A Mini Cruise to Guernsey on P&O Cruises’ Britannia
Built in 2015 and having already covered 90,000 nautical miles, it was my turn to experience the biggest ship built for the British cruise market.
Christened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II amidst a fanfare of red, white, and blue, Britannia heralded a new era for the cruise line. The remit was simple - the ship should represent the best of Britain.
My journey was brief as, by its very nature, a mini cruise can only ever be a short affair. My time on the ship was precious, so I spent it experiencing as much as I could in such a short space of time.
The pressure increased when I was allocated a check-in time of 3 pm, arriving at the already bustling Ocean Cruise Terminal in Southampton. A broad range of passengers from the young to the old and from seasoned sailors to complete beginners eagerly waited to board.
One passenger described the two-night voyage as a "party cruise", and to the several stag and hen party groups, this was true. While passengers consumed a lot of alcohol on the mini cruise - evident by the empty glasses and bottles that littered many of the corridors, tables, sun loungers, and the lifts - the atmosphere never felt rowdy or over the top.
The ship rarely felt crowded except for peak times in certain areas. Many of the stylish bars and lounges were busy but never inaccessible. Barely an empty seat could be found for each of the shows at the Headliners Theatre. The queues to use the limited tender services to and from Guernsey ran up to an hour in length. The lifts were only really busy during embarkation and disembarkation, partly exasperated by the poor design of the public areas on the ship.
Cabins boast modern décor and thoughtful interior design.
What Inside cabins lack in natural light (i.e. none), they make up for in value for money, often being the cheapest on the ship. For a sea view on a budget, choose an Outside cabin. Book a Balcony cabin like the one I stayed in for a sea view plus a private balcony. For something a little extra special, opt for a spacious Suite.
Passengers tended to gravitate towards either the pool on the Lido Deck or the atrium. Outside is a choice of swimming pools while inside, you will find bars, lounges, and luxury boutique shops.
On longer voyages expect more daytime entertainment options, but on a mini cruise, most passengers choose to disembark for the one or two ports of call.
By night, entertainment options increase around the ships. Bars and lounges spring into life. The Live Lounge hosts musicians and bands. The ship's cast of singers and dancers host shows in the Headliners Theatre. Dancing dominates in the Crystal Room.
I had no time for pampering in the Oasis Spa, nor did I check out its Hydrotherapy Suite or Oasis Villa, a private space within the spa. I did visit The Retreat, an adults-only outdoor space lined with daybeds and cabanas for spa treatments. Serenity, a quiet zone, is the next best thing with its stylish pool area.
Do not overlook the art collection of more than 80,000 pieces onboard, with a value of more than £1 million. The atrium's dominating Starburst sculpture is my most favourite artwork on the ship.
Kids aged two to 17 years old can take part in free The Reef kids' club. Four separate clubs cater for different age groups. Most cruise lines only offer clubs to children aged above three, so for parents with toddlers in tow, P&O Cruises is an excellent choice. My son was apprehensive at first, but the staff were helpful, attentive, reassuring, and friendly. He loved spending time with other two- to four-year-olds who took him under their wings.
Tables in the Horizons Buffet were in demand at peak times, and waiters quickly pounced upon empty plates as soon as the cutlery hit them. In the evening a section of the venue becomes the Beach House, an American-style diner with a charge of £10 per person on a mini cruise or £7.50 per person on cruises of three nights or more.
I was allocated a table in the Oriental restaurant on the first night. My meal was bland, lukewarm, and overcooked, and the service was rushed and impersonal. On a ship where the food and drink are supposedly the stars of the show, this was disappointing. Thankfully, I did not have to look far to discover better alternatives.
P&O Cruises' Food Heroes Eric Lanlard and Olly Smith lent their names to the à la carte venues Market Café and Glasshouse respectively. In the Market Café, outrageously decadent desserts, fragrant cheeses, and irresistible ice creams complemented the selection of hot beverages. Olly's Glasshouse is a trendy wine bar boasting an exciting tasting menu with wine pairing suggestions.
The menu at Atul Kochhar's Sindhu marries familiar flavours with exotic spices. A meal at Sindhu costs £25 per person on a mini cruise or £20 per person on cruises of three nights or longer.
And then there was the jewel in the crown, the Epicurean restaurant, which offers a unique culinary experience at £30 a head on a mini cruise or £28 a head on cruises of three nights or more.
An adults-only dinner show in the Limelight Club attracts a £22 per person fee. Comedians, musicians, and actors have all entertained passengers here.
James Martin's The Cookery Club, left in the hands of resident chef Rob Cottam when he is not onboard, is an amazing space, with plenty of high-tech gadgetry, cooking stations that back onto a sea view, and even a dining bench for exclusive dinners.
The venue hosted 450 classes in Britannia's first year, and Rob hosted two classes on this mini cruise. Classes start from £45 per person of from £100 per person for celebrity hosts, while hosted dinners start from £150 a head.
This short cruise featured a single port of call to St Peter Port in Guernsey. Glorious Spring weather made the tendering process aboard the small orange boats more comfortable.
Visiting on a Sunday meant most of the small independent shops closed for the day. Chain stores opened their doors for cruise ship tourists, narrowly avoiding sending out the message that Guernsey closes for business on Sundays.
A bustling street market was one of the main attractions, with a variety of food and craft stalls drew in the tourists. Castle Cornet was another key highlight and easily accessible on foot from the tendering point at the harbour.
Britannia is a modern ship with a keen focus on providing an all-round British holiday experience. The ship layout is occasionally frustrating. Hospitality lacks warmth and the included food service is nothing to rave about. The premium food experiences are well worth paying for.