The azure green water of the Caribbean Sea stretched into the distance, brushing up against the bold blue sky on the horizon. As the P&O Cruises Britannia pushed determinedly towards the island of Saint Maarten, I watched from my balcony as the bright midday sun reflected cheerfully off the gently frothing swells created by the huge bow cutting efficiently through the ocean. Fluffy foam rippled along the length of its vast white hull, spreading out like wings propelling us forwards. Around me I sensed the growing excitement as the cold weather we had left in the United Kingdom became a fuzzy memory. With each nautical mile we progressed closer to the Caribbean, the warmth seeped deeper into the passengers and unlocked their sunny side. The expectation of sparkling clear water, crunchy sandy beaches and lush green hillsides packed thick with vegetation released waves of smiles over the ship.
I cruised on the Britannia as it fled from the advancing winter in Europe to its cosy seasonal base in the Caribbean. From here it offers UK passengers fly-cruise breaks out of Barbados, until the sun-seekers summon it back to Europe in March. It felt exhilarating to shove the heavy winter coats I boarded the ship with to the very back of the cupboard, and pull out my t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.
A British Bubble in the Caribbean
There were many highlights over my trip. The simplicity of transplanting myself in the bubble of UK familiarity that Britannia provides to explore this gorgeous region was definitely one. The guests and experience were unquestionably British. The production shows celebrated icons from the Beatles to Adele, guest entertainers drawn from “Strictly Come Dancing” backing singers to Zoe Tyler from London’s West End and “Loose Women”, quizzes tested knowledge on all things from home, the sterling was the on-board currency, the channels on the in-room television were household regulars, classic favourite dishes dominated the menu in the main dining rooms and partnerships with well-known TV chefs and foodies like James Martin, Marco Pierre White and Olly Smith were thickly splashed across the speciality restaurants and cafes. The Java coffee shop even served Costa coffee.
Drawn to this specific travel experience were two main passenger types. This revelation came to me as I sat eating a leisurely lunch on the second day of the trip in the Horizon buffet watching the sea drift by the floor-to-ceiling windows. A family of young thirty-something’s with two small children were at the table next to me when a couple, probably in their early 60s, sat down on the other side of them. As is common on cruises, they soon started talking and comparing experiences. Sitting near me I appreciated were the current and future worlds of cruising. The older couple were from the pool of traditional cruisers, drawn to it as they age by the ease of travelling without the hassle of searching out hotels, foreign food, dealing with local transportation and language, only unpacking and packing once – all while feeling secure in a cosy familiar environment. The family was similarly focused. They spoke about how it was so easy to travel with their children, with food and surroundings being within everyone’s comfort zone. This being supplemented by the added benefit of all day (and into the evening) children’s clubs keeping them secure and entertained, all while offering a cost-effective trip sharing an inside family cabin. Both generations were seeking to travel with the familiarity of home, feeling of security, reduction of stress, simple decision-making and in a way that fitted their budget.
On Board Britannia Highlights
As my trip was part re-positioning cruise from Southampton and part exploring the Caribbean, I had a number of sea days crossing the Atlantic to explore and get to know Britannia well. The following are some of the highlights I discovered:
1: P&O Britannia’s contemporary style and accommodation
Britannia has embraced a more refined and toned down decor than the brash, loud “Las Vegas Resort” feel preferred for so long in cruising. I enjoyed this look, as it felt like a stylish premium hotel. It has, though, been designed with a traditional approach to ship facilities and features. There are no water slides, rock climbing walls, bowling alleys, 4-D cinemas or other attractions that are found on lines like Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise line. There are instead a myriad of bars, lounges, dining options and a few classic pool decks and areas. The ship is not a resort-like venue stuffed with diversions and so, in my view, best suited for guests seeking a floating hotel with a good choice of places to relax or sunbathe in the day and by evening to dine and socialise in – and not an entertainment destination in its own right.
