‘We are sailing, we are sailing, home again, ‘cross the sea ...’
Singing their way to embarkation, I’m caught up in the excitement of the jubilant couple in front of us. Britannia-bound and audibly elated, they’re thrilled to finally be cruising again.
I too am guilty of a spring in my step, maybe even a hum, but it’s been a long lockdown and I’m ecstatic to be heading off on a Cornish coastal adventure with P&O Cruises.
The 13 best beaches in Northumberland as ranked by Tripadvisor
29 of the best places for Sunday lunch in Northumberland
Fun in the sun at Blyth beach
The 14 best beaches in Northumberland as ranked by TripAdvisor reviewers - and 6 stunners which didn't make it
Amble basks in the sunshine as heatwave hits
Do I have any concerns? No. Do I feel safe? Completely. My fellow guests, like my husband and I, are fully vaccinated and have undergone a swift drive-thru Covid test before boarding, which has just been confirmed negative by text.
Duly reassured, we breeze through a stress free, well-organised check in up to our cabin to watch a pre-recorded safety video in place of the muster drill.
A quick download of the new My Holiday app whilst enjoying Southampton from the balcony and that’s it, we’re shipshape. No complications, no fuss, just good times on the horizon and full steam ahead.
Since our first Baltic cruise on Britannia six years ago, we’ve been hooked. After all, who doesn’t love gourmet dining, sunset cocktails, West End-worthy shows and ultimate relaxation in the floating haven of what is, essentially, a six-star hotel. But would the exciting, carefree cruising holiday we love be the same post lockdown? The only way to find out, was to give it a try …
Thursday – we are sailing
It’s 2pm, we’ve unpacked, explored and - having always wanted to try out The Retreat, a panoramic sanctuary at the helm of the ship - we’ve settled in robes, enjoying a lite lunch of coronation chicken salad. With two whirlpool spas bubbling invitingly and just a wall of glass between us and the ocean, this could be the best seat in the house.
We’ve purchased a three-day pass and, as we lay on loungers, drinking in fresh air and freedom, it feels like money well spent. Despite having a capacity for 3,650 guests, Britannia is cruising with just 1,000 to ensure a smooth return to sailing. Our three-night adventure will be purely at sea, no ports of call, with masks compulsory in indoor areas, social distancing and a neat one-way system around the ship. We’ve barely noticed our adherence and as we spruce up and head to deck 16 for sail away drinks to soul music, the mood around us is as exciting and intoxicating as ever.
Friday – hello, chefs
After a blissful day of swimming, line dancing and an audience with the godfather of British cooking Marco Pierre White and master pâtissier Eric Lanlard in Headliners Theatre, we’re now lucky enough to be having pre-dinner drinks with them in The Sunset Bar.
The presence of the popular Food Heroes has gone down a treat with guests awaiting the duo’s return to the ship’s Cookery Club for lessons, masterclasses and more. But for now, Eric’s delicious offerings can be enjoyed in the Market Café and Epicurean Restaurant, whilst those sampling Marco’s Gala Evening menu in the Peninsular restaurant will tonight be greeted by the main man himself.
I listen with interest as Marco reveals he’s become a keen gardener during lockdown and has taken to ‘earthing’, walking the lawns of his hotel barefoot to relax and be at one with nature. Having met him once before in 2015, he’s definitely mellowed. Captivating and laid back, he’s a riveting conversationalist, nothing could tear me away from … ohh, dolphins!
A shout of ‘dolphins’ from one of the crew interrupts us and I run to the railings, delighted to glimpse a pod of four playing in the ship’s wake. Moments later, feeling honoured, I retake my seat knowing it’s a rare treat, not something you experience every day. Then again, neither is spotting a dolphin.
Saturday – afternoon tea at sea
I’m in food heaven. Eric Lanlard has just deposited an afternoon tea tray of colourful temptations before us in Epicurean Restaurant. It’s an exquisite taste sensation, with ingredients from around the globe ingeniously whipped into delicacies like pancetta and porcini éclair, curried crab and yoghurt tartlet, orange blossom and bee pollen scones and Eric’s personal favourite, West Indies dark chocolate tart infused with Caribbean spices.
On Thursday night we enjoyed fillet steak paired with a palate-pleasing wine flight in Olly Smith’s Glass House, whilst last night’s delight was Marco’s gourmet five-course gala banquet, including New England half split lobster with a Mornay sauce, and champagne sorbet to refresh the palate. At Sindhu tonight we’re on a promise of aromatic ambiance and authentic Indian cuisine with a British twist. Marco is a fan and on his expert recommendation we’ll be trying the Gosht Ki Chaapein, which is roast lamb chops, Feta cheese and aubergine chutney.
Sunday – farewell … but not for long
As my feet edge reluctantly towards disembarkation, the essence of dessert cocktails to mellow piano music in the ambiance of the Crow’s Nest, lingers. Every second at Sindhu was special, especially those mouth-watering lamb chops, and The Sound of the Underground’s electric performance in Headliners had us tapping to the beat until after midnight.
With 26 bars and restaurants, four swimming pools, Jacuzzis, spa, ballroom, ocean-view gym, casino, shops and much, much more, we’ve savoured our sea days – and nights - and had such a fantastic time, we’ve booked the same cruise again for next month whilst onboard. We’re sorry to leave, Britannia, but you rule … see you again soon!
How to book
P&O Cruises is offering a three-night cruise on Britannia (B116R) from £249 per person for an inside cabin, departing Southampton on August 19 and returning on August 22. The price includes full board meals and all entertainment. To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111, or visit your local travel agent.