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Clad in white cap and apron, standing nervously behind my station, at the words 'five minutes to service' I shouted 'oui chef' and kept stirring.
Lined up like Masterchef contestants, we were students of James Martin Cookery Club class on board P&O's flagship, Britannia. Under the guidance of Irish/Italian head chef Nino MacMahon, our group produced a tasty chicken korma with accompaniments.
Ingredients were pre-measured, sliced and diced, so all we had to do was have fun, mix, cook and serve. Chef Nino said my potato cakes were outstanding! That's a new one!
Named by The Queen, the Britannia sports the Union Flag symbol on her bows. She is big, beautiful and at 232 ft high, carrying over 3,600 passengers, is the largest ship built for the British market.
Following an easy, hassle-free coach journey, via Eavesway, from Preston to Southampton, I was soon on board, and excited. After uggage is stowed on the coach, it re-appears, as if by magic, outside a passenger's cabin door. My balcony cabin was well-fitted with plenty of storage and hanging space, a large walk-in shower, fridge and the most comfortable shipboard bed I've slept in.
Kim Woodburn (TV's How Clean Is Your House) and her husband, Peter, were fellow cruisers. There was no need for Kim, 75, to don her feather-fringed rubber gloves though, as smiling staff kept everything ship-shape.
I explored with every passenger's essential aid, a mini map. Contemporary and iconic, with a sparkling fusion chandelier/sculpture feature, the Britannia's buzzing, full-width, three deck level Atrium includes a glittering mix of bars, lounges, eateries and shops. There's a relaxed air but an upbeat energy on this ship which boasts 13 restaurants and food outlets plus 13 bars. Freedom Dining enables passengers to choose their preferred time, and whether they are happy to share a table.
I dined and chatted with different people every evening in the allocated restaurants. The menus were pleasing with plenty of options and, as expected by seasoned cruisers, food was of a high standard. The Horizon on Deck 16 provides the variety of a self service buffet (heavenly cakes!). Passengers can eat as much as they like. Some like to eat as much as they can.
Tip: Bypass popular eating times to avoid congestion.
It's worth paying the supplement to sample, for example, the elegant Epicurean restaurant (the Queen dined in here). The duo of smoked salmon was carved at the table, the Chateaubriand, sublime. In the Glass House, hot plates are delicious, at three for a supplement of just £5.75.
On sunny days, I lazed in the calm adults only Serenity pool area, but there was livelier fun to be had round the Lido Deck pools, where Neil Oliver and his entertainment team kept the party going with (loud) music, games and quizzes. Sometimes, I relaxed with a book and a coffee in the tranquility of the Observatory Lounge which affords 180 degree sea views. In the Headliners Theatre, which seats 936 people, top drawer productions are enhanced with a full LED wall and special effects.
Our first port of call was Gibraltar, residence of the infamous Barbary Apes. Tourists beware! These macaques are adept at stealing hats, sunglasses and ice creams. Expect to see red pillar boxes, telephone booths, British-style pubs here as well as upcoming, upmarket bistros and wine bars.
From Barcelona, I fell in love with Sitges, a stylish, arty, boho, Spanish seaside resort. Known as the St Tropez of Spain, it has a palm tree-lined promenade and sweeping, golden sandy bay.
Because of waves and wind the captain deemed it unsafe to transport passengers to Monte Carlo and back by tender, so Britannia continued her sail across the Mediterranean to Civitavecchia, which translates as old city. Many cruisers travelled to Rome, but the small hillside village of Tuscania was on my list. In a charming little square, at a table beneath a sunshade, I sipped a cappuccino at a cost of one euro. Then, on a farm in the countryside our group tucked in to a rustic feast of home made wine, cheese, prosciutto, finely-chopped, juicy black olives and bread with rich golden olive oil.
The ruins of Herculaneum are near to the port of Naples. In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and in a whisper, a scorching cloud of poisonous pyroclastic gas killed residents who were sheltering from the mountain's initial eruptions in their boat houses. Some skeletons can still be seen here. The ancient, prosperous Roman town was buried in around 60ft of ash, which preserved many of the buildings, bath chambers, houses and the forum, along with intricate mosaics, frescoes and wall tiles.
Sardinia's capital, Cagliari, was swarming with residents and tourists on one of this lovely island's public holidays. The reasonably priced open top bus tour offers a short city tour. This lovely island is an increasingly popular holiday spot. Opt for the smaller resorts for a quieter sojourn.
Christopher Columbus sailed from Cadiz on two journeys to the Americas. This stunning city features Moorish, Baroque, Gothic,
Renaissance and Venetian architecture along with beautiful wide beaches. In the dark back street hideaway of La Cava taverna, a fiercely passionate troupe of authentic Spanish gitanos (gypsies), comprised a guitarist, singer and three female dancers. The women stomped, swirled and shouted through a series of traditional fiery flamenco dances which stirred the blood.
Another highlight was the fantastic Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' tribute act, Walk Like A Man, fresh from the Jersey Boys' West End Hit, and on board Britannia. They had the audience on their feet, singing along to Sherry Baby, Big Girls Don't Cry and, of course, Oh What A Night.
"Oh, What A Cruise!"
P&O Britannia 14-night Mediterranean cruise from £1,069 pp (inside cabin); from £1,699 pp (balcony cabin) September 16, 2017.
www.pocruises.com or call 0843 373 0111.
Coach travel from selected UK destinations to Southampton Cruise Terminal.
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