If you are looking to escape those January blues and jet off into the sunshine, we suggest that you read about our cruise experience aboard the Britannia, P&O’s flagship vessel. In December last year, we were lucky enough to enjoy a Caribbean cruise from Barbados to St Lucia and we found the cruise to be the perfect antidote to Winter weather.
But it wasn’t just the weather that was a hit – the Britannia offers a superb range of activities, a selection of top restaurants with menus by celebrity chefs, full-board flexibility, entertainment for all the family and exciting excursions to help you make the most out of each destination. We would highly recommend it!
Our trip itinerary took in some of the Caribbean’s most stunning and beautiful destinations. Starting in Barbados, we travelled to Curacao (below), Aruba, St Vincent, Grenada and St Lucia.
Included in the cruise, we had early morning flights from Gatwick to the embarkation port of Bridgetown. From arriving at the airport until the moment we found ourselves in our cabin, the journey was an absolute breeze and we felt utterly relaxed throughout. Once our bags were checked in for the flight, we then did not see them until we were actually aboard the ship and in our cabin. P&O offer a super simple system where they organise the transportation of your luggage from aircraft to ship, so you don’t have to. This eradicates that wait at the baggage reclaim and gives the trip a feeling of real ease. It’s also worth noting that a healthy 23kg baggage allowance per cruiser is included with the cost of your trip. Although, this system is quite normal for cruise and fly holidays, P&O did it particularly well and efficiently.
One thing to note, P&O offer a cruise personaliser service, which you can access online before your trip using your unique cruise reference number. This allows for complete personalisation of the trip, including restaurant and excursion bookings, spa treatment selection and the pre-purchase of any extras. The organiser is a handy tool; however, it would benefit from being slightly faster and a bit more intuitive.
We were lucky enough to stay in a balcony cabin with a queen sized bed, separate living room, The White Company toiletries, a bath, two large screen TVs and fantastic air conditioning. All in all, the room had all we needed and more. Plus, the balcony space is more than comfortable to enjoy a morning paper or an early evening cocktail.
It is sometimes a worry for people heading on a cruise that their room will be small and cramped; however, our room was spacious, homely and luxurious. We would certainly recommend a stay in one of these rooms to anyone. Simply gorgeous.
The Britannia offers a range of rooms, including single traveller options, inside cabins and more. Take a look at their website to find the fit for your trip.
Food and drink
When it comes to dining, the Britannia has a plethora of options ranging from casual to fine dining. In fact, there are over 10 places to dine and that meant we were never left hungry.
With the cost of the cruise you will have access to one of the Britannia’s 3 main restaurants during your time aboard. Each restaurant offers a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were lucky enough to enjoy “Freedom dining” and this meant we were able to turn up our designated restaurant (The Peninsular) at any time during the evening and we would be able to dine at our leisure. The menu in the evenings was eclectic and there was always a dish to satisfy; these included dishes featuring Atlantic salmon, partridge, ribs of sirloin, bream and other fantastic ingredients. On the whole, the quality of the food was good, yet not spectacular or high-end. We did also feel that staff were in a rush in our main restaurant and food was raced to our table, therefore we tended to be in and out of our seat fairly quickly, without a chance to really savour the experience.
In addition to the main restaurants, there are also multiple cafés and grab-and-go options dotted throughout the ship, where you will find more American style foods, such as pizza and burgers. You can also dine at the ship’s Horizon restaurant throughout the day from breakfast until later in the evening. Here food is served buffet style and cuisine offered spans the whole globe. Unfortunately, and this is one of the very few areas we were disappointed with the Britannia, we found food at the Horizon to be fairly average and uninspiring.
Select Dining – an absolute must try!
One area the Britannia really, really works well is the on-board Select Dining restaurants, each of which can be visited for an additional cover fee. At each of these restaurants the food was of a different class and really makes the Britannia a must-visit ship for any foodie. Whether it be a foray into South American wines in Olly Smith’s The Glass House or a journey into spices with Atul Kochhar, there is a cacophony of dining options on-board. Here is a little insight into each of the ship’s Select Dining restaurants…
Sindhu is one of our favourite finds upon the Britannia. The restaurant is Atul Kochhar’s signature restaurant aboard the ship and it really does showcase his ability to combine authentic Indian dishes with a modern flourish.
