Founded in 1837, P&O Cruises is the oldest cruise line in the world. Famed as Britain’s favourite cruise line, P&O offers something for everyone aboard its impressive fleet of small to mid-size ships. With exceptional service, astonishing attention to detail and delicious cuisine, it’s easy to see why so many continue to choose P&O. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this prestigious cruise line, from its fascinating history to its incredible array of cruise destinations:
The history of P&O Cruises
P&O Cruises history is as steep as it is varied. Founded in 1837 (though its origins date back much further), the cruise line started off as a shipping company sailing between England and the Iberian Peninsula. 22 years after the formation of the line, P&O began offering passenger services - the first of their kind and what we know and love today as ‘cruises.’
Having recently celebrated its 175th anniversary, P&O Cruises has become Britain’s favourite cruise line thanks to its extensive range of fly and no-fly cruises. Here’s a brief timeline of P&O’s history:
1834: Brodie McGhie Willcox, a shipbroker from London, and Arthur Anderson, a sailor from the Shetland Islands, formed an association with Captain Richard Bourne, a steamship owner from Dublin.
1837: Willcox, Anderson and Bourne won a contract and began transporting mail and passengers from England to the Iberian Peninsula. This was the beginning of Peninsular Steam Navigation Company.
1840: By 1840, the company had expanded their operations to the Orient and merged with the Transatlantic Steam Ship Company, becoming the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, also known as P&O.
1844: In 1844, P&O expanded into leisure cruising and began offering sailings from the UK to the Mediterranean.
1977: By 1977, there were four ships in the fleet; Oriana, Canberra, Arcadia and Uganda. In the years following, P&O Cruises made ongoing changes to its fleet and diverged its Australian operations which led to the formation of P&O Cruises Australia.
1995: The second and much-loved Oriana joined the fleet as P&O Cruises first-ever new build. Built purely for pleasure cruising, she was one of the largest ships of her time. Two years later, a second Arcadia joined the fleet and in 2000 Aurora, designed similarly to Oriana, entered service.
2010: By 2010, Ventura and her sister ship Azura had joined the fleet. Two years later, the company celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company.
2014: P&O Cruises introduced a new livery in 2014. Based on the Union Jack to emphasise the company’s British heritage, the livery made the ships recognisable the world over. A year later, the hugely popular Britannia joined the fleet.
2020: As the world ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, P&O Cruises joined other cruise lines in suspending operations. But it wasn’t all bad news as Iona, the cruise lines biggest ship yet, joined the fleet in October.
Future: An exciting future awaits with the arrival of Iona’s sister ship Arvia in December 2022.
For a full overview of P&O Cruises’ history, click here.
Image credit: Cruising with Matthew
The P&O Cruises fleet
There are six (soon to be seven) ships in the P&O Cruises fleet. Each carries unique qualities and offers something for every type of traveller. The fleet can be split into two defining categories; adults-only and family-friendly:
Adults-only cruise ships:
Arcadia: 2,094-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2005. Sails to Canada, the Caribbean and Europe.
Aurora: 2,000-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2000. Sails to Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and South America.
A perfect blend of classic and modern, Arcadia offers everything you need for bodily relaxation while feeding your mind with theatre, art and film. As an adults-only ship, you can be guaranteed a quiet and contemplative trip uninterrupted only by the movement of the sea.
A panoply of facilities and activities, exquisite entertainment, incredible cuisine and a beautiful promenade deck await aboard Aurora. With a fun and welcoming atmosphere, you can truly make the most of your time at sea on this adults-only ship.
Steph from the cruise-related blog and YouTube channel Cruise With Amber has a soft spot for Aurora. She told us, “Aurora holds very special memories for me! She is the ship I got engaged on during a Baltic cruise in 2007 and I returned to sail on her a year later with my husband for our honeymoon around the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Aurora is like no other ship in the P&O Cruises fleet - she is literally in a whole class of her own! I love her tiered stern and aft pool area along with the multi-deck waterfall feature in her atrium. She also has two of the most unique suites in the whole fleet; two gorgeous duplex suites (the Library Suite and the Piano Suite) right at the bow just below the bridge. I’m patiently waiting for my chance to sail in one of these as they usually get snapped up as soon as they go on sale!”
