ship's two instructors.
Bridge and whist take place high up at the top of the ship in the Marlow Suite, the ship's card room. Enrichment activities such as language classes take place in the Ivory Suite next door (Deck 16). Both rooms are exquisitely decorated in white and gold, and it's easy to imagine a wedding blessing taking place in these suites (which they are designed for, as well as card games).
You’ll find live music throughout the day across the ship. The resident conortations duo Sarah and Ben play regularly in the Starburst atrium. There’s a DJ on the Lido Deck pool throughout the afternoon which is where sailaway parties also take place. And the Live Lounge is also a popular music venue at night, where sounds alternate between the DJ and resident Party Band PULSE.
Outdoor activities include everything from deck quoits (Deck 17) to basketball and table tennis tournaments in the Arena (Deck 18).
The Limelight Club (Deck 5): is a combined entertainment and dining venue in the tradition of a supper club (see Dining), just off the main atrium. Its big draw is the chance to see entertainers and guest performers from stage and screen up close and personal. Acts vary from theatrical performances to live music, such as jazz, pop, blues and soul. The format is thus: starters and main, followed by a short 'taster' show (an introduction by the star, plus one or two songs), then dessert and the main act, which lasts about 45 minutes.
Booking is essential. Cheryl Baker and Chesney Hawkes were the sell-out star attractions when we were on board. However, once the live entertainment finishes, the venue turns into a late-night club and people can drop by for drinks and dancing – and to catch a glimpse of the acts before they depart. They’re usually happy to sign autographs or have a chat. The club is open from 7:30 p.m to midnight.
The Crystal Room (Deck 7): Dance enthusiasts should not miss the Crystal Room, a show lounge dedicated to the love of Latin and ballroom dancing. It's got a wooden floor, chandeliers, silver and black decor and a special exhibition of dancing memorabilia donated by famous dancers, including those in "Strictly Come Dancing", with which P&O has a long-term link-up. Located just behind the Headliners Theatre, the Crystal Room is a delightful spot that turns into a dance hall in the evening with live bands performing. Each song is introduced by dance type -- foxtrot, tango, rumba etc. -- rather than the song title, and couples of all ages will leap to the dance floor to show off their moves, which is an absolute delight to watch. It will be the main venue for all Strictly-related activities when the stars are onboard. It's open 7 p.m. to late.
The Live Lounge (Deck 7):For a different kind of dancing, make your way to the Live Lounge, the ship's late-night disco, situated right at the back of the ship on Deck 7. Though billed as a night club, it has the look of a performance venue, with a tiered semi-circle of seats round a small dance floor backing onto a stage. During the day, it often hosts kids' themed parties. In the evening, it showcases singers, bands, comedians and tribute acts of varying quality. Once the live entertainment ends, the venue turns into a nightclub with a DJ. It's open 7 p.m. to late.
The small casino adjoins Brodie's pub on Deck 6 starboard. It features a number of slot machines, as well as gaming tables for roulette and blackjack. Tournaments take place throughout the day, including afternoon roulette and live horse racing (via a satellite feed, of course). The slots are open from 10 a.m. to late; the gaming tables are open from noon to 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to late.
Quiz addicts who can't get their fill during the day should head to the Horizon Restaurant where there is a team cruise quiz most nights. You'll find karaoke in Brodie's on certain nights.
Most of the bars and entertainment venues can be found in or just off the atrium, with a couple of exceptions. They are all very much designed to appeal to British tastes and current fads -- whether that be sampling wines from around the world, discovering obscure regional beers from around the UK or enjoying an artisan gin looking out from the top of the ship.
The Blue Bar (Deck 5): This is an odd little space tucked to one side of the atrium and a bit hard to find. It's an elegant cocktail bar in silver, black marble and midnight blue that should, in theory, be an ideal pre-dinner meeting place, but it isn't. (That honour is taken by Olly Smith's The Glass House.) During our five-day cruise, I didn't see a single person in there. Open 10 a.m. to late.
Brodie's (Deck 6): Set in a large space just off the atrium, Brodie's is popular throughout the day, with a variety of entertainment including quizzes and live football screenings, as well as live music and karaoke in the evening. Designed in smart tones of brass, wood and a black-and-white geometric floor pattern, it's designed to resemble a large pub and is named after one of the founders of P&O Cruises, Brodie McGhie Wilcox.
