Norway, By Iona: A P&O Cruises Exclusive With Paul Ludlow

The secret is out; Iona is heading to Norway. We caught up with Paul Ludlow, Senior Vice President of P&O Cruises, to find out how the most eagerly-anticipated new ship for UK cruisers will be doing things a little differently in the Norwegian Fjords when she arrives in 2020.

When it comes to new ships, which decision comes first; the design of the ship or the destinations it will visit?

It’s a combination of both.  Norway is one of the most popular destinations for new guests travelling with us, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we believe that the appeal will continue.

The spectacular scenery of the Fjordland and coastlines of Norway were a key consideration for the design of Iona and our ambition is to ensure guests can enjoy the destination, from the ship as much as on shore.  She therefore has a feature dome and a three storey atrium which maximises the stunning views.  Sailing her to this destination absolutely makes the most of these features, allowing our guests to appreciate the fantastic scenic cruising she will offer.

Iona Atrium by day

What factors have to be considered when deciding on the destination for a new ship?

Firstly we have to know that our guests will love it.  And the popularity of our current Norwegian Fjords cruise holiday programme gave us the confidence that this was the perfect destination for Iona.  Once the destination is proposed, we then have to consider more operational elements, such as ship statistics (length, breadth, height), and things like how her gangways will work.  And of course capacity for ensuring we can fuel load and maintain water production.  

Various teams from Maritime, Port Operations, Shore Excursions and Deployment then work together to assess all the logistical factors and we work closely with relevant local authorities in the destination for berthing methods, quayside facilities and tour capability to ensure we can offer our guests a fantastic P&O Cruises holiday experience.  We know that the destination lies at the heart of our guests’ holiday experience so it’s important that we can deliver on their expectations.

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Cycling in Geiranger

Iona will be one of the largest ships in the Norwegian Fjords. How much planning is required when it comes to assessing the infrastructure of ports and the way passengers embark and disembark?

We have been planning carefully with our destination and port partners in Norway, to ensure the ports we choose to visit have adequate infrastructure to accommodate the ship. As our greenest ship yet, and the first British cruise ship to be powered by Liquefied Natural Gas, Iona is paving the way for the future of cruising with zero sulphur and nitrogen emissions as well as a significant reduction in carbon.  For embark and debark, we have already undertaken site inspections and will continue to trial and test gangway flows to ensure both ship and shore are well prepared. With this in mind, Iona was designed with additional gangway capacity to assist and will be able to utilise gangways with up to six guest lanes at the same time.

Iona will spend summers in Norway. Which ports will she visit and why were they chosen?

Iona will deliver a summer of seven-night Norway Fjord itineraries, including calls to Geiranger, Olden, Stavanger and Bergen, as well as a limited number of calls to Ålesund towards the end of the summer season.

We would like to offer Iona’s guests the best the region has to offer.  As such the programme focuses on the two “deep fjord” destinations of Geiranger and Olden.  These destinations provide the most spectacular scenic cruising opportunities to take advantage of her design.  Geiranger, and Geirangerfjord itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The deep fjord ports are supported by the Norwegian towns of Stavanger and Bergen; which are already popular mainstays of our P&O Cruises holidays.

Geiranger fjord, Norway

Can you tell us a little more about excursions? How will they differ to those currently offered on P&O Cruises Norwegian Fjords itineraries?

We are really excited about the cruise itinerary and ports of call that Iona will be offering on her maiden season.  The Norwegian Fjords have so much to offer, catering to every traveller – from phenomenal sights and scenes to active adventures in abundance.

At the moment we are busy enhancing our current variety of excursions in Norway.  We will be offering a selection of these experiences, and re-mastering many, to offer more flexibility with added free time to explore independently. As an example, in Bergen, we already offer iconic sites such as visits to Mount Fløyen via the famous funicular. However, for Iona, we are introducing a more flexible option where guests can enjoy it at their own pace, where they can opt to follow one of the many hiking trails or simply sit back and admire the stunning city views. For the more adventurous looking for an active challenge, we will be sending them down the fastest zip-line in Norway at Mount Ulriken!

When Iona visits Olden, guests can visit Briksdal Glacier as we do today. However, we are introducing several ways to capture its imposing glory – on foot, by car or maybe a gentle glacier lake paddle to take in the serenity of the surrounding sights. For those aiming a little higher, no visit would be complete without experiencing the new Loen Skylift attraction, whisking guests 1,011 metres to the top of Mount Hoven to experience some of the best scenery in the whole of Norway. For the adrenaline junkies – we are also working on a suspension bridge challenge, more to be revealed…!

From Stavanger, paddle boarding or deep-sea fishing are all experiences we are developing.  Sightseeing travellers will be able to take to the skies for panoramic views of the Pulpit Rock or take a high-speed RIB to glimpse these steep cliffs rising 600 metres above the fjords. In 2020 a new mountain tunnel will be opening, which means we will be able to hike to the Pulpit Rock much faster.

Continuing our successful Food Heroes experiences on shore, we’ll be working with a host of local culinary businesses to deliver truly unique foodie adventures.  Our guests will dive into the true taste of Norway, from farm to table, presenting tasty Nordic dishes and local tipples, all in the company of either Marco Pierre White, Eric Lanlard or Olly Smith.

From hiking, biking, paddle boarding, Nordic cuisine, kayaking, helicopter sightseeing to simply stunning scenery, Iona in the magical Norwegian Fjords offers something to suit everyone.

Kayaking in Geirangerfjord with Seven Sisters waterfall