A few days ago I returned from a two-week Mediterranean cruise on board the P&O Cruises flagship Britannia. Launched in 2015, the ship carries 3,647 guests and 1350 crew. She weighs 143,000 GT and spends most the year cruising to Norway, the Canary Islands, the Western Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Britannia features 10 dining venues, 7 entertainment spaces and 8 bars/cafés. Before our cruise, Britannia was the only P&O Cruises ship in the existing fleet that I hadn’t sailed on, although I had looked around her twice in Southampton.
Our cruise departed from Southampton on June 3rd, returning June 17th2018. This was a Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise and a number of Strictly celebrities came on board to give talks and perform shows and dance classes for guests. Celebrities included Craig Revel Horwood, Anton du Beke and 2017 champion Joe McFadden, along with dancers such as Pasha, Aljaz and Janette. Costumes from the show were displayed in the atrium and these were changed partway through the cruise.
Over two weeks we visited the ports of Alicante, Barcelona, Toulon, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Cartagena and Gibraltar. The only port I hadn’t been to before was Toulon, so I was familiar with the other destinations on the itinerary. We chose this cruise because we wanted some summer sun outside of the school holidays. You’ll find a list of my favourite, and least favourite, things about Britannia towards the end of this post.
We booked a suite giving us priority embarkation at Ocean Terminal in Southampton. This meant we were some of the first people on board the ship and we had our own embarkation lounge. Check-in took around half an hour in total. The embarkation lounge is really just a cordoned off section of the terminal, where you are offered tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Within ten minutes of sitting down, we were ushered onto the ship so we didn’t have to wait long. Once on board we had a VIP buffet style lunch in the Peninsular Restaurant. A choice of hot and cold food was available, including pasties, sandwiches, battered prawns and sweet treats. Guests were offered a complimentary glass of Prosecco. By the time we finished our lunch (we boarded around 12.30pm) our cabins were ready and our luggage had arrived. The service was swift and efficient.
We researched the different type of cabins on offer before making our booking direct with P&O Cruises. We were aware that standard balconies on board Britannia are much smaller than those on Azura and Ventura. Therefore we opted for a suite, which would give us the additional space we required (extra cabin space and a larger balcony). We were allocated the Mistral Suite on Deck 14, B603. The suite is located towards the aft end of the ship, between the midship lifts and the aft lifts and aft staircase. You can see a video tour of our suite below, along with a video of our balcony further down in this post.
Booking a suite gives you a few additional extras which include: butler service, breakfast in The Epicurean, flowers, canapés each evening, a bottle of champagne and chocolates on arrival, priority embarkation, The White Company toiletries, bathrobe and slippers, free shuttle buses, umbrella, binoculars, VIP lunch upon boarding. I’ll be honest, we didn’t feel we really needed butler service and the flowers were not in our suite upon arrival. There was an issue getting hold of the flowers, although they did arrive several days later. For me, breakfast in The Epicurean was the biggest bonus of booking a suite and the service in the restaurant was impeccable.
You will see a few references to Azura and Ventura in this post, as there are many similarities between the three ships. Our suite was smaller than its equivalent on Azura and Ventura, but it was comfortable all the same. The bathroom was enormous and it was nice to see a proper shower door (cabins have these on Britannia instead of the old shower curtains). The toilet was separate from the rest of the bathroom, which did waste a bit of space. The whirlpool bath was very nice, although bring your own bubble bath as it isn’t supplied. The shower had a washing line, which was very useful.
The lounge area is compact but comfortable and both the lounge and TV have large, interactive flat screen TVs. The selection of free films on offer was very good and all P&O Cruises ships now offer condensed versions of BBC and ITV. The mattress on our bed was very comfortable and it was lovely waking up to a sea (or port) view every day. I missed not having a bedside table on my side of the bed though. The dressing table served as a bedside table but it was quite high. Storage space was very good although there are no facilities to hang full-length evening dresses (the wardrobes aren’t quite long enough so I hung mine on a wardrobe door) and draw space is limited. I recommend taking a full-length dress carrier with you, if you cruise on Britannia.