Brodie's also has The Great British Beer Menu, which features an astonishing 70 different bottled beers, ales and ciders from 56 UK counties including pilsners, ales, stouts, gluten-free beer and speciality beers such as Chocolate Tom from Robinson's Brewery in Cheshire, Ginger Hare from Bath Ales in Somerset and Orange Peel from the Wadsworth Brewery in Wiltshire, starting at a cheaper-than-pub price of £3.85 per bottle. The casino adjoins Brodie's. Open from 10 a.m. to late.
The Glass House (Deck 7): Wine expert Olly Smith's wine bar is a very popular gathering place all day, given its central location at the top of the atrium. Smith has chosen a range of 40 wines to offer by the glass, half of which are new to P&O. They are partly influenced by the ship's itineraries, so he has drawn from Croatia and Italy; but you can find wines from farther afield, including vintages from Uruguay and Japan. The 'Wine Flights' are fun, allowing you to sample three regional varieties, complete with Olly's tasting notes, from £9.95 for three 125 ml glasses. You can accompany the wine with a fine selection of tapas-sized dishes, as well as more filling mains (see Dining). Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Crow's Nest (Deck 16): Located high atop the ship, this bar takes up a prime piece of real estate right at the front and affords spectacular views. It's a P&O Cruises' favourite, appearing on most ships in the fleet, and on Britannia it's the biggest yet. The venue is done up with a generous use of marble and floor-to-ceiling windows. During the day it's quiet and peaceful, and indeed we saw a number of people fast asleep on the very comfortable chairs and sofas dotted about. At night, it turns into a sophisticated pre- or post-dinner venue. You don't chance upon the Crow's Nest -- you head here -- and it's ideally situated if you're dining in the nearby Epicurean. It also adjoins the library and the nearby Marlow Suite, which is the ship's card room.
The Crow's Nest features The Great British Gin Menu, which includes 20 British-distilled gins from around the country including small, artisan brands such as The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (Argyll), Tarquin's Dry Gin (Cornwall), Darnley's View (Edinburgh), Silent Pool Gin (Surrey) and Ely Dark Chocolate Gin (Cambridgeshire), as well as big names such as Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Hendrick's. A selection of tonic waters, including Fevertree, Fentiman's and Bottlegreen, complement the gins.
Riviera (Deck 16): The partly covered Riviera bar is the main bar for the Lido Deck. Open 8 a.m. to late.
Lido (Deck 16): This outside bar is opposite the Riviera, on the other side of the two main pools. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunset (Deck 16): This popular spot, right outside the Horizon Restaurant, takes up the whole of the aft of the ship. It's perfect for sundowners and smokers, who can smoke on the port side.
Serenity (Deck 17): This bar is solely for the use of passengers who have booked The Retreat. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There are two main pools on the Lido Deck (Deck 16). Sailaway parties take place here, with a live DJ and dancing. It's a large space and, despite the number of passengers onboard, it never felt crowded. There is a shallow paddling pool between the two main pools, for toddlers. (Swim nappies are OK here.) There is also a plunge pool at the aft of Deck 17.
There is another outdoor pool on Deck 17 in The Retreat. The Retreat is an adults-only enclave at the top and front of the ship, and is technically part of the Oasis Spa on Deck 5. It has a capacity of just 84 people and numbers are strictly controlled; you gain access by purchasing a one-day or full-cruise pass. It's open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The area is serene and calm, with day beds and cabanas for spa treatments. You also get a designated lounger, bathrobe, slippers, towels, free fruit and smoothies, and unlimited access to the two hot tubs.
Passes for The Retreat cannot be pre-booked, but are available to purchase onboard at the Oasis Spa, subject to availability. They tend to book up quickly on the first day of the cruise, though one-day passes are sometimes available on the day. Passes to The Retreat can also be obtained when booking a spa package. A day pass costs £25 per person. Prices for full-cruise passes for one person or a couple are: £120 per person (£200 per couple) for seven nights; £180 (£300 per couple) for 10 to 12 nights; or £240 (£400 per couple) for 14 nights.
You can also eat up here by ordering food via the 'Resort Stewards'. Breakfast (9 a.m. to noon) includes smoothies, cereals and paninis for free, but drinks will set you back £2 for a small orange juice, which is a bit steep. Lunch (noon to 3:30 p.m.) includes salads and light dishes such as smoked salmon and paninis. Afternoon tea includes sandwiches, pastries and scones from a buffet (served from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Outdoor fun is centred around the purpose-built Arena at the aft of Deck 18, the Sports Deck. The Arena is designed as a basketball court, but offers a range of equipment for playing various sports including short tennis, cricket and football. Friendly tournaments for adults and children take place during the day, and some evenings the Arena doubles as a sailaway venue when the weather is particularly inclement. (It's open, but far more sheltered than the Lido Deck.)