To get a good understanding of the look ship and its facilities, watch my video tour of P&O Cruises Britannia:
I stayed in a Superior Deluxe Balcony Cabin, which was a great size and with that same stylish hotel ambiance. During the naming ceremony of the ship I had stayed in a regular balcony cabin. The main difference being size and the premium had a bath. The balconies on both are quite small but there is room for two chairs and table.
Watch: My video tour of a Superior Deluxe Balcony Cabin on P&O Cruises Britannia:
Watch: My video tour of Balcony Cabin on P&O Cruises Britannia:
2: A very special afternoon tea experience by Eric Lanlard
Eric Lanlard, also known as “Cake Boy”, is a Frenchman who has built a reputation making cakes for celebrities like Madonna, writing books and TV appearances. He is also one P&O Cruises “Food Heros” and his cakes are sold in the on-board Market Cafe, he goes in some cruises to run master classes and on sea days his premium afternoon tea is offered in the up-market Epicurean Restaurant. There is a charge of £15 per person for an exotic collection of savoury bites, cakes and sweets delights and scones. It is a remarkable and memorable experience handled with great flair and style.
There are two alternating menus, and on the day I went I had Smoked Duck Breast, Raspberry and Cucumber in a Dark Chocolate Macaroon, Smoked Salmon and Keta in Spinach Bread with Crème Fraiche and Black Pepper, Cherry Tomato and Baby Mozzarella Tart, Dark Chocolate Cannelloni with Caramelised Apple, Lemon Meringue Trifle, Pistachio and Strawberry Tart, Financier Cake infused with Lemon and Cardamom and Traditional and Golden Raisin Scones with Clotted Cream.
Watch: My video tour of Eric Lanlard Afternoon Tea in Epicurean on P&O Cruises Britannia:
3: The Cookery Club
The Cookery Club is overseen by the UK Celebrity Chef James Martin, and using an on-board trainer, Rob, and visiting celebrity chefs a range of classes were run on most days, with multiple ones on sea days. Courses included Mexican and Brazilian Street Food, Thai Street Food, Great Bakes, Chocolate and James Martin’s Desserts. Some were linked to the area the ship was sailing in, like the Caribbean Island Roots class.
For just £45 for three hours tuition and ingredients, I got the opportunity to learn a wide range and skills. I especially enjoyed the Dim Sum course where I found out how to make Pork and Crab Wontons; Shiitake Mushroom, Red Onion and Black Bean Puffs, and Sesame Prawn Toast. We were shown how to make Chilli and Soy Dipping Sauce and Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce (which made me never want to have bought one again!).
Paul Rankin, the TV Celebrity Chef, was the visiting Food Hero on my cruise, and I attended one of his classes and learnt how to make Roasted Lamb with Scotch Broth and an Ulster Pasty as well as Trout and Salsa Grits. It was great to work with such a well-known character and receive expert guidance. His class cost £75.
4: A range of dining experiences
In addition to the main dining rooms where all the food is included in your fare, there are speciality restaurants with a surcharge paid to eat there. My favourites were:
Michelin star chef Atul Kochhar has a Modern Indian restaurant called Sindhu, which provides spiced and Indian inspired food. The highlights I had were Karara Kekda Aur Avocado (crisp fried shell crab with avocado Panama cotta and apple salad), Laal Maas (Pan roast Beef Tenderloin with red masala sauce, sesame cauliflower and spiced new potato) with stunning Dark Chocolate Sphere with Raspberry Coulis and White Chocolate Mousse. The charge was around £15 per person.
This is the fine dining venue on Britannia, and I visited on a formal night to make it feel even more luxurious and special. The service and food were outstanding and I enjoyed Crab, Langoustine with Caviar, Lobster and Ribs with a Crepe Suzette flambéed at the table. The charge was around £28 per person.
