Unleashing Serenity at Sea: P&O Cruises Wellbeing & Lifestyle Cruise

It’s probably about time that you granted yourself some rest and indulged in a personalised wellness experience, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Am I right? Well, how about a luxurious cruise that integrates elements of wellness and lifestyle with everything you’d expect from a holiday? P&O Cruises’ stunning Iona offers a remarkable opportunity to effortlessly explore some beautiful parts of the world. To make a trip on Iona even more appealing, they’ve just launched a series of Wellbeing & Lifestyle Cruises  and recently, I was among the privileged few to experience the first one.

I joined Iona at P&O Cruises’ homeport of Southampton. No matter how many times I see cruise ships up close and personal, I’m always amazed at their sheer size. Iona, the largest ship in the fleet, boasts a whopping 18 decks.

Embarkation was hassle-free. In fact, from arrival at Ocean Terminal Southampton, it took less than 30 minutes for me to be standing in Iona’s grand atrium. This included dropping off cases, checking in, and going through security. It’s a really sleek operation and a great deal speedier than passing through an airport. 

My home for the trip was in one of Iona’s bright and modern Conservatory Mini Suites. As well as the main cabin area, these feature a beautiful conservatory space which is just perfect for relaxing and taking in the ocean views. The well-appointed cabin also featured a Nespresso machine, smart TV, spacious bathroom with a powerful shower, and seating area. I’ve definitely stayed in smaller hotel rooms on land so overall, I was pretty impressed with the space that these cabins offered.

Imagine starting your day with breakfast on your own private balcony onboard Iona, watching the sun rise in the distance, all while cool sea breezes caress your face. To call that moment ‘perfect’ would be a massive understatement. It’s like nothing else and was a huge highlight from my time onboard Iona last month. Of course, on other mornings, I woke as we gently rolled into one of the beautiful ports of call on this trip which included Madeira, Lisbon, Tenerife and Lanzarote. 

The Wellbeing & Lifestyle programme on this trip is an addition to Iona’s typically packed daily schedule of entertainment. With bookable seminars, workshops and fitness classes on offer, the intent is to aid you in understanding and nurturing your wellbeing beyond the cruise. Topics covered range from sleep hygiene and style (although the latter is primarily aimed at the ladies) to fitness sessions. Importantly, this is not a bootcamp, meaning you have the freedom to participate as much or as little as you prefer. Remember, it’s still a holiday at the end of the day, so there’s plenty of time to relax and recharge as well.

The ship, Iona, is not just meticulously designed but also generously spacious, offering an unparalleled sense of freedom. Frequently bathed in floods of natural light, the communal areas of the ship are strategically designed to feel open air yet retain an intimate atmosphere of calm serenity. Importantly, no matter how bustling the ship gets, there’s always a quiet nook for you to recede into, allowing for personal moments of escape away from everyone and everything. 

My morning routine varied based on whether we were at sea or docked. On days at sea, I’d start the day in Iona’s very well-equipped gym, either by joining in a group class (they offer spin, yoga, body conditioning, and pilates) or doing my own workout. If you’re not someone who likes to spend time in the gym but does like to stay active, I can highly recommend doing laps of the promenade deck whilst enjoying a podcast or audiobook. There’s just something about stomping around the open decks with the sea air in your face that hits differently. 

If you fancy something more zen, the Oasis Spa should be on your radar. Their menu has been carefully designed to offer you a diverse range of wellness, beauty, and relaxation treatments. If however you just fancy switching off for an hour or 2, book in for their thermal experience for access to their hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam rooms. It’s a great place to relax on a sea day.

Whenever we docked at a new place, I was always keen to experience what it offered, so on those days I’d skip my usual gym ritual. Instead, I’d rack my steps up while exploring on foot or setting off on a shore experience. With time often at a premium whilst in port, pre-booking onto a P&O Cruises Shore Experience is a great way to tick off the best of what each destination has to offer. 

The places that we visited on this cruise offer an extensive array of outdoor fitness pursuits. From walking tours in Seville to biking across the vibrant streets of Lisbon, or exploring the rugged beauty of the Canary Islands on a hike, there are endless opportunities to keep your fitness levels up whilst seeing somewhere new.

If you’re a fan of something a little more high-octane, I can personally recommend the unique, Toboggan Ride in Madeira. To reach the starting point for the 2km downhill basket ride, you must first take a cable car from the town, high up to the heady heights of the mountains. It is here that your chariot (traditional wicker basket sledge) and drivers await you. 

After an action-packed day ashore, I loved nothing more than having a dip in one of Iona’s infinity pools or the many hot tubs (I counted 24) whilst deciding where to dine that evening. 

That brings us to the essence of any P&O cruise – the superb food. Whether you are someone who enjoys a hearty meal, a light fare, or have specific dietary needs, you’re covered. Your holiday includes access to Iona’s main dining rooms, the Horizon buffet, various ‘grab &; go’ food options like The Quays or Taste 360, and the Mediterranean-inspired Olive Grove restaurant (a big favourite of mine). If you fancy mixing it up a little more, there are other enticing places to eat, subject to a small supplement. These range from the likes of The Keel & Cow, known for its steak and seafood (I recommend the tomahawk steak), to Epicurean, P&O Cruises’ fine dining option.

As night falls, Iona comes alive and depending on your preference, you are once again have lots of options to keep you busy. Across the various spaces on the ship you can choose from aerial performers, session bands, pub quizzes, the casino, films at the cinema, big production shows in the Headliners Theatre, or if you’re on the fitness hype, the gym stays open around the clock. The hard part for me was often choosing. If you’d rather retire to your cabin and relax, they have a great video on demand system with access to a wide library of movies and TV shows. 

If your aim is to switch off and enjoy some quiet time, then don’t be put off by a holiday on a large cruise ship like Iona. The beauty of a larger ship lies in the vast array of amenities and the tremendous amount of space that they offer. I know it’s a bit cliché, but there really is something for everyone. Did we love it? Yes, we did! Are we wishing we could do it all again? Absolutely. If that’s not a testament to everything that Iona does brilliantly, I don’t know what is.

P&O Cruises is offering a 14-night cruise on Iona’s sister ship Arvia from £949 per person for an inside cabin. Departing May 12, 2024, the price includes full board meals, entertainment and children’s clubs. Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are La Coruña, Valencia, Marseille, Barcelona, Alicante and Seville (from Cádiz). 

Photography by Sam Pelly

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