Family-friendly cruise ships:
Arvia: 5,200-passenger ship will be joining the fleet in December 2022.
Azura: 3,100-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2010. Sails to the Caribbean and Europe
Britannia: 3,647-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2015. Sails to the Caribbean and Europe.
Iona: 5,200-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2020. Sails to Europe and the Mediterranean.
Ventura: 3,080-passenger ship joined the fleet in 2008, Sails to Europe and the Caribbean.
Arriving in 2022, Arvia has been designed to help you see the world in widescreen. She offers more freedom, greater choice, sunnier vibes and spectacular views. As the sister ship to Iona, she will feature many of her sibling’s incredible amenities plus some special surprises of her own.
Azura offers fun for all the family. She boasts an enormous variety of bars, haute cuisine restaurants, sports facilities, spa treatments, age-specific entertainment and a host of other exciting activities. If you prefer a more relaxed style of cruising, Azura is the girl for you.
Britannia is the epitome of style and glamour. Although inspired by times past, she has been designed for the future. Whether you’re new to cruising or a sea veteran, Britannia truly has something for everyone.
We chatted to Matthew from Cruising with Matthew about Britannia, he told us: “In terms of my favourite ship, I could choose any of them but for those still in service I’d say Britannia is the best so far. She is a very special ship as she inspired me to start Cruising with Matthew and we absolutely loved our Mediterranean cruise on her.
“Britannia (until this summer) is the flagship of the fleet and really represents P&O’s constant evolution. She has a modern feel while acknowledging the cruise lines long history. For instance, her twin funnel makes her truly unique and is a nod to the golden age of ocean travel.
“Despite her size, I’ve never felt that she was crowded. There are lots of little quiet spots you can go to read a book or sunbathe. She offers a vast array of amenities but I highly recommend a visit to Crow’s Nest (on Deck 16) for a pre/post-dinner drink. Here, you are treated to a panoramic view over the front of the ship and the cocktails are to die for!
“I could go on for hours about Britannia as she’s a fantastic ship but the only way to experience her properly is to try her out yourself!” While aboard, Matthew recommends ending each day in the Crown’s Nest, enjoying a Margarita as you listen to the live pianist. Bliss!
Iona offers the ultimate cruise experience. Pairing with some of the world’s leading experts in hospitality, interior design, architects and cruise ship designers, she is full to the brim with a vast range of new and familiar on board dining experiences, venues and amenities. Much like the destinations she sails to, she is full of excitement.
Much-loved Ventura is known for her variety. Whether you’re a culture vulture looking for thespian exploits at the gorgeous two-deck theatre, a foodie excited to feast at any of the twelve (yes, twelve!) dining spots on board, or a parent in search of an adventure for the kids, there’s always something going on aboard Ventura.
The on board experience
There is so much to do on board a P&O cruise, you’ll certainly never be bored. During the day, if you’re not exploring the many exciting destinations on offer, you could pamper yourself at the spa, cool down in the pool or take a swing at one of the golf nets. Entertainment goes above and beyond expectations, with incredible performances including West End and Broadway musical hits, dance troupes, cabaret acts and much more. P&O Cruises are renowned for their themed cruises including the much loved Strictly Come Dancing themed cruise which features special appearances from dancers and judges from the hit BBC show.
Popular amenities and facilities include:
Anderson’s: A P&O Cruises institution, Anderson’s is the perfect spot for a pre or post-dinner drink. A bar come library, Anderson’s boutique gin and rum distillery is hugely popular.
Brodie’s: This much-loved British pub boasts the ship’s largest range of British and international bottled beers, ciders and real ale. During the day, Brodie’s is the home of quizzes, trivia and bingo.
