Let your trou­bles just float away... STEVE HOWARTH

Gets his sea legs aboard the cruise ship Bri­tan­nia for a week ex­plor­ing the Mediter­ranean

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

NOW I must con­fess straight away that my wife and I were cruise vir­gins be­fore we got the in­vite from those nice peo­ple at P&O to board their flag­ship for a week of fun and sun afloat.

We have friends who are reg­u­lar cruis­ers and they en­joy a life on the ocean waves so much they are now well into dou­ble fig­ures.

So it was good to get the chance to find out what life on board was like for our­selves and as the taxi pulled up along­side Bri­tan­nia we had our first wow mo­ment – the ship is vast, dwarf­ing all the other ves­sels and even the port build­ings.

Only put into ser­vice two years ago the 143,000-tonne craft can ac­com­mo­date 3,647 pas­sen­gers and has a crew of 1,350… this is not a ship, it’s a float­ing town!

And just like a town there are shops, cin­e­mas, the­atres, swim­ming pools, bars, night­clubs, a spa and 10 res­tau­rants as well as more than 1,800 cab­ins over seven decks, from one or two bed in­side rooms to pala­tial suites.

We were lucky enough to have a de­light­fullyspa­cious cabin with a bal­cony, which meant sip­ping cham­pagne in the Ital­ian sun­shine as we sailed away to start a week of ad­ven­tures.

And what ad­ven­tures – the first of which was nav­i­gat­ing our way around this vast ves­sel which has every­thing on board you could pos­si­bly want to make your hol­i­day ex­tra spe­cial.

Hav­ing missed out on the Rome shore ex­cur­sions (I had only taken my wife there a few weeks be­fore as a birth­day treat) we were ready to step ashore at our next port of call – beau­ti­ful Naples.

We had booked for a day trip to nearby Pom­peii – one of the places I had long ago put on my ‘must see’ list – and it did not dis­ap­point.

We were ex­pect­ing just a few foun­da­tions and col­lapsed ru­ins but there are still com­plete build­ings and dozens of im­pres­sive streets to wan­der around with a help­ful guide ex­plain­ing what hap­pened af­ter nearby Ve­su­vius blew its top and buried the whole place un­der me­tres of ash in just a few hours in 79 AD. Well worth see­ing.

Back on­board we dressed for our first ‘Bond-style’ black-tie night in one of the many res­tau­rants and the food was truly ex­cel­lent.

Friendly staff and a good bot­tle of wine en­sured we had a great time and, as we had opted for some­thing called Free­dom Din­ing, we were free to se­lect where and when we ate, mean­ing we found our­selves chat­ting to all kinds of peo­ple, from mu­sic pro­duc­ers to re­tired ser­vice­men, dur­ing the week.

Our se­cond day was ‘at sea’, so again there was the op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther ex­plore our gi­gan­tic float­ing palace and make use of the three large pools and two jacuzzis be­fore en­joy­ing mid­day en­ter­tain­ment in the lec­ture theatre with tales of Sir Don­ald Camp­bell and his wa­ter speed record-bid­ding boat Blue­bird.

This was af­ter we had en­joyed yet an­other de­li­cious full-English helpy­our­self break­fast and – be warned – there is a price to be paid for such culi­nary de­lights as I have still to lose the half stone in weight I gained over the week.

An­other su­per meal in yet an­other restau­rant and we de­cided to take in a show, which would have done any West End theatre proud, and then hit the disco un­til late – there re­ally is some­thing go­ing on 24-7 on th­ese cruise ships.

If you are feel­ing lucky there is a casino – we were just by­standers I am afraid – and also two large cin­e­mas where we watched some block­buster films in com­fort­able mod­ern sur­round­ings (luck­ily not Ti­tanic or the Po­sei­don Ad­ven­ture!).

Our next port of call was Cagliari, the cap­i­tal of Sar­dinia, and again an ex­cur­sion was in store – be warned the most pop­u­lar are booked up very quickly.

This time we were taken on a tour of the is­land and its ex­ten­sive but now re­dun­dant salt lakes – where flamin­gos are a big at­trac­tion.

Like all the other tours we went on dur­ing the week this proved ex­cel­lent value, be­ing ei­ther a full-morn­ing or ful­lafter­noon, with knowl­edge­able guides on hand to shep­herd you around as we also toured the city’s hill­top cas­tle, me­dieval walled quar­ter and mu­seum.

Back on board as Bri­tan­nia steamed the 741 nau­ti­cal miles to our next des­ti­na­tion, Cadiz in Spain, there were a long list of ac­tiv­i­ties for yet an­other ‘sea day’, but we en­joyed re­lax­ing in the sun­shine and watched oth­ers get­ting stuck in at the gym, spa and en­joy­ing deck sports.

An­other high point was ahead as our Cadiz ex­cur­sion in­cluded a trip to a world-fa­mous win­ery (with sam­pling) in Jerez, and then the spec­ta­cle that is the Span­ish Rid­ing School with its per­form­ing An­dalu­sian-bred horses and their high-step­ping eques­trian bal­let based on chore­og­ra­phy taken from clas­si­cal and cow­boy horse train­ing lessons with tra­di­tional Span­ish mu­sic and rid­ers in 18th cen­tury cos­tumes – stir­ring stuff.

An­other item on the don’t-miss list is the sail away par­ties on deck, or­gan­ised by the ship’s en­ter­tain­ment staff, which take place as Bri­tan­nia leaves each des­ti­na­tion. It’s a hoot with flag wav­ing pas­sen­gers be­ing egged on to do silly things – and you just can’t help join­ing in.

As we left Span­ish wa­ters it dawned that our next stop would be the end of our won­der­ful cruise in P&O’s home port of Southamp­ton – but there were still two days on board to sam­ple more great en­ter­tain­ment and good food – plus a few more bot­tles of wine.

But sadly it was all over too soon and we found our­selves step­ping ashore back in Blighty and head­ing for nearby Southamp­ton Air­port, which is just a 40-minute hop away from Manch­ester.

So now we are true sea dogs, what’s the ver­dict? Well we loved it and would go back again to­mor­row – cruis­ing is a way of re­ally get­ting away from it all where your trou­bles just seem to float away...

Bri­tan­nia and The Atrium Star­burst aboard the ves­sel

A Bri­tan­nia cabin

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