P&O Cruises can trace its roots back to 1837, when Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company started a passenger and mail service from the U.K. to Spain and Portugal. The service network expanded rapidly and by the 1860s embraced India, China, Japan and Australia. While the main purpose of the company was to carry passengers and mail, it also sent vessels on occasional cruises as early as in the 1840s.
The company's ships evolved from wooden paddle steamers to iron-hulled screw driven ships, and eventually steel replaced iron as the construction material. Until the late 1920s, its ships remained conservatively designed, slow, and mainly powered with old-fashioned engines, while many other companies preferred using newer steam turbines and diesel engines. However, with Viceroy of India (1928), P&O was a pioneer of turbo-electric drive, and Orion (1935), of associate company Orient Lines, introduced simple, clean, yet pleasant art deco-inspired interiors and abandoned period styles in interior design. Post World War II vessels mainly hovered between modernity and reference to older styles, until the original Oriana (1960) and Canberra (1961) introduced a leap to modernism.
P&O Cruises is the biggest operator catering to the British market, and it has developed its fleet and introduced new features rapidly since the debut of the current Oriana in 1995.
In 2003, P&O Cruises became part of Carnival Corp. & PLC, the Anglo-American cruise giant, and at the same time 77,400-ton sister ships Oceana (built in 2000) and Adonia (1998) were transferred to the fleet from fellow Carnival Corp. company Princess Cruises.
The ships sail from Southampton for half the year, and most of the cruises are about 14 nights in duration. However, each year its ships offer a host of shorter mini-breaks of two to seven nights. Arcadia, and Aurora, undertake long cruises of 80 to more than 100 nights, some of which take them around the world.
Oceana, Ventura and sister Azura spend winters in the Caribbean, based in Barbados, where they offer mainly 14-night cruises.
Oriana, meanwhile offers Caribbean and European cruises from Southampton.
The much loved 710-passenger Adonia, returned to the fleet in June 2017 after a brief foray as the single ship of the now defunct social volunteering line, Fathom, but left again in February 2018 to be rebranded as Azamara Pursuit.
P&O Cruises' newest -- and biggest -- ship, Britannia, debuted in spring 2015. Britannia is the largest-ever ship built specifically for the UK market and was named by HM The Queen on March 10, 2015, in a glittering ceremony in Southampton. The ship is also the biggest in P&O Cruises' fleet, carrying 3,647 passengers and weighing in at 141,000 tons -- 27,000 tons heavier and carrying 547 more passengers than the line's previous biggest ship, Azura.
Britannia takes the best of the rest of the fleet -- excellent dining venues through tie-ups with celebrity chefs including James Martin and Marco Pierre White; an emphasis on Britishness with a vast range of U.K. beers and gins; and the highly successful Strictly Come Dancing link up -- and expands or improves upon them.
A new ship will join the fleet in 2020, Iona. Weighing in at 180,000 tons and carrying 5,200 passengers, P&O Cruises first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) ship will become the biggest cruise ship yet built exclusively for the UK market.