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Travel Review: How life on 'Sunshine Ship' in the Med left me on crest of a wave

Join us, as we set sail on a Mediterranean cruise.

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No, scrap that, not good enough… I’ll start that again.

Join us as we embark on Britain’s biggest cruise ship – the all-singing and all-dancing (literally), LNG-powered with the latest energy-efficient technology, P&O Cruise’s latest, Excel-class, luxury cruise ship, Arvia.

A big introduction for a big ship, in more ways than one.

My wife, two-and-a-half year-old son and I set sail in April for 14 nights from Southampton heading to the Med, taking in ports at La Coruna and Mallorca, Spain; La Spezia, in Italy; Marseille, France, plus Barcelona and Cadiz, in Spain.

Arvia Vistas Cafe Bar, alongside the Grand Atrium, with expansive sea views

Aboard Arvia there is more and more to do than ever before to keep both kids and grown-ups entertained... a two-week cruise won’t seem long enough.

It is similar to its sister ship Iona, but with some new and exclusive restaurants and experiences. Over 184k tonnes in weight, 345m long, it can accommodate 5,200 guests at capacity and 1,800 crew.

I think both of P&O’s latest ships welcome not only a bigger, but a new, wider audience. Yes, you can still stick to the more traditional ways of cruising if you wish, but this ship does feel like a more family-friendly atmosphere, catering for a new market with things like freedom dining (eat when you want) and with more activities such as Altitude Skywalk – a high-ropes experience on the top deck, a Minigolf course and a multi-sensory immersive submarine simulation game Mission Control.

Arvia sails year-round to the warmest climates, changing course from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean in the winter months, giving it the nickname of “The sunshine ship”. It is certainly set up for the sun too, as it has a huge retractable SkyDome, along with 20 whirlpool spas and four pools.

Arvia 6th Street Diner

We arrived in Southampton in wet and dreary conditions, with a car packed to the roof, dreaming of some of that sunshine.

The great thing about going from Southampton is you can take as much as you want, and when entertaining a toddler that, of course, has to cater for every eventuality, we could take so much more than packing for a plane.

Staff were so well organised, a theme of the trip, meaning we sailed through, no pun intended, the cruise terminal very quickly to get onboard. A quick safety video, a swipe of your card at your muster station and we were officially on our holidays, yes, with cocktail in hand.

Our home for the next two weeks was in the shape of a Conservatory Mini-suite. This is similar to a Balcony cabin but with an additional lounging area between your main cabin and balcony.

It was such a great feature. Your own perfect space to read and relax with your room right there, with sofa and bifold doors. It was also great at night for us as our son slept.

The cabin also had a very good-sized bathroom and shower, much bigger than we have had before. The Mini-suite is a great new option on both Arvia and Iona.

Arvia Altitude Skywalk

Everything was shipshape, as you would expect, and credit to the ship’s crew who keep everything looking clean and fresh. The whole ship still feels brand new, after its first launch in December 2022.

I love the first couple of days of a cruise, finding your bearings and exploring all the different options. There are always little nooks and crannies or hide-away bars that you find and become your favourite place to spend an hour or two.

With over 30 places to eat and drink, there is sure to be something for everyone. There is a wide choice, from the Horizon buffet, which is open almost all of the time, to fine dining at The Epicurean Restaurant, and everything in between.

Arvia Headliner's Theatre

Firm fleet favourites such as Sindhu, authentic British Indian cuisine; gastropub food at The Keel & Cow and P&O’s wine expert and local food heroes Olly Smith and José Pizarro’s Mediterranean tapas restaurant and wine bar, The Glass House, are to name but a few.

There are two new themed restaurants, exclusive to Arvia, that are big hitters too. Green & Co Feat. Mizuhana, a sushi bar and plant-based dining experience, and all-American eats in a retro diner, complete with a jukebox playing classics and dancing staff at 6th Street Diner. And who could forget The Quays, a street-food-themed, informal diner offering fish and chips, Asian Fusion and roast carvery meats and veg.

Some cost a little extra, but are worth the small charge. There is a great range of included options too.

