P&O Cruises can trace its roots back to 1837, when Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company started a passenger and mail service from the U.K. to Spain and Portugal. The service network expanded rapidly and by the 1860s embraced India, China, Japan and Australia. While the main purpose of the company was to carry passengers and mail, it also sent vessels on occasional cruises as early as in the 1840s.
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The company's ships evolved from wooden paddle steamers to iron-hulled screw driven ships, and eventually steel replaced iron as the construction material. Until the late 1920s, its ships remained conservatively designed, slow, and mainly powered with old-fashioned engines, while many other companies preferred using newer steam turbines and diesel engines. However, with Viceroy of India (1928), P&O was a pioneer of turbo-electric drive, and Orion (1935), of associate company Orient Lines, introduced simple, clean, yet pleasant art deco-inspired interiors and abandoned period styles in interior design. Post World War II vessels mainly hovered between modernity and reference to older styles, until the original Oriana (1960) and Canberra (1961) introduced a leap to modernism.
P&O Cruises is the biggest operator catering to the British market, and it has developed its fleet and introduced new features rapidly since the debut of the current Oriana in 1995.
In 2003, P&O Cruises became part of Carnival Corp. & PLC, the Anglo-American cruise giant, and at the same time 77,400-ton sister ships Oceana (built in 2000) and Adonia (1998) were transferred to the fleet from fellow Carnival Corp. company Princess Cruises.
The ships sail from Southampton for half the year, and most of the cruises are about 14 nights in duration. However, each year its ships offer a host of shorter mini-breaks of two to seven nights. Arcadia, and Aurora, undertake long cruises of 80 to more than 100 nights, some of which take them around the world.
Oriana, meanwhile offers Caribbean and European cruises from Southampton.
The much loved 710-passenger Adonia, returned to the fleet in June 2017 after a brief foray as the single ship of the now defunct social volunteering line, Fathom, but left again in February 2018 to be rebranded as Azamara Pursuit.
P&O Cruises' newest -- and biggest -- ship, Britannia, debuted in spring 2015. Britannia is the largest-ever ship built specifically for the UK market and was named by HM The Queen on March 10, 2015, in a glittering ceremony in Southampton. The ship is also the biggest in P&O Cruises' fleet, carrying 3,647 passengers and weighing in at 141,000 tons -- 27,000 tons heavier and carrying 547 more passengers than the line's previous biggest ship, Azura.
Britannia takes the best of the rest of the fleet -- excellent dining venues through tie-ups with celebrity chefs including James Martin, Atul Kochhar and Marco Pierre White; an emphasis on Britishness with a vast range of U.K. beers and gins; and the highly successful Strictly Come Dancing link up -- and expands or improves upon them.
In September 2016, the line announced an as-yet-unnamed megaship will join the fleet in 2020. Weighing in at 180,000 tons and carrying 5,200 passengers, it will become the biggest cruise ship yet built exclusively for the UK market. There are scant details about what it will feature, but expect a larger version of Britannia.
Top P&O Cruises Ships
P&O Cruises has a fleet of seven ships offering holidays tailored to British tastes. Its larger and more modern ships -- Britannia, Azura, Ventura and Oceana -- are contemporary and innovative, with a focus on a new-to-cruising younger crowd as well as attracting seasoned cruisers. Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana offer a more traditional cruise experience.
Arcadia and Oriana (and Aurora from April 2019), are exclusively for adults; the rest of the fleet welcomes families of all ages and has supervised children's clubs offering round the clock entertainment for children aged two to 17-years-old.
Passengers cruising on Britannia, Azura, Ventura, Arcadia and Oceana can choose Club Dining (traditional set seating) or Freedom Dining, where they can choose where to eat and when. Aurora and Oriana offer Club Dining; All ships have speciality restaurants as well as main dining rooms and Azura and Ventura have more than ten different places to eat.
P&O Cruises places a strong emphasis on cuisine and has numerous tie-ups with celebrity chefs, including Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar, whose speciality Indian restaurant, Sindhu, is on Azura, Britannia and Ventura. Wine guru Olly Smith's The Glass House -- a wine bar for which he has selected more than 30 different wines, all available by the glass and paired with gastro pub tapas style light bites -- is on Azura, Ventura and Britannia.
Britannia saw tie-ups with even more celebrity chefs, amongst them TV-favourite James Martin and master patissier Eric "Cake Boy" Lanlard; as well as The Cookery Club -- the first at sea.
