P&O Cruises - Boarding Process in Southampton, April 2023
Updated: Oct 22
In April 2023, we embarked on our 20th P&O Cruise, cruising onboard the fleet's Flagship, Britannia. This was a shorter cruise over Easter weekend so we suspected that it would be a busy one! As it fell over the bank holidays, this meant Laura only had to use 2 days annual leave for the 5 night cruise and we assumed lots of others would be capitalising on that too. We weren't wrong and we soon found out that the cruise was sold out, so Britannia would be sailing completely full.
As mentioned, this was our 20th cruise with P&O and we've also cruised with Princess from Southampton so we've got lots of experience of the boarding process there. We thought we had a very good idea of what to expect but recent changes meant we were wrong! We've put together a guide to embarkation with P&O below, as well as our experience of the new process on the Easter cruise.
What do I need to do before embarkation day?
Around 3 weeks before your cruise with P&O you'll have access to the online check in system. On here you'll need to complete your passport information, upload a security photograph and add your card details. You can do some of these parts at the check in desk, but it's a much faster process if you complete it at home and if you've booked through a travel agent, often they'll help you with this part.
Once all of your details are completed you'll be able to generate and print out your boarding pass and luggage labels. Your boarding pass will give you an arrival time and the QR code at the bottom is scanned when you get onto the ship. Below is a copy of our most recent boarding pass (with anything vital removed!) to give you an idea of what to expect.
What happens when I arrive at the terminal?
When you get to your embarkation terminal (which will be printed on your boarding pass) you'll be able to hand your luggage over to staff who will transport it onto the ship, and then onwards to your cabin. The luggage drop off points are separated by cabin location, so you'll need to find the correct one but don't worry there are plenty of staff to point you in the right direction. Once you've done that you'll be able to head on over to the building and this is where things have changed recently.
If you're cruising on one of the larger ships, you'll most likely be cruising out of Ocean Terminal. Previously, you've been able to enter the building and head up to the escalators to the massive waiting area. Here staff will check your boarding pass and either direct you to the check in desks, or ask you to take a seat while you wait. Usually those who had arrived close to their boarding time would be directed straight to the check in desks, and those who had arrived early would be seated and boarded in groups either during quieter periods or once they had reached their boarding time.
Recently P&O have changed this policy and they are no longer allowing entry to the building if you have arrived too early. There are mixed reviews on how early is too early, some are saying that if it's within the hour you'll be able to go in and board. Others have reported being asked to wait outside until right up to the time printed on their boarding pass. Those waiting outside are asked to wait in a sort of holding pen area formed with metal barriers.
We're about to upset some people as we are aware that some people believe arriving earlier that your boarding time is a terrible crime, but on this occasion we did arrive in Southampton early. For all the will in the world it can be very difficult to time your arrival perfectly. As we were driving down on Good Friday, we were worried about the Bank Holiday traffic, so had allowed plenty of time for our journey. At first, we killed some time by stopping for breakfast. Then we decided to drop our cases off at the terminal (which you can do anytime after 11am) and head into Southampton. After a lot of walking around the shops, and a trip to Mayflower park to look at the other ships in port, we were exhausted and our backs were starting to suffer from carrying our hand luggage with us.
As we had always been able to wait in the vast seating area inside Ocean Terminal when we've been early before, we headed back over there with the intention of doing this again. We were just under an hour early, and were asked to wait outside in the holding area. We were here for less than 10 minutes before our boarding time was called and we had to fight through the crowd to try and get back out. We assumed we were being asked to wait outside because inside the building was full, but as we headed up the escalator we noticed that the inside seating area was completely empty. We were funnelled straight into another queue, which was for check in.
We'd completed all of our check in information online, so all we had to do was hand over our boarding passes and passports and we received a stamp on our boarding pass confirming we were ok to board. After this, we were sent over to the seating area in front of security and directed into specific rows, but before we'd even had the chance to sit down we were moved over to the security queue. We then had a bit of a wait for security as we'd been directed to join a queue for the entrance at the far end of the building, and unfortunately in this area only two security check points were open. The other half had four open, and that queue was moving much more quickly but we were soon heading through to board the ship and enjoy our cruise.
Overall we can't be too annoyed by the short wait we had outside as we weren't there for very long at all, but we have heard some horror stories of people who have been waiting outside for hours since the new process was implemented. We arrived early, so accepted that there would be a wait involved and we not hesitate to do it again rather than deal with the stress of being stuck in traffic and cutting it fine to get on board.
There are two main things that we would like to see changed, and hopefully P&O will listen to feedback from customers, as we have seen lots of others saying similar on social media. The first is that we think P&O should allow you to select your arrival time as part of the check in process. We've done this with other cruise lines and it works very well as passengers can then factor this into their plans. Secondly, we'd like to see P&O allowing passengers to sit indoors in the available seating area where there are also toilet facilities for them to use. There were people being asked to stand outside who were struggling physically with the wait and it seems unreasonable when there is space to accommodate them inside.
We also talk about our thoughts on this new boarding process, and everything else we got up to on our first day on Britannia in our Day 1 vlog.