The Arena is surrounded by tiered viewing decks and even has an adjoining bar. Screens on either side of the bar are set up for passengers to play the latest motion-sensing video games. There is also a ping pong table and two golf nets near the Arena.
The Sun Deck is up on Deck 17, overlooking the Lido Deck. It has two hot tubs, one on either side looking down on the main pools and plenty of sun loungers. You could also head up to Deck 18, which is quieter and doubles as the tiny Promenade, but you'll have to share it with joggers.
Reception is off the main atrium on Deck 5. Taking the front desk out of the atrium itself is an inspired move because it means the atrium is left to savour and enjoy, with the lines of people enquiring about their bills relegated to a corridor.
The shore excursions desk is diagonally opposite and beside it is a shop selling essential goods and logo items. All the rest of the shops are found on Deck 6. These include shops selling watches, duty-free items and jewelry. Brand names sold onboard include: Omega and Chopard, Beaverbrooks, Rituals, Desigual and Crew Clothing.
The photo gallery is on Deck 7. There are a few passenger photos on the walls for you to peruse, but mostly you look for your own photos and choose what you want via touch screens. Future Cruise Sales is next door if you'd like to book your next cruise while onboard.
The library is all the way up on Deck 16, right at the front of the ship, just behind the Crow's Nest. It's well stocked and a good size. All the books are in English, and you can take out two books per person and keep them for one week. There are also four computers for passenger use. The ship has Wi-Fi throughout, available in three 24-hour package options; The Connect Package (£7.75 for 24 hours) provides social media access and internet messaging services; The Browse Package (£12.50) offers internet browsing (with the exception of video streaming), internet messaging, email and social network access; and The Works Package (£24.95) offers web browsing, including YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music streaming, video calls, email, instant messenger services and social media access. There's also a new "Pay As You Go" option which costs 65p per minute.
The library is open 8 a.m. to noon, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on port days. On sea days, it is open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and then 7:30 to 9 p.m.
The games rooms -- the Marlow Suite (named after P&O's long-serving former boss, Carol) and the Ivory Suite -- are in the opposite corridor. There are bridge tables for bridge and whist in the Marlow Suite.
There are two free self-service launderettes toward the aft of every floor. You can buy washing powder from the ship shop opposite reception on Deck 5.
The Oasis Spa is at the front of the ship on Deck 5, just beyond reception. It's an odd spot, somewhat marooned, and it's unclear why P&O has chosen to put it here when the 'outdoor spa' area -- The Retreat -- is 12 floors above it. Theoretically, you could be wandering around the ship in your dressing gown if you booked a day in The Retreat along with your spa treatment.
The Oasis Spa has 16 treatment rooms, a relaxation room, a lecture room, the Oasis Villa and a thermal suite. The Oasis Villa is an exclusive-use area where you can hide away for a few hours in cushioned chairs and take a dip in your private whirlpool spa. Reserve your time there (for an extra fee) at spa reception.
The thermal suite has a hydrotherapy pool, six heated stone loungers, three aromatic showers and two water beds. There are also two saunas (a mild one and a Finnish one) and a steam room. The thermal suite is very popular and fills up quickly. It costs £25 per person, per day.
Spa treatments start at £36 for a 25-minute back, neck and shoulder massage and rise to £125 for a 75-minute stone massage. There are also couples treatments, acupuncture and facials on offer.
One odd omission: the only drink on offer is water. It seems strange not to have all the various jasmine or ginger-infused teas that you get in most spas.
A salon attached to the spa offers haircuts, manicures, pedicures and men's grooming.
Lectures and seminars go on all day -- everything from how to tackle puffy eyes to improving the way you walk and how to control unruly hair. Look for discounts, such as 'buy three treatments and get a 10 percent discount', especially on port days.
The spa, thermal suite and The Retreat all get booked up early, so make your appointments or purchase your passes as soon as you get onboard -- particularly, if you'd like a treatment on a sea day.
The gym is on Deck 17 toward the back of the ship. It's well equipped with plenty of treadmills and bikes and a weight training area. The cardio equipment faces the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so there are great views and plenty of light.
There is a large studio for group fitness classes. The gym offers a wide range of fitness classes, some of which are for free (such as stretching and cycling) and others with a charge, including yoga and Pilates (£7.70) and -- a first for P&O Cruises -- TRX (£14 per class). You can also hire a personal trainer by the hour (£47) or join a Boot Camp (three 45-minute classes) for £74.
