“Ten pounds for a pee? They must be bloody joking!”

The restaurant at the summit of Alesund’s Aksla Hill echoed with the woman’s estuary tones. She removed her sunglasses and took another look at the offending sign, as if to check if that would make a difference to the price. It didn’t.

Norway can be an achingly expensive country to visit. The cost of living is over 50% higher than in the UK. You will be lucky to get change out of a tenner (£10; 13 USD) for a pint of beer; a one-way ticket on local transport costs around £3. But equally, Norway is an achingly beautiful country that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Taking a cruise insulates you from these prices and is a more affordable way of seeing the country. And importantly, it gives you the opportunity to visit diverse towns and cities in a short space of time, and to cruise along some of Norway’s most scenic fjords.

P&O Cruises, which is part of the Carnival cruise giant, is the biggest operator catering to the British market. The ships sail from their Southampton base for half the year. Sailing with P&O is neither a splurge nor a budget cruise, but is a touch of affordable luxury. Launched in 2015,  Britannia is P&O’s flagship and Britain’s largest cruise ship.

So what can you expect from a cruise to Norway on HMV Britannia? Here’s my review of the cruise I did in May 2018.

1. The itinerary

DAY ONE: LEAVING SOUTHAMPTON

At 8 pm on a balmy Sunday night,  Britannia let go of her mooring lines and we were underway. Passing Fawley oil refinery silhouetted against the setting sun, the ship continued along the Solent following the eastern coastline of the Isle of Wight, before taking a sharp turn at Portsmouth to enter the Dover Strait. Gin & tonic on the balcony, moonlight on the water.

DAY TWO: AT SEA

The rig -dodging day. Britannia continued along the North Sea, edging towards Norway. Hardy Brits on board settled themselves by the pool, slathering suncream to the frequent accompaniment of the ship’s foghorn. The maximum temperature on deck was a damp 13 degrees.

DAY THREE: STAVANGER

The fortunes of the pretty harbour town of Stavanger, on Norway’s southwest coast, have centred on fish canning and, more recently, the discovery of oil off its shores. With its exquisite wooden buildings, cobbled lanes and rich maritime heritage there is plenty to occupy even the most restless soul.

things to do in stavanger

Where does the ship berth?

Right in the centre of town alongside Gamle (Old) Stavanger.

What can I do there?
  • Visit the Norwegian Canning Museum for some fishy tales
  • For all things nautical, visit the Stavanger Maritime Museum
  • Wander around Gamle (Old) Stavanger
  • Hunt for Antony Gormley statues
  • Visit the cathedral (Domkirke)
  • Visit Skagen’s cafes housed in psychedelic buildings
  • Check out Stavanger’s street art
  • For a thoughtful exploration of Norway’s offshore oil industry visit the Norwegian Petroleum Museum (Norsk Oljemuseum)
How can I get around?

The main sights are close to each other. Stavanger is very walkable

For a more in-depth guide, check out my post: Fishy tales: Things to do in Stavanger

DAY FOUR: FLAM

The approach to Flam is sensational, sailing along the Sognefjorden, one of Norway’s most stunning fjords. You have to be up and about shortly after 5 am to capture this view though!

Norway Fjord

Tucked between two mountains at the head of Aurlandsfjorden, Flam (Flåm to be correct) is a community of around 400 souls, less than 10% the total occupancy of the ship.  Although the hamlet is a good base for hiking and has a visit-worthy 17th-century church, its main tourist draw is the Flam Railway.

Where does the ship berth?

Slap bang in the middle of Flam. It makes the hamlet look like a model village.

What can I do there?
  • Get on board the Flam railway for the ride of your life
  • Take a hike on one of the many walking trails around Flam
  • Increase your adrenaline levels by riding a RIB
  • Rent a talking car (yes … really)

How can I get around?

Flam is tiny. The railway station is around 5 minutes walk from the ship.

For a more in-depth guide, check out my post:  All Aboard! Riding the Flam Railway

DAY FIVE: ALESUND

Alesund, a fishing town and port on Norway’s west coast, is architectural heaven. A devastating town fire in 1904 resulted in a hectic reconstruction project, replacing the charred wooden buildings with those built in an Art Nouveau style with a local folkloric twist. The result is a collection of stone and brick buildings with a myriad of turrets, spires and medieval ornamentation, including intertwined animal and human faces, dragons and elaborate flowers.

View along Alesundet from Hellbroa in Alesund Norway

Where does the ship berth?

Again … right in the thick of things.

What can I do there?
  • Take a walking tour to admire Alesund’s Art Nouveau masterpieces
  • Climb the 418 steps to the top of Aksla Hill for a panoramic view
  • Wonder at the wooden buildings of Molovegen

How can I get around?

The main sights are close to each other. Although Alesund is very walkable, there are lots of steep cobbled streets. Leave the stilettos in your suitcase.

For a more in-depth guide, check out my post: From Ashes to Art Nouveau: A walk in Alesund, Norway

DAY SIX: BERGEN

Formerly the capital of Norway, Bergen is beautifully situated on a promontory, surrounded by seven hills. The self-proclaimed Gateway to the Western Fjords, it is also an attractive and enjoyable city in its own right.

Panoramic view of Bergen from Mount Floyen

Where does the ship berth?

Yet again, the ship parks up close to the city’s main sights at the entrance to the harbour.

What can I do there?
  • For panoramic views and nature trails, ride the Floibanen funicular to the summit of Mount Floyen
  • Explore picture-perfect historic Bryggen
  • Grab a seafood snack at the fish market
  • Check out the street art along Kong Oscars Gate
  • Learn more about Norway’s fight against leprosy at the Leprosy Museum
  • Discover the story behind the resistance in Bergen during World War II at the Bergenhus Festning Museum
  • For a spot of medieval splendour, visit Bergen City Museum at the Rosenkrantz Tower

How can I get around?

