The biggest cruise ship that P&O Cruises has ever built, the 1,132-foot Iona, has been delivered to the British cruise line even as the industry remains largely at a standstill due to coronavirus.
But the arrival of the vessel, which weighs 185,000 tonnes, has 17 passenger decks and takes up the size of four football pitches, is being heralded as a “positive signal for the future” by Paul Ludlow, the president of P&O Cruises.
He added: “We cannot wait for restrictions to ease, borders to open and for us to once again be able to set sail. We are very excited to have taken delivery of our latest ship Iona, and we are looking forward to new beginnings and the opportunity to provide our guests with those memorable holidays for which we are known.”
The events of 2020 “have increased the sense of anticipation even more,” Ludlow said.
P&O has not sailed passengers since March, in line with an industry-wide pause. They are due to restart operations in spring 2021.
The new 5,200-passenger behemoth took more than two years to build and cost approximately $950 million (£730 million).
From March 6, Iona is due to cruise to northern Europe, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands from her home port of Southampton.
As well as being the biggest ship in P&O’s fleet, Iona is the first cruise ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas.
The centrepiece is the Grand Atrium, which will span three decks and feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls that have been installed to maximise the views and natural light.
Iona will also feature a SkyDome, a large two-story glass dome which will transform from a “tranquil pool environment by day”, according to the operator, to a moon-lit entertainment area by night.
Here guests can expect specially commissioned aerial entertainment shows, overseen by Iona’s musical director, Take That frontman Gary Barlow, under the stars when she sets sail.
Other highlights include a gin distillery – the world’s first at sea – in partnership with Salcombe Gin, where passengers will be able to enjoy craft individual gins and the luxurious Oasis spa featuring a range of destination-themed treatments.
In addition there will be eight specialty restaurants, 13 entertainment venues, four swimming pools (including a spectacular infinity pool at the aft of the ship), and 16 whirlpools.
“While our operations are currently paused until early 2021 Iona will not be sailing for the moment but we look forward to our guests experiencing this game-changing ship as we will continue to offer unparalleled holidays at sea whilst also upholding the latest approved travel protocols,” said Ludlow.
The cruise industry has been hit harder than most by the virus.
At the beginning of the outbreak, ships such as Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess were forced into quarantine when passengers tested positive for Covid-19.
Three months into the pandemic, more than 40,000 crew workers remained stranded at sea waiting to find out if they would be repatriated.
Other ships lie empty and are unable to dock as a result of restrictions, while Canada, the Cayman Islands, Australia, New Zealand, the Seychelles and Spain have all extended their cruise ship bans until later this year, while there’s a no-sail order in the US until at least the end of October.
However, across Europe many river cruise lines have been sailing successfully since June, and major lines are carrying passengers again in Germany and Italy.
Last week, the Canary Islands announced that they would be lifting their ban on cruise ships from November 5.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office currently advises against any travel on sea-going vessels.