We were happy with the size of our balcony, although all balconies are narrow. We had two chairs, two footstools and two tables. A standard cabin has two chairs and one table. There are separators between balconies which you can open up if you are travelling with other people. I have included some photos of an Inside cabin and a Deluxe Balcony cabin below. The latter has a really good layout, with a double bed and sofa area. BUT the balconies are small (as you’ll see in the photo).
Our suite was situated close to the launderette, which was really useful. There were four washing machines, four dryers and four ironing boards and I never had a problem getting an iron or a machine. I always take my own washing powder with me, but they sell liquid capsules in the shop for £1 each.
Britannia ship tour
Before I start writing about the ship, I thought I would let you know that I will put together a Dining with P&O Cruises article, so I will discuss the main cover charge restaurants in that post. I also won’t discuss the ports in detail, as I often write individual destination port guides. We pre-booked just one excursion called The Vatican – Behind the Scenes, in Civitavecchia which was very good.
Britannia has an impressive atrium, which feels like an upmarket hotel lobby. It is dominated by a lit mirrored starburst centre piece and the whole space spans three decks. On the lower deck (5) the central area is peppered with comfy chairs and sofas. This space was used all the time by guests and was rarely empty. The Blue Bar, Art Gallery and Market Café are situated just off this central area. The shops are located just above on Deck 6. I didn’t think the perfume shop had as good a selection of products as some of the other P&O Cruises ships, but the rest of the shops had a good range. The Glass House and Java Café are on Deck 7 in the atrium area.
Although the central atrium has stairs, there is no central midship staircase. This has been a bone of contention for guests since the ship’s launch and the company are aware of the issue. Initially we didn’t think the missing staircase would be an issue. However as the cruise progressed we constantly had to fight for lifts and people decided to ‘go up to come down’ on regular occasions just so they could get in one. Although it is possible to use the forward and aft staircase, due to the size of the ship you end up walking long distances just to get the lift or stairs to another deck. I understand Royal Princess is also without a central staircase as both ships are the same design. That said, the staircase issue would not put me off sailing on Britannia again and, if you are mobile, I would urge it not to put you off either. It is more of an issue for guests with mobility problems or those with pushchairs and small children. The lifts are also quite small.
Bars, lounges and cafés
You are certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to bars on Britannia. As well as poolside bars, you’ll find a number of enticing options inside.
The Blue Bar: Larger and more spacious than on the Grand Class ships, the Blue Bar is located on Deck 5 in the atrium. It’s a great space for a pre dinner or pre show drink. The only downside is the dark interior.
The Glass House: A popular pre show drink spot, you can enjoy one of Olly Smith’s speciality wines in this trendy wine bar come bistro. The wines here are not available in the main restaurants and in the past I’ve tried some delicious tipples from Croatia, South America and Australia. You can also try the wine flight if you want something different. My favourite alcoholic beverage on board is Peller Ice Wine; we brought two bottles home with us!
The Crystal Room: This elegant lounge was used for a number of Strictly events, including meet and greets and dance classes. It’s located at the forward end of Deck 7, near Headliners Theatre.
Brodie’s: Britannia’s version of a British pub is very popular for live sporting events such as the World Cup. You can also try a range of specialist traditional beers and ales in this venue.
The Crow’s Nest: It’s great to see the popular Crow’s Nest reinstated on a newer P&O Cruises vessel. Boasting the most impressive panoramic views over the ship’s bow, this is a great spot to relax with a book or listen to the pianist in the evening. We used it several times pre and post dinner.
The Live Lounge: Britannia’s version of Manhattan and Havana (Azura, Ventura), this is a great spot for evening entertainment such as live music. It doesn’t have the screens at the back that the latter venues have, but you get an all round good view from most seating areas.
Sunset Bar: We used this bar the most, due to its location close to the buffet and its indoor/outdoor feel. It was a great spot to enjoy sailaway, particularly as the weather was so warm in the Mediterranean. The bar is laid out with white, grey and blue furniture and fake foliage separates the different areas. The port side section is a smoking area; so if you are a non-smoker, stick to the starboard side.
