Cruising, once the holiday of choice for only the rich and famous and more recently, something many people are guilty of thinking cruise ships are floating retirement homes and not for anyone under the age of 40! How wrong can you be? In this case…very.
Having just returned from a week-long P&O Food Heroes Cruise to the Norwegian Fjords on Britannia, with Leeds lad Marco Pierre White no less, this turned out to be one of the best holidays we have ever been on.
P&O Food Heroes Cruises are either with Marco Pierre White, wine expert, Olly Smith or master pâtissier, Eric Lanlard on board, the choice is yours.
This excited us! P&O’s description of their Food Heroes cruises will have you checking out availability and reaching for the credit card immediately. Before you do, let us share with you our own experience.
Here’s what P&O say; “We work with the brightest lights of the culinary scene, to bring you innovative, delicious menus and exclusive foodie experiences. Enjoy a taste for the authentic on our carefully crafted Food Heroes shore experiences; a taste for the exquisite at our Food Heroes on-board dining venues; and a taste for discovery – be inspired by their skills at interactive cookery shows, masterclasses, private hosted dinners, and more when they travel on board.”
Here’s what we have to say. We are not cruising novices here at H&N, although previously our destination of choice had been the Caribbean, with a lengthy flight at the start and end of the holiday. This time was a very different experience and I will start at the beginning as our adventures warrant a day by day account.
No flying for us this time, we were setting sail from Southampton, something we had not done before; and we were unsure as to how well this would work. How easy would it be parking the car, getting through customs and handling our luggage from car to ship? And herein lies the first surprise.
Day 1 – The Journey
We enjoyed the drive, giving ourselves plenty of time for comfort breaks, our excitement grew the closer we got to Southampton and finding the docks was easy, with unmissable signage as soon as we hit the outskirts of the city.
Having the car pre-booked with CPS Cruise Parking turned out to be a brilliant idea, we placed the identification sign they had sent us on the dashboard and waited in line, we were spotted and directed out of the growing queue to pull up alongside the ship where a porter was waiting to take our luggage. He unloaded everything for us while a CPS representative took control of the car and we were whisked away, luggage free to passport control. Easy.
There is no duty free at Southampton, but we knew that once we set sail, the many duty-free shops on board would open and we had our list at the ready.
We were super excited to meet Marco Pierre White and be in his company over the next two days and could hardly contain our excitement as we read through our onboard itinerary. Known the world over, Marco has pushed the boundaries of cuisine for over 30 years. In the 1980s, he took the restaurant scene by storm, becoming the youngest ever chef to be awarded three Michelin stars. Over the years, he has been the chef of choice for royalty, world leaders and celebrities, all hungry for his sensational cooking. And so were we!
We found our way to our balcony cabin, where our luggage was waiting for us; another tick. We settled in and then set about exploring this mighty vessel and all that she had to offer. Trying to remember our way was impossible, luckily there is a deck plan on every level to help! Britannia is indeed huge, accommodating over 3,600 guests, almost 1,400 crew and there’s 18 decks to discover!
Eventually finding our way back to our cabin, we freshened up for our first dinner onboard Britannia in The Glass House, one of the three select dining restaurants we were booked in to during our trip. The concept here is that every wine on offer can be bought by the glass, giving you the opportunity to try not just one of their fabulous wines, but as many as you like over the course of the evening.
The menu is a well thought out selection of small plates, banquets for two, steaks and sliders and yummy desserts and fabulous cheeses. We were in our element; the food was top notch and the service impeccable. The bar had been set very high and this was only the first day. It had been an early start, a long journey and a day full of excitement and surprises and after such a fabulous dinner (plus more than a few glasses of wine), we were ready to retire to our queen-sized bed for a well-deserved sleep.
Day 2 – At Sea
That bed was really comfortable! We slept like babies and woke refreshed and ready for a day at sea, perfect for further exploration of the good ship Britannia. But first, breakfast.
Every mealtime offers multiple choice venues and cuisines, no matter what time you want to eat you will find something being served somewhere on the ship. We decided to have our first breakfast in Horizon, the main buffet restaurant which includes indoor and outdoor seating areas. Once we discovered the fantastic fresh fruit bar and the live cooking stations for pancakes, omelettes and poached eggs, this became our go to breakfast choice every day. Now to explore. We clocked up some miles on the Fitbit let me tell you! We were determined to find our way around and discovered where all the duty-free shops were, the theatre, cinema, the gym and spa, the library, Brodie’s British pub, The Cookery Club and all the bars and restaurants.
