30th Mar 2024 | 7 nights | P&O Cruises | Iona
Iona is the biggest cruise ship ever built for the UK market, packed with entertainment venues and more than 30 places to eat and drink. With a capacity of 5,200 passengers, the ship has the feel of a lively but classy floating resort.
Iona's deck plan is well planned and brings the outside in. The ship is certainly striking. At the heart of Iona's deck plan is the dazzling Grand Atrium, with walls of glass on both sides spanning three floors, filling the space with light and sea views. Polished white marble and gleaming chrome add to the elegant, airy feel, while a curved marble staircase sweeps down into the centre. The SkyDome is another 'wow' moment at first sight and a first for P&O Cruises, too. An enormous glass dome covers a double-height space on Decks 16 and 17, which serves as a pool, drinking and dining venue by day and a dramatic entertainment space in the evenings. Other intriguing features making their debut include a boutique, four-screen cinema, an intimate nightclub masterminded by ex-Take That frontman Gary Barlow and the first gin distillery at sea. There's a lot that's well planned about this ship. Instead of one big pool and the overcrowding that can bring, there are two infinity pools on the cascading aft decks, the indoor SkyDome pool and the smallish Beachcomber pool on Deck 18, which spreads passengers out efficiently.
Entertainment and restaurants on Iona target a younger crowd. Iona is a departure in tone for P&O Cruises. It's clearly aimed at a younger demographic than the line's more traditional ships, in the style of the entertainment, nightlife and restaurants. There are nods to tradition in the formal gala nights, the captain’s midday announcement and familiar restaurants that P&O Cruises regulars expect, including Brodie's pub and the Crow's Nest lounge. But in other areas, there's big change; open-seating dining, for example, and the requirement to book everything via the MyHoliday app.
Food on Iona offers plenty of variety. With so many bars and restaurants, food on Iona offers plenty of variety and you really could eat and drink somewhere different every day. The concept of lots of smaller restaurants instead of a few huge ones means the ship doesn't feel crowded. Iona is an impressive ship, packed with quality entertainment and likely to be a huge hit with younger cruisers looking for nightlife, good food and affordable entry-level pricing.
There's plenty doing on during the day on Iona. There are classes in the gym, which is tucked away on deck 5, bingo, pub quizzes, dance classes and deck sports to while away the day.
Ocean Studios, the boutique, four-screen cinema, is a great feature, while there's a lovely library in Anderson's, a peaceful spot for reading until the menu at the gin bar beckons. Once health protocols have eased another stage, gin tastings and even gin distilling classes will be offered for a charge, run in conjunction with the Salcombe Distilling Co, the company that has developed Iona's signature Marabelle gin.
Otherwise, passengers scatter on the open decks to lounge in the 18 whirlpool spas, gaze at the view from the two infinity pools or take the sea air from the broad, wraparound promenade deck. On cooler days, the Grand Atrium has a happy buzz as people read, chat, listen to the pianist and drink coffee at Vistas cafe. Tip: The performers who entertain in the SkyDome every night have their rehearsal space in a corner of the Grand Atrium. Take a seat and watch them practicing graceful moves on the aerial silks that hang from the ceiling.
Headliners Theatre. The ship's two-deck theatre is the venue for big production shows, as well as visiting guest acts. A new show, Festival, is packed with feel-good music and high energy, and is a clear indication of the younger market Iona is aimed at, with wellies and face paint where there would once have been feathers and sequins. There are three shows a night here and for now, you need to pre-book on the MyHoliday app.
The Club House. A cavernous lounge opening onto the popular Sunset Bar on the aft deck, the Club House is a venue for game shows, tribute acts and themed music nights.
The 710 Club. Named after Iona's shipyard build number, this intimate little cocktail bar and club overseen by former Take That frontman Gary Barlow is the undisputed hit of the ship. Long queues form for each of the three nightly sets, which offer jazz and acoustic sounds, as well as brilliantly executed covers, with themes including rock anthems and chart toppers. *Tip: Get to the 710 Club early as you can't reserve seats.
The SkyDome. A swimming pool, lounging area and bar by day, the two-deck-high SkyDome transforms into an entertainment space at night, with dazzling aerial acts and once social distancing has eased, DJ sets compiled by former Blur bassist Alex James, complete with laser shows. The SkyDome is a big venue to fill but should have a real energy once the ship is sailing nearer capacity.
