P&O Cruises are one of the most iconic cruise lines in the world and have developed a reputation for been Britain’s leading line.
Founded: 1977 (history dating back to 1834)
Headquartered: Southampton, United Kingdom
Parent Company: Carnival Corporation & plc
Focus Location: Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords and Northern Europe
Key Home Ports: Southampton
Onboard Currency: £ (Pound Sterling)
P&O are part of the Carnival Corporation behemoth that owns and operates a number of different brands across the globe which makes them one of the world leaders in cruise holidays.
When you couple that together with the history, prestige and lineage of the P&O line and you have the perfect mix for anybody looking for a great cruise holiday.
The company has found itself in a period of change over the last decade and that continues to today as it looks to adapt to the changing cruise market not just here in the United Kingdom but across the globe.
Not too long ago, P&O would have been considered a premium brand that operated small to medium sized vessels that offered a more formal and traditional cruising style and whilst parts of that remain to today, they have adapted to operate some of the biggest and most modern cruise ships in the world and also to offer a more relaxed cruising experience for holidaymakers.
One of the biggest strengths of the line, from a British holidaymaker point of view, is that as there home base is the Port of Southampton, they offer a wide choice of cruises direct from the UK.
With a choice of smaller, more traditional ships to huge, modern ships offering a range of similar itineraries, you can choose the type of holiday that you want to have when cruising with P&O.
The onboard experience of a P&O cruise is a home away from home feeling as the British theme starts from the moment you set onboard, reaches fever pitch at the flag waving Rule Britannia sail away and stays with you throughout your journeys with every aspect of onboard life giving reminder of home no matter where you are sailing in the world.
The onboard payments are made in £’s and everything is price in £’s, so whilst you are sat in a British themed pub, drinking British drinks and eating British food, you could easily forget that you are sailing down the Fjords, through the Med or around the Caribbean.
Whilst the experience you experience changes from one ship to the next, the style of P&O could probably be described as relaxed traditional as you still have formal nights and more traditional entertainment but you also have a more relaxed atmosphere and more family friendly activities, with the latter been true especially on the newer and bigger ships.
Do not expect a party atmosphere onboard even the newer ships as whilst things are not as conservative as they used to be on P&O, the onboard atmosphere is still more formal and reserved than other lines.
One of the big plus points for the line is the fact that tips are included in the cost of your holiday, as is everything you would expect including food in the buffet and main dining rooms, drinks at mealtime sand from machines around the ship.
The majority of your evening entertainment, including shows and performances in the main onboard theatres are included.
As is the case with the majority of all cruise lines, and especially with all of the larger ones, there are a number of things that are not included in the cost of your cruise.
Whilst your will never go hungry on a P&O cruise without the need to pay extra, there are a number of speciality restaurants onboard that do come with extra cost.
These offer a more intimate dining experience and food cooked just to your liking and make for a great option if you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary or if you just want a special night out whilst onboard.
Each P&O ship comes complete with an onboard spa but the services that they offer all come at an extra cost.
Whilst there is a choice of free drinks available, if you would like sodas, alcoholic beverages and/or speciality teas and coffees, these all come at an extra cost although you can by drinks packages before you board so that you can know the costs upfront and not have to worry about limiting yourself onboard or wondering how much you have spent.
Dependent on the ship you choose, there will be some other onboard extra costs but these are always to enhance your holiday and not a payment that must be made.
There will be a cost to park at Southampton and shore excursions will cost extra.
The entertainment on the line makes sure that no matter what your preferred night out is, you will be covered but the fun does not only start when the sun goes down as there is entertainment spread throughout the whole day, especially on sea days.
From the long-time favourites including quizzes and classes through the day to comedians, musicians, and full theatrical shows on a night, P&O make sure you have fun and are entertainment throughout your holiday and best of all the vast majority of entertainment is included in your cruise cost.
