Britannia Entertainment & Activities
Headliners Theatre is a 936-seat venue at the front of the ship on decks 6 and 7, which hosts musical performances and theatre productions in the evenings. It's a hi-tech space and features a giant LED screen, which provides digital scenery and acts as a backdrop to musical performances.There are three shows per night -- at 7 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. -- and all last about 50 minutes.
On Britannia, there are four main shows: "The Sound of the Underground", which is a trip through mid-90s London complete with a "Cool Britannia" soundtrack; "Once Upon a Time", a more family-orientated show billed as a 'wedding day fantasy adventure'; "I've Got the Music in Me!", which is a revue show featuring a variety of tracks from the most popular West End and Broadway musicals; and "Gravity", a more daring show billed as a 'futuristic rock musical'. It's a first for P&O in that it's quite risque and the music is modern (i.e. within the past 20 years). The shows really show off the theatre's gadgetry, with stunning lighting and sound effects and dancers 'flying' through the air and over the audience.
As well as the shows, Headliners hosts musical performances from impersonators as well as the real thing: R&B great Jimmy James packed out the theatre on several nights of our cruise. During the day it becomes a cinema.
You won't be bored on Britannia: there's a plethora of games and activities all day, from quizzes and trivia to cooking demos and even line dancing.
P&O Cruises has tapped into the UK's national obsession with food and launched -- with much fanfare -- the first ever cookery club at sea. Located on Deck 15, The Cookery Club is flooded with light and fitted with the most up-to-date kitchen cookware, TV screens, speakers and a dining table for eating your creations. It fits 25 people (including one disabled-accessible workspace) and more when family classes are run. All the preparation is done for you, as is the washing up. The two resident chefs -- Rob Cottam and Lizzie Kennedy -- guide you through the three-hour sessions. Or, if James Martin, Eric Lanlard or Marco Pierre White are onboard, you can have a class with them. Three-hour classes cost £45 per person or £100 if your class is led by one of the celebrity chefs.
Because the Cookery Club does not have space for an audience, cooking demos take place in The Studio on Deck 7. They are hosted either by one of the two chefs from The Cookery Club, or a celebrity chef if he or she is onboard. The Studio also hosts afternoon films, live radio broadcasts and talks from onboard speakers.
A rolling set of quizzes, trivia and bingo takes place throughout the day in Brodie's pub (Deck 6). The Crystal Room, llocated on Deck 7, just behind the Headliners Theatre, hosts talks from guest lecturers during the day.
There are two venues for dancing in the day: the Live Lounge and the Crystal Room. The entertainment team hosts line dancing and the like in the Live Lounge; the Crystal Room is where the more serious students of dance go to learn new ballroom moves from the ship's two instructors.
Bridge and whist take place high up at the top of the ship in the Marlow Suite, the ship's card room. Enrichment activities such as language classes take place in the Ivory Suite next door (Deck 16). Both rooms are exquisitely decorated in white and gold, and it's easy to imagine a wedding blessing taking place in these suites (which they are designed for, as well as card games).
You'll find live music throughout the day in the atrium from Joe Hume, who also plays in the Crow's Nest bar at night. The very talented duo Matt & Sarah play in Brodie's throughout the day. There's a DJ on the Lido Deck pool throughout the afternoon. Sailaway parties take place here or in the Arena sports complex, towards the aft.
Outdoor activities include everything from deck quoits (Deck 17) to basketball and table tennis tournaments in the Arena (Deck 18).
The Limelight Club (Deck 5): is a combined entertainment and dining venue in the tradition of a supper club (see Dining), just off the main atrium. Its big draw is the chance to see entertainers and guest performers from stage and screen up close and personal. Acts vary from theatrical performances to live music, such as jazz, pop, blues and soul. The format is thus: starters and main, followed by a short 'taster' show (an introduction by the star, plus one or two songs), then dessert and the main act, which lasts about 45 minutes.
Booking is essential; the entire two-week run of shows was sold out on our sailing. However, once the live entertainment finishes, the venue turns into a late-night club and people can drop by for drinks and dancing. We popped in there just as the main show ended and was impressed to see singer Kiki Dee talking to her fans and signing autographs in an unhurried way. Other performers might include Celia Imrie, Madeleine Bell, Dean Andrews (of "Life on Mars "fame) and 1980s soul star Jaki Graham. The club is open from 7:30 p.m. to midnight.
The Crystal Room (Deck 7):Dance enthusiasts should not miss the Crystal Room, a show lounge dedicated to the love of Latin and ballroom dancing. It's got a wooden floor, chandeliers, silver and black decor and a special exhibition of dancing memorabilia donated by famous dancers, including those in "Strictly Come Dancing", with which P&O has a long-term link-up. Located just behind the Headliners Theatre, the Crystal Room is a delightful spot that turns into a dance hall in the evening with live bands performing. Each song is introduced by dance type -- foxtrot, tango, rumba etc. -- rather than the song title, and couples of all ages will leap to the dance floor to show off their moves, which is an absolute delight to watch. It will be the main venue for all Strictly-related activities when the stars are onboard. It's open 7 p.m. to late.