Bars & Nightlife. Iona comes alive with music at night; it's something the ship does really well. In the space of a single evening, you can watch the acrobatic show in the SkyDome, go for cocktails, have dinner, hit the silent disco on deck, squeeze in a theatre production and enjoy a late-night set in the 710 Club.
The place to be on deck: Sunset Bar. Located on the aft deck, with a smoking area to one side, this al fresco bar is always buzzing, from people enjoying an early pint to glasses of rosé flowing with lunch and later, sundowners. There’s live music from a busker throughout the day.
For Gin Lovers: Anderson's. An elegant cocktail lounge next to the library, Anderson's has a superb spirits menu. The showpiece of the bar is the first gin still at sea, housed in a climate-controlled, glass room and named Columba. The still is tended by specially trained crewmembers, producing 75 bottles of Iona's signature Marabelle gin per day, its botanicals inspired by the ship's namesake, the Hebridean island of Iona.
For Dramatic Cocktails: Emerald Bar. A glamorous bar looking out onto the Grand Atrium, this popular pre-dinner drinking spot offers cocktails with quirky presentation, for example, served with a flourish under a dome of smoky vapour. Even if you just opt for a glass of wine rather than a fancy daiquiri, this is a smart space for people watching.
For Something Elegant: The Crow's Nest. The Crow's Nest is a P&O Cruises icon, forward on Deck 17 with gorgeous views, cocktail music and a lovely, elegant vibe at sunset. It's next to the Epicurean restaurant, so an easy spot to enjoy a pre-dinner drink before a posh dinner.
Spa: The Oasis Spa and Health Club is located over two levels, forward on decks 5 and 6. It’s an attractive, soothing space, tucked away from the bustle of the ship. There’s a wide variety of massages on offer, from Aroma Stone to Bamboo, Thai and Swedish, as well as assorted body wraps and facials. The latter include Elemic Biotec treatments, currently fashionable in cruise ship spas, promising to treat fine lines and tired skin. A few medical spa treatments are available, from fillers to wrinkle treatments, as well as acupuncture and Chinese medicine consultations. The spa also has a spacious hair and nail salon offering Kérastase treatments. Tips are not included in treatments, although they’re not added automatically. Look out for offers, which appear regularly in Horizon, the daily programme. The thermal suite is a serene area, with a decent sized hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam rooms, as well as heated loungers. There's also a quiet deck, The Retreat, not associated with the spa but continuing the relaxing, adults-only vibe. £40 a day buys you a peaceful space with two hot tubs, loungers and luxurious day beds. Normally there will be waiter service here but on our cruise, The Retreat was unattended.
The Health Club: Iona has a large gym, located on deck 5, with everything from treadmills to rowing machines and free weights. There’s a separate studio area for spinning, pilates and yoga classes. Almost all classes incur and extra fee; just a few body conditioning and stretch sessions are free. *Tip: If you want a good workout and don’t want to pay or go to the gym, the ship’s dancers host fantastic Fitsteps classes in the Limelight Club. These use ballroom and Latin routines, no partner required, to give you a challenging and fun workout to music.
Food onboard is geared to British tastes, with a decent choice of included and speciality (fee) restaurants on Iona. The standard is generally good, though varies by restaurant. Iona’s specialty dining, ranging from Indian to gastropub fare, are a real treat and worth paying for.
Of Iona’s free restaurants, there are four main dining rooms (Coral and Pearl are the nicest, with views over the ship's wake); the Horizon buffet; a fast-food pool grill, Taste 360; and a canteen-style venue, The Quays, offering fish and chips, one daily Asian dish, hot dogs and burgers, as well as a small selection of plated salads.
The Olive Grove, another new restaurant, serves Mediterranean cuisine at lunch and dinner, from mezze sharing plates to pizza, kebabs and tagines.
