The maiden voyage of any new cruise ship is a very special occasion. You’re among the first people in the world to experience the ship, meet the staff and use the facilities so I could not have been more thrilled to have been invited onto the maiden voyage of Iona, P&O Cruises beautiful new flagship last month.
Iona was originally scheduled to launch last year, with her maiden-trip due to take in the beauty of the Norwegian Fjords. The pandemic scuppered that plan but instead on this trip, we would be taking in the beauty of the Scottish islands with a stop at Iona’s namesake island in the Hebrides instead. To me, the new itinerary and having the chance to cruise in Scotland seemed a tad more special and unique which made being a part of it seem even more momentous.
Iona is the largest ship in the P&O Cruises fleet and the biggest ship ever built for the British holiday market. At full capacity, she can accommodate 5,200 guests and 1,800 crew and is fuelled by LNG gas making Iona one of the greenest (and noticeably quietest) ships in the world.
The maiden voyage departed from Iona’s home port of Southampton and as I headed up the gangway and into the Grand Atrium, I was instantly struck by the vast sense of space and light. Iona’s designers have ditched the traditional and sometimes gaudy cruise ship atrium vibe for something modern, minimal, and chic. Each side of the space is flanked by huge glass windows spanning 3 decks which provide an ever-changing outlook.
The atrium is the hub of any ship and on Iona, that’s no different. It’s where you’ll find some of the 30 places to eat and drink. It’s home to The Glass House, the 710 Club, the Emerald Bar (a must for lovers of well-made cocktails) and Vista’s coffee bar.
The way dining works on P&O Cruises is that you have access to their main dining rooms, buffet and grab and go food spots as part of your holiday but should you wish to try somewhere different, they also offer a selection of ‘speciality restaurants ‘ which are at a small supplement.
One of these, and my absolute favourite dining venue on Iona is the Keel and Cow. It’s located within the atrium and some menu highlights include their dry-aged steaks and the Prime Minister Burger (dubbed by P&O Cruises as the best at sea). The quality of the food is second to none and given the very reasonable supplement charge, it’s incredibly good value. We opted to share their mighty tomahawk steak which comes with a selection of sides and sauces for £30 between 2. If you’re someone who doesn’t often splash out on dinner, then this is a great way to do it without the huge cost.
Iona is a HUGE ship and at first, navigating your way around can seem a little daunting. By day 2 I realised that the flow of the various spaces and venues actually worked very well, and I had found my bearings.
Cruise ship cabins are small by nature, but they are ingeniously designed to pack a lot into the compact space. On Iona, I found the modern, Scandi style of the furnishings and interiors helped create a greater sense of greater space. I was in a balcony cabin, and I found there to be plenty of storage, a full-sized shower cubicle, a huge comfy bed (with some of the best pillows I’ve used in a long time) and a sofa area for relaxing.
Aside from the amazing food and drink offering on Iona there’s plenty to keep you entertained both day and night. At the very top of the ship is the Skydome, a relaxing venue with an indoor pool by day that transforms after dark into an entertainment space hosting acrobatics shows, vocal acts and a mesmerising laser light show – all under a giant glass roof.
One thing in particular that I love about the P&O Cruises brand is how they’ve adapted to the ethos of modern cruising whilst maintaining lots of the much-loved traditions of a holiday at sea. Black Tie nights, or as they are now known, ‘Celebration Nights’ are just one of these. On those evenings, the mood on the ship is elevated, guests dress in their finery, and it just feels like a special occasion, you can tell that people enjoy having the chance to dress up by the beaming faces that you see as you explore the various decks. It’s not something that I’d want to do every night (normally the evening dress code is smart casual) but having one or 2 a week (on this cruise there was only 1), makes it feel more of an occasion.
The Celebration night is also a great time to visit one of the speciality restaurants on the ship. If you do, I’d recommend the Limelight Club. It’s a P&O Cruises and is essentially a supper club where are entertained by a top performer after your meal. On this cruise, the drag performer La Voix was headlining the venue and it was the hot ticket of the cruise, with every evening selling out fast. My top tip is to book this venue as soon as you can to avoid any disappointment.
A couple of days into the cruise and we had reached the breathtaking Hebrides Islands. No sooner had we dropped anchor off the coast of Iona when a family of dolphins appeared eager to check Iona out for themselves – much to the delight of myself and the other guests who were lucky enough to have caught a glimpse.
It’s hard to put into words just how special that day was, enjoying a panoramic view of beauty, basked in warm sunshine (a rarity around those parts) whilst enjoying the infinity pools onboard the ship. Days like that don’t come along very often and I felt privileged to have been there to experience it for myself.
As the sun went down, I went on to spend my evening enjoying the drag show in the Limelight Club followed by a performance by the fantastic aerial artists in the Skydome before enjoying a whisky nightcap in the relaxed Crow’s Nest. Whilst sat there, sipping on my Black Label, I thought back about all the things that I had experienced on that one day at sea and don’t think there’s anywhere else on the planet that you could experience such variety in just 16 hours.
When the weather is not so good during the day, there’s still plenty to keep you busy, Iona is home to a 4 screen cinema at sea which shows a selection of different blockbusters every day, you could treat yourself to a visit to the spa, take part in a pub quiz, find a quiet corner to catch up with your book, book in for the very tasty ice-cream afternoon tea at Ripples or browse the shopping arcade which includes the first-ever Mulberry boutique at sea.
If like me, you like to stay on top of your fitness whilst on holiday, you’ll be happy to hear that the gym on Iona is one of the swankiest I’ve ever seen and is packed full of the latest training equipment. If you prefer an instructor-led workout, they also run a selection of daily fitness classes too which you can book for a small fee.
To be honest, a week is not nearly enough time to experience everything that a ship the size of Iona has to offer and there’s always a choice to be made in terms of where you relax, dine, or are entertained. The beauty of this is that returning guests plus those on a longer cruise can always find a new experience as well as re-visiting their favourites.
If you like the sound of Iona, this is a great time to book as P&O Cruises have some fantastic deals in the next few months including a 14-night trip on Iona, departing Southampton on October 9th, 2021, priced from £849pp. Considering that includes accommodation, food as well as entertainment, it is a steal!
Head over to pocruises.com to book!
Images: P&O Cruises