Arena Bar: This can be found next to the sports court, but it doesn’t open after 6pm. We never used this bar and it was always very quiet.
Java Café: This popular spot is the place to go for a Costa Coffee. There are tables and chairs outside the café on Deck 7, making it a great place to sit on a sunny day.
Market Café: Exclusive to Britannia, you can purchase special Eric Lanlard pastries and cakes from this café. I was also told they serve hot lunch dishes such as pie s (for a small fee) , but I didn’t find that out until the end of the cruise.
There are two additional things I want to highlight. As I am pregnant, this was an alcohol free holiday for me. I was really impressed with the selection of soft drinks on offer, including mocktails (Bananaberry is my favourite), alcohol free beer, gin and cider and general soft drinks. P&O Cruises are known for their reasonably priced alcohol and soft drinks and I hope that doesn’t change (unless they introduce drinks packages).
The second thing I want to highlight is the Gin Tasting Masterclass, which costs £15 per person and operates fleet wide. Bar Services Manager Avalon was one of the instigators of this event which started on Azura and he did an excellent job teaching us about gin from across the UK. You get to try four gin cocktails and five gins for £15, which is good value. Avalon very kindly arranged for me to have non-alcoholic versions of the cocktails. He also hosts martini, rum, tequila and mixology classes on selected itineraries. You may also be interested to know that we attended a Sundowner Cocktail event which took place on the Observation Deck as we sailed away from Cartagena. This was very good and for £25 you get to try a range of exotic cocktails whilst mingling with officers. This also operates fleet wide.
I’d heard lots of negative things about the food on Britannia before our cruise. In my opinion the food was nice and it was no better or worse than any other P&O Cruises ship. Britannia’s Food and Beverage Manager Abel is very hands on with his team and he is meticulous in ensuring that guests have a positive dining experience. He hosted a behind-the-scenes brunch (which runs fleet wide) which was first trialled on Azura a couple of years ago when we were on board. For £25 guests can take a tour of the galley followed by a brunch showcasing items from the select dining venues. This was one of the highlights of the cruise for me and I really recommend it to others. The tour was very interesting and the lunch afterwards was delicious.
There are three main restaurants: Oriental Restaurant (Club Dining) and the Peninsular and Meridian Restaurants (Freedom Dining). We ate in the Peninsular Restaurant, as we were Freedom Dining.
The Horizon Buffet is situated on Deck 16 and offers the usual themed buffet in the evening, along with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and kids tea during the day. Hand washing stations mean that guests can wash their hands properly before dining. The buffet is cleverly segmented so that it doesn’t feel too big. In the evening, one side is used as The Beach House speciality restaurant.
We ate in the Glass House twice. Here you can sample three small plates as a main (or starter) followed my main courses and desserts. You pay for what you eat so there isn’t one standard cover charge. I recommend the lamb kebabs and ox cheek balls to start. The haddock and chips was also superb and so is the surf and turf.
The Epicurean is Britannia’s fine dining restaurant. A one off fee covers you for three courses. I tried ox cheek as a starter, lamb and cheese. My husband had Indonesian prawns, which looked incredible. We also had Eric Lanlard’s special afternoon tea in The Epicurean on the last sea day. We’d tried it on other ships and it is delicious. For a £15 supplement you get an elaborate choice of sweet and savoury options along with an extensive tea menu.
Of all the restaurants on board Britannia, I enjoyed Sindhu the most (£25 per person). That might be because I was craving spicy food a little bit though! Atul’s Signature Dish is my go-to main course but I also tried the tandoori chicken, which had a good kick to it. Sindhu feels more like a traditional Indian restaurant when comparing it to the same venue on other ships. It also has a lovely bar area which is completely separate to the restaurant.
The service in all the speciality dining venues was superb. Upon making our booking our butler made the restaurants aware that I was pregnant and waiting staff took this into account on each occasion.
