(6:35 p.m. BST) — P&O Cruises’ much-anticipated new flagship Iona lastly set sail from Southampton on August 7, 2021.
The ship is on a seven-day round-Britain cruise carrying 2,500 passengers (slightly below the Authorities-mandated restrict of fifty p.c), an astonishing 85 per cent of whom are P&O regulars.
There aren’t any port stops, however yesterday we moored off the island after which the ship will get her title and have been handled to a spectacular fireworks show.
However after all of the build-up (the ship was because of launch greater than a 12 months in the past), what’s it like onboard?
Beautiful New Areas
At 185,000 grt, and 345m lengthy, Iona is undeniably huge however when you begin to discover your approach round, there’s rather a lot to love. The focus is the gorgeous Grand Atrium, gentle flooding in via three decks of floor-to-ceiling glass, the interiors all white marble and gleaming chrome and a sweeping marble staircase on the centre on which to strike a pose.
The venues across the atrium have a contented buzz. There are some outdated favourites together with an expanded Glass Home, a wine bar and tapas restaurant with wines by the glass chosen by Olly Smith. The Keel and Cow, a brand new restaurant, one deck up, enjoys the identical dreamy views and gives steaks and burgers.
A lot has been product of the SkyDome, an intricate glass dome masking the a two-deck-high pool space on deck 16. The largest construction of its variety at sea, the dome is rigged for aerial acts and laser reveals, whereas a transferring cowl turns the pool right into a stage within the evenings. On cool days, this space is packed, if noisy, and I think about it will turn into a hopping nightlife venue as soon as the ship is full, with DJ units curated by former Blur bassist Alex James, laser reveals and dry ice.
The aerial reveals are repeated 3 times an evening and are actually dramatic; it is like being in an enormous, glass-enclosed circus tent. They’re all themed. We noticed “Rise”, a free storyline about birds of paradise and pigeons, however the theme doesn’t actually matter — it’s the trapeze acts and the costumes that everyone needs to have a look at.
Different new and spectacular options embrace two infinity swimming pools overlooking the cascading aft decks and providing unbelievable views. We’re within the Hebrides for the time being and mendacity on the infinity fringe of the pool, gazing out at rocky islands scattered across the ship is simply breathtaking. Manner under the swimming pools, on deck 8, the Sundown Bar, overlooking the wake, is shaping up as the perfect spot for sundowners, with dwell music and an incredible buzz. A pod of dolphins cavorting off the aft of the ship offered added thrills yesterday.
A lot has been product of Gary Barlow’s involvement with P&O and final night time we went to the venue he masterminds, the 710 Membership. I liked it. As a result of Iona is so enormous, a whole lot of the lounges and bars really feel somewhat cavernous however this darkish, intimate little house has the sense of a correct jazz membership, with an excellent band, final night time doing acoustic covers of rock anthems and jazz classics. Any person wants to coach the bartenders to not rattle cocktail shakers in the midst of a quantity, although.
Different new-to-P&O options embrace a four-screen boutique cinema, which appears in style and is a enjoyable solution to cross a drizzly afternoon, and the primary gin distillery at sea, sitting behind a wall glass in Anderson’s Bar and producing Marabelle, P&O’s signature gin, which is on sale in all of the bars.
How In regards to the Cabins?
New to Iona are 95 conservatory mini-suites and I’m fortunate sufficient to be in a single. It is beautiful. Between the cabin and the balcony, there’s a glass-enclosed lounge with an enormous couch and ottoman and planters of greenery (synthetic) in addition to a potted orchid. When the ship is within the Norwegian fjords, these suites are going to return into their very own.
You may sit within the conservatory, or the backyard, as our cabin steward somewhat sweetly calls it, and keep heat however nonetheless benefit from the views, or fling open all of the doorways to let the recent air in. These mini suites are on decks 8 and 9 and my recommendation can be to go for deck 9, trying down on the promenade deck. In case you’re on deck 8, folks strolling alongside the promenade can peer over the rail of your balcony. You additionally don’t have the identical reference to the ocean.
What Are the New Well being Protocols Like?
One factor that is changing into clear as cruising’s nice comeback progresses via the summer season of 2021 is that each line interprets well being protocols otherwise. P&O Cruises requires all adults to be double vaccinated (and youngsters can journey from September 25 in the event that they take a PCR check) however you continue to should take an antigen check on the port.
All of the Carnival manufacturers share an enormous drive-through testing centre at Southampton, so we have been checking in concurrently Regal Princess. From arrival on the port to embarkation took two and a half hours, together with an hour ready in a holding automobile park. Individuals who arrived by practice breezed via in half-hour, utilizing a walk-through testing centre on the Ocean Terminal. So there is a lesson to be realized there: arrive by practice.
Onboard, there’s social distancing all over the place, with round half the chairs and tables in every venue sporting stickers saying they’re out of motion. This implies there might be queues at in style venues just like the Crow’s Nest bar late at night time, which is upsetting P&O regulars.
Masks carrying is required all over the place inside and passengers are complying; I have not seen anyone disobeying the foundations. Temperature-taking does not appear to be a requirement, though there’s hand sanitizer all over the place and I’ve seen a whole lot of crew diligently cleansing high-touch areas like stair rails. However life on board feels fairly regular in most methods.
One factor that appears unusual to me is that night turndown service has stopped. Our cabin steward says it’s ‘due to the protocols’ but when the cabin might be cleaned within the morning, I don’t see what’s totally different about cleansing it within the night, too. I’ve all the time felt night turndown was one in all cruising’s little luxuries and I’m sorry to see it disappear.
What Do the Passengers Assume?
The passenger profile on this maiden voyage is uncommon in that it is some 85 per cent repeaters, who all have their very own concepts about what a P&O ship needs to be. Cruises after this, president Paul Ludlow tells me, have a a lot larger proportion of new-to-cruise and new-to-P&O passengers. “The typical age of individuals reserving is decrease than we had when the world was ‘regular’,” he tells us. “Pre-pandemic, our common age was late 40s. Now, it is mid-40s.”
These youthful passengers, in search of the expertise of an enormous, floating resort with dwell music all over the place, lots of leisure and for households, P&O’s traditional excessive customary of youngsters’ golf equipment, are going to be wowed by Iona. Among the many regulars, there’s the inevitable chuntering alongside the traces of “it wasn’t like this on Britannia” (which after all was on the time the largest P&O ship ever constructed).
Service within the eating places is sluggish, the web is hopeless (and will likely be fastened, we’re instructed) and the My Vacation app, via which you make bookings for dinner and leisure, is inflicting a whole lot of confusion. It is a lot simpler to ebook a restaurant by cellphone. Nevertheless it’s early days, and the temper is completely satisfied.
Iona will sail 5 extra “staycation” cruises in British waters after the maiden voyage and can then cruise the Canary Islands in winter and the Norwegian fjords subsequent summer season, with capability step by step growing and a objective of crusing 100 per cent full by March. For now, although, we’re having fun with the sense of house provided by a half-full ship.