As I live in Cardiff, it is easy to drive down to Southampton in less than three hours.
The M4 connects South Wales to London. At Junction 13 I follow the A34 from Chieveley down to Winchester. The M3 meets with the M27 that fringes north Southampton. The city centre and ports are well signposted from most main roads that lead into Southampton.
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If you are travelling from London or the East of England, head to the M25 and at Junction 12 follow the M3 down to Southampton.
The drive from the South West of England is mainly on A-roads. From Exeter, the A30, A35, and A31 link onto the M27. From the South East, the A27 links onto the M27.
If you are travelling from the North East of England, you will most likely follow the A1(M) and M1 south. Stay on the M1 to join the M25, or cut through Oxfordshire on the M40, joining the A34 south of Bicester.
If you are driving down from the North West or North Wales, you will likely follow the M6 and M40 southwards, joining the A34 south of Bicester.
Scottish holidaymakers will endure a torturous drive along the M74 and A74(M) onto the M6 and M40. Expect a car journey time greater than 7½ hours from Glasgow.
Southampton has four main cruise terminals, and if you do not keep your wits about you, it is easy to turn up at the wrong one. Once you are on the main road through Southampton (A33), keep an eye out for the digital signage that directs you to the correct terminal. During busy times there can be four cruise ships in port at once, so expect a lot of traffic.
P&O Cruises mainly uses City Cruise Terminal (known as Berth 46/47) or Queen Elizabeth II Terminal (Berth 38/39). Other terminals in Southampton are Mayflower Cruise Terminal (Berth 106) on Herbert Walker Avenue and Ocean Cruise Terminal (Berth 101) near Mayflower Park.
To access both City Cruise Terminal and Queen Elizabeth II Terminal, head to the main entrance at Dock Gate 4 opposite Queen’s Park. You will need to stop at the security booth who will give you directions onwards.
Car parking at Southampton Port
Thanks to the cruise tourism industry, a colossal amount of car park spaces are required, particular with up to four cruise ship visits at a time.
Cruise & Passenger Services (CPS) handles the official car parking for P&O Cruises. They only offer valet parking for most sailings so you will need to leave your car keys with them. The exception is with two-night mini cruises where you self-park. Personally, I prefer self-parking and the reassurance I have with keeping my keys with me.
Expect to pay a lot of official cruise car parking. My two-night mini cruise cost £34 in car parking. Booking online before your cruise.
Some off-site car parking suppliers have cropped up lately. These are further away from the port and transfers are required to reach the terminal. They can offer a better rate on longer durations but for short mini cruises, I would not expect to save a lot of money.
You could consider a cruise and stay package offered by one of the local hotels. Examples include: Careys Manor Hotel; Chewton Glen; Chilworth Manor Hotel; De Vere Venues New Place; Grand Harbour; Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel; Holiday Inn Express M27 J7; Highfield House Hotel; Hilton at the Ageas Bowl; Hilton Hotel Chilworth; Holiday Inn Southampton; Holiday Inn Winchester; Jurys Inn Southampton; Lainston House Hotel; Marriott Meon Valley Hotel & Country Club; Macdonald Botley Park; Montagu Arms Hotel; Novotel Southampton; Pig in the Wall; Rhinefield House Hotel; Solent Hotel Fareham; The Star Hotel Southampton; or The White Star Tavern Southampton. All of these hotels have previously offered cruise and stay packages. Costs for this typically include at least one week of parking, so this may prove to be an expensive option for a mini cruise.
I contacted West Quay Shopping Centre who said that cars could be parked overnight, an attractive option for short mini cruises. In May the rate was £5 per 24 hours. Be aware that this is a very busy public multi-storey car park so unlike the on-site parking, there will be a steady stream of cars coming and going. Your car may also be one of very few left there overnight which may worry you.
The walk from West Quay Shopping Centre to City Cruise Terminal or Queen Elizabeth II Terminal is up to 2 miles (about 3 kilometres) so you may wish to consider a taxi for this short journey.
Arriving by train
Southampton Central Station is on Western Esplanade to the north of all four terminals. While it is within walking distance to Ocean Cruise Terminal and Mayflower Cruise Terminal, it is a considerable distance from City Cruise Terminal or Queen Elizabeth II Terminal.
I’ve walked from the station to both Ocean Cruise Terminal and Mayflower Cruise Terminal and while they are easy walks, with lots of luggage they are not fun. There are plenty of taxis lined up outside the station ready to save you your shoe leather.
Train services operate between Southampton Central and Salisbury, Portsmouth Harbour, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Weymouth, Great Malvern, Poole, Brighton (East Sussex), Romsey, and Bournemouth.
Travelling to Southampton from London usually takes less than 1½ hours. Birmingham or Cardiff to Southampton typically takes 2½ hours, and Edinburgh is seven hours away. Plan your journey here.
Arriving by coach
National Express services stop at the Coach Station on Harbour Parade. The distance from here to City Cruise Terminal or Queen Elizabeth II Terminal is considerable, so consider using a taxi.
Services that call into Southampton include:
- Route 032 from Bournemouth to London via Southampton and Winchester.
- Route 033 from London to Salisbury via Heathrow Airport, Basingstoke, and Southampton.
- Route 203 from Southsea to Heathrow Airport via Portsmouth and Southampton.
- Route 303 from Blackpool to Weymouth via Bolton, Liverpool, Chester, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham, Oxford, Southampton, Portsmouth, and Bournemouth.
- Route 315 from Eastbourne to Penzance via Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Exeter, Plymouth, Bodmin, Newquay, St Austell, Truro, Falmouth, and St Ives.
Checking-In at Southampton and Boarding Britannia
When you receive your booking documents from P&O Cruises, you will find your allocated check-in time. Pay careful attention to this as times are being enforced. If your check-in time is 3 pm and you turn up at 11 am, you will be asked to leave and return later, or you will have to wait until the scheduled time.
My allocated boarding time was 2 pm so I planned my journey accordingly. I normally arrive at the terminal as early as I can but in this instance, there was no point.
Having parked up and wheeled my suitcase across to the terminal I was ready to check-in. I was given a Health Questionnaire form to complete before checking-in. I queued up and checked-in effortlessly. I put my credit card details on file (it makes life easier at the end of the trip). The Cruise Card acts as a keycard to enter your cabin, and as a payment method onboard. You charge purchases at the bars, premium restaurants, shops, spa, and shore excursions desk to your account. At the end of the cruise, these are all billed to the credit or debit card held on file.
Airport-style security is in force so expect to take off jackets, remove metal objects, and empty your pockets.
Shortly after it was time to walk up the gangway and onto the ship. A beep of my Cruise Card announced my arrival onto the largest cruise ship purposefully designed for the British cruise market.
Read more in this series
- Getting to Southampton Port (you are here)
- P&O Cruises Britannia Review
- P&O Cruises Britannia Cabins
- Food & Drink on P&O Cruises Britannia
- Entertainment on P&O Cruises Britannia
- Visiting Guernsey on a Sunday
- Guernsey Mini Cruise Review on P&O Cruises’ Britannia