The countdown is on to the December 2022 launch of Arvia, the latest addition to the P&O Cruises fleet. Captain Robert Camby will be at the helm, and we caught up with him to discover what makes this new ship so special, and the most memorable experiences that have stayed with him throughout his cruising career. 

You got your first taste of life at sea on SS Canberra aged 14. What are your standout memories of that sailing and what do you think it was that stoked that fire for cruising at such a young age?  

On one of our family cruises on Canberra, we were lucky enough to sit at the Captain’s table for dinner and he asked me what I wanted to do for a living. My Grandfather replied on my behalf, saying I wanted his job as Captain. This Captain then allowed me onto the Bridge a number of times, and also gave me all the details to apply for a cadetship. We are still in touch with him even now, although he is now retired, and he has followed my career. He very kindly sent his Captain stripes when I was promoted to Captain myself, which was the most wonderful gesture. He was a wonderful mentor. I recall standing on the Bridge with the Deck Officers when I was 14 years old, thinking ‘this is the job for me’.

You currently command Iona and have spent the summer getting a feel for the special new P&O Cruises arrival. What has she brought to the seas?  

Iona is an amazing ship with an equally amazing ship’s company (all the crewmembers). We are all so excited to bring an LNG-powered ship into service, setting new standards in technology and supporting our ‘Oceans Alive’ environmental goals and commitments.  

The ship has a new SkyDome venue, the first for P&O Cruises. It’s a multi-purpose entertainment venue. The atrium also has double-sided glass on three decks, giving everyone fantastic views of the sea on both sides of the ship. These features, as well as many new dining choices such as Olive Grove and the Quays and the Keel & Cow as well as tapas from renowned Jose Pizarro, will make cruising the Norwegian Fjords stunning. 

Arvia will underpin the sustainability credentials established by Iona. How has this ever-increasing focus on sustainability and environment changed your role and that of your crew?  

All the ship’s company has an environmental focus at the centre of all they do. Carnival Corporation has an Oceans Alive programme which underpins our commitment to protecting the waters in which we sail, and the places and communities we visit for future generations.  

The technology and standards upon which Arvia and Iona have been built enable us to support this commitment, not only with our recycling centre and with the LNG fuel usage, but especially with our extensive environmental training and the culture amongst our people.

How else do you expect Arvia might elevate those new standards set by Iona more generally? 

Arvia as a sister ship to Iona continues to highlight P&O Cruises’ commitment to new standards and technology. Having two LNG ships demonstrates our commitment to the future of clean fuels. We will also have new dining concepts, extraordinary new activities and entertainment.

Having captained almost every ship in the P&O Cruises fleet, which one occupies a particular soft spot? 

Oriana was my first command and also where I met my wife, who was a singer onboard at the time. I served on Oriana as a cadet back in 1996 and to return 16 years later in 2012 as Captain was a special moment.

And in your opinion, what is the magic that sets P&O Cruises apart and which has created such a loyal legion of cruisers?  

The magic of P&O Cruises comes from the crew. We have 50 nationalities working onboard and it’s this diversity that gives the ship its true identity and a huge sense of unity as a team working and socialising together to deliver holiday happiness on a daily basis.  

We have so many loyal guests and so many loyal crew. This combination really makes working for the company a pleasure but generates such a welcoming personnel atmosphere onboard for every cruise. Our guests love this. The most frequent comment I receive is how friendly the crew are and this makes me so proud

Can you tell us how an average day at sea looks for you?  

Being a cruise ship captain is like being a Mayor of a small city and also a managing director. My prime responsibility is for the safety of the ship and all on board, and I drive the ship in and out of each port. Furthermore, I spend time each day with the navigator looking at future tracks and ports, and I help mentor the younger officers in their goals and ambitions of becoming P&O Cruises ship captains.  

Outside of my navigational duties, I spend a great deal of time in the crew areas visiting all aspects of operation, from the butcher and baker to the recycling centre team, the engine room crew to the back of house operations in the galley, entertainment and housekeeping.  I think it is so important that the ship’s company has access to the Captain all the time. We work together like a family, so welfare of the crew is a high focus. 

Of course, I attend many guest events and walk the guest decks as often as I can as, again, it’s important to me that the guests see the Captain.  

I also have a wedding license and have had the honour of marrying well over a hundred couples on several of our ships during my career. 

A day in the life of a cruise ship captain is always varied and the hours ever changing as the arrival and departures from ports can be early in the morning and late at night. It is certainly never boring and with the guests changing every cruise and the crew frequently changing as they come and go from leave it constantly keeps you engaged and busy.

Your 26 years with Carnival UK must have given you some incredible experiences in places around the world. Can you share any that stand out in your memory as some of the best?  

I had the pleasure of commanding Oceana during the maiden Dubai season. The cruising and destinations were fantastic. Overnight calls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi meant our guests and crew could really enjoy and experience the cultures during the extended stays in these extraordinary places.  

In 2012 I also got to take Oriana to Mumbai. Taking a P&O Cruises ship to India with so many of our crew being Indian is a really special moment. Being on the dock side, meeting so many of their family and friends, was emotional and such a pleasure.  

When I was a young cadet, one of the ships I worked on also went to the Philippines and, again, with so many Filipino crew the atmosphere onboard is amazing. Seeing our crew with their family and friends always brings a lump to your throat.

How does time off look when you travel for a living? Will we find you in search of sun or adventure seeking, or are you more likely to be relishing the time at home? 

As a family we do like to go on holiday. All of us love the sun, so a hot destination would be our choice. However, having said that I do love to spend time at home working on the house and catching up with friends.

And which destinations haven’t you quite managed to tick off the bucket list yet?  

I have been so fortunate that during the 26 years I have worked for the company, I have travelled to all the major cruise destinations and completed 14 world cruises. One of my favourite places was Alaska, where I spent four seasons cruising. Also, more recently I did Oceana’s Dubai season, which was a career highlight. The guest feedback on the destination was overwhelmingly positive.