Not long ago, Bolsover Cruise Club’s Will set sail on his own maiden voyage. Having never cruised before, never mind experienced a brand new ship, how would he fare on Iona, P&O’s very own new recruit? Read on to find out…
Upon arrival to what was a beautiful day in Southampton for my first ever cruise aboard P&O Cruises Iona I had many preconceptions, two of the main ones being; would there be a lot of waiting around with so much COVID-19 testing needing to be done? And would I feel restricted onboard the ship? It’s safe to say my concerns were unfounded. Upon entry to the terminal I was greeted by friendly and helpful staff who guided me to the COVID testing area, where I was swiftly tested. After a short ten-minute wait, I received my negative result! Amazing! It was time to check-in and go check out the cabin. The whole process of arriving in the terminal, to being tested and getting to the cabin, took no longer than 35-40 minutes – that’s a whole lot faster than boarding a plane.
Now the cabin. We were booked in an Inside Cabin and I must admit that I had reservations about it being cramped and small. I could have not been more wrong, as the layout of the cabin was hugely spacious with lots of storage, a mini-fridge and a great bathroom with a wonderful shower. Once we had unpacked and settled into our cabin we decided to explore the open decks, enjoy a drink and watch as Iona embarked on her voyage. We found ourselves at the Beachcomber bar on deck 18 and ordered some cocktails. For me, it was an Aperol Spritz. It’s the perfect refreshing summer drink and on Iona they are fantastic.
Something I was unsure about before boarding Iona was how we would book restaurants and how busy they would be. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that on Iona you could book restaurants via the P&O Cruises app, and it works seamlessly. With that, we booked the Indian style cuisine restaurant ‘Sindhu’ for the first meal of our cruise.
As soon as we were seated the staff in Sindhu were dedicated to promptly serving us drinks and explaining the menu. I opted for a starter and a main course; for starter I went for the Tandoori Lamb Cutlets and for my main I went big, ordering the Sindhu Signature Plate. My main was spectacular, a theme that would continue throughout the cruise with the food. I devoured the trio of duck, beef and, of course, lobster! Each element is so different but equally delicious and it is truly a dish you must have if you’re cruising on Iona. After our meal was finished, we decided to head back to our cabin as we were full of food and tired from a long day of travelling.
On day two I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to start taking in what Iona had to offer. But, of course, no good day can start without a hearty breakfast, so we headed to the Horizon Restaurant. Here you were able to choose from a selection of breakfast options, from fruit to pastries to a traditional full English, and obviously, I went for the latter. We promptly headed to one of the top decks after breakfast, as again the weather was brilliant. Heading once again to the Beachcomber bar to grab a coffee and find a sun bed, there was lots of space available and we positioned ourselves in the sun to start working on our tans.
While we were relaxing and taking in the sea views, staff would notice if our drinks were low and straight away tend to us for more. It was outstanding, there was no waiting for more refreshments. As lunch approached we decided on heading to The Quays on deck eight for some Fish & Chips. We were still technically in British waters so it felt only right. Hook, Line & Vinegar was where you get your fish and chips, and it was delicious, with the choice of mushy peas or curry sauce to top it off. At The Quays you really get a food hall type of experience, with lots of different food being eaten and people chatting and laughing. It reminded me of some of the great food markets I’ve been to in London, I loved it.
We headed to the SkyDome after some more sunbathing to hear one of the various singers on board. We took our seats with the sun shining through the beautiful SkyDome and sat back, relaxed and enjoyed singing along to a wide range of classic tunes.
As we were still full from the fish and chips, for dinner we decided to grab a quick bite at Horizon once again and then head to Brodies Bar on Deck 7.
I was very interested to see how a more traditional ‘pub-like’ bar would work on a cruise, so I was unsure what to expect from Brodie’s. As a sports lover, I was happy to find that an array of sports were being played on the televisions, as well as a pool table and lots of comfy seating. We ‘sampled’ the different drinks for a while, sharing laughs along the way, but soon noticed it was getting late and decided to head to bed in anticipation of another fun day ahead.
I awoke with a slightly sore head from the night before, so for breakfast I opted for room service, ordering a P&O Club Sandwich. Even the room service food was better than most food on land! With my belly full, I felt rejuvenated and headed to the infinity pool on deck 16 to soak in more sun and have a swim.
All around Iona there were areas to grab towels to use around the sunbeds and the pools, I thought this was a great feature as you didn’t need to pack your own and you could grab a fresh towel at any point. After more work on my tan, I decided to cool off in the infinity pool and swim. The pools were so nice as you could swim to the ‘infinity’ style edge and stare off into the vast sea. You really felt like you were part of the ocean. We spent the whole afternoon around this area.
After such a great start to the cruise, we were feeling quite lucky so we headed to the Casino to try our luck at roulette. This is where the staff shone once more, as we were quickly served drinks and given a very helpful lesson on the rules of roulette which left me much more confident in what I was doing, allowing me to really enjoy some light-hearted casino games. Amazingly, I won £60! We celebrated back in Brodie’s, listening to one of the cruise’s buskers who played songs such as Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl – a classic.
