Although they are both owned by the same parent, the giant Carnival Corporation, both homeport in Southampton and both have an impressive pedigree in cruising, P&O Cruises and Cunard are quite different.
Cunard is a more international brand, attracting passengers from all over the world keen to experience its legendary Queens -- Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 -- a liner rather than a cruise ship.
P&O Cruises, on the other hand, is aimed squarely at Brits, with everything you experience on board geared to British tastes. And although P&O Cruises embraces the same cruising traditions as Cunard, like dressing for dinner, ballroom dancing and cocktails with the captain, it's a lot less formal.
Read on to learn more about what distinguishes these two iconic lines from one another.
Who are you going to meet?
- American and British passengers in equal proportions on Atlantic crossings, plus plenty of continental Europeans, particularly Germans.
- Cunard is also increasingly popular with Japanese and Australian cruise fans.
- Passengers on crossings represent all age groups, while those on regular cruises tend to be older, though still with a fair number of young passengers and families.
- Cunard attracts a fair number of celebrities and very wealthy individuals who enjoy the cachet of a transatlantic crossing in Queens Grill, the top cabin grade.
- The line currently has seven ships – four larger, newer ships (Azura, Britannia, Oceana and Azura) catering to the family market; and three more, Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana, that are adults-only.
- Catering almost exclusively to the British market -- and the largest line in this sector -- passengers are almost entirely from the UK.
- In 2020, P&O Cruises is set to attract even more British cruisers with the launch of Iona -- the biggest vessel ever built for the UK market, which will be family-friendly.
Where are they based, and where do they go?
- Homeports in Southampton, New York (Queen Mary 2) and to an extent, Hamburg (again, Queen Mary 2)
- Itineraries are many and varied, with ships travelling all over the globe, including to the Baltic, Canary Islands, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Central and South America and the Panama Canal and Australia -- plus the classic transatlantic crossing on QM2, the only true ocean liner.
- Queen Elizabeth is spending two seasons in Australia and Japan, sailing in Alaska in summer.
- In winter, all three Queens operate extended voyages or world voyages.
- A new ship is being introduced in 2022, although as yet, little has been revealed about it.
- Also based in Southampton, ships sail year round to destinations around the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Canary Islands and beyond.
- There is also a full programme of fly-cruises from Valletta in summer, Dubai in winter.
- In winter months, Britannia and Azura are based in the Caribbean, operating fly-cruises from Barbados and St Lucia.
- Arcadia operates a long world voyage in winter, while Ventura offers no-fly cruises from Southampton to the Caribbean.
What's the accommodation like?
- The line offers a range of accommodations from relatively modest double inside cabins (157 square feet) to extravagant duplex suites -- all decorated in a traditionally elegant style -- and on the QM2 there's even a kennel and exercise area for dogs, cats and ferrets.
- Sister ships Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria also have lavish suites of some 2,000 square feet overlooking the stern, while standard cabins are spacious.
- The cabin you choose dictates the restaurant in which you will eat: Queens Grill, Princess Grill, Britannia Club Grill or the Britannia main restaurant.
- In the most recent refits single cabins were added to all three ships.
- A choice of interconnecting and family cabins onboard the family ships (Britannia, Ventura, Azura, Iona and Oceana).
- Britannia offers the line's first solo cabins with balconies.
- At 184 square feet, double cabin sizes are on par with most other mainstream cruise lines.
- All the ships have suites; the most lavish on Britannia, the flagships, are 689 sq ft and come with butler service.
What are the dining options?
- A well-established Cunard tradition, the passengers in the best cabins dine in the single sitting Queens Grill and Princess Grill restaurants.
- Passengers who choose Britannia Club Balcony cabins dine in the Britannia Club restaurant, a separate area from the main dining room and on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, an entire separate room. This dining is open seating.
- Those in standard accommodations eat at the two-deck-high Britannia restaurant. Here you have the choice of first or second seating for dinner, but lunch and breakfast are open seating.
- Other dining options include The Golden Lion, a traditional-style pub serving British favourites, the Kings Court (Queen Mary 2) or Lido buffet (on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth), and The Verandah, an upscale grill (extra charge)., There’s also the Cunard signature experience of afternoon tea, plus for-fee themed evenings in the buffet restaurants.