The Live Lounge (Deck 7):For a different kind of dancing, make your way to the Live Lounge, the ship's late-night disco, situated right at the back of the ship on Deck 7. Though billed as a night club, it has the look of a performance venue, with a tiered semi-circle of seats round a small dance floor backing onto a stage. During the day, it often hosts kids' themed parties. In the evening, it showcases singers, bands, comedians and tribute acts of varying quality. Once the live entertainment ends, the venue turns into a nightclub with a DJ. It's open 7 p.m. to late.
The small casino adjoins Brodie's pub on Deck 6 starboard. It features a number of slot machines, as well as gaming tables for roulette and blackjack. Tournaments take place throughout the day, including afternoon roulette and live horse racing (via a satellite feed, of course). The slots are open from 10 a.m. to late; the gaming tables are open from noon to 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to late.
Quiz addicts who can't get their fill during the day should head to the Horizon Restaurant where there is a team cruise quiz most nights. You'll find karaoke in Brodie's on certain nights.
Britannia Bars and Lounges
Most of the bars and entertainment venues can be found in or just off the atrium, with a couple of exceptions. They are all very much designed to appeal to British tastes and current fads -- whether that be sampling wines from around the world, discovering obscure regional beers from around the UK or enjoying an artisan gin looking out from the top of the ship.
The Blue Bar (Deck 5): This is an odd little space tucked to one side of the atrium and a bit hard to find. It's an elegant cocktail bar in silver, black marble and midnight blue that should, in theory, be an ideal pre-dinner meeting place, but it isn't. (That honour is taken by Olly Smith's The Glass House.) During our five-day cruise, I didn't see a single person in there. Open 10 a.m. to late.
Brodie's (Deck 6): Set in a large space just off the atrium, Brodie's is popular throughout the day, with a variety of entertainment including quizzes and live football screenings, as well as live music and karaoke in the evening. Designed in smart tones of brass, wood and a black-and-white geometric floor pattern, it's designed to resemble a large pub and is named after one of the founders of P&O Cruises, Brodie McGhie Wilcox.
Brodie's also has The Great British Beer Menu, which features an astonishing 70 different bottled beers, ales and ciders from 56 UK counties including pilsners, ales, stouts, gluten-free beer and speciality beers such as Chocolate Tom from Robinson's Brewery in Cheshire, Ginger Hare from Bath Ales in Somerset and Orange Peel from the Wadsworth Brewery in Wiltshire, starting at a cheaper-than-pub price of £3.85 per bottle. The casino adjoins Brodie's. Open from 10 a.m. to late.
The Glass House (Deck 7): Wine expert Olly Smith's wine bar is a very popular gathering place all day, given its central location at the top of the atrium. Smith has chosen a range of 40 wines to offer by the glass, half of which are new to P&O. They are partly influenced by the ship's itineraries, so he has drawn from Croatia and Italy; but you can find wines from farther afield, including vintages from Uruguay and Japan. The 'Wine Flights' are fun, allowing you to sample three regional varieties, complete with Olly's tasting notes, from £9.95 for three 125 ml glasses. You can accompany the wine with a fine selection of tapas-sized dishes, as well as more filling mains (see Dining). Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Crow's Nest (Deck 16): Located high atop the ship, this bar takes up a prime piece of real estate right at the front and affords spectacular views. It's a P&O Cruises' favourite, appearing on most ships in the fleet, and on Britannia it's the biggest yet. The venue is done up with a generous use of marble and floor-to-ceiling windows. During the day it's quiet and peaceful, and indeed we saw a number of people fast asleep on the very comfortable chairs and sofas dotted about. At night, it turns into a sophisticated pre- or post-dinner venue. You don't chance upon the Crow's Nest -- you head here -- and it's ideally situated if you're dining in the nearby Epicurean. It also adjoins the library and the nearby Marlow Suite, which is the ship's card room.
The Crow's Nest features The Great British Gin Menu, which includes 20 British-distilled gins from around the country including small, artisan brands such as The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (Argyll), Tarquin's Dry Gin (Cornwall), Darnley's View (Edinburgh), Silent Pool Gin (Surrey) and Ely Dark Chocolate Gin (Cambridgeshire), as well as big names such as Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Hendrick's. A selection of tonic waters, including Fevertree, Fentiman's and Bottlegreen, complement the gins.
Riviera (Deck 16): The partly covered Riviera bar is the main bar for the Lido Deck. Open 8 a.m. to late.
