Iona, the first of two 184,700 gross ton LNG powered ships of P&O Cruises, will feature an on board gin distillery as the UK focused contemporary market unit of Carnival Corporation & plc positions its latest ship towards a younger clientele than its other ships.
Olly Smith, a food and wine expert that the company has been working for several years, said at a presentation in London on 4 September that gin and tonic is the most popular drink sold onboard cruise ships worldwide.
In Britain, gin sales totalled 19 million litres last year and a bar on P&O Cruises’ Britannia already stock 30 brands of gin. The continued popularity of the drink has encouraged the company to establish a distillery on board.
The ship, which will join the P&O Cruises’ fleet in May 2020, will feature a total of 95 conservatory mini suites, which will be located on the promenade deck and on deck 9 above it. These will have a sitting area that can be both indoors and outdoors as P&O Cruises’ research showed that its passengers like to spend time outdoors.
Iona is a sister ship of similar LNG powered vessels of Costa Crociere, Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises and the promenade deck conservatory mini suites occupy a location taken up by Lanai cabins on AIDAnova, the first unit of the class for the German unit of the Carnival group.
On the dining front, restaurants will range from casual to formal and for the first time, all will operate under the Freedom Dining concept, i.e. without fixed seating time throughout the cruise.
The ship will offer inside and outside dining at The Quays, a food market type venue on the starboard side of deck 7, a move that follows contemporary practice on many recent ships and contrasts starkly with the rather rigid separation of indoor and outdoor areas on the 2015 built Britannia, a derivative of Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess class.
A gastro pub will also debut on the new ship and it will feature a dry aging fridge to perfect steaks.
The company has decided to retain one formal night that covers all areas on Iona on each seven night cruise. From May next year, it will drop automatic tips charged on passengers’ accounts at a rate of £7 per night spent on board.
Iona will operate seven night cruises to Norway throughout its initial season in the summer of 2020. The company has found that while the average age of UK cruise passengers was 53 years in 2017, majority of the passengers cruising to Norway last year were under the age of 55 and in the school holiday period, their proportion rose to two in three.
Consequently, shore excursions will offer a range of activities, including kayaking, skiing, mountain biking, cycling, hiking and power boat rides in the fjords.
As the 1995 built Oriana will leave the fleet next summer, the 2000 built Aurora will assume its role as a year-round UK based ship, whereby it will join the 2008 built Ventura. Britannia will continue to spend the winters in the Caribbean with Azura, while Oceana will operate fly cruises in their Mediterranean in the summer and cruises to the Arabian Gulf and India from Dubai in the winter. Arcadia will operate an annual around the world cruise and sail the rest of the year from Southampton.
A travel agent Cruise Business Online spoke to said that the new ship is likely to receive an enthusiastic reception from the public, particularly those new to cruising.
However, P&O Cruises also has a loyal base of customers who prefer the line’s more traditional ships, such as Aurora, which have a very different ambiance onboard. “I think that people do understand that you need to move on with the times,” she said.