There are three good-sized swimming pools, one small splash pool and a number of Jacuzzis. The main family pools can be found on Deck 16, between the Rivera Bar and Poolside Grill. You’ll find dining outlets dotted around Deck 16 by the pools. These consist of a pizzeria, grill, ice cream parlour and a Grab-and-Go snack bar. Unlike other ships, the music around the pool never seemed to be too loud and it didn’t dominate the area, which was great. There are a number of comfy sofas spread around Deck 16 and 17 and many can be found in shaded areas. I really liked having the option of using these sofas instead of having to use a sunbed.
We spent most of our time in the quiet zone by the Serenity Pool, Deck 17 forward. You rarely heard noise from the Deck 16 pools and this area was very peaceful. I believe it is an adult only area, as I never saw any children in the vicinity. The pool is much bigger than its equivalent on Azura and Ventura – the Oasis Pool. The water was nearly always warm which was a real bonus for me! There are shaded and open areas and I really liked the covered cabana, which provided sofas and shade. The Serenity Bar services this area and this is where I would purchase my daily freshly squeezed orange juice (I highly recommend it, it’s delicious). The Retreat is located at the far end of the Serenity Pool section.
Spa and The Retreat
Unlike the rest of the P&O Cruises fleet, Britannia’s spa can be found on Deck 5, close to Reception. Due to its location, the spa doesn’t benefit from lots of windows, which is a bit of a shame. My husband had a massage, which he said was very good. We tried out the hydrotherapy pool which you can purchase access to on a one-off basis or as part of a spa package. The pool is smaller than Arcadia’s hydrotherapy pool and it is completely enclosed, so there are no windows like Arcadia’s has. In the same room you’ll find the hotbeds. Due to the noise from the pool, it is quite difficult to relax on the hotbeds and I imagine in peak periods this area does get busy. We spent a total of 30 minutes using these facilities, so it’s only really worth the money if you are likely to use it for a longer period of time.
The gym is separate from the spa on Britannia and it is located on Deck 17. If you are using the swimming pools on Deck 16, the gym has the closest changing rooms to the pool areas. The gym is the best I have seen at sea, with fabulous sea views, a great selection of equipment and separate rooms for fitness classes.
The Retreat can be found towards the forward end of Deck 17 by the Serenity Pool. A special card is needed to access it and it cannot be pre-booked before the cruise, unless you purchase a special spa package. Access to The Retreat was sold out during our cruise, although we did have a look around it whilst we were in port. We spoke to a number of guests who used it on a daily basis and they loved it.
We had a look around the cookery school but we didn’t partake in any classes. The classes cost £45 each. Anton du Beke hosted a dinner in the Cookery School for a small number of guests and it cost £85 per person.
We were invited onto the bridge where I was able to take some superb photos along the side of the ship and across the bow. Captain Wesley Dunlop kindly posed for a photo with me and it was lovely chatting to him and Deputy Captain Andrew Wolverson, whom we have known for several years. The bridge is located at the forward end of Deck 14. The only way to access it normally is on the Behind-the-Scenes tour, which operates fleet wide.
As this was a Strictly Come Dancing cruise, most of the entertainment was Strictly themed which was understandable. We didn’t book the cruise for this reason, as we don’t normally watch the show. However, I did go along to the talk with 2017 winner Joe McFadden and that was interesting. The main Strictly shows were ticketed and all guests were allocated a set ticket, which you could then change for another day/time. The theatre seats over 800 making it larger than Ventura and Azura’s theatres. It can be accessed from Deck 6 and Deck 7. The Headliners Theatre Company performed a number of shows during the cruise, including Stephen Mulhern’s new Astonishing magic show.
We tended to dine frequently in the speciality restaurants, which took up a lot of our time in the evenings (I’ll cover these in my food and drink post) but we did go to three very good shows, these were:
- Tom Binns – Star and co-creator of the BBC’s Hospital People. His show was very funny!
- Chesney Hawkes and Darren Day at the Limelight Club. Both had incredible voices and it was lovely to meet them after the shows.