Today however we also had some activities booked with Marco, who himself had a packed itinerary. As patron of The Cookery Club and one of P&O’s Food Heroes, he holds hosted masterclasses and dinners when he’s on board. Even when he’s not on board, you can still learn to cook and present his dishes, as the resident chefs host to give you the inside track on his recipes and techniques. Places are limited, so make sure you book early.
We decided to give the cookery class a miss as we planned to attend ‘An Audience with Marco’ in the afternoon and his hosted dinner in the evening, doing his cookery class as well may have been Marco overload!
The Audience with Marco was held in the theatre and we were early enough to get some good seats near the front. There were plenty of large screens so that everyone could see the cookery demonstrations up close. On stage, he demonstrated the perfect risotto while being interviewed and taking questions from the audience. He was charismatic, funny and very entertaining; we thoroughly enjoyed every minute. He then did a book signing and photo call, really spending time engaging with his fans.
That evening was the first of two Black Tie Nights and we were booked to attend the ‘Hosted Dinner with Marco’. Dressed to impress, what’s better than having your dinner cooked by a culinary legend? How about tucking into that dinner with him and, over a few glasses of good wine, enjoying tales from his glittering career? The godfather of British cooking prepared three courses as we gathered round to watch as he worked. Once seated, we enjoyed his delicious dishes, lively conversation and a selection of wines chosen to complement each course. This is a once in-a-lifetime experience for foodies and fans of the world-famous chef and we highly recommend it, we had the best night with him and made some new friends at the intimate gathering too. You can book in advance but hurry – places are strictly limited. What a day it had been. That queen-sized bed was suddenly calling.
Day 3 – Ashore with Marco Pierre White
This was to be another eventful, action packed day, we were ‘Heading Ashore with Marco’. Going ashore in Stavanger was a unique journey from farm to high-end cuisine. We started in the restaurant Fish & Cow, where over light refreshment, owner and celebrity chef Kjartan Skjelde explained how local seasonal produce is the real star of the show.
We were then taken to a local organic farm where we helped pick the freshest ingredients, chefs then transformed our bounty into a fabulous, colourful feast accompanied by local delicious beer, which was a taste combination of cider and prosecco, very moreish!
We then headed into the city to have a cookery demonstration of Norwegian dishes, prepared and cooked in front of us by Norway’s celebrity chef and his team, this was turning into the best day we could ever imagine. At the end we took photos with all the chefs, said a fond farewell to Marco and headed back to the ship while Marco headed to the airport. What a day, what an experience, what a holiday!
Day 4 – Olden
We docked in the beautiful village of Olden and it was hot! 26 degrees, full sun and a perfect day to take in the breathtaking scenery. After the hectic pace of the last two days, we decided to have a trip free day and explore under our own steam. We donned our shorts and walking boots and followed the road, armed with bottles of water and factor 30. We climbed roads high into the mountains and stopped every now and then to admire the many hidden houses off the beaten track and the splendour of Britannia from on high. We soon discovered Norway’s fascination with Trolls, they popped up everywhere, especially in people’s gardens! Many of the ship’s passengers had booked onto one of the organised trips available, most popular were visits to the glaciers.
Our trek helped to walk off breakfast and build up an appetite for dinner in Sindu, the very popular Indian select dining restaurant onboard Britannia. The menu boasts authentic Indian dining with a British twist. The décor was beautiful, the service attentive and the food showcases a menu which is a triumph of perfectly balanced spices, delicate flavours and wonderful aromas, Sindhu was a firm favourite with many. We took our time and just enjoyed the whole experience. The perfect end to another perfect day.
Day 5 – Alesund
The weather had turned. Time to pull out the warm clothing and the waterproofs, and do you know something? It all added to this unique experience and in truth, this was certainly more like the weather we had packed for.
Today we were in Alesund; a port town on the west coast of Norway, at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. It’s known for the art nouveau architectural style in which most of the town was rebuilt after a fire in 1904 and the panoramic views of Ålesund’s architecture, the surrounding archipelago and fjords from the Mount Aksla lookout.
Mount Aksla lookout was a prominent feature on the skyline as we docked and as we watched the snail trail of visitors in the distance winding their way up and down the 418 steps from the Town Park, looking at each other, we knew we had to do it too. Probably two thirds of the way up we started to doubt the number of steps, it seemed more like 1,000 and this was a very steep climb! Luckily there were plenty of rest points along the way and once at the top we knew why it is so popular; the panoramic views were amazing, truly stunning.
We didn’t fancy the steps again as we had found another way down, a path through woodland and forest that offered up a very different aspect to the descent to the town. As we reach the bottom, it started to pour and was feeling much colder, so we had a quick wander around the shops and museum and headed back to Britannia to get warm and dry and spend some time in the Crow’s Nest with a G&T or three before dinner in The Oriental, one of two main dining rooms offering Club Dining.
Club Dining is a fixed seating plan operating on two sittings, either 1st sitting at 6.30pm or 2nd sitting at 8.30pm. You have a reserved table at the same time each evening with the same waiters and fellow diners for the duration of your cruise, unless you choose one of the select dining restaurants. The quality of the food in Club Dining is of a high standard and the menu changes daily so you will never be bored.
Day 6 – Bergen
Our last shore excursion was to Bergen; a city on Norway’s southwest coast, it’s surrounded by mountains and fjords, including the country’s longest and deepest. Bergen is Norway’s second largest city where you can roam through living history. This many-sided city, its history and cultural traditions, local attractions, coffee-shops and restaurants all contribute to making it a lively and vibrant city.
We were booked to do the Mount Ulriken Hike, a vigorous 5-hour trek with refreshments at the top before riding the cable car down. Unfortunately, the weather was so bad that day that the cable car was closed for safety reasons, so we swopped to a trip riding the Fløibanen Funicular up Fløyen Mountain for stunning panoramic views. The weather worsened while we were at the top, but not before we had time to take in the breathtaking scenery. This was followed by a coach trip around the highlight of the city where we discovered many interesting facts and history, before heading back to the ship in time to relax before getting ready for the second Black Tie evening of the cruise. This was another lovely meal in The Oriental, followed by a night of comedy in the theatre then a couple of gin and tonics in The Crow’s Nest before hitting that bed.
Day 7 – At Sea
Our last day on board was spent relaxing. We reminisced about our trip, reliving each day’s activities and adventures; we had packed so much into a single week and now it was almost over. Our last day at sea was tinged with sadness and we were jealous of the people who were staying onboard to cruise the Mediterranean. Still, our journey was not yet ended, and we caught up with the lovely people we had met along the way for a few drinks and to swop contact details.
There was plenty to do onboard on that final day; you need never be bored on a cruise, it is whatever you want it to be and on that day, we found ourselves eyeing up the latest ship in the P&O fleet being launched next year, Iona and dreaming about future adventures and destinations.
Dinner on our final evening was in another of the select dining restaurants, Epicurean. Britannia’s fine dining restaurant offers classic British dishes, re-interpreted for today’s modern palates. No specific celebrity chef has put his name on this restaurant; it’s all down to the P&O team, and it’s very impressive. The experience is similar to that of a top London restaurant with a name chef attached, except for the price tag. Reservations are essential.
What a way to end the week and what a week it had been. The next day we docked in Southampton, finding the whole disembarkation process as easy and smooth as the embarkation had been. Within minutes of leaving the ship, we were sat in our car with our luggage fully loaded and heading away from the docks.
Remember at the start when I said don’t do anything until we have shared our own experience? Feel free to blow the cobwebs off the credit card and book what we can only describe as the trip of a lifetime!
P&O Cruises is offering a 7-night cruise on Britannia B924 from £699 per person for an inside cabin. Departing August 31, 2019, the price includes kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
Departing from and returning to Southampton port of call are Stavanger, Flam, Olden and Bergen.
To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111 or visit your local travel agent.
NEW SHIP – P&O Cruises is offering a 7-night cruise on Iona G007 from £749 per person for an inside cabin. Departing June 13, 2020, the price includes kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
Departing from and returning to Southampton port of call are Stavanger, Olden, Geiranger and Bergen.
To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111 or visit your local travel agent.