Oasis Spa: One of the most indulgent spas at sea, Oasis Spa boasts a thermal suite, hydrotherapy pool and massage parlour to bring you a sense of balance and bliss.
Promenade Deck: During the day, sunbathers and swimmers can enjoy the gorgeous Promenade Deck. Complete with open deck space, it’s perfect for socialising with other passengers or simply kicking back with a good book from the on board library.
Sindhu: Showcasing a menu that is a triumph of perfectly balanced spices, delicate flavours and wonderful aromas, Sindhu is a firm favourite with many.
SkyDome: Unique to Arvia and Iona, the SkyDome is a major new entertainment venue that features an impressive roof and a pool with a retractable stage.
The Glass House: The Glass House has an a la carte menu and offers both small and large plates. Every dish has been paired with an accompanying wine by wine expert Olly Smith. Food & Wine Pairing Dinners are offered twice a week for £30 per person.
Sailing all four corners of the globe, P&O Cruises offer a tempting array of options both close to home and further afield. On a Caribbean cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to sail to Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Bermuda and Grenada where you can dine on delectable cuisine, explore the underwater world or relax on a picturesque beach. Sail the Norwegian Fjords and you’ll get to witness the dramatic scenery of Ålesund, Flåm, Geiranger and Trondheim. Where in the world would you like to go? The choice is yours!
“One of the aspects I like about cruising with P&O is no matter how many other cruise lines I’ve sailed with, stepping back on a P&O ship is so familiar and homely; it’s like an extended family,” says Jamie from Travel Blog Jamie. “The crew remember you from previous cruises and ships (even when they rotate!) and make you feel so welcome. It’s one of the highlights for me.”
The traditional British feel is a perk for Matthew from Cruising with Matthew, “P&O is a very British cruise line (the giant union flag painted bow is a slight giveaway). For instance, all prices are in pound sterling and everything is catered towards British tastes, including the food and drink options on board.
“This means that a part of Britain essentially floats around with you as you explore a fantastic range of ports. After a day exploring, I always think that coming back on board feels like coming home. Plus, there are few other places you can have Costa coffee in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea!”
Paul and Carole from Paul and Carole Love to Travel were lucky enough to cruise with P&O in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit and cruising came to a halt. Like Matthew, they enjoyed the home-away-from-home feel, “We cruised on Oceana, which has sadly been sold since, but it was on this cruise that our love for P&O began.
“The variety of excellent entertainment on board make P&O a great choice for us. Paul can watch his Premier League football and we can enjoy the British touches, such as tea making facilities in cabins and Marmite for breakfast, that we love!”
There’s a cruise for everyone
Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran cruiser, P&O has a cruise for you. “I love how easy P&O make cruising for first-time cruisers,” says Emma from Emma Cruises. “They explain everything and really look after their guests when they’re on board. I always recommend them to first-time cruisers sailing from the UK because a P&O cruise is so simple and easy.”
Fun for all the family
“One of the things I most love about sailing with P&O Cruises is that the amenities and experiences on board their family-friendly ships appeal to all ages which make the cruise line a perfect choice for multigenerational ocean cruising,” says Steph from Cruise With Amber. “We have sailed on many of the family-friendly ships in the fleet (including Britannia and Ventura) as a large family group with age ranges spanning 8 to 82. There is always something on board that appeals to every single member of the family!”
“For parents or kids under five, the night nursery is certainly a reason to choose P&O Cruises,” says Jenni from Cruise Mummy. “Between 6 pm and 2 am, parents can leave their children to sleep in a dark, quiet room, watched over by two highly-qualified staff members. This enables parents to enjoy a romantic meal together, watch a show or head to the casino. Whilst babysitting is available with other cruise lines, it usually has an hourly charge but on P&O Cruises ships, the night nursery is completely free!
“Another reason I’d recommend P&O Cruises is that two-year-olds are allowed in the kids club. Most other cruise lines require kids to be aged three or over, so it’s great that P&O have this option.”
A huge thank you to all our contributors! If you’d like to stay up to date with them, check out their links below: