Arvia: a two-week Mediterranean cruise on P&O's newest liner

"If you’re a seasoned cruiser, you’ll understand the appeal; if you’re new to it, then you have much to look forward to. Vessels are increasing in size all the time in line with expectations of delivering additional amenities for their international guests."
Arvia: a two-week Mediterranean cruise on P&O's newest liner

The Arvia arrives at La Coruna, Spain.

“BEING in charge of such an enormous ship is like being mayor of a town or managing director of a large international company,” says Captain Robert Camby. As master of the Arvia, P&O’s newest cruise liner, he’s responsible for this 16-storey ship which is my home for the next 2 weeks.

Arvia is big, with a crew of 1,800 and accommodation for 5,200 guests. A hands-on captain who can be spotted mingling in his pristine whites and peaked cap, Camby makes time to stop and talk to everyone, pausing for photos and answering the most banal of questions with a smile. He has just witnessed a couple renewing their wedding vows when I meet him.

“You’re all on your holidays,” he beams, “and it’s up to us to make sure you have a good time.”

It is estimated that 31.5m of us will take an ocean cruise this year. If you’re a seasoned cruiser, you’ll understand the appeal; if you’re new to it, then you have much to look forward to. Vessels are increasing in size all the time in line with expectations of delivering additional amenities for their international guests.

A creamy piña colada at hand, blue skies above, a gentle Mediterranean breeze warming me, I sit on deck perusing Horizon, the ship’s daily calendar of events and activities. I can take part in as many as I wish or none at all. I don’t need to move to book dinner or a show or a shore excursion either; I simply use the dedicated app, My Holiday, which even allows me the option of queuing virtually and receiving a notification when my table is ready.

There’s much to tempt me off my deck chair though, with non-stop entertainment, cinemas, a shopping mall and a marketplace — where bargains change each day — lectures and activities.

The food offering is vast, varied and impressive, designed to suit all palates, including vegans and vegetarians. 

There are speciality restaurants: the Indian, Sindhu; the elegant Epicurean; and The Limelight Club, where you can enjoy a show while you dine. For diner fans, the American-style 6th Street Diner plays great music to enjoy with your pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. 

Fish and chips and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding are on all day at The Quays, or you might prefer casual self-service at the Horizon or table service at The Zenith and The Meridian. Sushi plates from Green and Co Feat. Mizuhana are a delicious work of art.

Hosted dinner in the Glass House with Olly Smith and Jose Pizarro.
Hosted dinner in the Glass House with Olly Smith and Jose Pizarro.

P&O have teamed up with ‘Food Heroes’ to add spice and interest to their speciality restaurants, and there are two familiar faces on board. BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen wine connoisseur Ollie Smith and Spanish chef and restaurateur, José Pizarro, are hosting special food events and cookery demos at sea.

On one evening José cooks for us in The Glass House and Cellar Door. We feast on his speciality tapas: queen gordal olives with orange; grilled whole tiger prawns with mango, chilli and garlic salsa; lamb cutlets with romesco sauce; Iberico pork meatballs and tuna tartare with avocado and chilli dressing. These small plates are paired with Rioja and a ten-year-old Malmsey Madeira, all chosen by Ollie.

“Buy local where possible,” José entreats us, “support your local suppliers and buy food in its proper season. That’s the secret [to good food].”

The Olive Grove serves other iconic dishes from the Med, from Greek mezze to Moroccan lamb tagine and on Celebration Nights, we have the chance to dine on one of José’s exclusive menus.

Ollie’s wine philosophy is one that goes down well with the diners.

“You shouldn’t have to buy a bottle of something to try it. All our wines are available by the glass — hence the name, The Glass House.”

He promises that he can find a match for any taste, whether that’s “strawberries with cream and icing sugar or bacon and eggs”.

Although you may never want to leave the ship, you must! Each port of call brings something different and there’s a whole team dedicated to helping you choose the tours best suited to your interests and abilities.

La Coruna, Spain.
La Coruna, Spain.

Fortresses and castles reveal the colourful histories in places such as La Coruna and Cadiz. We peruse market stalls and take refuge from the heat under the golden-tiled roof of Cadiz’s majestic cathedral. In Cartagena, we spend a few indulgent hours over tapas in the main square as we watch the world go by. We linger over sangria in the colonnaded Maria Pita Square in La Coruna where the locals are preparing for a festival.

