After six years, I decided that I would bite the bullet and show P&O forgiveness. If you have never heard about my last experience with them, well, you can read all about that here. Keep reading to see if they earned my forgiveness as P&O Iona whisked us away on a voyage of redemption.
Living as we are in a Covid world boarding was longer and slightly more complicated than it would be usually. Each passenger was given a boarding time (slightly inconvenient when you are coming from a great distance away, though I understood the logic behind it). These were enforced strictly by those in the terminal! Which meant I spent a couple of hours standing on the dock – thank God for sunny August weather.
Once the process began it took 95 minutes to make it from port to ship; in comparison to MSC which only took 60 minutes from port to ship…We started with lateral flow testing, well, if you can call it that! It definitely was not long enough to be a lateral flow swab! They essentially stuck a cotton bud up our nose and then declared us all negative; it was most questionable. We then wound our way through a lot of stations! The reason that boarding took longer in my opinion was due to the excessive amount of stations (and therefore an awful lot of queing) some of them utterly senseless. It could easily be streamlined! A great example of these senseless stations is that there was one station where we had to declare we had travel insurance and yet nobody made us prove it.
When you board the ship you are sent straight to your muster station! Here you present your card to prove that you have attended your muster station. After you have done this you go to your cabin to watch the muster video. Oddly there is no code at the end of the muster video to prove that you have watched it; you simply stick your head out of your door and inform your cabin steward that you have watched the video. While this method of doing things was super covid safe I did doubt whether first-timers would know what to do in the event of an emergency. But that thought was not unique to P&O I thought the same when watching the video on MSC; it is simply not a proficient way to teach first-time sailors what to do in encase of an emergency.
Poor Iona has come under fire for her ship design, with people saying that she looks like an airport departure lounge! But I thought she was quite simply beautiful. Her design is simplistic, full of clean lines, light coloured fixtures and fittings, and massive glass windows that allow the outside in. You can tell she was a ship designed for cold weather sailing as there are so many vantage points; where you can watch the sea go by from the comfort of somewhere safe and warm. It was never a challenge to get a seat either as it so often is on other ships.
My three favourite spots onboard were: The Quays this artfully designed foodcourt served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was the perfect place to grab a snack no matter what the time of day! Plus the design is absolutely to die for I would like one of those beach huts in my kitchen at home, please.
The Olive Grove! If you follow me on any kind of social media then you will know I raved about the Olive Grove the whole time I was at sea and even now I would kill for some of their focaccia. The Olive Grove is predominately complimentary with the odd item you have to pay a surcharge for. It serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and has the exclusive feel of a fine dining experience.
The Sunset Bar is the perfect haunt if like me you are an absolute sucker for a wake view. It was also an absolute suntrap as it is sheltered from the wind. Here I sat day by day in a round wooden barrel seat marveling at the beauty of the Scottish coast as the sun beat down from the bright blue sky.
Entertainment was much better than any of us remembered! Not just in the sense of theatre shows or paid for experiences; every artist/entertainer who appeared in the lounges around the ship was of such high caliber. The band in the 7/10 club was amazing, Mickey.P.Kerr the musical comedian had us laughing uproariously and Sea Hear transported us to the high seas with some traditional sea shanties.
In the theatre, I would thoroughly recommend Festival! This show combined the innovative use of technology with creative choreography (the tap-dancing in wellies was everything) and pop anthems of the 90s and noughties. It was the first stage show I have experienced at sea that was truly aimed at the younger generation and it made my heart sing. The younger generation is the future of cruising and it is about time we were acknowledged – P&O I salute you for being brave enough to do so.
Also in the theatre, Centre Stage was both a hit and a miss…It was a mash-up of modern musicals, the good point is that they are actually modern musicals, quite often when cruise lines say modern their idea of modern is 20 years ago. But this show was bang up to date! The not-so-good was that some of the musical choices were questionable. I am unsure why someone decided that a load of grown adults should sing Matilda. I am even more unsure why they did not alter the key of a song normally sung by a little girl. If you love a musical definitely give this one a go! Just don’t have high hopes for Matilda or Frozen.
Iona has promoted that she has various aerial shows, which I was very excited about! But there was only one aerial show during our sailing which was Rise. Now I didn’t expect this to make much sense, anyone who has ever seen Cirque Du Soleil knows that at times it can be baffling. But I personally felt this show was a letdown, despite being billed as an aerial show there were probably ten minutes of trapeze work…No silks, no ariel hoop. Time was filled with juggling, choreography designed to mimic birds, and some basic acrobatics. Plus, 25 minutes was altogether too short for a show! Give this one a miss.
The cinema was also an excellent addition to Iona. I love watching a movie on a sea day, often on cold voyages cruise lines will play a movie in the theatre or one of the lounges. But P&O has gone one step further and had a four-screen cinema installed on Iona. This provides a cozy pastime for a cold day at sea; we spent a happy couple of hours laughing at the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard as we sailed through a very foggy Scotland.
One of the biggest gripes I had during my previous P&O experience was that the ship was grotty, tired, and unkempt. It simply had not been looked after and could have done with a good scrub. I am glad to report that Iona was the polar opposite! I was on her third sailing, so she was never going to look tired but with all the light furnishings it would have become obvious very rapidly if she was not clean. Thankfully she was absolutely pristine! Her surfaces gleamed and the staff were always on hand to ensure that she remained looking her best. Hopefully, this is a better indication of P&O’s standards as a company, it certainly aligned with the praise I had heard from other people’s experiences.
The best way to describe this would be hit and miss! Some of it was to die for and some of it was meh…So let’s explore Iona’s offerings in sections. I have already mentioned my love for Olive Grove and the Quays which in my humble opinion were the best places to eat on Iona but there are some other venues worth a mention.
Main Dining Room – What was on offer in the main dining room was pleasant and enjoyable however it lacked variety. On average, only two dishes changed each evening which meant that the dining room experience was less than thrilling. I did wonder whether this was somehow related to Covid, anyone who sails P&O regularly is there usually more variety?
Ripples – The perfect place for a sweet treat! If you have a sweet tooth then Ripples serves ice-cream afternoon tea which is an absolutely heavenly idea and I salute whoever came up with it. However, you cannot alter what is on the ice-cream afternoon tea (an issue if like me you absolutely hate chocolate ice cream) giving guests the ability to change what is on offer would really improve this experience. While we did have more than one sweet treat in Ripples – we did find the service to be incredibly slow. Hopefully, this was just a teething issue and will sort itself out over time.
Keel and Cow – This specialty restaurant was selected by my Dad (or Mr. Lost Ashore as Travel Blog Jamie calls him) however as a family we were not bowled over by it. The service was friendly and attentive and the crew shone in their roles. But the food was average and the restaurant itself lacked atmosphere. Keel and Cow is in the atrium which makes it great for people watching but this also means it is a thoroughfare and it’s almost like sitting in a corridor to eat dinner…Not the intimate experience you would expect from a specialty restaurant.
Afternoon tea – P&O serves free afternoon tea in the dining room every afternoon. For a free offering, this is absolutely superb! It is presented on a traditional three-tier stand and there is no need to squabble with your travel companions over who gets what cake; as the crew will bring you extra’s of each offering. A lovely, civilized way to pass a chilly sea day – nothing better than a chat over a steaming cup of tea and a sweet treat.
To forgive or not to forgive?
If you follow me on Social Media (all accounts can be found on the homepage of my blog) or you have sensed the general tone of this blog post. It will come as no surprise to you that I have decided to forgive P&O for their previous sins. Iona is a stunning ship, she whisked us away on an itinerary that blew my mind, and even though I could not get off the ship at any point the food, entertainment and crew were so wonderful that the week passed in the blink of an eye. Just goes to show that everyone deserves a second chance!