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All seven of the fleet – Adonia, Arcadia, Aurora, Azura, Oceana, Oriana and Ventura – were together for the very first time to mark 175 years of the line's history.
They sailed in to Southampton yesterday morning, and at just past 6 p.m., they made their way one by one “three chains apart” (300 metres), from their berths and out to the open ocean. As each ship passed by it was greeted by a fireworks display – or "daylight pyrotechnics" – and a flotilla of small boats keeping it company alongside.
A planned Red Arrows fly by had to be cancelled due to the appalling weather, but apart from that the event went off without a hitch. A smattering of celebrities including Darcey Bussell, who named Azura three years ago, turned up earlier in the day to cut a cake and witness the historic event.
She said: "I'm just as excited to be here today. To join in with the celebrations is a joy.”
Meanwhile HRH The Princess Royal (pictured) watched the whole event from a boat, the Patricia.
More than 30,000 passengers were processed throughout the day, with P&O requisitioning Hampshire County Cricket Ground to deal with the numbers.
Senior master of P&O's fleet Commodore Steve Burgoine said: "It's been a long time in coming, a lot of effort has been put into the whole day. All seven ships are looking wonderful, never mind the rain."
--by Adam Coulter, Editor, Cruise Critic U.K.