P&O Cruises is one of the oldest cruise lines in the world, Britain’s largest mass-market cruise line and the only line combining the traditional cruise experience with new innovations with such aplomb.
P&O Cruises was founded as the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company in 1837, carrying passengers and mail from the United Kingdom to Spain and Portugal.
Around the same time, Samuel Cunard started his trans-Atlantic service, but P&O made the wise decision not to try and compete in the North Atlantic.
Instead, it focused on the South, and opened up routes to other major British colonies as well, from India, China and Japan to Australia.
While regular passenger and mail services were its bread-and-butter, it also started offering seasonal cruise voyages as early as the 1840s, making it the oldest cruise line in the world.
During the second half of the 19th century, P&O’s ships evolved rapidly in size and technical ability, from wooden paddle steamers to iron-hulled propeller driven ships.
While many other passenger shipping lines, Cunard and White Star being the most famous examples, invested heavily in building the biggest, best ships in the world, P&O kept its ships slow, small and conservative until the late 1920s.
In 1928 it launched the Viceroy of India, the world’s first turbo-electric cruise ship. And in 1935 associate company Orient Lines launched Orion, introducing simple, clean, yet pleasant art deco-inspired interiors, abandoning the Victorian period styles that had dominated P&O interiors until that time.
Post World War II vessels mainly hovered between modernity and reference to older styles, until the original Oriana (1960) and Canberra (1961) introduced a leap to modernism.
Today, P&O Cruises remains the largest cruise line catering specifically to the British market.
The launch of the new Oriana in 1995 marked the cruise line’s renewed effort to bring its fleet up to the same standards as the rest of the industry. New features and amenities were introduced rapidly during the latter years of the 20th century.
This accelerated further after 2003, when P&O Cruises became part of Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world.
That same year, the 77,400-ton sister ships Oceana (built in 2000) and Adonia (built in 1998) were transferred from Princess Cruises, which is also owned by Carnival.
P&O Cruises itineraries and destinations
P&O Cruises sails internationally, although her itineraries are skewed toward roundtrip UK departures.
Oceana tends to cruise roundtrip from Southampton on 7 to 14-night voyages throughout the summers months, before re-positioning to warmer climates to sail shorter 2 to 7-night cruises.
Arcadia and Aurora are P&O’s two grand voyagers, undertaking long 80 to 100-night cruises around continents or indeed the world.
Oceana, Ventura and sister Azura spend winters in the Caribbean, based in Barbados, where they offer mainly 14-night cruises. Oriana, meanwhile offers Caribbean and European cruises from Southampton.
During the 2018/19 Middle East cruise season, P&O will be homeporting Oceana in Dubai, offering a number of 10-night roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf.
P&O Cruises enters the mega cruise ship club
In 2015, P&O Cruises took delivery of its largest cruise ship to date, and the largest cruise ship ever built specifically for the UK market.
Britannia carries 3,647 passengers and at 141,000 tons is 27,000 tons larger than the line’s previous biggest ship, Azura.
In 2016, it was announced that P&O had ordered a second mega-cruise ship, which will be 180,000 gross tons, carry 5,200 passengers, and be powered entirely by LNG.
P&O Cruises on-board experience
P&O Britannia and the other large ships in the fleet (Azura, Ventura and Oceana) offer a modern, innovative cruise experience with supervised children’s clubs offering round the clock entertainment for children aged two to 17-years-old.
They are aimed at the new-to-cruising younger crowd as well as seasoned cruisers who prefer a bigger ship with more dining options and facilities. The smaller, older ships, Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana offer a more traditional cruise experience and are designed as adults-only ships.
Taking a leaf from Norwegian Cruise Line’s book, P&O offers Freedom Dining aboard Britannia, Azura, Ventura, Arcadia and Oceana (so passengers can choose where to eat and when), while Club Dining (for those who prefer traditional set seating) is also available.
Aurora and Oriana, reflecting the older demographic they cater to, only offer traditional set seating. All ships have speciality restaurants as well as main dining rooms and Azura and Ventura have more than ten different places to eat, while Britannia has 7 restaurants and 12 cafes and bars.
P&O Cruises has partnered with a number of famous British chefs and brands.
Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar have a speciality Indian restaurant, Sindhu, aboard Azura, Britannia and Ventura. Wine guru Olly Smith has The Glass House aboard Azura, Ventura and Britannia, where he has selected more than 30 different wines, all available by the glass and paired with pub food served tapas style.
Britannia of course saw even more celebrity partnerships, including TV-favourite James Martin and master patissier Eric “Cake Boy” Lanlard; as well as the first Cookery Club at sea.
Entertainment aboard P&O Cruises
When it comes to the entertainment and activities aboard, the partnerships continue. This is a British cruise brand through and through, and so it should come as no surprise that the massively popular reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing, is aboard for some cruises.
These ‘Strictly’ cruises, offered on different ships throughout the year, feature guest appearances from pro dancers and judges.
Aboard Azura, Ventura and Britannia P&O has The Retreat, an adults-only covered and open-air spa haven.
So passengers who want a larger, more modern ship, can still get away from the kids if necessary.
Types of passengers on a P&O cruise
Passengers aboard the seven ships in the fleet tend to be very different, with the only similarity being that they’re predominantly British.
The demographics depend largely on what ship and what cruise you are on. In school holidays, the family-friendly ships attract a thirty- to forty-something crowd and a lot of kids.
On the adults-only ships most passengers are around 55- to 65-years-old.
Cruise ships in the P&O fleet:
Categories: Cruise Line Focus