A particular highlight is the Crisp Fried Soft Shell Crab with Paw Paw Salad & Kumquat Chutney. Aesthetically striking on first glance, the crab is also spiced to perfection, thereby enhancing the natural sweetness of the crab while giving a punch of authentic India. This is just one of the dishes we sampled; yet it neatly conveyed exactly why Atul is known for being the “master of spices”.
Not only is the food sublime, but the setting is intimate and warm. Everything about Sindhu said elegance and refinement – a fantastic example of high-end food on the high seas.
The Limelight Club
The Limelight Club is a refined and stylish destination, where great food and great music combine for a memorable evening. The dress code matches the laid-back atmosphere and it is smart casual every night, even on a black tie evening – a great choice for those seeking a less formal evening.
The Limelight Club offers a concise three course menu and the choice is fairly restrictive, however, when the food arrived it was some of the best on the Britannia. Our favourite dish was the Prime Beef Fillet with a Herb and Horseradish Crust Carrot and Celeriac Terrine, Fondant Potatoes, Savoy Cabbage, Morel Mushrooms and Port Jus. Rich, superbly cooked and full of flavour. Delicious.
During our evening in The Limelight Club, we were treated to a selection of songs from the likes of Frank Sinatra and other famous crooners. These classic songs were sung by Last Tango In Halifax star Dean Andrews, who entertained the crowd with stories and jokes in between songs. A great night and another example of the Ship’s Select Dining excelling itself.
The Epicurean aims to “celebrate fine dining traditions of the past, combining them with contemporary presentation and the very best ingredients”. This ethos sounds relatively simple and unassuming; however, each dish we tried was accompanied by modern twists and turns, therefore turning the classics on their heads. If you are looking for a dining experience with flair and innovation, then The Epicurean is certainly the restaurant aboard the Britannia to do this.
On the whole, we found the exploration of classic flavours and modern techniques to be enlightening and intriguing. There were also some dishes which seemed to overdo the experimentation and left us and a couple of other diners we spoke to a little overwhelmed. For example, we tried the Salt and Pepper Oyster and Jumbo Prawn Tempura came with Horseradish Ice Cream, Umami Seaweed Dip and a Sweet Pimento Squeeze. We did enjoy the different flavours on show here, but it sometimes felt that the dishes were a little overcomplicated, masking the key ingredients and confusing the palette.
Amidst all of the culinary tricks, it was actually the simple Whole Dover Sole á la Meunière with Baby Vegetables and Potatoes that stole the show. Honest flavours and beautifully cooked, the sole was filleted at the table and it was utterly delicious. The best dish of the entire cruise.
Eric Lanlard afternoon tea at Epicurean
Eric Lanlard afternoon tea at Epicurean is one of the most indulgent afternoon teas we have ever sampled. A treat for the eyes, nose and tastebuds, there is a lot of culinary skill and wizardry on show. This particular afternoon tea is a wonderful example of how the typical afternoon tea can be elevated from a mere indulgence into an exciting gastronomic experience.
Highlights of the afternoon tea include Scottish Smoked Salmon and Dill in a Lemon and Cracked Black Pepper Macaroon and Roast Beef Brioche Horseradish. However, the best way for us to convey exactly how special this afternoon tea was, is through pictures….
The Beach House
Tucked away at the back of the ship is a little gem of a restaurant. Serving food with no bells and whistles, but with big, bold flavours, we really enjoyed the beach house. Dishes included coconut breaded shrimp to start and a prime fillet of beef to cook at the table on your very own lava rock.
Not quite luxury, but certainly full of flavour and the staff were some of the best on the ship too! We were a little surprised to find this restaurant not really advertised on the ship and we spoke to many of the diners in the restaurant, all of whom agreed the restaurant served some of the best on the Britannia.
Drinks on the Britannia are not included in your holiday (aside from tea, coffee and juice at breakfast). As a result, you may find yourself asking what packages are available aboard and are they worth the trouble?
There are two wine packages aboard the Britannia and they offer superb value for money. We opted for the Captain’s package, which offered 6 bottles for £107.50, a saving of almost 10% on the cost of each bottle individually. We were really pleasantly surprised to see that the quality of the wine in this packages was very high indeed, especially for the price. For instance, we enjoyed a great Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand and a Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. There is also the option of fizz to be had in the package also.
Soft drinks packages aboard cost £35 and this will give you 20 refills of 330ml soft drinks from any bar (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Lemonade & Tonic). Plus, you can also buy a Costa Coffee card for £22 and this will give you 10 Primo (12oz) Costa coffees, Americano, Latte, Cappuccino or Iced coffees.
Health & Spa
For those looking to pamper the body and soul, the Britannia has a sublime spa called the Oasis. The Oasis Spa features some great offerings such as a Hydrotherapy suite, where therapeutic saunas, steam rooms and tropical showers can all be enjoyed. There is also a salon and nail bar, Saline Caldarium and a hydrotherapy pool with reflexology, massaging jets and air recliners.
This serene space within the heart of the spa is an exclusive use area where you can hide away for a few indulgent hours. Unwind in gorgeously cushioned chairs and take a dip in your private whirlpool spa – order Champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries for a truly tantalising treat – and then request your personal therapist for a treatment of your choice. A sublime celebration for couples, a fun-filled few hours with family, or a fabulous pamper party for friends.
For a further supplement, you can also access the ship’s “Retreat”, where you can enjoy VIP service, luxurious loungers and towels, more space and tranquillity, and two additional Jacuzzis. The Retreat is perfect for couples looking to avoid the more lively family setting of the main pool area.
Activities and entertainment
During a cruise on the Britannia there is simply so much to do, there is no possibility you will find yourself twiddling your thumbs or bored. The ship is home to no less than 5 pools, each varying in size and setting. This is great for all the family and there is also a quieter pool at the back of the ship, where you will be able to enjoy a child free zone, should you wish to.
If you don’t fancy a swim, you could sign yourself up to one of James Martin’s Cookery School classes. Although you will usually not find James Martin actually on-board, he has designed a series of accessible and fun classes in the ship’s multi-million pound kitchens. We didn’t manage a class ourselves; however, we heard fantastic things about the quality of the classes.
The Britannia is always a hive of activity during the day and there is plenty to keep you occupied, with informative talks in the auditorium, quizzes in the ship’s pub “Brodies”, movies in the cinema and a range of tax-free shops to take advantage of during sea days.
As you would expect aboard such a large ship, there is also a sizeable theatre, which regularly hosts shows ranging from musicals, to dance, to stand-up comedy and much more. The quality of the entertainment is very high and we particularly enjoyed the very late night stand-up comedy, which was a little risqué, you could say.
If you are looking to make the most out of your cruise, then P&O’s shore excursions really offer a hassle free insight into each destination you visit.
Our first excursion (Seaworld Explorer) took place in Curacao and cost just under £40 per person. This short excursion took us below the ocean surface in a semi-submersible vessel. This vessel had a glass bottom, from where we were able to sea all of the local sea life and coral. A highlight of the trip occurred when a diver swam alongside the boat and fed the fish into a frenzy. Eye opening and great fun, this was a great glimpse of the underwater world we would not have been able to see otherwise.
We also enjoyed the “Rum and Chocolate” excursion in Grenada. This took us to a rum distillery which used the traditional processes it started with over 300 years ago. Following this, we also enjoyed a fun and informative tour of the Belmont Estate, where chocolate is produced and exported all over the world.
We would suggest that the excursions are certainly priced at a premium and they are a little expensive when you compare to local tour guides. However, if you take an excursion with P&O you are guaranteed that you will not miss sail times and you will also be joined by a P&O rep who will make sure that everything goes smoothly.
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Disclosure: For this blog post we were able to gain access to a sample product or service.
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