We're on P&O Cruises' newest ship Arvia for a very special Caribbean voyage that will see the ship christened in a beachside ceremony in Barbados tomorrow (March 16) by popstar Nicole Scherzinger.
Scherzinger will be joined by chart topper Olly Murs, who will perform on the beach, with the event hosted by DJs Trevor Nelson and Sara Cox. It is no surprise that there’s a great buzz onboard considering the star-studded lined-up for the ceremony. Here are our first impressions of P&O Cruises' Arvia.
Like sister ship Iona, which launched in 2021, Arvia carries 5,200 passengers and is powered by Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Perhaps because of the beaming Caribbean sunshine, or perhaps because we're onboard this gleaming new ship with plenty of new features -- or possibly both -- but Arvia has an upbeat vibe. Aside from some chair hogging for prime sun lounger spots (more on that below), nowhere onboard feels overcrowded.
Even though Arvia is structurally identical to Iona, there are quite a few differences between the two Excel-class ships, which we've been busy trying out, including High Altitude Skywalk, a ropes course high above the ship.
We expected the rope course to be a gentle, gimmicky attraction, but after we’d got the gear on and set off, it was clear that this wasn't the case. We found our palms turning clammy -- not just from the Caribbean sun, but also from fear. One section requires you to walk a plank cantilevered high above the sea and ring a bell from the end – it's scary and leg-trembling.
Another section involves scrambling across a giant spider’s web. Top tip: Don’t look down. Then there's a narrow beam with even narrower mini seesaws attached to it. In the end the whole circuit is slick, scary and wobbly fun that takes around an hour and ends up being a great upper body workout. It's one of the best high-ropes courses we've tried at sea.
When Arvia repositions to Southampton for its summer season of Mediterranean voyages there will be a small charge (£2.50 for children; £7.50 for adults). High Altitude Skywalk must be booked in advance.
Also new to Arvia is a submarine-themed escape room-style experience. Called Mission Control and billed as an 'underwater challenge', it's decked out like a proper submarine and moves and vibrates. Thanks to an LED screen displaying sea-life swimming past, it does a great job of simulating being in the depths of the ocean. There is a challenge (all participants are given a role to do to help problem-solve) but none of us were really sure what the challenge was.
Steering us through the escape was the captain of our submarine (a member of the ship's animation team) and were it not for his constant drip-feeding of information we’d have been clueless. There was no sense of jeopardy or being up against the clock to escape -- it was more about role-play. That said, it's priced right (£20 for adults, £10 for children) and could be a winner for families and children.
Like Iona, Arvia has a game-changing food market called The Quays on Deck 8, the Promenade Deck -- it's a great, quieter alternative to the Horizon buffet on Deck 16. As well as offering a selection of small plates, it has stands serving noodles or fish and chips.
New to Arvia is Roast at The Quays. You can pick whatever components of a roast you fancy -- there’s roast beef, carrots, cabbage, parsnips and gravy -- and it's dished up in a giant, flat Yorkshire pudding.
The wines and food served in P&O Cruises' Food Hero Olly Smith's Glass House wine and tapas joint, The Glass House are also stand out. The menu has been revised and, as luck would have it wine guru Smith has been on hand during our sailing (he isn't normally but he's onboard to say a few words at the naming ceremony) to help select drinks.
He suggested a Canadian ice cuvee from Peller Estates that was perfect as an aperitif. We also ordered a £9.75 seafood medley of tiger prawns, Cajun soft-shell crab and lobster mac and cheese. All were superb and went deliciously with a glass of Chateau Miraval rose (again, suggested by Olly) which comes from Brad Pitt's Provencal vineyard.
Overall, the quality of the food has been good, although portion sizes (particularly of sides) seemed smaller then normal, especially on the night we ate at Epicurean speciality restaurant. Service has been slick and friendly, however, and servers swiftly bring you more if required. We’re also pleased to say that there have been no reports of problems with wait times to get into restaurants.
Located on Deck 16 next to the wake infinity pool, this swim-up bar is a lovely addition. While there are extra stools on the deck side of the bar, there are only a dozen submerged in the water lining the bar. As a result, the bar area can feel particularly busy on a sea day and it's hard to get a seat. The alternative is to stand in the water to consume a drink. Most passengers seem happy enough to stand or wade through the pool with a drink in hand, but if you’re after an actual seat, be sure to arrive early, late or on a port day.
The infinity pool is narrow and thin, flanking the curvy bar, and can accommodate around 50 passengers, at a push.
A note on waterside seating elsewhere on the ship: Poolside sun loungers tend to be 'reserved' early in the day. There are always plenty of sun loungers available, however, just not in prime positions right by the pool.
First launched on Iona, the Conservatory Mini-Suite is a midway cabin option, pricier than a regular balcony room, but cheaper than a higher-category suite - and it's worth the splurge.
The cabin consists of four compartments: the bedroom, the lounge, a conservatory and the balcony, in that order. The conservatory is a sumptuous space. You can open the doors from here to the balcony, making the cabin feel even more light and breezy and making for great sea views. Conservatory Mini-Suites comes with extras including a world atlas, binoculars and a live orchid and is a wonderful place to chill with a sundowner.
We're finding ourselves spending much more time in this cabin than we normally would because it’s such a welcome, relaxing and quiet space. Plus, it’s nice to have the choice between either the balcony or the conservatory for a cup of tea or a tipple. We're also fans of The White Company toiletries, with Mini-Suite passengers are gifted The White Company goodies to take home. There's only one niggle: The full-length mirror is too close to the bed, making it tricky to stand in front of.
Arvia's three-tier Atrium is buzzy, elegant and slightly lighter in shade than Iona’s. Aerial acrobatic shows are occasionally performed here and we were lucky to catch a rehearsal take place. If you’re keen to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how a performance shapes up, then check inside the atrium for rehearsals taking place. Passengers can watch, although they’re not listed in the programming. Neither are the actual shows listed as they are thrown as a surprise' for guests. We’re hoping not to miss it and miss out!
Those wanting to witness the giant rum bottle smash against the ship can watch it live on YouTube on Thursday March 16 at 7 p.m. GMT.