This review is based on the 2 night preview cruise on Britannia. This short cruise did not give us time to experience all that Britannia has to offer, but it did provided a good opportunity to obtain an overview of the ship and its facilities. As a preview cruise, and the first time Britannia had left port with passengers on board, the crew were still getting used to their new ship, so I have focused the majority of this review on the ship and its facilities rather than the service provided.
We had a very good journey to Southampton and parking and check in at the Ocean terminal was smooth and orderly.
We entered Britannia on deck 5, into the three deck high atrium which uses the full width of the ship so it is a large, open and airy space. The new Market Café is on one side of deck 5 and the Blue bar on the other, there are shops around the atrium on deck 6 and the Glass House and Java café are on deck 7. We think that this is a very elegant area that provides a real heart to the ship. The atrium area is reasonably busy throughout the day but we were surprised to find that both the cafes that serve Costa coffee were closed after dinner. This may have been to do with the preview cruise.
The Glass House is similar in format to other P&O ships and it has a very good, well balanced selection of wines at what we feel are reasonable prices, especially if you buy the bottle (most are between £18 and £23). The Market Café offers a range of Costa coffee (small black £2.25) and introduces a wonderful range of very tasty pastries and sweet bites (£2.95). There are also an interesting selection of cheese introduced by Charlie Turnbull together with a range of meat and fish that are served on platters (£6.95) as well as a small selection of gelato. This is a great new addition, but seats are at a premium in this area during traditional meal times.
Just off the atrium is another new addition to the P&O brand, the Limelight Club dinner / entertainment venue, where dinner is combined with a cabaret act. We did not get an opportunity to experience this in action but feedback from others was very positive.
The P&O signature venues such as the Crow’s Nest, Brodie’s and The Headliners Theatre are all on Britannia but there are a few more interesting new venues including the Crystal room which is an elegant dance venue just forward of the atrium on deck 7. There are also a number of new product ranges such as a large selection of regional British beers
Britannia retains the three main dining room approach used on other P&O ships so they are all single deck areas with slightly different themes. One is used for Club dining and two are used for “any time” dining. A combination of these three dining rooms are open for breakfast and lunch. We were allocated a table in the Oriental restaurant which is towards the aft of the ship on deck 6 which means that it has to be accessed from deck 7. When we arrived for dinner the queue was up the stairs and past Sindhu so we decided to find an alternative, rather than stay in a very slow moving queue. This again may have been an issue associated with the preview cruise, but access to this dining room is not the best.
Having given up on the queue for dinner, we went up to the Horizon Restaurant and found the Beach House. The Beach House is one of the best kept secrets on the ship. This is set up for dinner in the aft starboard section of Horizons. There is a £5 cover charge. The menu is an eclectic mix of Mexican, Creole, Latin American style food which really appealed to us. Some items attract an additional supplement, but there are not that many. (£3.95 for the meat brochette or a filet steak for you to cook on a lava stone). Food is very well presented and really tasty, when combined with friendly service it made for one of the best meal I have had on a P & O ship. Nachos to start, sizzler with chicken and halloumi for the main course and the key lime cheesecake sundae. Wow.
One of the most stunning public areas on Britannia is Sindhu where both the bar and the restaurant are very elegant. However, unfortunately, the food we experienced was very disappointing. It seemed to be Anglicised Indian food lacking in taste and depth of flavour and was very light on the meat content considering the supplement charged. We think it is pretentious food that lacks substance and the service was also very slow. This was one of the worst meals we have ever experienced in an alternative dining venue on any ship. One interesting experience was the Indian Sauvignon Blanc on the Sindhu wine list. A light Sauvignon that that was high in minerality paired well with the food. Another interesting and good value wine.
Horizon buffet restaurant is big and bright with well broken up seating areas and easy access to open deck tables. There are two bright free flow service areas but there was not a great range on offer e.g. the salad bar was very disappointing in its range of items and the selection at both lunch and dinner was not inspiring. I feel that so much more could have been done with this new style service area. This may again have been a feature of the preview cruise.
The breakfast service provided all the usual items and the large service areas enabled them to be offered on multiple service points. This helped to keep the service flowing and limited the need for queues. A selection of juices are available at breakfast but this is reduced to only hot beverages and water at other meals.
The fine dining restaurant on Britannia is Epicurean which is located on deck 16 near the Crow’s Nest bar. This is another very elegant restaurant and the menu reflects the fact that this is the most expensive alternative dining option at £28 per head. We did not get to sample this menu either but were told by some who did that it was very good and well worth the supplement.
