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Cunard Line vs. P&O Cruises

Sue Bryant

Last updated
Feb 29, 2024

Read time
8 min read

Although they are both owned by the same parent company, the giant Carnival Corporation, both homeport in Southampton and both have an impressive pedigree in cruising, P&O Cruises and Cunard are quite different.

Cunard is a more international brand, attracting passengers from all over the world keen to experience its legendary Queens -- Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 (a liner rather than a cruise ship) and from May 2024, Queen Anne.

P&O Cruises, on the other hand, is aimed squarely at Brits, with everything you experience on board geared to British tastes. And although P&O Cruises embraces the same cruising traditions as Cunard, like dressing for dinner, ballroom dancing and cocktails with the captain, it's a lot less formal.

Read on to learn more about what distinguishes these two iconic lines from one another.

On This Page

Who Are You Going to Meet Onboard?

The Olivier Awards aboard Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cunard)
The Olivier Awards aboard Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cunard)
  • American and British passengers in equal proportions on Atlantic crossings, plus plenty of continental Europeans, particularly Germans.

  • Cunard is also increasingly popular with Japanese and Australian cruise fans.

  • Passengers on crossings represent all age groups, while those on regular cruises tend to be older, though still with a fair number of young passengers and families.

  • Cunard attracts a fair number of celebrities and very wealthy individuals who enjoy the cachet of a transatlantic crossing in Queens Grill, the top cabin grade.

Cunard Line Forums

Nicole Sherzinger is named as godmother to P&O Cruises' Arvia
Nicole Sherzinger is named as godmother to P&O Cruises' Arvia

P&O Cruises

  • The line currently has seven ships: Arvia, Azura, Britannia, Iona and Ventura are family friendly and Aurora and Arcadia are adults-only.

  • Catering almost exclusively to the British market — and the largest line in this sector — passengers are almost entirely from the UK.

  • The line's two 5,200-passenger Excel-class ships, Iona and Arvia, are the largest in the fleet, offering the most restaurants, bars and show-stopping features such as a ropes-course on Arvia and four-screen cinema on Iona, as a result the ships are a big draw for families.

P&O Cruises Forums

Where Are They Based And Where Do They Go?

Cunard's Queen Anne during its sea trials (Photo: Cunard Line)
Cunard's Queen Anne during its sea trials (Photo: Cunard Line)

Cunard Line

  • Homeports in Southampton, New York (Queen Mary 2) and to an extent, Hamburg (again, Queen Mary 2)

  • Itineraries are many and varied, with ships travelling all over the globe, including to the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Central and South America and the Panama Canal and Australia -- plus the classic transatlantic crossing on QM2, the only true ocean liner.

  • Queen Elizabeth is spending two seasons in Australia and Japan, sailing in Alaska in summer.

  • In winter, all three Queens operate extended voyages or world voyages.

  • Queen Anne, the line's first new ship in 12 years, will be based in Europe, sailing a mix of short cruises, Canary Islands and Cities of Western Europe itineraries from Southampton and Hamburg.

P&O Cruises Arvia in Barbados ahead of her naming ceremony (Photo: Christopher Ison)
P&O Cruises Arvia in Barbados ahead of her naming ceremony (Photo: Christopher Ison)

P&O Cruises

  • Also based in Southampton, ships sail year round to destinations around the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Canary Islands and beyond.

  • In winter months, Britannia and Arvia are based in the Caribbean, operating fly-cruises from Barbados, and Azura sails in the Canary Islands.

  • Arcadia operates a long world voyage in winter, while Ventura offers no-fly cruises from Southampton to the Caribbean.

What's the Accommodation Like?

The Princess Grill Suite on Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cruise Critic)
The Princess Grill Suite on Queen Mary 2 (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Cunard Line

  • The line offers a range of accommodations from relatively modest double inside cabins (157 square feet) to extravagant duplex suites -- all decorated in a traditionally elegant style -- and on the QM2 there's even a kennel and exercise area for dogs and cats.