Day four began well as I enjoyed another amazing night’s sleep in the incredibly comfy beds on Iona. We headed to the Panorama Pool & Bar, as again the weather was sublime. By this point, we were cruising near the French and Spanish coast and you could tell as it was around 26 degrees – hot for mid-September! We opted for frozen cocktails in the sun and for me it was a Strawberry Daiquiri. Wow, they were they amazing.
I decided to really treat myself and headed to The Oasis Spa & Health Club for a deep tissue massage. I must say if there is one thing you must do onboard Iona it is getting a massage here. The experience begins with a consultation on what areas you would like the masseuse to focus on and then they get to work, it was like magic, I instantly felt as if I was in paradise, drifting away listening to the relaxing music that was being played. No words can do justice to this experience and it is something you just have to do for yourself.
All of the relaxing in Oasis Spa left me feeling very hungry, so we headed back to The Quays to eat at the ‘Fusion Asian Kitchen’, where I had another fantastic meal of chicken Katsu curry with steamed rice. After letting the food settle, I headed back to an open deck to test out the Whirlpools. The Whirlpools were again another supremely relaxing activity on Iona, as you let the hot water and bubbles take your stress away.
After a brief time in our cabin getting showered and ready, we headed to Keel & Cow for dinner. Keel & Cow was the restaurant I was most excited about sampling before our cruise and let me tell you, they did not disappoint. I ordered ‘The Prime Minister’ burger – now this was a meal! The beef, the sauce, the chips all delightful, and I indulged eating everything on the plate. What I also really enjoyed about Keel & Cow was the pricing, as we ordered a lot of food and the additional cost for two starters and two mains was still under £30. Amazing!
On day five we didn’t leave the cabin until around 11:30 am as we were enjoying the included film selection on the television but, when we did leave, we headed straight for the Atrium for coffee. The Atrium is simply stunning, with beautifully crafted railings, windows and flooring. The décor screams class and you truly feel as if you have been transported to a more decadent time.
The theme of decadence and class continued throughout the day as it was also ‘Gala Evening’, for which you must put on your best dress or black-tie suit. It was so much fun as the evening on-board looked amazing and it felt like an appropriate celebration for the amazing cruise we were on.
We headed to the Pearl Restaurant for dinner and we were blown away to find out that for Celebration Night, famous chef and restauranteur Marco Pierre White had a recommended five-course meal on board. From start to finish the meal was special; the dressed crab was my personal favourite, followed closely by the cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup. Oh, and how can I forget the free glass of Prosecco we received with our meal, delightful.
After the meal, it was time for some laughs. We had booked to see famous comedian Tom Binns for his ‘Ian D Montfort: Spirit Comedium’ comedy show. I don’t want to spoil his act by giving too much away, but it is a hilarious take on psychics and spirituality. It was great fun and Tom had the whole crowd laughing, while also sometimes amazed at how he did certain tricks. A must watch. After the show we were feeling quite tired, so we headed back to our cabin to watch a movie and get a good night’s rest.
We started day six by going to check out what Iona’s shops had to offer. There are so many shops that cater to everyone, from designer clothes and Mulberry handbags to big brand electronics and Iona gifts. Personally, I bought a Dior fragrance and it’s fantastic. All of the shopping we were doing built up quite the appetite so we headed back to The Quays to try out the Boardwalk Diner, which served traditional American style street food like burgers and fried chicken. I would recommend getting the gravy here with the chicken.
The weather was still great, so after lunch we enjoyed the sun and decided which film we wanted to go and see at ‘Ocean Studios’ later in the evening. We decided on the recently released ‘Cruella’ which was a great watch, but I was more impressed by how P&O Cruises managed to have multiple cinema rooms onboard Iona. After the movie, we decided on having a late dinner at The Glass House, which had a really cool menu of small plate dishes with a wide variety of options from various meats, vegetarian options and seafood, all in different cuisine styles. I would highly recommend The Glass House for people who want to try a variety of new cuisines as it has broadened my horizons. Close by was the 710 Club, so we headed there and enjoyed another glass of wine while listening to some beautiful music.
The last day had arrived and we were sad because we still felt we had so much left to do onboard. With this in mind we decided to seize the day and head over to the sports area to play some table tennis and shuffleboard. We had so much fun, as did everyone else around us. However, things did get a little competitive while playing shuffleboard and I unfortunately lost. I didn’t sulk for too long though, as once again the brilliant staff onboard Iona were able to make me another stunning cocktail I could enjoy in the sun.
As the evening arrived we wanted to go out with a bang and watch a show at the Headliners theatre. We got dressed and ate some wonderful food at The Aqua Restaurant, then headed over to the theatre to watch Iona’s newest show ‘Festival’, which was a real show stopper of a performance, filling me with nostalgia and making me eager to get myself to a festival as soon as possible!
And so it was with a heavy heart that my first ever cruise had come to an end as we were disembarking early the next morning. My preconceptions of cruises had been shattered, in a good way; there was no waiting around, everything was at your fingertips and I did not feel restricted at all. The opposite was the case; I felt free and relaxed. This was possible because of the unbelievably attentive staff, the delicious food and the endless amount of fun and entertainment that is available on Iona. All I can say is I am eager to book myself on more cruise holidays to experience more. I think I may have been turned into a cruise addict and that’s fine by me. If you’re unsure whether cruising is for you, I can promise you can find endless amounts of fun onboard and you simply have to try it.