The Iona cruise ship from P&O Cruises might have her fair share of standout features (SkyDome, anyone?), but on a ship of this size, you can guarantee there’s also a host of hidden gems to be discovered.

From the indulgent to the purely practical, here are just seven of the best we encountered on an Iona cruise to the Norwegian Fjords.

The smaller, inclusive restaurants

When it comes to evening meals on board a cruise ship, I must admit I do like the proper sit-down restaurant experience, rather than a buffet. Iona has its fair share of options, ranging from the main dining rooms to a selection of speciality eateries.

There are four main dining rooms on board – Pearl, Coral, Opal and Aqua. Each has its own distinct styling, but for me, Opal and Aqua as the smallest of the group maintained a more intimate feel and seemed less hectic than their larger counterparts.

I must also give a special mention to The Olive Grove, a Mediterranean restaurant on deck eight that became increasingly popular as the days went by. Most items on the menu are included in your cruise fare, but there are a few with a small surcharge if you want to splash out. The sharing boards were amazing and I’d highly recommend them. You’ll need to book The Olive Grove to be in with a chance of getting seated, but it’s well worth it.

Sharing Platter in the Olive Grove
A sharing platter in The Olive Grove

Norwegian Tasting Menu in the Epicurean Restaurant

One of my favourite things to do while discovering new countries is to try the food and thankfully on Iona, this couldn’t have been made easier. For one night only in the Epicurean, Local Food Hero Kjartan Skjelde had designed a six-course tasting menu, inspired by the flavours, ingredients and cookery methods of the region. I booked it on my Cruise Personaliser a week before the cruise – it was a great excuse to try out the speciality restaurant (as if we needed one!) and sample the best of Norwegian cuisine.

Dishes included pickled beets, a fillet of lightly smoked mountain trout, and cloudberry sorbet. It was all served at a relaxed pace and before we knew it, two hours had swept by. It’s safe to say we were suitably stuffed with the finest Norwegian fare by the end!

Iona Norwegian Tasting Menu
Fillet of Lightly Smoked Mountain Trout

The Chef’s Table on Celebration Evening

You’ve probably guessed by now that food is a big part of cruising for me! Celebration Night was held during the second night of our Norwegian Fjords cruise, and what caught my eye was the Chef’s Table. I’d read about the experience before the trip, but only fully investigated it once I was on board.

Iona’s Chef’s Table is an area of The Beach House (one of the eight speciality restaurants) that’s reserved for dining on formal night. We booked our spot at one of the My Holiday podiums in the Atrium the day before, and there was no cover charge for doing so.

The menu was the same as what was served in the main dining rooms, but what we particularly enjoyed was the relaxed atmosphere. We took our time over our food and the service was attentive – this isn’t to say this wasn’t the case in the other included restaurants, but we really did notice the difference here. And, with those incredible views, it really was an extra-special way to spend Celebration Night.

Enjoy a gin flight in Anderson’s Bar

If you’re a gin lover, then deck six is the place to be. Iona is home to the first gin distillery at sea, so I wasn’t surprised to find a plentiful supply of Marabelle gin throughout the cruise. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to enjoy a rather delicious gin flight in Anderson’s Bar.

Each gin flight is themed, so depending on your personal taste, you’ll be able to find one that meets your needs. I opted for the cream tea, which included three gin servings (strawberry and cream, lemon drizzle and clotted cream flavoured) and one bottle of tonic as a mixer. The total cost was £9.50, which I didn’t think was bad for a more unusual drinking experience, and not to mention the wonderful surroundings.

Take a bottle of Iona gin home with you

Staying on the topic of gin, you can also take a bottle home with you that’s been distilled right there on the Iona cruise ship. Bottles of Marabelle gin are labelled with a gold seal  so you know they have been expertly tended to and handcrafted at Columba, which is the name of the onboard distillery, in case you were wondering. If it’s a blue seal you see, the gin has been distilled by Salcombe Distilling Co. at their facility in Devon.

Iona gin
Marabella gin distilled on Iona has a gold seal

Silent disco

You’ll never be short of things to do on the P&O Cruises Iona cruise ship, but one night in your Horizon newsletter, you might just spot the silent disco. It’s been featured on P&O Cruises ships for a while now, but must admit it’s only just made it onto my radar.

Held in the Atrium on our Iona cruise, you grab yourself a headset and tune into one of the various channels of music and dance away to your own rhythm. Even if you’re not taking part, it’s still good fun to watch!

Hidden USB plug socket on Iona

Now on to one of the more practical hidden gems. It’s unusual these days not to encounter at least one USB plug socket while on board a brand-new ship, so imagine my confusion when I couldn’t see one as I entered my cabin.

After some thorough investigation – and the help of various Facebook groups dedicated to the Iona cruise ship – I found one strategically placed under my bedside lamp. This meant my phone could be fully charged ready for another day of taking many, many photos.

Experience Iona for yourself – take a look at the range of cruises available on board this P&O Cruises ship by clicking here.