First Time on Britannia
Jane Eastbourne | November 30, 2014 | P&O Cruises | Britannia
Due to medical issues we had to book late for this cruise, so we paid for a late saver and took pot luck with both the cabin and dining arrangements. We were allocated G718 which is right over the Live Lounge and on the smoking side, so were very apprehensive having read several reviews about the noise late at night and the smell of smoke drifting up onto the balcony. In the event, for us I can say our worries were unfounded. Yes, you could very slightly hear the music, but it appeared to stop every night by about 12.15am which for us was acceptable as we go to bed quite late when cruising and although we are ready for bed by midnight, we are often not quite ready to settle down. We were also never bothered by the smell of smoke, even though we are, (as ex-smokers) quite sensitive to it. However, our 7 night break was after the schools went back; it might have been different if hordes of teenagers were on that area of deck at 2 in the morning as some reviewers found.
So to embarkation. As we usually drive to the terminal, the longest wait we encountered was the queue for luggage removal which took 50 minutes before we finally reached the front, when our luggage disappeared and we had handed over the car keys. We arrived at the time advised and were very quickly checked in and through security, no more than another twenty minutes before we were on the ship. The additional security facilities in the Ocean Terminal have made a big difference to the time it takes to get through this very necessary, but tedious part of embarkation. Once on board we went straight to our cabin to find our luggage already outside the door, so the new system worked very well. The cabin was as expected; the open wardrobe area is excellent with plenty of hangers and space for more on a longer cruise when we would bring some additional hangers. It is true the balconies are smaller, but they are adequate. The shower room is compact but the shower itself was great, big enough to turn round in and glass doors are a huge improvement on the flappy plastic curtains of old.
As soon as the cases were safely in the cabin we went to the Horizon buffet for a late lunch, before returning to unpack before muster. The new life jackets are a big improvement, we can all only hope they never have to be used for real! We were allocated Freedom Dining which we had not experienced before and very quickly realised that it was not for us. We knew it was likely that we would be on Freedom Dining, but were amazed on speaking to the Restaurant Manager, that he had over 850 people on the waitlist for club dining, some of whom had booked a select fare back in April 2014 when booking first opened for this cruise. From reading other reviews it seems that some passengers who, like us really prefer the structure of the same table companions, same waiters and same time dining every night have been accommodated by the Maitre D?? and allowed to have the same table every night, but it does require some organisation by the individuals to all meet up and go in to the restaurant together. As we were only on the ship for 7 nights and were eating both at Sindhu and Epicurean, it wasn??t worth trying to meet up with people we liked but didn??t know how to get in touch with , but it was, for us a shame, as we love the social aspect of getting to know other cruisers and we have gained many ??cruising friends?? over the last 10 years that we sometimes hook up with for new cruises. It??s very difficult to forge relationships if you dine with different people at every meal.
Now to our thoughts of the ship itself – she sure is big! However, going on a brand new ship is lovely, everything was gleaming and spotless. We explored quite a lot of the ship the first full day at sea, but as the weather was uncharacteristically sunny, warm and calm sailing down to La Rochelle, we decided enjoying the sun and swimming in one of the pools a much better option given our mostly horrible summer in the UK. We are personally not keen on canned music round the pools, so were delighted with the Serenity Pool and quiet zone in the bow. There were usually plenty of loungers and hardly anyone actually in the pool. I love swimming, so swam every day, mostly with the pool to myself, which I find amazing given that I was told there were nearly 3,800 passengers on this cruise. Yes, on sunny days the areas around the other two pools were busy with some lounger hogging clearly going on, but unless you felt you had to be really close to a pool, there were so many other deck areas with loungers that it would always have been possible to find a quiet spot with a lounger, unlike on Ventura. We also enjoyed Java and bought a 10 coffee card for the price of 9 which also allowed us to have a complimentary cake or savoury. I think it is a shame that some things that were free previously now are charged for, but I guess that with the number of ships now sailing, competition is fierce and the base price has had to be kept down, so Carnival has to think of ever more inventive ways of taking money off us! However, we felt that the additional charge for eating in both Sindhu and Epicurean were absolutely justified, our meal in Sindhu was great and the meal in Epicurean was exceptional . However, the general standard of food was only in our opinion, adequate. It must be a logistical nightmare catering for so many people and the food generally arrived without too much of a delay and reasonably warm. However, if the MDR was a restaurant in our home town we would only have eaten there once. Similarly the Horizon was no better than most of the work cafeterias I have eaten in when I was working. We started cruising 9 years ago and feel the standard of food has dropped steadily over that time. On our first ever cruise on Arcadia in her second season we were blown away by the high standards they achieved for mass catering.