Free Restaurants on Iona Cruise Ship
Pearl, Coral, Opal and Aqua restaurants Iona has four main dining rooms, all open seating. The food is of a high standard, with plenty of choice and lighter options. Breakfast includes a full fry-up and a daily special, from Eggs Benedict to kedgeree, and healthier choices including cereals, fruit, smoothies and yogurts. The lunch menu features soup, salads, bagels, sandwiches and wraps, and large plates that include British favourites like shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, or seafood fritto misto. Desserts are decadent and comforting, from warm pear Charlotte with cream to chocolate brownies or Bakewell tart. Menus are imaginative, with five courses spanning starters, soups, mains, desserts and a cheese plate. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are clearly marked. Expect dishes like rainbow trout with avocado mousse, swordfish steak, onion and garlic souffle and a daily roast. Always available dishes include prawn cocktail, cream of tomato soup, grilled salmon, chicken breast, sirloin steak and a fruit salad. Once a week, there's a gala dinner in all four dining rooms, with the menu designed by Marco Pierre White, one of P&O Cruises' "Food Heroes", including items like lobster mornay and beef wellington. You can pre-book the Chef's Table for a more intimate setting, with wines paired by Olly Smith (at extra cost), but this isn't a restaurant as such; it's a space in The Horizon, the main buffet, with extra ambience created for dress-up nights. You can also get daily afternoon tea in the main dining rooms, an extremely generous portion of sandwiches, dainty cakes, warm scones, jam and clotted cream.
Horizon Restaurant The main buffet, at this stage still served, rather than self-service, is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late snacks. There's plenty of choice here, from full English breakfast, pastries and fruit in the mornings to a daily roast with all the trimmings, several excellent curries, pre-plated salads in small bowls and a beautifully presented array of cakes and pre-plated desserts, including gluten-free, vegan and low sugar options. The absence of self-service means queues form at busy times, but there are multiple serving stations.
Restaurants that cost extra on Iona
P&O Cruises regulars will find favourites like Sindhu for Asian fusion; the Limelight Club, with nightly cabaret; and the gorgeous Epicurean, perfect for a classy, romantic dinner or one of the finest afternoon teas at sea -- created by Eric "Cake Boy" Lanlard. Olly Smith's wine bar and grazing spot, The Glass House, has an enhanced menu and a prime position on Deck 7, overlooking the Grand Atrium, while a new venue, the Keel and Cow, is a meat lover's dream. Tip*: Choose your specialty dining and book it as soon as you get on board. The restaurants fill up very quickly, especially with social distancing still in place.
Epicurean ($$$$) Epicurean is the most expensive of the speciality dining restaurants, at £28 per person, but it's worth the outlay for a romantic evening in a classy venue. Presentation is exquisite and the service attentive. The roasted red pepper parfait, the pata negra ham, the miso-glazed rack and slow-cooked lamb belly, and the fluffy Emmental Soufflé are worth trying. There are grills, too, from giant prawns to ribeye and sirloin steak. Look out for the Norwegian-inspired tasting menu when the ship is sailing in the fjords, created by renowned Norwegian chef Kjartan Skjelde.
The Keel and Cow ($$) The Keel and Cow is new to P&O Cruises and it's a big hit. Arrive here with an empty stomach, as the portions are massive. P&O Cruises’ Keel and Cow menu offers different cuts of steak, dry-aged in a special cabinet and including a 32oz Tomahawk, for £32, complete with chunky chips, battered onion rings and Portobello mushrooms. The Prime Minister burger, at £8.50, is an 8oz beast, with a side of fries and garlic mayo. There are fish dishes and a surprisingly good vegan Indian platter. There's no pre-booking here, and the Keel and Cow is open all day.
The Glass House ($$) Olly Smith's wine bar and tapas restaurant is the perfect spot for all-day grazing. Pricing is a la carte, with three small plates costing £8.25, including choices such as prawn potstickers, beetroot croquettes, and gin-and-tonic cured salmon. Larger dishes come in plates of three different items of either chicken, beef, pork, seafood or vegan, from £8, and there’s a vast menu of wines by the glass. When Iona sails to the Canary Islands, there will be new tapas by celebrated Spanish chef Jose Pizzaro.
The Limelight Club ($$) The Limelight Club isn't new to P&O but deserves mention as the food and entertainment are so good. The three-course menu includes mojito-cured salmon, a superb sea bass with lemon and herb gnocchi and a beautiful chocolate bombe with raspberries and ice cream. Cabaret acts will vary, but drag queen La Voix was in residence on our cruise, taking off divas including Tina Turner, Liza Minelli and Shirley Bassey in glittering style. The whole venue has an aura of intimate glamour and is excellent value.
Our Top Picks:
Epicurean for a big night out
The Limelight Club if you like the look of the cabaret act
The Glass House for chilled out tapas
Keel and Cow for a meat-fest
What are Iona's Cabins Like?
