On Sunday, 16 May 2021 Britain’s largest and most environmentally friendly cruise ship, Iona was officially named in a record-breaking virtual ceremony. However the naming ceremony was more that ‘just’ a christening. It struck a chord in a very poignant way and here’s why.

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Iona in Southampton
Britain's largest and most environmentally-friendly cruise ship, P&O Cruises Iona, makes her way towards her home port of Southampton. (c) P&O Cruises

We finally saw Iona come home to Southampton

Let’s face it, we’ve been waiting a long time for Iona. 

Iona’s original maiden voyage (planned for 14th of May 2020) and her separate naming ceremony as part of IonaFest later that year, both had to be delayed along with countless voyage cancellations in the following months, due to the pandemic. 

Throughout the past year we’ve only seen Iona from afar through photos shared on social media of her various calls into Rotterdam, but nothing can compare to seeing her finally arrive in UK waters for the very first time. 

While we still have to wait a little longer until August 7th for her maiden voyage it was nonetheless quite emotional to know that Iona is now safely berthed in Southampton, her home port, ready for her many adventures ahead.

Iona Arrives in the Solent
Iona Arrives in the Solent (c) P&O Cruises

There were lots of special touches in the small details 

Iona is a ground-breaking ship for the UK cruise industry. Powered by liquefied natural gas, she certainly is a game changer and represents a lot of firsts for UK cruise. However amidst all the fanfare of the day, there were many smaller but nonetheless significant ‘firsts’ and thoughtful touches which invoked a sense of pride.

For example, a specially produced Nebuchadnezzar of Alex James’s Britpop cider was used to christen her instead of the traditional champagne. There was also a special performance of the song ‘Believe’; composed by Simon Haw MBE. This rousing performance of ‘Believe’ by The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir and Mica Paris, could have stirred even the hardest of hearts.

Britpop Alex James for Iona's Ceremony
The Nebuchadnezzar of Alex James’s Britpop cider used to christen Iona (c) P&O Cruises

But there may have been a small detail which you might have initially missed – Iona’s thoughtful and symbolic gift to her new Godmother, Dame Irene Hays, chair of Hays Travel, Britain’s largest independent travel agency.

Earlier in the day, Captain Wesley Dunlop, Iona’s first captain presented Dame Irene with a silver bracelet of 15 large lozenges of Iona marble, which was specially commissioned by P&O Cruises and created by Adam McIntosh from Two Skies. 

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: “The vivid green of the marble and the delicate craftsmanship of the piece is reminiscent of the colours, skill, attention to detail on board the ship, which is an inherent part of Iona’s design.

Iona's Godmother Gift
Captain Wesley Dunlop Presents iona's Gift to her Godmother, Dame Irene Hayes(c) P&O Cruises

Iona’s naming ceremony brought the cruise community back together

For over 18 months, the cruise community have been supporting each other virtually and from afar, throughout the pandemic either through commiserating with each other after each new cruise cancellation, or constantly reassuring one another to be positive and optimistic that #WeWillCruiseAgain. 

Iona’s naming ceremony seemed act as a cohesive event which brought the whole cruise community together again for one night. It also provided a much longed for opportunity both to reminisce and to celebrate how much we all love cruise holidays.

Cruise bloggers, cruise vloggers, travel agents, travel writers and a whole host of cruise enthusiasts assembled en masse online in an outpouring of emotion throughout the day across a range of social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

From early morning as Iona made her way up the Solent and Southampton water right though to her emotionally uplifting naming ceremony later that evening, Twitter feeds were awash with photos of her progress throughout the day.

People got up early on a grey, wet, Sunday morning, to watch Iona arrive at Southampton. Some even travelled many miles just to get the first fleeting glimpse of her on the horizon he English Channel.

For those of us unable to travel to Southampton in person to see Iona arrive, the wonderful Solent Ships provided livestream of her arrival on their YouTube Channel. The footage and commentary were second to none and could have rivalled anything broadcast the BBC if they had covered the event. Watch it below if you need any proof.

If you’re still sceptical about the draw that Iona’s naming ceremony had on the cruise community you only need to look at the statistics: The naming ceremony event itself, hosted by Jo Whiley was broadcast to a “virtual” audience of a staggering 25,000 invited guests. With even more waiting in the wings to try to get their hands on one of the coveted invitations to watch the event live.

For those who didn’t see the event live, highlights and a full edit of the ceremony is available on P&O Cruises YouTube channel, website and Facebook page

Photos of Iona's Aft pools
More detail Iona's Aft (c) P&O Cruises

Iona’s naming ceremony gave us a chance to finally see what’s onboard

P&O cruises released footage of a short interview with Gary Barlow, recorded on the day of the naming ceremony. While we watched Gary Barlow saunter around the ship discussing his role as Iona’s musical director and his involvement in 710 Club, we were treated to some tantalising clips of different areas on Iona, such as the Retreat, the Atrium and the impressive SkyDome.

Up until now, we’ve had to make do with the computer renderings and artists impressions of how Iona will look. Understandably due to pandemic the usual ships photography has not being possible.

Over the coming weeks and in the run-up to her maiden voyage P&O will no doubt be releasing many more photos of her cabins and interiors. The glimpses we were treated to on the day certainly confirmed we are all ready to see much more of Iona.

You may also enjoy: Deck by Deck Virtual Tour of Iona’s bars and restaurants 

Gary Barlow on P&O Cruises Iona
More detail of Iona's onboard space was revealed during footage released on an Interview with Gary Barlow whilst on board (c) P&O Cruises

Iona’s naming ceremony got us all fired up for the summer of cruising that lies ahead.

It’s been a long 18 months for cruise enthusiasts, the travel industry and cruise lines. However Iona’s arrival into Southampton heralded the start of P&O’s season of UK coastal cruises and the broader return of cruising in the UK.

Iona’s naming ceremony on 16th May took place on the eve of the reopening of the domestic cruise market in England and the easing of some lockdown restrictions. The naming ceremony couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. It almost acted as a ‘milestone event’ which signalled things are starting to return to normal. While we still need to proceed with a healthy degree of caution and while there may be some bumps on the journey in front of us, the naming ceremony was nevertheless a positive sign that brighter days lie ahead.

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In his speech P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow referred to the prolonged pause of the cruise industry and highlighted that “It is 427 days since we have been able to do what we do best – welcome our guests on board and give them unforgettable, joyous holidays where they make memories on board and see the sights of the world.”

He continued: “With our invited audience and millions more watching the ceremony on social media, today heralds a new beginning and new hope for the cruise industry. Iona is indeed a very visible symbol of our future.”

If that’s got you invigorated and ready for a cruise holiday, Iona’s season of UK coastal cruises including her maiden voyage on August 7 up to her namesake island of Iona are available to book on www.pocruises.com or through a travel agent.

See you on board!

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