The cookery club is another new feature introduced for the first time on Britannia. This area is hidden away on deck 17 towards the aft of the ship, it is not well sign posted. The area features a combination of a demonstration kitchen, a practical training kitchen with 12 work stations and a dining area, presumably to sample your efforts? We could not find any details of the sort of classes to be offered nor the prices of them and nobody was around when we visited the Club. The marketing material has explained that James Martin is the lead chef with others attending from time to time. I expect that it will follow similar lines to the Culinary Centre on Oceania cruises Marina and Riviera where a range of different classes, themes to the cruise destinations, are offered, some of which are combined with shore excursions to source products etc.
The open deck areas and swimming pools on Britannia look very attractive. There are two main pools which are surrounded by a bar, grill, pizzeria and ice cream / grab and go bar. Forward of these is the adults only serenity pool and bar and there is also a small plunge pool located at the stern of the ship on deck 17. There are a number of other bars around the open decks so obtaining a drink should be very easy.
There are lots of nicely presented loungers, chairs and tables and the decks are broken up by windbreaks and wooden dividers to avoid the regimented look of long straight lines of loungers. There is space for lounging or sitting on a number of different decks, from deck 16 up to deck 19 which is located between the main and the serenity pools. The ultimate relaxation area is The Retreat (a daily fee for entrance) which occupies the forward part of deck 17. There appeared to be a good number of loungers and chairs on Britannia, but a fair weather sea day will test the capacity better than a chilly day in March.
Our cabin was a balcony cabin (P&O call it a Balcony without sofa) on deck 14, just forward of the front stair well. It was nicely furnished but was very compact, with just enough room for a small round table and a comfortable easy chair and a small dressing table. Overall lighting was very good but there are no individual bed side reading lights. There are three over bed lights but they are on one switch, so take a torch if one of you likes to read later than the other, as the lights over the pillows are very bright! The tea and coffee making facilities are to the side of the dressing table and there is a small fridge underneath. There are a good number of standard British power sockets (4) with one placed near the shelf under the TV which was great for phone and camera charging. The bed was very comfortable with a really soft duvet. The air conditioning and heating was very effective and this was a nice quiet cabin with only a subdued hum from the ventilation.
The shower room is bright but compact and has a first for P&O, a proper shower screen rather than the tacky curtain that attacks you at every turn. It is a shame that the space under the basin is not better fitted out with storage as there is only an open shelf. The wardrobe is an open area outside the shower room with a single hanging rail with shelf above. There are 30 hangers and a tall cupboard in the corner. One shelf in this cupboard has a small safe. Personally, I am not a fan of this open style of wardrobe.
The surprise, and disappointment, was the size of the balcony, how small can you make a balcony? There is very little room for the 2 chairs, table and foot stool as well as two people. You could just about sit in the chair and face the sea, but you could not recline the chair without turning it across the balcony. You can only just fit a chair and the table side by side in the depth of the balcony. Looking at the side of the ship, it appears as if the balconies are the same depth on all cabins, including the Superior Deluxe Balcony cabins. For me, they are just too small. A further annoyance, when using the balcony, was the noise from what looked to be cooling fans, just forward of the first lifeboat on deck 7. Every few minutes one or other of them roared into life for a few minutes. It disturbed us, 6 decks above them, I would not like to be near these on decks 8, 9, or 10. I advise you to avoid the balcony cabins just forward of the first lifeboat if you enjoy relaxing on your balcony.
There are some high tech additions to the ship which includes a number of large TV screens set into the walls at regular intervals in the public areas. Whilst these have their place in some areas, I feel that they spoilt some otherwise very elegant areas. Another area that has gone high tech is the Ships Photographer where you now view your photographs on screens rather than wall after wall of prints, many of which never sell.
Britannia has the usual range of shops and the Oasis spa provides a wide range of different treatments, many of which are provided on deck 5 rather than at the top of the ship.
In terms of P&O ships, I like Aurora and Oriana but am not a fan of Azura and Ventura so I was wondering what I would make of Britannia. It is not about big ships v smaller ships for me, but more about ambiance and elegance and my initial short experience of Britannia is very positive. Having spent 20 days on QM2 in January I feel that Britannia is a much more elegant ship and a far better ship for cruising, yes I know QM2 is a liner! Britannia ticks most of the boxes for a good cruise ship from my perspective, good pool areas, plenty of open deck space with comfortable loungers and opportunities to have something to eat and drink out in the sunshine. There are also very nice indoor areas such as the Market Cafe, Java and the Glass House, however on our cooler day at sea, they were often busy and it was difficult to find a seat. I suspect these areas will be under great pressure when Britannia is cruising in northern waters as they are very attractive areas with an interesting range of services.
For me, Britannia is let down by the balconies, but overall I believe that Britannia gives P&O the opportunity to really up the ante, the question is will they be able to rise to the challenge?
We are sailing on Anthem of the Seas shortly and Norwegian Escape later in the year so I am looking forward to seeing how these new ships compare and contrast.