In Barcelona, where we overnight, we take the on-off city tour, past Gaudi’s crazy, colourful creations and the Olympic Stadium where Sarah Brightman and Jose Carrera duetted on ‘Time to Say Goodbye’.

In Valencia, the seven futuristic buildings of its most famous son, architect Santiago Calatrava, glisten in the sunlight and reflect majestically in the surrounding water. Calatrava designed Dublin’s James Joyce and Samuel Beckett bridges over the River Liffey.

Valencia is the home of paella, so it seems fitting to join the Paella Experience on our shore visit. We accompany a professional chef to the local food market before returning to the Valencia Club Cocina, a cookery school, and learn how to make Spanish tortillas, lemon cake and authentic paella with locally grown rice. After a fun-filled few hours chopping and stirring, we tuck into the fruits of our labours and receive diplomas for our efforts.

Back aboard our floating town, there are more discoveries to be made after the merriment and games of the sail-away parties under the retractable SkyDome. 

At a dizzying 54m above the sea, guests can indulge their daredevil selves on Altitude Skywalk, a high-ropes experience with a series of different routes to suit all levels. I declined!

Mission Control proves a popular diversion too, testing one’s survival instincts in a fun virtual reality challenge on board a fictional submarine, that takes passengers to the depths of the ocean.

We settle into the Amber Lounge in the Grand Atrium afterwards to sip cocktails and watch artists perform aerial vignettes above. Barberousse, a signature mixture of three different rums, apricot and pomegranate juice is potent and delicious.

Another of the 18 bars on board, Anderson’s is a boutique distillery with an impressive list of craft rums and gins. Its on-board still produces rum in wintertime and bespoke Marabelle Gin in summer.

Aerial entertainment in the atrium.
Aerial entertainment in the atrium.

People sometimes worry about what to wear on a cruise. The dress code is smart casual here and there are usually a few ‘celebration nights’ depending on the length of voyage. Cue guys in tuxes and gals in posh frocks, ensuring the ship takes on an even more magical quality. Dressing up is optional, and only required in some of the restaurants, so you don’t need to pack your glad rags if the idea doesn’t float your boat.

Cruising is great value, which is why its popularity is growing year on year. Exciting destinations, activities for all ages, high-tech gyms, sports facilities, pools and whirlpools, cinemas, gratuities and fly-cruise trips with transfers are all included in the price of your holiday. And you can decide on what suits you best: an inside cabin; one with sea views; a balcony; a mini suite; a deluxe suite with a whirlpool; or a suite with your own butler. All you need to do is pack a suitcase and let the Captain change the scenery for you.

Three to try

  • The Oasis Spa, is great for, a manicure, an Elemis facial or a Couples Aroma Spa Seaweed wrap with a massage. Any of these will all add to your whole holiday experience, but remember, on shore days you’ll find great offers in the spa!
  • The 710 Club has an unmistakably vintage vibe with cocktails and live music to match. This space was created by Music Director, Gary Barlow. To keep this vibe going don't miss Greatest Days in the Headliners Theatre. It’s the official Take That musical.
  • For the ultimate treat book afternoon tea on one of the sea days in the Epicurean Restaurant. This is a decadent extravagance in sumptuous surroundings. Do not be tempted to have lunch that day!

Family time 

  • When considering a cruise, be mindful of busy family times, as you may want to avoid school holidays and mid-term breaks. 
  • 13-17-year-olds have their own activities and Scene, a cool place to hang out. 
  • 7-12-year-olds have Scubas and the Reef is the for younger tots. 
  • There’s also a complimentary Night Nursery for 6-month-olds to four years, giving parents the chance to enjoy some time alone on their holidays.

Escape Notes

  • Mediterranean, 14 nights from £799 per person 14-nights on Arvia (K408) from £799 per person based on an inside cabin. 
  • Departing Southampton on April 14, 2024 the price includes full board meals, entertainment and children’s clubs. 
  • Returning to Southampton, ports of call are La Coruna (Spain), Mallorca (Spain), Florence/Pisa (from La Spezia, Italy), Marseille (France), Barcelona (Spain) and Seville (from Cádiz, Spain).
  • Aer Lingus flies direct to Southampton from Dublin.
  • If you want to venture further afield then check out Arvia’s Caribbean itineraries, from January to March 2023. These include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados. Dominican Republic, Martinique, St Kitts, St Lucia and Saint Maarten.
  • Book at or through your travel agent.

Muriel was a guest of P&O Cruises.

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