Recently we took you down memory lane and took a closer look at the history and heritage of P&O Cruises. Looking into the past helps us understand where we are today and how cruising has evolved to become one of the most popular ways to see the world. Whilst it’s great to see the history of such a phenomenal cruise line as P&O Cruises, it’s also good to see the individual aspects that made such a cruise line what it is today. The history of P&O Cruises is quite remarkable. In this article we delve deeper into the history and take a closer look at the evolution of P&O dining and how the choices, traditions and general focus has changed over time.
If you’ve been following the cruise industry for the past few years, you will have seen how on board dining has changed in just a short space of time. If it’s undergone such drastic changes in just a few years, can you imagine how much cruise ship dining has changed since the early days of luxury sea travel? As one of the oldest cruise lines in the world, P&O Cruises demonstrate how demand for fine cuisine has developed since the introduction of passenger cruising.
The SS Oriana and SS Canberra
The SS Oriana and SS Canberra are widely considered to be the first ‘real’ cruise liners operated by P&O Cruises, in that they’re largely recognisable as early ancestors of the cruise line’s current fleet. These ships operated at a time when P&O Cruises had committed to making the change from shipping company to luxury cruise line. Looking at the dining options on board these two ships really shows how far cruise ship dining has evolved.
The SS Oriana was built with three separate restaurants – the Elizabethan Restaurant (the main dining room), the Silver Grill, which was an early venture into speciality dining, and the Plough Tavern, which was similar to the British-style pubs that adorn today’s fleet. The cuisine served up was very different than what we find today – think of it as dishes that were considered to be ‘glamorous’ back in the 1960s, but seem dated and old fashioned today. Lobster cocktail, egg mayonnaise, and liver with cocktail onions were just some of the dinner offerings in the main dining room, according to a menu printed in 1960. During a later refurbishment, the Silver Grill was removed completely, making way for more passenger cabins, showing just how little focus was given to speciality dining restaurants in the early days of P&O leisure cruising.
In contrast, the SS Canberra offered just two dining options – the Atlantic Dining Room and the Pacific Dining Room – although a small buffet breakfast was also available in the Island Room, which was a passenger lounge. The Atlantic Room was reserved for first class passengers only, and was located at the front of the ship close to all the first class cabins. The Pacific Dining Room was for ‘tourist’ class passengers. The notion of classes has now disappeared, but some ships still reserve dining establishments for their suite guests, P&O Cruises for example on board Ventura welcome suite passengers to dine in Marco Pierre White’s White Room for breakfast.
P&O’s Current & Future Fleet
As one of the oldest cruise ships currently in operation in the UK, P&O’s Oriana is a prime example of how the dining options on board P&O Cruises ships has evolved as the company has grown and as sea travel has really taken off. When the ship was first launched in 1995, she offered just three dining options – two main dining rooms, the Peninsular and the Oriental Restaurant, and the casual buffet dining option, known as The Conservatory. It wasn’t until 2007 that Oriana began offering a wider choice. Following a refurbishment, Oriana was reintroduced with some major changes in terms of gastronomy. While the main dining rooms and buffet restaurant remained, passengers also had the choice of the Italian-themed Sorrento, Gary Rhodes’ Oriana Rhodes (later replaced with Marco Pierre White’s Ocean Grill), and Al Fresco Pizzeria on the Lido Deck. Adding restaurants, rather than removing them, was a new concept for P&O Cruises, and was a good indication of how things were changing in the cruise industry.
Of course, on board dining options have come a long way, even since 2007. P&O’s newest addition to the fleet, Britannia, is set to boast 13 different eateries! With three main restaurants (The Peninsular, The Oriental, and The Meridian), Olly Smith’s Glass House, The Grill, Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu and a whole host of other exciting venues whether you are looking for a quick bite to grab between on board activities or a lavish evening meal, there is more choice on board Britannia than any other P&O Cruises ship – a true turning point in P&O’s dining history.
Celebrity Chefs & Speciality Dining
P&O are committed to offering only the finest quality cuisine on board their ships, and have employed the talents of many skilled and highly acclaimed celebrity chefs over the years to ensure their food is the best it can be. Gary Rhodes previously operated restaurants on board both Oriana and Arcadia, which were later replaced by Marco Pierre White-branded eateries. While Rhodes had been a household name, his brand was perceived to be quite dated, and P&O were keen to bring cruise ship dining into the 21st century. Marco Pierre White was, at the time, well known for Hell’s Kitchen – a popular TV show – and was able to bring a modern and contemporary twist to classic cruise cuisine. The restaurants thrived, and the chef now oversees both the Ocean Grill on board Arcadia, The White Room on board Ventura, Café Jardin on board Oceana and Café Bordeaux on board Aurora.
Expanding upon the use of celebrity chefs on board, P&O recently announced that their new ship, Britannia, would feature five ‘Food Heroes’ – Marco Pierre White, Olly Smith, Eric Lanlard, James Martin, and Atul Kochhar, all of whom bring something different to the table – quite literally! With Britannia, P&O Cruises are attempting to really get back to their British roots, and maintaining the tradition of calling the main dining rooms ‘Peninsular’ and ‘Oriental’ in homage to the lines heritage confirms this. However, they’re also looking for new ways to inspire and incorporate new, exciting influences. Atul Kochhar is the only Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin Star, and his Sindhu restaurant is sure to bring a touch of spice to the palate. Already a huge success on board Azura, Atul Kochhar also recently took control of Ventura’s East following her refurbishment in 2013. Similarly, wine connoisseur Olly Smith is expected to introduce a range of international wines that have never been offered on board P&O ships before. Olly has become a hugely popular character in the world of cruising, most notably for The Glasshouse on board Azura, which much like Sindhu, proved so successful, it was added to Ventura in replace of the previous venue, Las Ramblas.
For foodies, right now is one of the most exciting times in the cruise industry. We have choice, we have excitement, we have fresh and vibrant flavours, and it’s all waiting for us! Book your P&O cruise now and sample the delights of modern cruise ship dining.
To read more about the history of P&O Cruises click here.