Many people have decided to holiday at home this year rather than navigate the tricky waters of apps, PCR tests, vaccination certificates, passenger locator forms, traffic light systems and quarantine. As a result, UK hotels are heavily booked and may be expensive, so a seacation provides an attractive third option, one I was keen to try.
The concept is simple enough – passengers board the ship in the UK and it either has no ports of call or stops in UK ports only, so technically passengers don’t leave the country.
P&O still requires passengers to be fully vaccinated, as are the crew, and to be tested, so my first stop was the drive-through testing centre in Southampton. My vaccination status, insurance, e-ticket and boarding pass were checked and after the usual swab I headed off to the cruise terminal.
By the time I had arrived and unloaded the suitcases a text message was waiting, informing me that I tested negative and was clear to board P&O Britannia, a ship I was last on when, in 2015, she was named by the Queen.
There were some minor changes due to coronavirus. The ship was sailing with fewer passengers, and masks had to be worn inside the ship, except when eating and drinking. However, the familiar buffet was still there, the only difference being that staff were on hand to load up your plate the minute you even glanced at a dish.
Of course, we enjoyed the excellent food that Britannia has to offer in its many restaurants, including dinner in the amazing Indian restaurant, Sindhu. Although he is no longer connected with it, the restaurant was founded by Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star. If you think you know Indian food, then Sindhu will make you think again.
Another gastronomic delight was afternoon tea prepared by master pâtissier Eric Lanlard. Having trained in France, Eric moved to London aged 22 to work for Albert and Michel Roux, becoming Head Pastry Chef within two years. You don’t get better qualifications than that.
My three night cruise had no ports of call so we sailed gently along the south coast to Devon and back. During the day many passengers enjoyed relaxing on deck, reading a book – perhaps from the comprehensive library on board, socialising and swimming. For those not wanting to leave the poolside for lunch, a pizza bar and a burger bar were on hand to keep customers well-fed, and crew were always on hand to get drinks.
There was also a good selection of daytime activities, including art lectures, dance classes, card tournaments and exercise classes. Evenings were taken up with wining, dining and visits to the theatre. Due to its reduced capacity, the theatre put on three shows a night instead of the usual two.
This form of cruise certainly an attractive option compared to staying in a UK hotel, and for those unsure as to whether cruise life is for them, a good way to dip your toe in the water, in more ways than one!
Cruise line: P&O Cruises
Tel: +44 (0)344 338 8003
On Board Facilities: 13 restaurants, 13 bars, 4 swimming pools, spa, gym, library and theatre.
Number of Cabins: 1,837 cabins
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: If you want an afternoon tea like no other, try Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea in the Epicurian restaurant. Skip lunch and plan for a light dinner!
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10
Factfile: Until mid-September, P&O is offering a range of UK cruises from three to seven nights departing Southampton. Prices from £249 based on two sharing an inside cabin and include full board and entertainment. For more details of these and all other P&O cruises, please visit: www.pocruises.com
Mike Pickup is an award-winning travel writer and photographer who has over one hundred features a year published in newspapers, magazines and travel trade titles.
Photographs by Mike Pickup