The food and drink options offered by the line are what you would expect from a mass market line. The main dining options included in your fair are the always popular buffet for those wanting a fast turnaround or the main dining room restaurants, for those wanting a full service more relaxing meal.
The speciality restaurant choice varies from oneship to another with the widest range found on the larger and newer ships which offer favourites such as steak, Indian, tex-mex and burgers.
As with the majority of cruise lines, P&O offer a wide range of accommodation options to suit all family sizes, budgets, and preferences.
Whilst what is offered changes from one ship to the next, most will offer a choice of inside cabins (no window), outside cabins (with a window or porthole), balcony cabins and suites.
Some ships will offer family rooms or cabins with connecting doors and all also offer adapted rooms.
For many holidaymakers, the biggest draw of P&O is the choice of destinations that they offer with the majority of them been available form their home port of Southampton.
That of course takes away the extra cost and stress of having to fly to an airport near to your embarkation port.
There are few place son the globe that you cannot reach via a P&O cruise but of course some places will need months of travel time, £1000’s spent on your fare and the need for lots of visas and inoculations that make them impossible for many of us to visit.
Thankfully, there are lots of great destinations much closer to home and much more affordable that can be enjoyed.
If you prefer to head to sunny destinations, the line offer a wide range of itineraries heading to both the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean, with some longer cruises heading to the Adriatic Sea and to the Greek Islands.
For those who prefer a cruise to areas of outstanding natural beauty, one area that the company excel at is thee range of holidays that head to the Norwegian Fjords, including onboard there larger ships.
Other popular choices for cruises on P&O from Southampton include ones to Northern Europe, the Baltics around the British Isles and there are also some that head to the Caribbean.
For those who don’t mind flying to start their cruise nearer to their chosen destination or for those who are wanting to add a land based holiday onto their cruise, the company offer cruises out of a wide range of ports across the globe including Valletta (Malta0, Bridgetown (Barbados) and Castries (St Lucia).
Those are normally in the winter months when some of the fleet move to the Caribbean for winter sun holidays.
The current fleet of P&O cruises consists of 6 ships, with the earliest built in the year 2000 and the newest been 2020’s Iona.
During the first decades of the 2000’s, the company underwent a number of changes in terms of ownership and structure and that led in part to the companies busiest period of purchasing new build ships.
The oldest ship in the fleet is the76,152 tonne Aurora which was built by the German shipyard Meyer Werft and launched in the year 2000.
Arcadia saw the company move into a modern style of ship with lots of balcony’s and viewing areas but at just 84,342 tonnes, the ship was still relatively small.
Built by the Italian shipyard Fincantieri, the ship was launched in 2005.
Ventura saw the company make the move into offering a big ship experience with the 116,017 tonne Ventura, which was built once again by Italian shipyard Fincantieri and launched in 2008.
The next ship to join the fleet was the Azura, which although similar is design to the Ventura and the built in the same shipyard, the ship was actually slightly smaller at 115,055 tonnes upon its launch in 2010.
It took until the year 2015 for Fincantieri to launch their next ship for P&O with the eagerly awaited Britannia.
The 143,730 tonne ship saw the company move once more into the big ship category and whilst visually stunning, the ship failed to have a wow factor in terms of the facilities, activities, and attractions on offer.
That in part led to a 5 year gap for the next ship and a move back to the German shipyard Meyer Werft for the companies new ship, the Iona.
The impressive new ship became the largest ship ever commissioned for the UK market at184,700 tonnes and featured a whole raft of impressive features, including a sliding glass roof solarium and perhaps most importantly of all, the ship became the first UK based cruise vessel to be powered by LNG.
It really depends on which ship you choose when booking a P&O cruise holiday as the older and smaller ships are perhaps best suited for couples and older travellers whilst the larger and newer ships are perfect for families and younger travellers.
If course, if you like to be active on holiday on just enjoy lots of choice the newer ships are perfect no matter what your age and if you prefer a slower pace no matter what your age, the smaller ships are ideal.