Lido (Deck 16): This outside bar is opposite the Riviera, on the other side of the two main pools. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunset (Deck 16): This popular spot, right outside the Horizon Restaurant, takes up the whole of the aft of the ship. It's perfect for sundowners and smokers, who can smoke on the port side.
Serenity (Deck 17): This bar is solely for the use of passengers who have booked The Retreat. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Britannia Outside Recreation
There are two main pools on the Lido Deck (Deck 16). Sailaway parties take place here, with a live DJ and dancing. It's a large space and, despite the number of passengers onboard, it never felt crowded. There is a shallow paddling pool between the two main pools, for toddlers. (Swim nappies are OK here.) There is also a plunge pool at the aft of Deck 17, but this is for teens only during school holidays.
There is another outdoor pool on Deck 17 in The Retreat. The Retreat is an adults-only enclave at the top and front of the ship, and is technically part of the Oasis Spa on Deck 5. It has a capacity of just 84 people and numbers are strictly controlled; you gain access by purchasing a one-day or full-cruise pass. It's open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The area is serene and calm, with day beds and cabanas for spa treatments. You also get a designated lounger, bathrobe, slippers, towels, free fruit and smoothies, and unlimited access to the two hot tubs.
Passes for The Retreat cannot be pre-booked, but are available to purchase onboard at the Oasis Spa, subject to availability. They tend to book up quickly on the first day of the cruise, though one-day passes are sometimes available on the day. Passes to The Retreat can also be obtained when booking a spa package. A day pass costs £25 per person. Prices for full-cruise passes for one person or a couple are: £120 per person (£200 per couple) for seven nights; £180 (£300 per couple) for 10 to 12 nights; or £240 (£400 per couple) for 14 nights.
You can also eat up here by ordering food via the 'Resort Stewards'. Breakfast (9 a.m. to noon) includes smoothies, cereals and paninis for free, but drinks will set you back £2 for a small orange juice, which is a bit steep. Lunch (noon to 3:30 p.m.) includes salads and light dishes such as smoked salmon and paninis. Afternoon tea includes sandwiches, pastries and scones from a buffet (served from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Outdoor fun is centred around the purpose-built Arena at the aft of Deck 18, the Sports Deck. The Arena is designed as a basketball court, but offers a range of equipment for playing various sports including short tennis, cricket and football. Friendly tournaments for adults and children take place during the day, and some evenings the Arena doubles as a sailaway venue when the weather is particularly inclement. (It's open, but far more sheltered than the Lido Deck.)
The Arena is surrounded by tiered viewing decks and even has an adjoining bar. Screens on either side of the bar are set up for passengers to play the latest motion-sensing video games. There is also a ping pong table and two golf nets near the Arena.
The Sun Deck is up on Deck 17, overlooking the Lido Deck. It has two hot tubs, one on either side looking down on the main pools and plenty of sun loungers. You could also head up to Deck 18, which is quieter and doubles as the tiny Promenade, but you'll have to share it with joggers.
Reception is off the main atrium on Deck 5. Taking the front desk out of the atrium itself is an inspired move because it means the atrium is left to savour and enjoy, with the lines of people enquiring about their bills relegated to a corridor.
The shore excursions desk is diagonally opposite and beside it is a shop selling essential goods and logo items. All the rest of the shops are found on Deck 6. These include shops selling watches, duty-free items and jewelry. Brand names sold onboard include: Omega and Chopard, Beaverbrooks, Rituals, Desigual and Crew Clothing.
The photo gallery is on Deck 7. There are a few passenger photos on the walls for you to peruse, but mostly you look for your own photos and choose what you want via touch screens. Future Cruise Sales is next door if you'd like to book your next cruise while onboard.
The library is all the way up on Deck 16, right at the front of the ship, just behind the Crow's Nest. It's well stocked and a good size. All the books are in English, and you can take out two books per person and keep them for one week. There are also four computers for passenger use. The ship has Wi-Fi throughout, available in three 24-hour package options; The Connect Package (£7.75 for 24 hours) provides social media access and internet messaging services; The Browse Package (£12.50) offers internet browsing (with the exception of video streaming), internet messaging, email and social network access; and The Works Package (£24.95) offers web browsing, including YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music streaming, video calls, email, instant messenger services and social media access.
The library is open 8 a.m. to noon, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on port days. On sea days, it is open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and then 7:30 to 9 p.m.
The games rooms -- the Marlow Suite (named after P&O's long-serving former boss, Carol) and the Ivory Suite -- are in the opposite corridor. There are bridge tables for bridge and whist in the Marlow Suite.
There are two free self-service launderettes toward the aft of every floor. You can buy washing powder from the ship shop opposite reception on Deck 5.