The Limelight Club is unique to Britannia. It is similar to the old supper clubs, whereby you pay a £25 supplement, which gives you a three-course meal and live entertainment. There were four artists performing in the Limelight Club over a two-week duration and there were four different menus that were rotated.
Our first meal was disappointing compared to our second meal (which was superb) but I think this was just due to the menu on offer that night. Guests arrived at the club at 6.30pm and the show finished around 10pm. Entertainment Host Jo B was an excellent compère for both shows and she was very attentive, personally working her way around the room chatting to each table which was a lovely touch. My husband and I are big fans of Jo, having sailed with her on other ships. She was very popular with the guests.
I love the fact that Britannia has a cinema/lecture theatre called The Studio situated on Deck 7. Films were shown two to three times a day depending on where the ship was. Film choices ranged from 80s movies like Flashdance to modern day hits The Mountain Between Us, Peter Rabbit and The Greatest Showman. Britannia does not have a sea screen like Azura.
Britannia’s youth club caters for children aged between 2-17 and children are split into four age groups. There is a Night Nursery for children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years of age, operating from 6pm-2am nightly. On board facilities include a splash zone and teens’ sun deck. The youth team organise a fun-filled programme of entertainment covering everything from treasure hunts to sporting events. Family cabins with pull-down berths or sofa beds are available.
Things I liked most about Britannia
- Serenity Pool
- The atrium
- Décor – I liked most of the décor, which was fresh, contemporary and stylish
- The Limelight Club
- Galley tour with brunch
- Sunset Bar
- Gin Tasting Masterclass
- The sinks for hand washing in the buffet and grill areas
- The Crow’s Nest – it’s great to see this popular bar on board one of the newer P&O Cruises ships
- The Library – tucked away next to the Crow’s Nest, this small but perfectly formed library proved popular on our cruise.
- The outdoor seating/café area on Deck 7
Things I liked least about Britannia
- US plug sockets in cabins (there were some UK sockets too). We brought European adapters so were very surprised to find American sockets when the ship doesn’t go to America (or have American passengers).
- The dark interiors – Blue Bar, Sindhu, Headliners Theatre and the Limelight Club all had dark interiors, which felt oppressive at times (although the décor was stylish).
- The missing midship staircase
- The sunbeds – this is a personal issue I had on Ventura too and it’s not really ship specific. The metal sunbeds are very uncomfortable due to a gap in the seat, and I prefer the older plastic style.
Some of the main differences between Azura, Ventura and Britannia
- Cabins and balconies are generally smaller on Britannia
- Britannia has a Crow’s Nest instead of The Planet Bar or Metropolis
- The Crystal Room replaces The Tamarind Club and Malabar
- Britannia’s Sindhu bar feels much more inviting and people seem to use it even when not dining
- Britannia’s Headliners Theatre doesn’t have bars separating deck 6 and 7, meaning there is nothing obstructing your view
- The Epicurean on Britannia has no outdoor space but the décor is much lighter than that on Ventura and Azura
- Only Ventura has a roof over her pool
- Britannia has more sofa and shaded areas outside
- The Limelight Club is unique to Britannia
I was really impressed with Britannia as a ship, although it took me a while to find my way around. I spoke to a number of guests who were repeat cruisers and she seemed to have a loyal following. As our cruise fell outside of the school holidays, the age range varied but we only saw a few younger children on board. I would say that a large portion of guests were aged 50+ but I did notice a few couples in their twenties and thirties (although not many). I would be interested to see what the regular entertainment is like on a non-themed cruise, but I imagine it doesn’t differ too much from the other ships. I don’t know if I would book a suite again just to have a bigger balcony and sofa area, considering we spent a lot of time on deck. But I did like the look of the Deluxe Balcony cabins which also had a sofa.
If you like larger ships, plenty of select dining options and lots of deck space then it’s worth considering a cruise on Britannia. If you are a fan of smaller, more intimate ships and more exciting itineraries then it won’t be for you.
You can read my other P&O Cruises ship reviews here. I will be writing Dining with P&O Cruises and Cruising When Pregnant posts soon.Follow me on social media