The Beach House
This is a less formal venue that takes over the rear of the Horizon Buffet each evening. I really enjoyed eating here as they served an interesting mix of Mexican and American food such as burgers, Waldorf salad, kebabs, ribs and lobster. My favourite meal in here was Beach House Nachos with salsa, guacamole and sour cream, Sizzler Plate of chicken with flour tortillas and home fries and the Triple Layered Chocolate Fudge Cake. The charge was a reasonable £5 per person.
We visited four of the most popular islands in the Caribbean before disembarking in Barbados.
Saint Maarten: Two countries in one small island
Saint Maarten is one of the more gorgeous Caribbean islands, and a favourite of mine. Being the smallest landmass with two countries enhances its charm. One side is French (Marigot the capital) and the other Dutch (Philipsburg its capital). They have different currencies and it even takes a long distance call to speak to either side. Cruise ships dock in Philipsburg but it is easy to visit the entire island as it is not very large, and there are no passport controls. On this trip I went on a RIB tour which took me to Marigot, snorkelling, Mullet Bay beach and we even saw jets landing at the infamous Princess Juliana Airport which has a beach right at one end and they seem to just scrape above the heads of the bathers.
I highly recommend this excursion as you get to see both sides of the island and it includes a mix of sightseeing, shopping, enjoying the warm waters and seeing the planes landing. After the trip there was time to explore Philipsburg and catch the inexpensive water taxi back to the ship
Watch: My video of Saint Maarten RIB Tour Highlights
Saint Lucia: High on adventure and scenery
The gorgeous island of Saint Lucia is known for its activity excursions like Segway, ATV and 4×4 tours and Zip Lining across the treetops. Many visitors take the catamaran or boat trips to see the huge twin Pitons as they are one of the distinguishing features of this island. As I have done the activity-based excursions and Pitons on previous visits, I decided to enjoy one of the beaches and took the trip P&O Cruises offered to the stunning Reduit Beach in the North. I highly recommend this if you are looking for a relaxing scenic option.
Watch: My video of Saint Lucia Reduit Beach Excursion
Dominica: The Caribbean’s Nature Island
Lush. Green. Eco. These all describe the self-proclaimed “Nature Island” of the Caribbean of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). Most of the island is mountainous, covered with thickly packed trees. The French and British constantly fought over it for centuries, and it changed hands almost 20 times. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was filmed extensively here. Many guests like to travel deep into the interior to see the many waterfalls, go out to sea to watch whales and dolphins or snorkel in Champagne Cove, where volcanic heated water bubbles up through the sea bed. I love the island and the uniqueness of this cove, and so on this trip did the snorkelling option. It is one of the unique aspects of Dominica and, in my view, a must see and experience as you will not find it on the other islands.
Watch: My video of Dominica Champagne Reef Snorkelling Excursion
Grenada: The Caribbean’s Spice Island
Grenada is known as “The Spice Island” of the Caribbean and is also blessed with gorgeous beaches, like Grand Anse, and fantastic snorkelling opportunities. An Under Water Sculpture Park was created in Molinere Bay for guests to explore. This was something I had read about and really wanted to see and so I chose the P&O Cruises excursion that included this. I was not disappointed. It is eerie, thrilling and impressive all at the same time. On the excursion we did also get to swim at Grand Anse, which is also a must as regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world.
Watch: My video of Grenada Starwind Snorkelling and Beach Excursion
If you want to explore the Caribbean in a stylish floating hotel with the familiarity of United Kingdom and surrounded by guests from there, then I suggest considering P&O Cruises Britannia. It is a large ship offering lots of space and a wide range of accommodation from suites to inside family cabins to meet a spread of budgets. Their focus is on providing a comfortable floating hotel to transport you around the islands. It is not a resort-style ship packed with facilities and features like water slides, rock climbing walls and bowling alleys but does offer a good choice of dining, socialising venues and evening entertainment in the form of production shows, guest entertainers and quizzes. The focus is on getting its guests to the different islands and helping them explore them, and not providing a destination in its own right.
Disclaimer: I travelled as a guest of P&O Cruises on a 10-night Caribbean Cruise from Madeira to Barbados.