  • Sister ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria also have lavish suites of some 2,000 square feet overlooking the stern, while standard cabins are spacious.

  • The cabin you choose dictates the restaurant in which you will eat: Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Britannia Club Grill or the Britannia main restaurant.

  • In the most recent refits single cabins were added to all three ships.

A Britannia Room on Britannia cruise ship
Britannia Room on Britannia (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises

  • A choice of interconnecting and family cabins onboard the family ships (Britannia, Ventura, Azura, Iona and Arvia).

  • Iona and Azura offer the line's newest cabin category, Conservatory Mini Suites, with an additional lounge area between the main cabin and balcony.

  • Britannia offers the line's first solo cabins with balconies.

  • At 184 square feet, double cabin sizes are on par with most other mainstream cruise lines.

  • All the ships have suites; the most lavish on Britannia, the flagships, are 689 sq ft and come with butler service.

What Are the Dining Options?

Cunard Line

  • A well-established Cunard tradition, the passengers in the best cabins dine in the single sitting Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants.

  • Passengers who choose Britannia Club Balcony cabins dine in the Britannia Club restaurant, a separate area from the main dining room and on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, an entire separate room. This dining is open seating.

  • Those in standard accommodations eat at the two-deck-high Britannia restaurant. Here you have the choice of first or second seating for dinner, but lunch and breakfast are open seating.

  • Other dining options include The Golden Lion, a traditional-style pub serving British favourites, the Kings Court (Queen Mary 2) or Lido buffet (on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth), and The Verandah, an upscale grill (extra charge)., There’s also the Cunard signature experience of afternoon tea, plus for-fee themed evenings in the buffet restaurants.

  • Michel Roux Jr is partnering with Cunard on a series of Le Gavroche residencies at sea (the chef's former London restaurant that closed in January 2024) on Queen Anne and Queen Mary 2 in the Norwegian fjords. Michel Roux Jr is also creating an exclusive gala menu for Queen Anne’s Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants and a new Golden Lion menu.

P&O Cruises

  • P&O Cruises has multiple celebrity chef partnerships, of which it makes much. Marco Pierre White oversees the gala dinners in the main dining rooms.

  • The Epicurean is the line's first foray into 'molecular gastronomy' and is available on Britannia, Azura, Ventura, Iona and Arvia.

  • Passengers have the opportunity to cook with Marco Pierre White in the first Cookery Club at sea on Britannia.

Shivi Ramoutar on P&O Cruises Arvia (Photo Alun Callender)
Shivi Ramoutar on P&O Cruises Arvia (Photo Alun Callender)
  • The line's Food Heroes programme consists of: Olly Smith, an award-winning wine expert; José Pizarro, an acclaimed Spanish chef, Kjartan Skjelde, Norwegian chef and restaurateur, and Shivi Ramoutar (pictured), who brings bold flavours of the Caribbean to the fleet.

  • Passengers cruising on Britannia, Azura, Ventura, and Arcadia can choose Club Dining (traditional set seating) or Freedom Dining (flexible dining times and seating).

  • Iona and Arvia do not offer Club Dining.

What's Each Line's Idea of Fun?

Cunard Line

  • Activities lean more towards the high-brow than high-energy with top-notch enrichment programmes, including an impressive roster of guest speakers on each ship.

  • In partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society, QM2 has the first planetarium at sea, carries Oxford academics for classroom learning and offers acting workshops with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

  • All three ships have ballrooms with dancing every night. Gentleman hosts are present to escort anybody wanting a spin on the dance floor.

P&O Cruises

  • More traditional sports like table tennis, mini-golf and basketball  as opposed to waterslides and virtual reality games, although there is entertainment all day long on sea days.

  • P&O is particularly strong on its family offering; the family-friendly ships have some of the finest kids’ clubs at sea.