P&O Cruises made the astute move to link up with the wildly popular Strictly Come Dancing series, and you'll find 'Strictly' cruises on different ships throughout the year with guest appearances from pro dancers and judges.
Fitness and spa facilities took a leap forward with The Retreat on Azura -- an adults-only covered and open air spa haven which is also on on Ventura and Britannia.
The ships sail from Southampton from April to October and while some ships remain there year round, others offer Caribbean cruising from Barbados or longer world voyages.
The fleet flies the British flag, and the new livery makes no secret of their heritage (and leads to ongoing issues in Argentina); but all ships except Britannia are registered in Bermuda to allow for weddings at sea which are conducted by the captain and are extremely popular. Britannia is registered in Southampton due to European tonnage tax laws.
As the ships differ markedly from each other, and the duration of the cruises the company offers range from two nights to more than 100, the passengers they attract depends largely on what ship and what cruise you are on.
Broadly speaking, in school holidays on the family-friendly ships, expect a thirty- to forty-something crowd and a lot of kids. On the adults-only ships the age range spikes significantly, and averages around 55- to 65-years-old.
However, there is one common denominator: whatever ship you're on you'll be travelling with Brits.
P&O Cruises Fleet
P&O Cruises' is the biggest operator serving the UK market exclusively, with a fleet of seven ships and an eighth joining in 2020.
Thirty years ago, the line was best known because of Canberra; that ship served until 1997 and was at one time the only P&O Cruises' ship based in the UK and serving the British market. For a time, Canberra served together with Victoria (earlier Sea Princess and built as Kungsholm of Swedish America Line in 1966). Canberra also, famously, saw service as a troop carrier in the 1982 Falklands War. In 1995 P&O Cruises introduced the 69,000-ton Oriana as the first modern cruise liner designed with the British market in mind.
Aurora -- at 76,000 tons a larger and more modern version of Oriana -- followed in 2000. In 2003, P&O Cruises became part of Carnival Corp. & PLC, the Anglo-American cruise giant, and at the same time 77,400-ton sister ships Oceana (built in 2000) and Adonia (1998) were transferred to the fleet from fellow Carnival Corp. company Princess Cruises. The latter reverted back to Princess as Sea Princess in 2005, as P&O Cruises introduced Arcadia, at 83,000 tons P&O Cruises' largest ship and also most modern design-wise.
A second Adonia was named, or rather re-named, in May 2011. The ship was actually built in 2001 as R8, the eighth in a series of vessels commissioned by the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises. In its time, Adonia has sailed both as Minerva 2 for Swan Hellenic and Royal Princess for Princess Cruises. It left the fleet in March 2016 and took on a fourth incarnation -- as the flagship of Carnival Corp.'s social imapact cruise line, Fathom, before returning to the P&O Cruises fleet in 2017 as Adonia once again.
In April 2008, a 116,000-ton new-build, Ventura, entered service aimed at families with children and with a stand-out Italian restaurant by Marco Pierre White, The White Room. Ventura also has a rock school for teenagers, a Scalextric Formula One racing track for all ages and a Mr Man tie-up for the younger passengers. In April 2010, Azura -- a sister ship to Ventura -- joined the fleet. Azura is geared to couples and has a strong focus on dining with an Indian restaurant created by Michelin-Star Chef Atul Kochhar. Azura also has 18 dedicated single cabins -- then a rarity for new ships.
In March 2015, the largest ever ship built specifically for the UK market, the 141,000-ton, 3,647-passenger Britannia was named by HM The Queen in Southampton. Britannia takes the most popular features of the rest of the fleet -- such as The Glass House, Atul Kochhar's Sindhu restaurant and the Crow's Nest Bar -- and adds some brand new features such as the Cookery Club and a TV Studio. It also has the first solo balcony cabins in the P&O Cruises' fleet. Britannia is very much aimed at a modern UK market -- there's the Strictly Come Dancing link-up, a pub with craft beers from every UK county and 20 different gins -- all distilled in the UK. And for the first time a British design company, Richmond International, has overseen the whole of the design, giving it a feel of understated luxury. The ship is based out of Southampton for the summer, where it offers 14-night Mediterranean cruises, as well as short-break cruises to Northern Europe; and Barbados during the winter.
An eighth ship joins the fleet in 2020. Weighing in at 180,000 tons and carrying 5,200 passengers, it will become the biggest cruise ship yet built exclusively for the UK market, and also the greenest -- running entirely on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).