The jogging track is also up on this level.
A wide number of walk-in seminars, such as foot clinics and wellness advice, take place every day.
The kids' club, The Reef, is located at the aft of the ship on Deck 17. Accessed by a long corridor painted sky blue with white clouds, The Reef is P&O Cruises' biggest dedicated, supervised children's club for ages two to 17-years-old in the fleet.
The Reef Club has five age-specific clubs in dedicated rooms: Tumblers (six months to 2 years), Splashers (2-4), Surfers (5-8), Scubas (9-12) and H2O for the teens (up to 17-years-old), as well as a waiting room for parents. What's particularly special about all the rooms is that they are flooded with natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows. Each group has a range of age-specific activities, games and entertainment.
All age groups must register, and Splashers and Surfers have to be signed in and out by their parents. (Parents cannot drop off at Tumblers, but must stay with babies and toddlers at all times.) There is always a Parents Talk on the first day of the cruise to introduce the staff and outline how The Reef works.
Kids club hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on sea days. Port day hours are mostly the same, but the club opens at 10 a.m. (See separate open hours for Tumblers and teens.) Parents must remain on the ship on port days if their child is at The Reef.
The welcome parties and events such as The Reef's Got Talent show and kids' discos take place during the afternoon in the Live Lounge, 10 decks below.
In addition to Reef events, the Cookery Club runs Family Classes designed for kids to get hands on experience in the kitchen. Each adult can bring along one or two children between the ages of 8 and 17 -- and the children cook for free.
A special children's tea happens every evening featuring stereotypical kid food, such as sausages, fish fingers and pizza. A children's menu is also available in the main dining rooms.
Tumblers is the stay and play area for the tiniest passengers, with soft play mats and plenty of toys. There are no organised activities; instead, it's a safe place for parents to interact with their kids. At night, the space turns into a night nursery for children up to 4-years-old, with space for 15 cots. This is a complimentary service on a first come first served basis. There is no in-cabin babysitting available.
The Tumblers room is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on sea days and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on port days. The Night Nursery operates from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Splashers is a lovely big space with loads for little ones to do, including a soft play area with a slide, a creative play area with Play-Doh and crayons, a puppet theatre, dressing up area and a library. Every day is packed with activities ranging from learning how to juggle to face painting, games and songs, ship-wide scavenger hunts and egg and spoon races. Story time takes place at 7.45 p.m. followed by a movie from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Kids do not have to be potty trained, as staff will change nappies. The facility provides nappies, but parents are encouraged to provide their own.
The Surfers room is huge, split up into a number of different areas. There is a giant soft play area with bean bags, a Lego play area, a puppet theatre, foosball, Wii TV and a number of screens for PS4 computer games. The staff limit the amount of time kids spend playing computer games, and kids of this age are limited to just 11 age-appropriate games.
Surfers have a packed daily itinerary, with shipwide hide and seek, circus skills, bowling, plate spinning, a pirate hunt and duel, and talent shows.
All kids from Tumblers through Surfers can use the enclosed Splash Zone outside the Surfers 'room, which features a pirate ship with button-activated water cannons and a shallow water play area with spray jets for toddlers. (A shallow paddling pool can be found on the Lido Deck.) There are also little (foot-powered) buggies for the smaller ones to 'drive' around in.
The Scubas room includes air hockey, pool, Wi-Fi, a DJ booth and dance floor and lots of space to chill out. There are 12 computer screens and a wide range of age-appropriate video games. On certain mornings, the ship's youth DJ teaches kids to mix and DJ. A Lego area and a craft area round out the offerings.
Mindful of this slightly tricky 'tween-age', Britannia organises a lot fewer activities for the Scubas, and children are allowed to come and go as they please.
The H2O room for 13- to 17-year-olds is more like a nightclub than a kids' room. Teens can either join in the organised games, talent shows and parties, or hang out with friends in the dedicated chill-out areas and play video games or watch DVDs.
The teens-only deck at the aft of Deck 17 is a first for the cruise line. There is a plunge pool, lots of deck chairs and access to the H2O room. The space is simply cordoned off from the regular sun deck area, and outside of school holidays, hardly any teens use the deck. Given this, we wonder if P&O's adult passengers will try and take over the deck area when only a small number of teens are on board.
The H2O room is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on both sea and port days. Note parents must remain on the ship if their teens are aboard.