Soak up the last of summer on the UK’s biggest luxury cruise ship

Venice: Cruise ship ban is ‘evil’ says expert

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And no one could have been more pleased than our captain, Glaswegian Wesley Dunlop, who had fulfilled a dream to sail the ship Iona to her namesake island. We had left Southampton two days earlier on her maiden voyage around the British Isles. Only after producing proof that we had been double-vaccinated, had taken a negative antigen test and had completed a health declaration form, were we allowed to join the 2,500 guests – the ship was sailing at just under half capacity.

On board, we were expected to wear masks inside, apart from when eating and drinking, as well as outside whenever social distancing wasn’t possible. I admit I forgot once, and was swiftly given a polite reminder.

We would be at sea for the whole week as there were no port stops on our itinerary, so we could devote our time to sampling the exciting experiences the 185,000 gross tonnage ship had to offer. It’s the largest to proudly fly the UK flag and the first British cruise ship to be powered by liquid natural gas – one of the cleanest fuels on the planet.

But Iona boasts many more ground-breaking firsts – you can even enjoy a glass of P&O’s signature Marabelle Gin produced from the first gin distillery at sea.

With some 30 restaurants and bars, everyone’s tastes are catered for. They include new multi-dining venue The Quays, where you can enjoy fish and chips at Hook, Line and Vinegar, grab a hotdog from the Boardwalk Diner or feast on an Asian noodles dish from Fusion.

New gastropub The Keel and Cow proclaims its Prime Minister Burger to be “the best burger at sea”.

P&O regular cruisers will find familiar favourites, such as Sindhu, serving Indian cuisine with a British twist, and the exquisite Epicurean whose menu offers both British and Nordic dishes in a nod to Iona’s Norwegian fjords itineraries next summer – well worth the cover charge.

At the Glass House in the Grand Atrium we tried the tasty tapas menu designed by chef José Pizarro, paired with wines chosen by BBC’s Saturday Kitchen presenter Olly Smith.

And we watched dancers from the Headliners Theatre limbering up for the premiere of the musical Festival by a three-storey glass-panelled wall. The jaw-dropping window reflects the themeof the ship to “let the outdoors in”.

And the 95 new conservatory mini-suites certainly tick that box, with the conservatory area set between the bedroom and balcony.

As does the weatherproof SkyDome. Spanning two decks and featuring a glass roof with a retractable stage, it’s the biggest of its kind on sea, providing a dramatic backdrop for aerial acrobatics, laser shows and DJ sets curated by former Blur bassist Alex James.

Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley took to the stage for the last two nights of the cruise, serenading hardcore fans.

Other entertainment was provided by drag queen La Voix, of Britain’s Got Talent fame, who put on a very amusing show at The Limelight Club.

It was also worth queuing for The 710 Club, which showcases new talent under the musical directorship of Gary Barlow. The Take That singer is lined up to perform on Iona for selected cruises next year – let’s hope cruising is back for good!

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