- P&O Cruises has multiple celebrity chef partnerships, of which it makes much. Marco Pierre Whiteoversees the gala dinners in the main dining rooms. On Iona, there are partnerships with Spanish chef José Pizarro and Norwegians Kjartan Skjelde and Marte Marie Forsberg. The line also has a roster of "Food Heroes", which includes cheese expert Alex James, mater patissier Eric Lanlard and wine guru Olly Smith.
- The Epicurean is the line's first foray into 'molecular gastronomy' and is available on Britannia, Azura,Ventura and Iona.
- Passengers have the opportunity to cook with Marco Pierre White and Eric "Cake Boy" Lanlard (who also provides the Afternoon Tea in the Epicurean), in the first Cookery Club at sea on Britannia.
- Passengers cruising on Britannia, Azura, Ventura, Arcadia and Oceana can choose Club Dining (traditional set seating) or Freedom Dining (flexible dining times and seating). Iona will be entirely open seating dining.
What's each line's idea of fun?
- Activities lean more towards the high-brow than high-energy with top-notch enrichment programmes, including an impressive roster of guest speakers on each ship.
- In partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society, QM2 has the first planetarium at sea, carries Oxford academics for classroom learning and offers acting workshops with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
- All three ships have ballrooms with dancing every night. Gentleman hosts are present to escort anybody wanting a spin on the dance floor.
- More traditional sports like table tennis, mini-golf and basketball as opposed to waterslides and virtual reality games, although there is entertainment all day long on sea days.
- A series of cruises are operated in partnership with Strictly Come Dancing and offer complete immersion in the world of ballroom, attracting a dedicated following.
- P&O is particularly strong on its family offering; the family-friendy ships have some of the finest kids’ clubs at sea.
What's the nighttime entertainment like?
- Cunard’s ships each feature elegant cocktail lounges, special ‘Gin and Fizz’ menus and a traditional pub, The Golden Lion.
- Ballroom dancing is a big feature, with regular sessions in the Queens Room ballrooms, and dance hosts available every night.
- Queen Mary 2 has its own nightclub.
- Each ship has a theatre, putting on anything from comedy to musical productions.
- There’s usually late night karaoke in the Golden Lion, as well as popular pub quizzes.
- Features the in-house entertainment team Headliners, who perform a series of mostly polished revues and shows.
- Dancers and judges from the "Strictly Come Dancing" show appear across the fleet on selected sailings.
- Plenty of bars, including the Crow's Nest (with 20 different British gins); Brodie's, which features more than 70 different types of beers and the Glass House, with wines hand-picked by wine guru Olly Smith.
- Stand-up comedy is geared to British tastes and humour.
- Most cruises feature a tribute band.
- Otherwise, expect karaoke, pub quizzes and occasional discos and deck parties.
How well are families catered for?
- While having a more formal and 'grown up' reputation than most, the line still caters for kids of all ages.
- All three ships offer complimentary evening nurseries for parents to enjoy a meal or a show alone (though no in-cabin baby-sitting).
- All ships have areas for different ages from two to seven and eight to 17. The Zone, aimed at teenagers, has video games consoles, team games and evening discos.
- Parents are encouraged to dress children smartly on formal nights. Cunard’s ships are best suited to families with children who can sit at the dinner table in the company of adults.
- On the family-friendly ships, the range and quality of the children's facilities are excellent, with enthusiastic staff, outdoor space and a top-notch kids' programme.
- Each family ship offers dedicated clubs for all ages, a night nursery and evening activities.
- All the family ships have kids' pools and splash areas for the tots.
- Family ships provide dedicated areas for family-friendly dining and host children's afternoon teas.
- Also on the family ships, child-friendly films are shown throughout the day.
How does pricing compare?
- Cunard adds a daily auto-gratuity of $11.50 per person, per day, ($13.50 per day in the Grills) while a 15 percent tip is automatically added for purchases in the bars and lounges.
- Drinks prices are comparable to those found in London restaurants and bars.
- Drinks packages are available.
- Costs of internet packages are pretty high, especially considering the slow and often patchy service.
- Other extras include speciality dining, the fancier afternoon teas and some exercise classes.
- P&O has no gratuity charge; tips are included in the fare.
- Bar prices are about the same as you'd pay on land in the U.K. -- in some cases cheaper -- plus drinks packages are available.
- Extra costs on board include internet, speciality dining and some exercise classes.