P&O Cruises newest cruise ship Iona arrived in Southampton for the first time on Sunday, joining her fleet mate Britannia, and MSC Virtuosa, which made her maiden call to the port earlier in the weekend.
Iona and MSC Virtuosa’s arrival in Southampton over the weekend marks the clearest sign yet of the imminent resumption of cruises from UK, which have been on hold since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted last year.
MSC Virtuosa and Iona are among a dozen cruise ships that have been confirmed for the coming summer cruise season.
Marella Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Virgin Voyages, Viking Ocean Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Celebrity Cruises, Cunard Line and Saga Cruises have all announced itineraries.
Paul Ludlow, President, P&O Cruises, described Iona’s maiden arrival in Southampton as a “landmark day” for the cruise line and wider travel industry.
“We are on the cusp of a bright new beginning and Iona’s arrival into Southampton this morning is very visible evidence of this much anticipated future,” he said.
“Our guests are longing to get back to sea and Iona’s summer season of UK coastal cruises, including her maiden voyage on August 7 up to her namesake island of Iona, have seen overwhelming demand,” he added.
Iona will be christened in Southampton on Sunday, with British broadcaster Joe Whiley hosting the virtually ceremony, during which the ship will be officially named by Dame Irene Hays, chair of Hays Travel, Britain’s largest independent travel agency.
A specially produced Nebuchadnezzar (equivalent to 20x 750ml bottles) of Alex James’s Britpop cider will be smashed against the hull of the ship to bring it good fortune in the future.
The 5,200-guest, 180,000-gross ton ship is the largest ever built for P&O Cruises, and the first UK-based cruise ship to run on LNG rather than diesel or heavy fuel oil.
The ship was delivered by the German shipyard Meyer Werft last year, but was not able to enter service due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the global cruise industry for much of last year.
Iona is the third of nine planned Excellence or Excel-class cruise ships being built for various Carnival Corporation-owned cruise brands.
The first, AIDAnova, was delivered to AIDA Cruises in 2018, followed by Costa Smeralda for Costa Cruises. Carnival Cruise Line’s new Mardi Gras ship was delivered shortly after Iona, and Costa Toscana and AIDAcosma are due to follow in 2021 and 2022.