The main sights are close to each other. Bergen is also very walkable.

For a more in-depth guide, check out my post: Bewitched! What to see in Bergen in 1 day

DAY SEVEN: AT SEA

Waving goodbye to Norway, the Britannia retraced her tracks through the gas and oil fields of the North Sea into the busy Dover Strait, reaching the Solent waters in the early hours of Sunday morning. During the cruise, Britannia had travelled a total distance of 2323 nautical miles.

2. The ship

Barely three years old, Britannia still has a fresh-out-of-the-box feel. The company’s only British registered vessel, it has 1,376 staff for its 3,600 guests. It is enormous. Spread over 15 passenger decks, it is 232 feet high, 330 meters long and weighs a whopping 144,000 tonnes. To put it into perspective, it is twice the size of the largest hotel in the world.

The central space is the starburst atrium, decked in gleaming Turkish porcelain, covering three floors. But as gorgeous as this space might be, I found that it had a peculiar lack of atmosphere.

Starburst atrium on P&O Britannia on Norwegian Fjords cruise

There are a few design aspects that I found puzzling. There are no publicly accessible stairs at mid-ship, creating pressure on lifts. Also, customer services and shore excursions are buried down on deck 5.

THE CABIN

I had a balcony cabin, which is decorated in tasteful moss-green, beige and brown tones. The large, comfortable bed has good quality linen. A large wall-mounted TV has a limited choice of channels but a decent, mostly free movie library. There are a small fridge, a kettle and tea and coffee supplies, which were replenished each day. Three-pin (British) sockets are plentiful.

Cabin on P&O Britannia Norwegian Fjords Cruise

The small bathroom is well-designed, using the available space wisely. White Company toiletries are provided; shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in portable 100ml bottles, and shower gel in a fixed dispenser. A major plus point is that there is a proper shower cubicle, not just a shower tray with a nasty nylon curtain. However, at busy times, water pressure was poor. A hairdryer is available. Towels are pleasingly white and fluffy.

The balcony is compact, accommodating two reclining chairs placed at a jaunty angle, and a small table.

FOOD AND DRINK

There are bars-a-plenty with 13 to choose from, each with its selling point. The Glass House, matching food to wine; Brodies, modelled on a British boozer; The Blue Bar with its extensive martini list. Or my favourite, The Crow’s Nest, the ship’s signature gin bar offering 21 different varieties. Drink prices are reasonable.

The food in the main restaurants – Peninsular, Meridian, Oriental – was of good quality but could be on the tepid side.

The food from the buffet service for lunch and dinner at the Horizon Restaurant was OK but unexceptional. Breakfasts were very good, with an extensive choice from freshly made omelette, the great British cooked breakfast, fruit, cereals, pastries, cold meats and cheeses and yoghurt. Afternoon tea at The Horizon was also very good.

Speciality dining was available at other restaurants for a supplement (e.g. Sindhu, Epicurean).

The Grab-and-Go fridge on the Lido deck is a great innovation.

RELAXING ON DECK

There is a busy main pool on the Lido deck (16) but quieter pools are also available. Pool towels are in the cabin. There are plenty of sun-beds dotted throughout the ship.

Disappointingly, as there is no promenade deck, you cannot walk or run a circuit of the ship. However, there is a well-equipped gym.

There are golf nets on the Sports Deck (17)

ENTERTAINMENT

There is a full programme to suit all tastes. From live shows and recent films in the well-equipped main theatre to line dancing and magic workshops.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

This is where I feel Britannia fails. Although many of the staff were friendly and welcoming – my cabin steward was exceptional –  too many others were disinterested, bordering on surly. Don’t expect banter.

3. Fellow passengers

Gone are the days when cruising was the preserve of older people, squandering their offspring’s inheritance. On Britannia, a much younger crowd was in evidence with a significant number of multigenerational families. The vast majority of those I spoke to were British and not what I call ‘serial cruisers’. For many. this was their first cruise.

4. In conclusion …

I paid just over £1300 for sole occupation of a balcony cabin on this Norwegian fjords cruise. At around £180 per day, I consider this to be good value for a trip to Norway.

It was a fantastic itinerary; each stop had something different to offer and sailing along the fjords was sensational. I should add that we were blessed with fantastic weather which showed off Norway at its best. This was also a very easy cruise. As the ship berths in the centre of each of these towns and cities, there is no need for a transfer and, unless you wish to venture further afield, no need to take an expensive shore excursion.

The ship is beautiful and feels fresh, although a few design aspects were occasionally frustrating. The cabin was well-designed and comfortable, albeit with a compact balcony. Food was generally of good quality. Variability in the levels of customer service was disappointing.


Have you sailed on HMV Britannia? Have you done a Norwegian fjords cruise? Why not share your experiences below?

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6 Comments

  1. I have not had a chance to visit Norway yet, and it is definitely on the top of my list. I have never been on a cruise, so I am nervous about wanting to explore more, but having to rush back to the ship. Did you find this was the case on your trip?

    • Bridget Reply

      Hello Julie.

      I want to go back now! Perhaps in the winter (if I can cope with the lack of daylight!)

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

      Bridget

  2. Thanks for this post! I’ve been thinking about doing a Norway cruise with my family but the Disney Cruise Line is so expensive. This might be a good option for us.

    • Bridget Reply

      Hi Kristin. So glad it was of use. What really struck me was the number of multi-generational families on board. I got talking to a lady who worked in the kid’s club who told me that they had 600 young people to entertain overt the 7 days!

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

    • Bridget Reply

      Hi Kacie! It was one off those trips that far exceeded my expectations. I hope you manage to get there too.
      Have a good weekend!

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