With so many options out of Southampton, P&O are ideal for those who do not want to fly or for those who need to book holidays late due to work commitments as you do not need to worry about sorting flights and airport-to-cruise-port transfers.
As the line finds itself modernising and in the middle of transferring form a premium brand to a mass market brand, there are some aspects that are left behind, some new thigs that do not quite work and some that are simply out of place for many modern holidaymakers.
The Rule Britannia-esque sailaways are love and loathed in equal measure and can sadly sometimes lead to some issues non-British customers.
The lien still has formal nights and expects passengers to dress up to the nines as you would have expected from the lines heyday but with the new target audience, this is often not adhered to and certainly nonenforced. That can lead to some people feeling uncomfortable or simply annoyed.
The history of the now P&O cruises is a long and fascinating one that can be dated back to 1834 when Brodie McGhie Wilcox, a ship broker based in London and Arthur Anderson, who was a sailor originally from the Shetland Islands met Captain Richard Bourne who was a steamship owner from across the Irish Sea in Dublin.
This trio bid for and win a contract to start transporting mail from England down to the Iberian Peninsula and in doing so they founded the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company.
In just a few short years, the new company merged with the Transatlantic Steam Ship Company and extended their network to include the Far East and thus becoming the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, or simply P&O.
By 1844, the company had moved into leisure cruising with itineraries including from England to the Mediterranean, which was a unique proposition at the time.
With the popularity of air travel growing throughout the mid-1900’s, the company started to focus solely on modern day style cruise holidays and by the 1970’s, the line only ran leisure cruises under the new subsidiary P&O Cruises.
Originally the company operated out of Southampton, using Oriana and Canberra and from Sydney, using Arcadia. They also had a ship named Uganda which was used for educational cruises.
Interestingly, during the Falklands War, Canberra was requisitioned as a troopship with the Uganda becoming a hospital ship.
In the late 1980’s, the company diverged to form P&O Cruises Australia, with P&O Cruises focussing solely on the UK.
The 1990’s saw the company commission its first ever new build ship which would become known as the Oriana, which first entered service in 1995.
The year 2000 saw another change in structure at the business with a newly independent P&O Princess Cruises company formed but that only lasted until 2003 when the ownership changed once more after P&O Princess merged with the huge Carnival Corporation to form the Carnival Corporation & plc.
In 2012, the company celebrated its 175th anniversary when the entire fleet assembled at the Port of Southampton.
In 2014, the fleet got a livery based upon the Union Jack.
As mentioned in our review, the line is in a state of flux at the moment as it repositions itself in the extra increasingly competition cruise holiday market, so it will be no surprise that are overall thoughts on P&O are mixed as well.
The company does a lot of things right and they have really started to invest in new and exciting ships but they are also trying to stick to the old ways of doing things whilst trying to bring in a new demographic of cruiser.
P&O are also very riding in terms of destinations offered and whilst they cover offal of the favourites, such as the Fjords and the Med, there is little to nothing in the way of those wanting to explore somewhere new and a little less crowded.
If you are new to cruising and want a comfortable start and one that seems familiar, then P&O is a great place to start.
If you are an experienced cruiser or even an experienced traveller, the product offered by the line maybe restrictive and at times cliched.
As with all aspects of cruising and finding the next cruise to enjoy, if the company have a ship that interests you going to a destination that interests you and all for a price in your budget, you could certainly have a far worse holiday than onboard P&O.
P and O Cruises Review
P and O cruises is a great choice for those of us based in the United Kingdom thanks to them been based at Southampton, offering lots of NoFly cruises and with payment on board been in £’s but as a very safety first and unimaginative cruise line, they are probably not the preferred choice for younger cruises or for those wanting something other than the basics but if you don’t mind or enjoy a more reserved cruising experience and don’t mind heading to the old favourites of the Med, Fjords etc, then P&O are a great choice and also make for a great starter line.