Hollie-Rae Merrick tests out P&O’s new and contemporary flagship
It’s the biggest ship ever designed solely for the British market and with the world’s largest union flag emblazoned along its hull, Britannia is definitely the most patriotic ship at sea.
P&O Cruises had been relatively secretive about the design of its flagship, so the inaugural celebrations, held in Southampton earlier this month, proved the perfect opportunity to showcase the cruise line’s new look and feel.
In the run-up to the launch, the P&O team had described Britannia as perfect for “modern Britain”. Carnival UK chairman David Dingle even said that previous ships had been designed and built to fit a Britain of the past.
So when I got the chance to explore the 3,600-passenger vessel, I was excited to see P&O Cruises’ take on what modern Britain wants.
Design of the Times
This ship is unlike any other P&O ship. Britannia is modern, stylish and, in places, quite funky.
The main difference between the old fleet and Britannia is the design and flow of the ship. Britannia is the only vessel in the fleet to have been wholly designed by the same company, Richmond International, whose previous projects include hotels such as The Langham, The Dorchester and The Berkeley.
On Oriana or Ventura, for example, a different company designed each area, and although those ships still have sophisticated spots, that feel doesn’t necessarily flow throughout.
Britannia is a very different look for P&O Cruises, and several agents, including Sovereign Cruise Club’s Stefan Shillito, commented that the ship helped propel the cruise line into the premium market. Others described it as a “step change” for the brand.
For me, Britannia’s pièce de résistance on the design front is the Star Burst feature in the middle of the atrium (pictured below), which is definitely the heart of the ship.
This eight-metre-tall chandelier/sculpture has the wow factor and shines in different colours as you view it from different angles.
While other cruise lines go big on gimmicks, Britannia’s food offering is one of its main USPs.
P&O has brought in a six-strong roster of food and wine gurus: chefs James Martin, Atul Kochhar and Marco Pierre White, pâtissier Eric Lanlard, wine expert Olly Smith and cheese connoisseur Charlie Turnbull.
Pitched as the ‘Food Heroes’, all six have a role onboard Britannia, whether it’s the afternoon tea in the atrium’s Market Cafe or Epicurean restaurant (£15 a person), courtesy of Lanlard, night dining in Sindhu (Kochhar’s restaurant), or a glass of fizz in Smith’s The Glass House. The group will appear on 13 Britannia sailings this year.
Perhaps one of the most exciting innovations, and one of my favourite spaces, is The Cookery Club, created by James Martin but run on a day-to-day basis by chef Rob Cottam. It’s the place to be for clients who are promising chefs or budding bakers.
The Club, which is on deck 17, has 12 cooking stations that can each accommodate two people, and the cooks running the masterclass sessions will include not only the Food Heroes, but also guest chefs such as Pierre Koffman, Paul Rankin and baking queen (and soggy-bottom hater) Mary Berry. Two-hour sessions, which will include making bread, tapas and dim sum, start at £45.
Prices for a masterclass with a celebrity chef start at £100. The venue also has a Chef’s Table, where small groups can watch a chef prepare a three-course meal and dine in an intimate space (from £150 a person).
Children-only classes are also available for free as part of the kids’ clubs. The 30-minute sessions will be open to groups of children in different age groups – five to eight-year-olds, nine to 12-year-olds, and 13 to 17-year-olds.
Like any true journalist, I was keen to put Britannia’s bars to the test. The Glass House is bound to become one of the vessel’s most popular haunts, with a great wine and beer selection and an outdoor terrace, perfect for watching the sun set over the ocean on at sea days.
Passengers can also grab a quick bite to eat there, with a menu including wagyu burgers and lobster buns.
Pint-drinkers should head to Brodie’s, which serves 70 beers, ales and ciders sourced from around the UK. Gin-lovers will want to hang out in The Crow’s Nest, which has more than 20 options on its Great British Gin Menu.
More energetic passengers should hot-foot it to The Crystal Room, which is dedicated to ballroom and Latin dancing, and also the place to be during the Strictly Come Dancing-themed sailings.
The coolest place onboard is definitely the adults-only Limelight Club, where guests can eat and enjoy live music.
The entertainment offering doesn’t stop there. The Headliner Theatre features several West End-style shows, including The Sound of the Underground, Gravity, Once Upon a Time and I’ve Got the Music In Me. The theatre also has an LED screen wall, which adds a wow factor to performances.
The cabins continue the level of sophistication found in P&O’s other ships, emphasising the patriotic theme with artwork by British artists. The standard cabins are a good size and the decor rivals any high-end hotel room.
Britannia has 64 suites, 1,313 balcony cabins (including 15 singles) and 460 inside cabins (including 12 singles).
When it comes to children’s facilities, Britannia is well equipped. The ship has a splash zone and paddling pool for toddlers, an outdoors soft-play area and a sun deck exclusively for teenagers. There is also a sports court area to keep the entire family busy.
Adults wanting to escape and relax during their sailing should head to the Oasis Spa and The Retreat. The latter is an adults-only area, which costs £25 to access for a day. It’s a serene spot for pure relaxation, with unlimited access to the whirlpool spas. It even offers a healthy menu.
Book it: A seven-night cruise onboard Britannia to the Norwegian Fjords starts at £849. The Select Price sailing is based on a May 16 departure. Bookings made before March 31 qualify for cabin upgrades and a bottle of bubbly onboard.
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