Several reviewers have mentioned unfriendly and unhelpful staff. I have to say categorically we did not find this to be the case. We do, on all cruises make a real effort to engage staff and let them know how much we appreciate their efforts in what at times can be a very challenging job, with little rest time and long contracts. Their response has always been positive, whether it??s our cabin steward who we chat to at least twice a day or restaurant and bar staff who you might only see once or twice. I hope this won??t come across as critical of other commentators who have complained about the staff, but we have always been polite, smiled and taken an interest in all staff. In return we have had great service with a smile. The only time we ever had a less than positive experience was on a 4 night Celebrity cruise where our ??fairly old?? cabin steward was retiring the next week and clearly had had enough, telling us he had been doing the job for 20 years and couldn??t wait to get off the ship!
The incentive for booking this particular cruise was a port stop at La Rochelle. We have wanted to visit both the town and the Il de Re since 2008 when we should have gone on Oriana, but unfortunately the French fishermen decided to blockade the port and we ended up in Brest instead. The French protesting, who would have thought?! We took a tour to the island and loved it; maybe we will, for once, forgo a cruise and drive to La Rochelle instead. The weather was lovely, but not as hot as we might have expected for the first week in September. We chatted to a nice English family in St Martin de Re who said that it was the first colder day they had had. It wasn??t cold at 22c, but the day before they said it had been 28c.
Our next stop was Bilbao. We had intended to get off and use the shuttle bus into the city, but the weather was so lovely we decided to stay on board. We have been before and toured round the city with a visit to the Guggenheim which is an amazing building, but as the shuttle was a good 30-40 minutes in each direction, we decided we??d give it a miss this time.
We did get off at La Coruna. Sadly the weather had deteriorated and we even had some light rain, but the ship docks right in the town so it was easy to get off and enjoy looking round the shops, I even bought a new pair of shoes I needed at half the price I would have paid in the UK. We had planned to have a tapas lunch, but then passed one of those amazing shops/caf?? selling huge cured meats and sat next a party of lovely Scottish ladies from the ship who recommended the mixed platter with cheese and bread. We ordered the same and were given an identic al sized platter (which was huge), for the two of us that they had had for four! We both enjoyed a glass of wine as well and the total cost including a tip was under 25 euros! When we got back on the ship the sun came out and we managed a couple of hours sunbathing up by the Serenity Pool.
We then had a sea day tracking back up through a flat calm Bay of Biscay before our last stop at Guernsey. The weather had now changed, although thankfully no rain. We packed in the morning as it was our last day and had intended to go ashore in the tenders early afternoon. However, the sea was a bit choppy and tendering was halted for a good hour, so as we had been to the island before we decided to take advantage of a pretty empty ship and do a final explore, finding areas we had not discovered including a basketball court, golf driving area and table tennis. I didn??t expect to see a basketball court although the other facilities are normal, it??s just such a big ship that they had been tucked away aft.
We were given a disembarkation time of 10.20 which didn??t bother us as we are fortunate enough to live only a couple of hours from Southampton and it all proceeded smoothly so we were home by lunch time. Would we sail on Britannia again? Yes, if the timing and itinerary was right. We prefer mid-sized ships, but having said that there was a lot about Britannia we liked. However, as some other reviewers have said the lack of a central staircase above deck 7 is ridiculous for a ship of this size. Also the theatre is too small and the side aisles have been removed to enable additional seating. To me this is a safety issue as well as an inconvenience. In the event of an evacuation there is only one central exit on deck 6 and two on deck 7. It took quite a long time to leave the theatre after the show and if there was an emergency???? For a brand new ship, but a class that has been built before I??m really surprised that Carnival think these two fundamental errors (IMO) are acceptable. The shows themselves were at the expected standard, the difference on Britannia is the use of the latest technical wizardry which works really well and gives an additional dimension to the entertainment that the Headliners shows can provide. The standard of singing and dancing is what you would expect and as I used to be a professional ballet dancer I can spot the good dancers immediately. Mostly they were energetic stage school trained boys and girls, but boy, do they work hard. Some of the routines went on for a long time at a very high level of activity and they kept going with no flagging ?? I was impressed. Gravity was the highlight. We also saw the Dusty Springfield tribute singer who was excellent and the 4 Tunes who were also very good. So, all in all a very enjoyable break and it was lovely to be back on a ship after nearly a year.
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