  • The line's newer ships have multi-screen cinemas and a SkyDome, a huge day-to-night leisure and entertainment space under a glass dome.

  • Arvia has the most on-deck action, with a gorgeous infinity pool with swim-up bar, Altitude Skywalk high-ropes course, mini-golf and Mission Control Escape Room.

What's the Nighttime Entertainment Like?

Cunard Line

  • Cunard’s ships each feature elegant cocktail lounges, special ‘Gin and Fizz’ menus and a traditional pub, The Golden Lion.

  • Ballroom dancing is a big feature, with regular sessions in the Queens Room ballrooms, and dance hosts available every night.

  • Queen Mary 2 has its own nightclub.

  • Each ship has a theatre, putting on anything from comedy to musical productions.

  • There's usually late night karaoke in the Golden Lion, as well as popular pub quizzes.

Gary Barlow performs a special one-off concert in aid of charity onboard Iona
Gary Barlow performs on board P&O Cruises Iona (Image: Adam Coulter)

P&O Cruises

  • Features the in-house entertainment team Headliners, who perform a series of mostly polished revues and shows.

  • P&O Cruises' partners with Gary Barlow who has taken on the role of Music Director of The 710 Club on Arvia and Iona.

  • The line has also partnered with TV presenter and game show host Ben Shepherd on "Wavelength", a new interactive gameshow that's available fleetwide.

The specially-made bottle of Mount Gay rum that will be smashed against the hull of Arvia at her christening (Image: P&O Cruises)
The specially-made bottle of Mount Gay rum that will be smashed against the hull of Arvia at her christening (Image: P&O Cruises)
  • Plenty of bars, including the Crow's Nest (with 20 different British gins); Brodie's, which features more than 70 different types of beers and the Glass House, with wines hand-picked by wine guru Olly Smith and Tidal Rum on Arvia.

  • Stand-up comedy is geared to British tastes and humour.

  • Most cruises feature a tribute band.

  • Otherwise, expect karaoke, pub quizzes and occasional discos and deck parties.

How Well are Families Catered for?

Cunard Line

  • While having a more formal and 'grown up' reputation than most, the line still caters for kids of all ages.

  • All three ships offer complimentary evening nurseries for parents to enjoy a meal or a show alone (though no in-cabin baby-sitting).

  • All ships have areas for different ages from two to seven and eight to 17. The Zone, aimed at teenagers, has video games consoles, team games and evening discos.

  • Parents are encouraged to dress children smartly on formal nights. Cunard’s ships are best suited to families with children who can sit at the dinner table in the company of adults.

Cunard Line Family Reviews

P&O Cruises

  • On the family-friendly ships, the range and quality of the children's facilities are excellent, with enthusiastic staff, outdoor space and a top-notch kids' programme.

  • Each family ship offers dedicated clubs for all ages, a night nursery and evening activities.

  • All the family ships have kids' pools and splash areas for the tots.

  • Family ships provide dedicated areas for family-friendly dining and host children's afternoon teas.

  • Also on the family ships, child-friendly films are shown throughout the day.

P&O Family Reviews

How Does Pricing Compare?

Cunard Line

  • Cunard adds a daily auto-gratuity of $14.50 per person, per day, ($16.50 per day in the Grills) while a 15 percent tip is automatically added for purchases in the bars and lounges.

  • Drinks prices are comparable to those found in London restaurants and bars.

  • Drinks packages are available.

  • Costs of internet packages are pretty high, especially considering the slow and often patchy service.

  • Other extras include speciality dining, the fancier afternoon teas and some exercise classes.

P&O Cruises

  • P&O has no gratuity charge; tips are included in the fare.

  • Bar prices are about the same as you'd pay on land in the U.K. -- in some cases cheaper -- plus drinks packages are available.

  • Extra costs on board include internet, speciality dining and some exercise classes.

Publish date January 08, 2020
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