Many people have chosen a UK holiday this year rather than navigate the tricky waters of apps, PCR tests, vaccination certificates, traffic light systems and quarantine.
But there is a third option – the seacation.
Like its predecessor, the staycation, holidaymakers don’t leave the UK, except on a cruise ship that either calls at no ports or just other ports in the UK. So, no traffic lights and no quarantine, just a few days aboard a luxury cruise ship.
According to my car park notification, I first had to make my way to the drive-through testing facility at Gate 20, Southampton Dock. Apparently I was going nowhere without a negative test.
The gate wasn’t near the cruise gates and I was retracing my steps to the M27 before I found the turning. I was beginning to wonder how I was going to find it, then suddenly it appeared – large white canopies and cars lined up with passengers keen to get on board.
Passport, e-ticket, boarding pass and proof of vaccination all had to be shown before I was allowed to join the queue for a test, and it was some 30 minutes later that I eventually emerged, to navigate to the cruise terminal at the other end of the docks.
By the time I had unloaded the car and left it in the tender care of the car-park driver, I was relieved that I had received a text message to say that my test had proved negative.
After more showing of documents, I was cleared to board P&O’s cruise ship Britannia, the first time I had been back since she was christened by the Queen in 2015.
Life on board was largely as usual, but there were a few changes brought about by the pandemic. Inside, I had to wear a mask, except in the cabin and when eating and drinking.
That wasn’t so difficult, except that if you temporarily left your table for any reason you had to quickly put on a mask to avoid being reminded by the crew.
The only time I found the mask a little intrusive was in the theatre, which put on three shows a night to cater for its reduced capacity.
They can be a little airless and the mask only added to the slightly stuffy, but not off-putting, atmosphere. As usual, we enjoyed the excellent food that Britannia has to offer, including dinner at the amazing Indian restaurant, Sindhu.
Although he is no longer connected with it, the restaurant was founded by Atul Kochhar, one of the first Indian chefs to receive a Michelin star. If you think you know Indian food, Sindhu will make you think again.
Another gastronomic delight was afternoon tea prepared by master patissier 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. If you go to afternoon tea, skip lunch and plan for a light dinner!
The main cruise foodie stand-by, the buffet, was still operating, except there were staff on hand to serve you from behind the counters.
You only had to glance at a dish to prompt an offer to load some of its contents on to your plate; no change there then.
The three-night cruise had no ports of call, so we sailed gently along the south coast to Devon and back.
The weather was kind and during the day many passengers enjoyed relaxing on deck, reading a book, perhaps from the ship’s library, 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 on hand to provide any drinks.
As is usual on sea days, there was a good selection of daytime activities, including art lectures, dance classes, card tournaments and exercise classes.
It’s certainly an interesting compromise between an overseas trip and a UK hotel or camping holiday 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.
From the end of September Britannia has a couple of two-week sailings to the Mediterranean. And, from November to the end of March you can join her in the Caribbean for a 14-night cruise .
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