There's plenty doing on during the day on Iona, although you do have to sift through a large number of 'seminars' designed to sell health treatments in the spa, jewellery and art from the on-board gallery. Otherwise, there are classes in the gym, which is tucked away on deck 5, bingo, pub quizzes, dance classes and deck sports to while away the day. Ocean Studios, the boutique, four-screen cinema, is a great feature, while there's a lovely library in Anderson's, a peaceful spot for reading until the menu at the gin bar beckons. Once health protocols have eased another stage, gin tastings and even gin distilling classes will be offered for a charge, run in conjunction with the Salcombe Distilling Co, the company that has developed Iona's signature Marabelle gin.
Otherwise, passengers scatter on the open decks to lounge in the 18 whirlpool spas, gaze at the view from the two infinity pools or take the sea air from the broad, wraparound promenade deck. On cooler days, the Grand Atrium has a happy buzz as people read, chat, listen to the pianist and drink coffee at Vistas cafe.
Tip: The performers who entertain in the SkyDome every night have their rehearsal space in a corner of the Grand Atrium. Take a seat and watch them practicing graceful moves on the aerial silks that hang from the ceiling.
The ship's two-deck theatre is the venue for big production shows, as well as visiting guest acts. A new show, Festival, is packed with feel-good music and high energy, and is a clear indication of the younger market Iona is aimed at, with wellies and face paint where there would once have been feathers and sequins. There are three shows a night here and for now, you need to pre-book on the MyHoliday app.
The Club House
A cavernous lounge opening onto the popular Sunset Bar on the aft deck, the Club House is a venue for game shows, tribute acts and themed music nights. At present, dancing isn't allowed but once Covid restrictions are eased, this will be the ship's big late night spot.
The 710 Club
Named after Iona's shipyard build number, this intimate little cocktail bar and club overseen by former Take That frontman Gary Barlow is the undisputed hit of the ship. Long queues form for each of the three nightly sets, which offer jazz and acoustic sounds, as well as brilliantly executed covers, with themes including rock anthems and chart toppers.
Tip: Get to the 710 Club early as you can't reserve seats
A swimming pool, lounging area and bar by day, the two-deck-high SkyDome transforms into an entertainment space at night, with dazzling aerial acts and once social distancing has eased, DJ sets compiled by former Blur bassist Alex James, complete with laser shows. The SkyDome is a big venue to fill but should have a real energy once the ship is sailing nearer capacity.
Iona comes alive with music at night; it's something the ship does really well. In the space of a single evening, you can watch the acrobatic show in the SkyDome, go for cocktails, have dinner, hit the silent disco on deck, squeeze in a theatre production and enjoy a late-night set in the 710 Club.
The place to be on deck: Sunset Bar
Located on the aft deck, with a smoking area to one side, this al fresco bar is always buzzing, from people enjoying an early pint to glasses of rosé flowing with lunch and later, sundowners. There’s live music from a busker throughout the day.
For Gin Lovers: Anderson's
An elegant cocktail lounge next to the library, Anderson's has a superb spirits menu. The showpiece of the bar is the first gin still at sea, housed in a climate-controlled, glass room and named Columba. The still is tended by specially trained crewmembers, producing 75 bottles of Iona's signature Marabelle gin per day, its botanicals inspired by the ship's namesake, the Hebridean island of Iona.
For Dramatic Cocktails: Emerald Bar
A glamorous bar looking out onto the Grand Atrium, this popular pre-dinner drinking spot offers cocktails with quirky presentation, for example, served with a flourish under a dome of smoky vapour. Even if you just opt for a glass of wine rather than a fancy daiquiri, this is a smart space for people watching.
For Something Elegant: The Crow's Nest
The Crow's Nest is a P&O Cruises icon, forward on Deck 17 with gorgeous views, cocktail music and a lovely, elegant vibe at sunset. It's next to the Epicurean restaurant, so an easy spot to enjoy a pre-dinner drink before a posh dinner.
The Oasis Spa and Health Club is located over two levels, forward on decks 5 and 6. It’s an attractive, soothing space, tucked away from the bustle of the ship. There’s a wide variety of massages on offer, from Aroma Stone to Bamboo, Thai and Swedish, as well as assorted body wraps and facials. The latter include Elemic Biotec treatments, currently fashionable in cruise ship spas, promising to treat fine lines and tired skin.
A few medical spa treatments are available, from fillers to wrinkle treatments, as well as acupuncture and Chinese medicine consultations. The spa also has a spacious hair and nail salon offering Kerastase treatments.
Tips are not included in treatments, although they’re not added automatically. Look out for offers, which appear regularly in Horizon, the daily programme.
The thermal suite is a serene area, with a decent sized hydrotherapy pool, sauna and steam rooms, as well as heated loungers. A four-hour pass costs £25, but because of Covid restrictions, there a limits on how many people are allowed in at the moment.
There's also a quiet deck, The Retreat, not associated with the spa but continuing the relaxing, adults-only vibe. £40 a day buys you a peaceful space with two hot tubs, loungers and luxurious day beds. Normally there will be waiter service here but on our cruise, The Retreat was unattended.
Iona has a large gym, located on deck 5, with everything from treadmills to rowing machines and free weights. There’s a separate studio area for spinning, pilates and yoga classes. Almost all classes incur and extra fee; just a few body conditioning and stretch sessions are free.
Tip: If you want a good workout and don’t want to pay or go to the gym, the ship’s dancers host fantastic Fitsteps classes in the Limelight Club. These use ballroom and Latin routines, no partner required, to give you a challenging and fun workout to music.
P&O Cruises is renowned for its superb children's clubs and Iona doesn't disappoint. The Reef, the main kids' club, divided into rooms for different age groups, occupies a large part of deck 17, while teens have their own room, Scene, hidden away on deck 6. Given that there could be 1,000 children on board during the school holidays, there's plenty for families to enjoy, from sports activities like archery, football and basketball to a splash pool. The Ocean Studios shows family-friendly movies, while the shows in Headliners Theatre are mainly suitable for younger viewers, offering kids a fun introduction to the world of musical theatre.
There's a daily children's afternoon tea in one of the restaurants and children can eat in any of the other outlets on board. The Beach House, a Tex-Mex and Caribbean-inspired restaurant located within the Horizon Restaurant is particularly fun for kids, while there's no shortage of burger outlets, and two ice cream bars (at extra cost). Kids' clubs and facilities include:
Night Nursery (six months to four years): Open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., the peaceful, supervised night nursery is free of charge and a much-loved solution for parents who want to enjoy the ship's nightlife in the knowledge that their children are being supervised and are, ideally, asleep. Parents are given a pager, should they need to be contacted. Note that the Night Nursery is not available at present because of Covid restrictions.
Nursery (6 to 24 months): Babies and toddlers need to be accompanied by a parent here. There's a lovely soft play area and a good assortment of colourful toys. The nursery will reopen once Covid restrictions have eased.
Splashers (two to four years): Slides, a soft play area, toys and books and a cool dressing up box are all part of the fun for younger children.
Surfers (five to eight years): Kids from five to eight years old have their own computer games area, puppet shows, soft play space and themed activity days.
Scubas (nine to 12 years): Air hockey, pool, computer games, movies and even DJ mixing decks are on offer in Scubas.
Scene (13 to 17): Teens have their own space on Iona, well away from the little kids, complete with gaming tables, talent shows and sports activities.