P&O's fly-cruises will be offered on the 710-passenger, adults-only Adonia, currently sailing as Royal Princess and joining P&O Cruises in May 2011 as a replacement for the line's smallest and oldest ship, Artemis.
The new addition will sail from Southampton all summer in 2011 but will reposition to the Mediterranean in October for six cruises from Savona, Athens, Trieste and Naples, including a Christmas and New Year cruise to the Holy Land.
"The introduction of Mediterranean fly-cruising is an exciting step forward for P&O Cruises, and one that we know will make many of our existing passengers very happy. We listen to our customers and always try to give them what they want," said managing director Carol Marlow in a press statement.
The 30,200-ton Adonia also gets the lion's share of a substantial list of maiden calls in the P&O programme, with visits to destinations as diverse as Bourgas in Bulgaria, Flekkefjord in Norway, Liverpool in the U.K., Koper in Slovenia and Zadar in Croatia.
No doubt P&O regulars will welcome the variety, as 2011 is shaping up to be a busy and potentially very crowded year in Europe.
Continuing the quest for something different and, quite frankly, a bit of space in port, the line will also revisit 20 ports that have not featured in its programmes for several years, including Oporto in Portugal, on the menu for Oceana, Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana.
Again, most of the 'nearly-new' destinations go to Adonia, among them Patmos and Samos in Greece, Tangiers in Morocco and Trieste in Italy.
Other features of the programme include:
The new Azura, launching in April, will spend summer 2011 in Europe and offer 11 Caribbean fly-cruises over the winter of 2011/2012
Adults-only Arcadia will also cruise ex-U.K. all, year, although it will be away for 72 nights from April 12 on its Grand Alaska Adventure, which in the new programme includes eight new sectors ranging from 10 to 28 nights
Oriana will be based in the Western and Central Mediterranean, Baltic, Caribbean, Western Europe and Atlantic Islands, all ex-U.K., including a 34-night round-trip Caribbean cruise
Oceana will cruise year-round from Southampton for the first time, its winter programme including the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, Atlantic Islands and the Caribbean and USA
Aurora will visit the Black Sea as well as the usual Mediterranean, Baltic and Canaries itineraries from Southampton, and will offer a 24-night Canada & New England cruise
Ventura, meanwhile, sails from Southampton between March and October and will then be based in the Caribbean for a season of 11 fly-cruises.
All the ships except Arcadia and Adonia will also mini-cruises or two or four nights, aimed at anybody thinking of dipping a toe in the water.
Rather than trying to compete with sister company Princess Cruises or American rival Royal Caribbean, both of which have a massive presence out of Southampton, P&O Cruises will celebrate its "Britishness."
"Our recent research shows us that our passengers particularly love the way we tailor everything to their British needs; the way we actually celebrate being on a ship, with the officers and crew making this a real nautical experience, as only we can due to our long heritage," said Marlow.
P&O's announcement comes in the same weeks as the unveiling of Cunard Line's 2011 voyages, which also includes fly-cruising in the Mediterranean. Queen Victoria will operate eight fly-cruises in August 2011 out of Venice, Rome and Athens, each one visiting nine ports in 12 nights – places as diverse as Odessa, Istanbul, Cairo (via Port Said) and Jerusalem (from Ashdod).
Other highlights include five mini-cruises on the new Queen Elizabeth, as well as two long trips -- 23 nights from Southampton to the Caribbean and 19 nights from Southampton to the Eastern Mediterranean, as far south as Israel. Both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 will sail round-Britain voyages, too.
Queen Mary 2, meanwhile, will continue to offer transatlantic sailings but slowing the crossing down to seven nights, rather than six -- a move that was introduced in 2010 and has apparently been extremely popular.
There's still more than a month until either programme can be booked; Cunard goes on sale on April 26 and P&O on April 27.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor