To date, P&O Cruises’ Britannia is the biggest vessel ever built for British cruisers, carrying 3,647 passengers, although P&O is launching an even bigger ship in 2020. For now, though, Britannia remains the line’s flagship, proudly British in feel, with the world’s longest Union Flag emblazoned on its white hull and all food and entertainment geared to British tastes.
Despite its size, Britannia resembles a cool boutique hotel inside, the décor all muted creams and nautical blues with touches of silver, gold, taupe and olive. There is marble everywhere. The centerpiece of the atrium is a shimmering sculpture, Star Burst, spanning two decks and made from 280 acrylic shards giving off a silvery light, inspired by the celestial navigation of yesteryear.
Where to eat
Food is a big event on Britannia, with multiple places to dine and an army of celebrity chefs showcasing their wares, dubbed ‘Food Heroes’ by P&O. Marco Pierre White, who has a long-standing relationship with the cruise line, has designed the gala menus for the main dining rooms, which include such delicacies as lobster served in a mornay sauce on truffled creamed potatoes. Olly Smith has chosen wines by the glass for The Glass House bar, which offers a range of tasty tapas-style dishes (for a fee), while Atul Kochhar has a wonderful Indian restaurant, Sindhu, on-board where you can dine from £20 – a bargain, given that Kochhar has twice been awarded a Michelin star. Patissier Eric ‘Cake Boy’ Lanlard has created cakes and pastries for a gourmet café in the atrium and TV’s James Martin accompanies several cruises, offering classes in the excellent Cookery School, which are a lot of fun.
There is also a fine dining restaurant, Epicurean, which has no celebrity chef attached but specialises in molecular cuisine, so there are plenty of surprises, from Bloody Mary lollipops to a delicious mango and coconut sorbet that comes disguised as a poached egg, and an amazing crème brulée that’s blow-torched at the table.
There are three elegant restaurants in which meals are included in the price; choose between early or late sitting in the traditional cruising style, where you share a table with the same people every night, or Freedom Dining, where you turn up as you please. Britannia does have a dress code, so there will be at least one black tie night per cruise.
Where to sleep
Britannia’s cabins are done out in in subtle shades of brown, cream and beige and the bathrooms have showers with glass doors. Décor is subtle, with art specially commissioned from British artists. There are 27 singles, 15 of them with balconies, and various combinations that can be adapted for families. All the outside cabins have balconies and all cabins have tea and coffee making facilities.
What to do
There is plenty going on during the day, from pub quizzes to cookery classes, lectures and dancing; lots of it. P&O Cruises has a partnership with Strictly Come Dancing and several Strictly-themed cruises take place every year, featuring stars from the show, the famous judges and sequins and spray tan a-plenty. All cruises, though, carry dance professionals and offer ballroom sessions in the pretty Crystal Room, which has a decent-sized dance floor.
There’s also a spa and gym and a purpose-built theatre offering a more intimate space than the main theatre for films, talks and cookery demos. Britannia has two main pools on Lido Deck, joined by a walkway, and the setting for some legendary pool parties with a live DJ – perfect for a sailaway celebration on a balmy Caribbean evening.
In the evenings, the ship comes alive with music, including live cabaret-style performances in the Limelight Club: a supper club featuring acts like Kiki Dee, Jaki Graham and Dean Friedman. The Live Lounge is a popular venue for tribute bands and stand-up, while razzle-dazzle production shows are staged in the theatre.
Despite the fact that Britannia feels like a very ‘grown up’ ship, P&O Cruises’ usual excellent children’s clubs are present, all included in the price, with entertainment for children from just two years old to late teens; teens even have their own sun deck. Family-friendly shore excursions are offered in most ports, too.
What I loved
There is a lot to love about Britannia, from the amazing Indian food in Sindhu to sessions in the Cookery Club, where the good-natured chefs don’t laugh at your failures and somebody else does the washing up. Everybody has their favourite watering hole on-board, but for me, the Crow’s Nest is a clear winner thanks to its Great British Gin Menu, where you can work your way through 20 gins (although some prefer the Great British Beer Menu in the pub, Brodie’s, featuring 70 different beers).
Most ships offer scones and cake in the afternoon but in Epicurean, Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea really is something special and absolutely worth the £15 charge. Dishes include savoury gruyere cheese eclairs, smoked salmon in black pepper macaroons and mouth-watering lemon meringue trifles. If you feel you have gained a few pounds after this extravaganza, visit the ladies’ loo near reception, where P&O has cunningly installed very subtle trick mirrors that present an extremely flattering reflection.