What a whirlwind adventure! One day I am still recuperating from the excessive Christmas feasts and the next thing I know is I am packing for my first cruise sharing my Caribbean Cruise Tips with you. I couldn’t believe that British cruise giant P&O had invited me over to the Caribbean on the Britannia, to explore tropical Caribbean islands.
After about two days with many travel mishaps, such as baggage delays, refused plane tickets, hotel stays and chasing after a sailed ship, I finally boarded the Britannia in Antigua (not after enduring the slowest immigration process in travel – “Ah, Rosa*, did you take out the wrong documents again?”) but not before pushing my luggage onto some unfortunate crew member and rushing off to my very first tour around my very first Caribbean island, collecting a lot of Caribbean Cruise Tips for you.
So to tell you why I am now converted to never even thinking about doing a cruise to in fact recommending it now, I have summed up questions that I was asked while doing the cruise so you can find out what makes a P&O cruising holiday special and how to make the most of it.
How do you find your way around a ship as big as the Britannia?
You cannot imagine how it feels to see the ship rise above you that would become your home over the next nearly two weeks. It was a gigantic ship! In fact, the Britannia is the largest in the P&O fleet with 18 floors to boot and the widest range of restaurants and event rooms possible. Even on the very last day did I get a little bit lost and had to consult the floor plans.
One thing that helped me with orientation was that the ship had three different areas with stairs and lifts, the middle one leading only halfway up and me being high on level 12, I usually avoided walking in the first place. Also, the room numbers are divided between odd and even numbers, so if you catch yourself in the wrong corridor, you have to walk all the way to the next elevators.
How does the ship’s interior look like?
In my room, I immediately spotted a big bottle of champagne and Belgian chocolates on my table and stepped outside on my little private balcony. If you can, always book a cabin with one! Once I had taken great leisure in claiming my space and arranging my clothes on the wardrobe hangers and decorating the place with books, jewellery and magazines, I decided to explore the ship.
My room had been decorated very tastefully with brown and grey tones, unique stone art above the bed and a giant flat screen but that was nothing compared to the rest of the ship. The overall tones were of a warm brown, green, gold and silver range with absolutely fascinating art everywhere. In restaurants I spotted installations by many British artists, and even jewellery makers or sculpturers. My favourite place was the winding staircase connecting restaurants, bars, shops and the on board pub beneath a stalactite-like chandelier.
What about the food, is it good?
As you have probably heard, cruises are mostly all-you-can-eat celebrations of delightful gluttony. I can hereby confirm this and no, I don’t feel guilty an inch. With the Britannia you can have different dining options. I enjoyed Freedom Dining, which means I could walk into the standard restaurants, such as Oriental, Peninsular and Meridian, at any time I liked during their opening hours without having to reserve a table. Only once did I have to wait with pager in hand but it beeped after a mere two minutes.
You should definitely try all restaurants if you can as each has their own menus, special decor and atmosphere. Did I mention the specialty food? My favourites were the Waldorf salad and steak on lava stone in the Beach House, the beef with chocolate sauce and the dessert chocolate sphere in Sindhu, panacotta in the Meridian and the smoothie and cheese omelette in any restaurant serving breakfast. For lazy or particularly early days, I had breakfast brought to my room and let me tell you, croissants and hot chocolate taste so much better when consumed on an ocean balcony.
What special treats does the Britannia have foodwise?
For a very special experience, I had a reservation at the Limelight Club, which is a supper club with a decadent three course menu followed by a private show. It has limited seats and therefore feels rather exclusive, which becomes even more so when finding out that such a dining experience is rather unique to the Britannia cruise within the world of cruising overall. Also, the ship’s signature restaurants such as the Glasshouse with its fine wines and select beer can be found across different P&O cruises but not under one roof anywhere else.
Saving the best for last, The Cookery Club is a state of the art class led by chef Lizzie Kennedy, who was handpicked by celebrity chef James Martin himself, in such a way that even complete cooking newbies would know how to master the select dishes. If you are lucky, you can even cook with other renowned chefs or even P&O’s Food Heroes themselves, such as Eric Lanlard. I tried my hand at two cooking classes, learning more about Caribbean Roots with spicy chicken (mine was a special unspicy Caribbean chicken, seeing that I can’t handle my spicy food) and rum banana dessert as well as a dessert class on making pavlova and chocolate mousse. We received the recipes in a beautiful little booklet to keep and redo at home.
Will I have the opportunity to stay active while on board?