There are three basic cabin types on Iona (this is applicable to all cruise ships): Inside, Outside, and Balcony. Everything else is a variation on this, including the suites, of which there are 26.
New for Iona are the Conservatory Mini-suites, a fantastic halfway choice between a balcony cabin and a full-blown suite. Expect everything you would expect in a hotel room, just in a smaller space. All of Iona's cabins have a double bed that can be divided into two (single accommodation aside), interactive TV, wardrobe, fridge, sofa, vanity and stool and numerous charging and USB points, with UK and European sockets. Every cabin has tea and coffee-making facilities. All standard cabins have a shower room with a shower stand with glass doors and a clothesline for drying. There is a single basin with a fixed soap dispenser and a cupboard with shelves. You'll find generic shampoo and gel in fixed dispensers in the shower, and products from The White Company in the mini-suites and suites. Iona also has 55 accessible cabins.
A Pick of Our Favourite Cruise Ship Cabins on Iona
Iona's inside cabins are a good budget option. Forgo ocean views for one of Iona’s inside cabins if you're on a budget. There are 811, each measuring up to 213 square feet. Some accommodate up to four people. These are ideal if you intend to spend most of your time and budget out and about, enjoying the ship.
Try one of the new Conservatory Mini-Suites for extra outdoor space. If your budget stretches to it, try to get one of the 95 Conservatory Mini-Suites; they are lovely. The bedroom leads to a glass-enclosed sitting area with a sofa and chair, opening onto a deep balcony. You can open the whole structure to create an oversized balcony or shut off the conservatory area from the main cabin. These suites are 274 square feet. **Tip**: *Go for a Conservatory Mini-Suite on Deck 9. Some are on Deck 8, but this is the promenade deck and you’ll find the promenade between your balcony and the sea. Not only do you lose the connection with the ocean, but passers-by can peer over your balcony if they so wish.
Fancy a splurge? Plump for one of Iona's plush suites. Iona has 26 suites located in the forward and aft corners of Decks 9 to 15. Suites come with butler service, welcome chocolates and fresh fruit, and nightly canapes. Suite guests can also have breakfast in the smart Epicurean restaurant. Which end of the ship you choose is a matter of personal preference; forward-facing suites will be windy on sea days, for example, but they do connect to the inside cabin next door, creating a space that in theory, could sleep eight.
Iona Cruise Ships Cabins: Best of the Rest. Family: There are two spacious family suites on the Promenade Deck, but these don’t have balconies – and nor do they have a bath, which is odd, given the number of families with very young children that sail with P&O Cruises.
Solos: If you're travelling solo, opt for one of 22 single occupancy cabins, all interiors and a compact 101 square feet.
Brits keen to sail with their fellow country people, who want a home-from-home atmosphere
Non-English speakers; late-night partyers or those who want lots of outdoor entertainment options
The line is aimed squarely at Brits, and that's pretty well the only nationality you'll find abroad at any time of year, wherever the ship is based. The demographic varies drastically depending on the type of ship and time of year. The adults-only ships tend to attract couples of 55-years plus; the family-friendly ones will attract families during the holiday periods, and then revert to 55+ couples outside of school holidays. Age will skew lower on the mini-break cruises to Europe and the Channel Islands. P&O Cruises is also aimed squarely at Middle England -- it's not upmarket and not "bucket and spade". The line is about as typically British as you can get.
P&O cruisers veer on the side of smart during the evening (not Cunard smart, but certainly not casual or scruffy), with casual during the day -- shorts, T-shirts, baseball caps and flip flops are perfectly acceptable day wear. On Gala nights passengers tend to make an effort and you'll see a range of clothing from ball gowns and black tie to and dark suits and long dresses and heels.
No, though tips are included in the price of the cruise and you won't find the rampant up charging you get on US lines. You'll pay extra for speciality restaurants, adults-only relaxation areas, the spa (treatments and thermal suite access), alcoholic and soft drinks.
P&O Cruises does not go in for adrenaline-filled activities like the US ships, so you won't even find a climbing wall even on the largest ships, let alone simulated skydiving, dodgems or simulated surfing. Daytime activities across the fleet consist of Daily activities range from the old-time favourites such as deck quoits, shuffleboard and table tennis to line dancing and party dance classes plus plenty of quizzes throughout the day including a pub challenge.
The beauty of a cruise holiday with P&O is that they include everything you need to have a great holiday, plus you'll be waking up in a new destination most days!
Included for all: