I was so excited to not only step aboard P&O Cruises’ Britannia again – less than a year since I enjoyed a two-night mini-cruise on her, but also to return to the picturesque landscape of the Norwegian Fjords after a four-year hiatus.
I sit here writing the first daily blog post from my 7-night cruise to Norway on Britannia looking out into the vast, dark emptiness of the English Channel. There’s a mystical, awe-inspiring feeling that one gets when at sea on a cruise. But as the first day aboard draws to a close, let’s rewind and take a look back at what I did during the day.I arrived at Southampton’s Ocean Cruise Terminal just after 1 p.m. ready to board Britannia. I could hear the sound of large crowds echoing around the terminal as I made my way up to the check in area using the escalator. I was right. A sea of people awaited me. Luckily, for some unknown reason I was given a priority card, which let me skip the horrid procedure of waiting for your lettered ticket to be called, and I went straight to the check in desks. 10 minutes later I was on the ship.
Once aboard, I headed to my balcony cabin, G437. After having a Superior Deluxe Balcony last time I was on Britannia in September 2015, I was keen to see the difference between the two. I was also a little apprehensive to see what the view from the balcony would be like, as the deck I was on was the first deck of balconies, and the cabin position was above the small rescue boat, and the smoking area on Deck 7. Thankfully, the view was not that obstructed, apart from a small crane used for lifting the gangways into place. The cabin was also directly across the corridor from the midship lifts, which was handy, but also slightly annoying if only wanting to travel one deck down to the main atrium, as there are no passenger midship stairs. The size of the cabin was good and featured a walk in wardrobe, leading to the bathroom. Although a rather small bathroom, it did feature a glass shower door – a much welcome change from the clingy curtains on other P&O; cruise ships. The general cabin consisted of grey and green colours, with a splash of dark wood along a feature wall and the surrounds of the large television. The cabin had five UK plug sockets dotted around, so no need for any adapters, which was a nice change. There was also one US plug socket for the hairdryer, which I was particularly grateful for, as my camera charger would otherwise require a US to UK adapter. The balcony was fairly small, but probably not the smallest balcony I have seen on a ship. It managed to fit two large reclining chairs, a small table, and had just enough room to move about.
I then headed to the Horizon Restaurant, the main buffet, for lunch. I particularly love Britannia’s buffet, as it never feels too crowded. There were plenty of empty tables to choose from, which is always rare on embarkation day on other ships. After lunch, I then began to walk around the decks, becoming reacquainted with the beautiful ship. Later in the day it was time for muster, before departing a sunny, but hazy Southampton at 6 p.m.
After reading in Horizon, the ship’s daily newspaper, that celebrity Chef Atul Kochhar would be in the speciality restaurant Sindhu from 7 p.m., and that every diner would receive a third off the standard cover charge of £20, because it was the first night, I decided to book a table for 7:15 p.m. The first night is usually the quietest for the speciality restaurants on any ship, as most people are still yet to experience the main restaurant and meet their dining companions. However, because I am on Freedom dining this cruise, where you can turn up at any time between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and sit on whatever size table you like, I had no issue in not dining in the main restaurant for the first evening. Sindhu was my first speciality restaurant experience with P&O; and it was certainly a great meal. The food was plentiful, and consistently amazing. Despite only having to order a starter, main and dessert, the meal actually consisted of seven courses, in addition to sides with the main and tea and coffee after dessert. Half the time I didn’t know exactly what I was eating, all I know is that it was all delicious! To start, I had Galinha Cafreal, grilled chunks of chicken in a Indian spice marinade. For main, I tucked into Atul Kochhar’s signature plate, a trio tasting platter featuring Lamb Rogan Josh, Chicken Korma and Tandoori Salmon. To finish, I had a mouth-watering Dark Chocolate Sphere. My waiter then poured warm chocolate sauce over the sphere, slightly melting it to expose the white chocolate mousse and raspberry coulis inside! After the meal, Atul Kochhar personally came round and asked if I had enjoyed the meal. It was a fabulous dining experience, made extra special by the presence of Atul onboard.
After leaving Sindhu, I went into the Live Lounge and listened to resident band Pulse perform a set, before heading to the 10:30 p.m. show of “I’ve Got The Music In Me” in the Headliners Theatre. It was a rather intimate show, featuring just the four talented singers and the live orchestra, performing the best of the West End, Broadway, as well as classic and contemporary pop. There were songs for all ages to enjoy. And so here I am, sitting on the balcony, listening to the gentle ripple of waves roll along as we head for our first port of call, Stavanger. P&O;’s tagline “This Is The Life” has never felt more appropriate!
The continuing blast of the ships fog horn became a familiar sound on the first sea day. From the vantage point of the peaceful Crows Nest located above the bridge on Deck 16, where I spent the majority of the day, the tip of Britannia’s bow was shrouded in fog.
It was a leisurely day aboard P&O;’s flagship. I didn’t arise until after 11 a.m., and my first stop was the Horizon buffet for a small brunch. The rest of the day was spent in the Crows Nest and relaxing on the cabin balcony, as despite the foggy conditions, the temperature was pleasant. I also took the opportunity to search the many on-demand TV series and movies. I ended up watching a few episodes of Battle Chef, which was filmed in the Cookery Club aboard Britannia.
It was eventually time for dinner and this evening was the first formal night. But first it was the Captain David Pembridge’s Welcome Aboard speech in the spectacular atrium, where he introduced several officers and heads of departments. Afterwards it was a speedy dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, before catching the last few songs from Take That tribute band, Beautiful World. It was a fairly early night, as I would be up early the next morning for a tour of Stavanger.
I awoke early this morning, just as we were approaching Stavanger. It was an early start ready for my Cruising Excursions tour of Stavanger. After heading for breakfast at 7:30 a.m., I disembarked the ship at 8:30 a.m., ready to meet the Cruising Excursions representative at 8:45 a.m. I had a few minutes to spare, so quickly looked in a nearby gift shop. I then met our tour guide Liala by the port entrance, and waited a few minutes before being shown the way to the awaiting coach. The ‘Stavanger City Highlights & The 3 Swords’ Tour took us on a drive of the oil-rich city, which used to be home to a large herring and sardine industry. Our tour guide, Liala, then took us on a walking tour of the quaint and picturesque Gamle Stavanger, the old town, where she grew up as a child. She showed us her old family house, plus the garden she used to sell fruit and vegetables as a child. It was a really fascinating tour. Read what we got up to here.
After saying goodbye to Liala, I walked along the Vågen, past all the beautiful vintage boats. I walked to where Croisieres de France’s Horizon was docked to get a better view, before taking some time to enjoy the main square and returning back to the ship.Once back aboard Britannia, I had lunch in the Horizon Restaurant, relaxed with a drink on deck and watched Horizon depart, before returning to the buffet for an afternoon tea dessert. I returned to my cabin, and watched the final few episodes of Battle Chef, before getting ready for a pre-dinner drink in Sindhu Bar. After an enjoyable meal, I had a quick drink in The Glass House, before the 10:30 p.m. production show, “Gravity”. It was a mesmerising show, full of innovative and technological special effects, great contemporary pop music, and a moment where one of the singers appears to defy gravity and flies above the audience!
Britannia usually dwarfs everything around her, but in Olden, the dramatic landscape of the mountains, loomed over Britannia. Today we were joined by Fred. Olsen Cruise Line’s Balmoral, which was anchored a short distance from the berthed Britannia. I didn’t depart the ship until 1 p.m., when the rain stopped and it began to brighten up slightly. A large souvenir shop attracted hoards of tourists, along with a land-train and sightseeing bus. I walked along the fjord edge to take some photos of Britannia’s beautiful bow against the stunning backdrop of the green mountains behind, and continued to walk into the centre of Olden and purchased some Norwegian chocolates. I then started to walk back and boarded the ship just before it started to rain.
Once back aboard, I had lunch, and sat on the cabin balcony watching the clouds constantly cover up and expose the looking mountains above. It was soon time for us to set sail, so I went to Deck 16 to get a great vantage point as we passed Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral just metres away. She looked incredibly small, but then so did Britannia in this landscape.
I then returned to my cabin balcony, where I continued to watch Britannia navigate the twisting Fjords out to the open sea, which we reached at around 10 p.m. It was fairly rough seas until we reached the shelter of Sognefjord at around 2 a.m.
Today, Britannia arrived in Flam, most notable for the Flamsbana railway that traverses the mountains. I got off the ship at around 10:30 a.m. and took a stroll along the waterfront to the main area. The railway was crowded with people, purchasing tickets and waiting to board. I watched one the trains depart, filled to the brim with eager tourists. I continued walking along the waterfront until I reached a marina, which offered impressive vistas of both Britannia and the picture-perfect fjord. I stayed there for around an hour, waiting for Croisieres de France’s Horizon to arrive and anchor close by. For what seemed like an eternity, she emerged around the corner, slowly making her approach, then impatiently lowered a lifeboat and pontoon just above the waterline, before dropping anchor and coming to a stop. By this point the cloudy conditions had darkened and a rain storm approached.
I arrived back at the ship, just after it began to rain. I headed up to the Grill for a quick snack, as I had skipped breakfast. After sitting in the sheltered area of the pool deck for a little while, it was time for sail away. By this point, the rain had worsened. After a tricky 180 degree turn with just a coupe of metres spare, Britannia headed down Norway’s longest fjord, Sognefjord. Just like Horizon’s speedy arrival, the ship was just as quick moving positions. The ship raised its anchor, while Britannia was turning, and began to immediately head to the berth we were occupying, leaving two tenders to follow in its wake. By this point, I wasn’t surprised that the ship had run aground in Stavanger just a few weeks back.
Featuring a magic mirror, which suffered from a technical glitch shortly before the start of the 8:30 p.m. show, and a giant spider which crawls above the audience, tonight’s fairytale production show “Once Upon A Time” was a magical and fun spectacle! It was Indian night in the buffet, so I couldn’t resist trying the selection on offer. Some delicious Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh and a few crispy onion bahjis later, and I was happily stuffed!
One of the wettest places in Europe, it was no surprise that when I opened my cabin curtains, it was raining in Bergen. I felt sorry for those who’d planned a trip on the funicular railway up Mount Floyen, as for most of the morning thick fog covered the city.
By the time we disembarked the ship, the skies had brightened, but it was still an overcast day. Britannia was docked at the Bontelabo berth, which meant just a short walk to the Bryggen. Norwegian for wharf, this row of old buildings, some dating back to the 1700s, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I continued my walk along the quayside, passing the fish market and heading to Byparken, a large garden in the middle of the city. I then walked to Johanneskirken, an impressive looking church that seems to loom over the city.
By this point the overcast skies had darkened, and heavy rainfall followed for the majority of the walk back to the ship. It wasn’t too long to wait until the early sail away at 3 p.m. The popular Great British Sail Away still went ahead despite the wet conditions, with plenty of patriotic flag waving and songs. It was an impressive sight seeing Britannia pass under the Askoy Bridge just outside of Bergen. There is just two metres of clearance between the forward mast and the bridge. After a rather disappointing dinner, caused by slow service, I had a drink in the Glass House, before heading to the Headliners Theatre to see Jeff Dingle, a Bruno Mars tribute artist, who got plenty of people singing along and dancing in the aisles to Uptown Funk.
It was a leisurely final day aboard Britannia and similar to the first sea day, I spent the majority of the day sat in the Crows Nest. It is certainly one of the best places on the ship. After spending some time packing the majority of my clothing, I spent some time taking in some of the final sea views from the balcony.
I had a drink in the Crystal Room, as my usual haunt, The Glass House was busy. For such a large area, the venue is often under-used, and while I admire P&O Cruises for including an exquisite dedicated space for dancing, the Live Lounge or Limelight Club could easily host dance classes, freeing up space for a more exciting venue.
As it was the last night, I decided to take an early night, so opted for the 7 p.m. show time of “Sound of the Underground”. This was the one show I had seen during my two-night trip aboard the ship in September 2015, and I had fond memories of the performance. The show was just as breathtaking as the last time, featuring great visuals, and a spectacular Irish riverdance, which the singers and dancers got a standing ovation for. After the show, I headed to the Horizon restaurant for the Country & Western themed meal. I remember enjoying the food offering when I tried the buffet for the first time on Azura in 2014.
I was up bright and early watching Britannia sail along the Solent. The buffet was rather busy, but certainly not as bad as other cruise ships as I could easily find a table still. I overheard a couple sat next to me complaining about having to wait ages for an elevator to get to the buffet and that they were going to complain to P&O about it. I just thought to myself what do they expect P&O Cruises to do about it? Large crowds on disembarkation day is always an issue no matter what ship you go on. It’s down to the fact that everyone is trying to disembark or wanting to have breakfast at the same time.
After breakfast I headed to my disembarkation lounge, The Glass House, ready to disembark the ship at 9:15 a.m. Disembarkation was running faster than usual, so our group was told we could leave at 8:45 a.m. instead. After saying goodbye to the ship, walking past the unusually quiet atrium, and into Ocean Cruise Terminal to collect my luggage, I noticed the handle on my suitcase had been snapped off. I reported it to baggage enquires, where I filled out a form and told to contact a phone number. The baggage handling company were helpful and soon sent out a cheque for the approximate cost of the suitcase.
It was a rather frustrating end to what had been a pleasant cruise, despite the miserable weather. I fell in love with Norway all over again, and to be sailing along the fjords on such a large ship as Britannia, made the experience even more enjoyable. I highly recommend you visit the Norwegian Fjords on a cruise if you haven’t done so before, and I’d certainly suggest sailing on Britannia!