To work off all your new tons of calories (which are so worth it!), you can head over to the gym, participate in the many sports classes, be active in the swimming pools or just head over to the shore and do a good old harbour exploration. I personally liked walking around and seeing the areas we docked at myself, strolling up and down shopping lanes and getting a little bit off path in areas that are a little further out. Ask the crew on the tour planning deck for insider tips on what to see and do.
Personally, I found staying just in the ports too boring, so I made sure to book my tours in advance (after having learned that they pretty much sell out the day before at least) via the 24h booking computers near the reception. If you want to head to the best beaches, you could also get a taxi onshore and spend a day basking in the sun.
How is the entertainment on board the Britannia?
So now you know how to elegantly stuff your face while wearing a beautiful ball gown and hunt down the best spots in the Caribbean, you need to know where to get the best fun. You could check out a local karaoke bar, such as in St Lucia, or you could take advantage of ample opportunities to see ridiculously talented singers, actors and comedians on board in the many Headliner shows.
For instance, I saw a swing concert by no other than Jonathan Wilkes, who performed on Robbie William’s hit album from 2001 and still calls him buddy. It was a brilliant concert, but so were the performances of opera singer Ben Makisi and Britannia’s own talents, for instance. If you want to get involved too and do a little dancing, join the highly popular Sailaway Parties the night before each sea day, where you will be entertained by the pool under the setting sun as the ship sets sail (metaphorically).
Is it ok to just sit back and relax?
All of this can wear you out, no matter how lazy a sunbather you are (trust me, I met a woman who brought her husband food because he would not move away from the subbed all 14 days of their cruise). I was extremely tired each night and could not even take advantage of the big TV screen in my room with recent cinema releases (shame on me!). I was told it might have been the rocking motion of the ship, which I always slightly felt. Never mind, it could also have been the pampering in the Oasis Spa with its lovely beauty ladies coming from all over the world.
So by all means, go and check out the spa options, including massages, hydrotherapy and acupuncture. If you are uncertain, you can always have a free consultation or attend the different talks on facials, beauty treatments or Chinese medicine, to name just a few. I had my very first massage ever on board the Britannia and booked a second appointment rightaway. I regret nothing.
Is Travelling Solo OK?
That was a question I heard plenty of times, on and off board. And you know by whom? All the lovely people I met without even trying. Everybody was just so warm and welcoming, not just the staff. You get the option to sit on a big table with strangers or by yourself. But either way you choose, if you are dining alone, you will receive curious glances and questions will follow. Embrace it because the conversations will be extremely interesting.
What I loved besides learning more about other people’s travels and their prior cruise experience (I added a Norway cruise to my bucketlist!), is the freedom to just retreat into my own sanctuary, i.e. room while couples had to share the space. A big bonus! But even if you aren’t travelling by yourself, you still can split from your partner or group just like the many multi-generational families did. There always is something going on for everybody’s taste and that’s what I loved about this cruise. Plus, it’s so big, you don’t even have to run into one another.
Help! What should I pack?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. When it comes to packing for a cruise, you should start with a big suitcase and check your cruise itinerary, looking out for smart casual and black tie nights. Basically, you should go crazy on fancy and glamorous outfits for the night and well put together looks for the day.
To get a better idea of what exactly should go into your luggage, have a look at my packing list for first-time cruisers with a free downloadable list to tick everything off neatly so you won’t forget a thing. Since you will have space to put your clothes in your cabin, I suggest to not pack sparingly. I wish I had packed more than one pair of heels and etui dress. Just imagine the possibilities… Well, I’m wiser for next time.
So what really sets apart P&O cruises?
I have only been on the Britannia so far but like I said, I got to chat to a lot of fellow cruisers and you won’t believe how many of those were cruise veterans and had already booked a follow up cruise through the loyalty program on board (which gives you extra spending credit) and they were raving about their P&O cruises, such as on the Azura or Ventura.
What made it special was the overall atmosphere and feeling of glamour on board. Mostly everyone was nicely dressed (with the exception of the occasional Hawaiian shirt) and black tie nights were rigorously adhered to. Everyone was well behaved, the interior style was extremely chic, from the grand Atrium to the posh spas. The selection of restaurants and live entertainment was ridiculously good and never disappointed. I mean, where else do you have celebrity chefs like Marco Pierre White or Atul Kochhar whip up a special cruise menu?
It was definitely a travel event every day. And I am honestly not exaggerating. Have you ever been on a cruise and would you like to go now? Do you have any Caribbean Cruise Tips yourself?
I would like to thank P&O Cruises and the staff of the Britannia again for this wonderful trip of a lifetime. No wonder so many guests had returned and had become real cruise veterans. As always, my opinion is entirely my own and true at that.
*name changed by author