SUPERYACHTS are often referred to as floating gin palaces.
I was treated to a demonstration of how the dried and fresh botanicals are added to neutral grain brandy.
A labor of love follows, with Imran Shaikh adding fresh water and testing all day to get the exact blend and alcohol content to produce 80 bottles of gin for the cruise lines every day.
And where better to enjoy a G&T than at Iona’s Sky Dome.
Designed for our often-lovely northern hemisphere climate, the ship has just embarked on the first of her summer cruises to the Norwegian fjords.
At the Sky Dome, you can relax by a pool with a fabulous view of the sky toasty and warm during the day. At night it turns into an entertainment venue with live music, dancing and shows.
Full Disclosure. As an avid cruiser, Iona was everything I thought I wouldn’t like. Too big, too modern, too much choice, too much to do. So I surprised myself when I changed my mind in just a few days on board.
Our Conservatory Mini Suite on deck nine was just the first surprise.
Between the balcony and the master bedroom you have a light, airy extra area with a comfortable L-shaped sofa to relax on and watch the world go by, wrapped in cozy robes for a leisurely breakfast or leisurely lunch.
My worries that the ship might be too big were also allayed the moment a storm broke out in the Bay of Biscay, causing five meter waves.
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We could hardly feel anything. This ship was built to remain stable in far worse conditions.
This is due to modern design and technology, and the ship is also environmentally friendly as it runs on liquefied natural gas.
As for too much choice, I loved the fact that we could eat at a different place almost every night.
However, we enjoyed simple but delicious fish and chips three times.
The Quays serves freshly fried cod and chunky fries. With a double order of pickles it was a quick and tasty start to the evening’s entertainment.
At the other end of the scale, The Epicurean was a sophisticated eatery, beautifully presented in an elegant setting.
We went twice but would have loved to go again to try the frog leg sucette or the Irish beef tenderloin and ox cheek.
The ship’s four main restaurants are divided into sections by decorative partitions, making them feel intimate despite their size.
We tried them all and found that the food exceeded our expectations. It was always possible to make healthy choices and the portions weren’t too big.
However, my favorite was The Glass House. A trio of tapas followed by Cajun soft shell crab, garlic shrimp and lobster mac, then a trio of desserts that took me to heaven.
It was a riot of flavors, with wines to sample, in a cozy setting with piano music playing in the background.
However, there was certainly too much choice of activities. The daily Horizon magazine listed an exhaustive variety – if I’d tried them all I’d need a vacation when I got back.
But I didn’t have to check them all off. I could walk the decks to work out, admire the eight infinity pools scattered across the deck, and just enjoy watching people do archery, quoits, line dancing — and a slightly scary-sounding body sculpt boot camp.
They may all have enjoyed themselves, but I didn’t feel guilty for not participating.
In fact, I rewarded myself with a Pimm’s after walking a few miles around the deck, chatting and enjoying the ocean view.
We had easy access to ports of call, which surprised me for such a large ship.
In Cadiz, Lisbon, Gibraltar and Vigo we were able to walk into the city and explore at our own pace.
In Cádiz, we watched the city open up for business in the morning and admired the narrow pedestrian streets with their wrought iron balconies and patios filled with potted plants and flowers.
A small coffee shop, almost a hole in the wall, served us coffee so delicious we each had two – served in beautiful cups and saucers, at a fraction of the price at home. We paid just six euros for four cups of coffee and biscuits.
Exploring Lisbon with the trams going up the steep hills was exciting.
In Gibraltar, Barbary macaques are wonderfully mischievous and in the caves, a stunning light show revealed their ancient beauty.
Excursions to Barcelona and Alicante that are worthwhile and save annoying waiting times.
But as exciting as the ports of call were, I looked forward to the days at sea to relax and enjoy the Iona – the ship I thought I wouldn’t like and ended up falling in love with.
GO: P&O’s IONA
COVID: All guests 12 years and older must be fully vaccinated (two doses of vaccine plus a booster if necessary). Children aged five to eleven must be vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test.
GETTING THERE/SAILING THERE: A 14 night full board cruise on P&O Cruises Iona is priced from £979 per person, departing Southampton on 24th September 2022. Stops at Vigo, Gibraltar, Alicante, Barcelona, Valencia, Cádiz and Lisbon. See pocruises.com.
A NOTICE: P&O Cruises has no affiliation with P&O Ferries – it has been owned by Carnival Corporation for 20 years.
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https://www.thesun.ie/travel/8661602/po-cruises-iona-gin-distillery/ You can take a cruise with an onboard gin distillery and infinity pools for £70 a night each and set sail from the UK