There was all this to choose from and explore and we hadn’t even got off the ship yet. Obviously, stopping off at a port is great but the sea days are just as good. For our cruise, as well as six port days, we had seven full days at sea.

If sunbathing, doing nothing but relaxing is your thing, this is completely catered for. There are plenty of sunbeds and outside spaces and bars, as well as that retractable Skydome roof, I mentioned, so when you finally get out of chilly Southampton, you can have the main pool out in the open air with that Mediterranean sun beating down. There are plenty of shaded areas too, if you so wish.

But if you want to keep busy, or like us you have a toddler with you and relaxing is off the cards, there is always so much going on, all of the time, especially on sea days. You have a newsletter delivered to your cabin each day with a list of what’s on. If none of the big activity zones take your fancy, there are always quizzes or bingo, dance classes and talks taking place. There is even a multi-screen cinema.

It’s in the evening when the big shows are rolled out and we saw many great acts and stage shows, including Greatest Days: The Official Take That Musical. Gary Barlow’s connection doesn’t just stop there though as he is the Music Director of The 710 Club, a small intimate jazz-like club that has just a great atmosphere and vibe. This quickly became one of my favourite spots, and with different themes and setlists, I found myself in there seeing out the night plenty of times.

The entertainment team is huge and there are multiple stages and venues throughout. Everything changes regularly. You have comedians, pianists, acoustic guitar sets, acrobats or even Spanish dancing pop up regularly within smaller bars and more open spaces.

Arvia SkyDome

The Limelight Club is one of the show-stopper stages and this is an evening in itself. For a little extra you can join the star of your trip in an intimate show, along with a three-course meal. You feel like they are joining you for dinner. For our show we were entertained by the very funny and talented singer and drag act Mary Mac.

I’ve been on P&O cruises before and somehow never been to The Limelight but it was such a good night, I will be back I’m sure, whoever the artist. The food was great, the setting was lovely, and the way it all worked, with courses in between some songs and an intimate chat with the act was great.

When at sea, if staying in touch with the world is a must for you, there are internet packages available and I’m told for the middle of the sea, it’s pretty good – due to being provided by satellite (Elon Musk’s Starlink) – and you can even stream movies. We opted not to, though. To be honest, it is so nice not to be able to click on your work emails out of habit, or to have that detox from social media. It feels great. You are forced to switch off which never seems to happen anymore.


I suppose I had better talk about our destinations as well as the ship. You can do a full day out, leave the ship as soon as it’s docked and go further afield. Or, if you wanted to, you could take it easy have a leisurely breakfast on board and get off when you want. You can stay local or even not get off and enjoy the quiet ship.

Our first stop was La Coruna, in northwest Spain, in the Galicia region. We travelled by bus to see the sites, including the Tower of Hercules, the world’s oldest functioning lighthouse and a large tiled octopus sculpture, which represents the local delicacy and can be found along the beautiful paseo maritimo which lines the coast.

There is also plenty near the port in the shape of Plaza de María Pita, the main square outside city hall, with plenty of bars and restaurants – perfect for that first sip of Spanish lager, Estrella Galicia, which is also brewed locally.

We had a couple of sea days after, heading south sailing around Portugal and Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar and across to Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

Having never been to Mallorca before, we thought we would go further afield and explore a bit further out.

Catedral de Mallorca, Spain

The best way to do that was one of P&O’s excursions. We opted for the Vintage Train to Sóller Village. We were picked up right next to the ship and travelled north by coach to Sóller taking in the picturesque views along the way. We were heading to board a beautifully restored 18th-century train with wooden carriages. It was a great way to see more of the island, as well as having free time in the town, the train ride had views of the mountains and rugged coast.

We then got dropped off to explore the Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, Catedral de Mallorca, before we got back on the ship.

On to La Spezia, in northern Italy next and on our list of must-see places was the small beautiful fishing village of Portofino. We opted for another P&O-organised trip which saw us travel to Santa Margherita by coach, another lovely town, and then a boat trip to Portofino. It felt like a film set, a must-see if you are nearby.

The P&O excursions are very well organised, considering they are dealing with so many people and different destinations all at the same time. We had excellent local and knowledgeable tour guides with us for both trips, who were great to meet and get to know.

Beautiful bay Portofino, Liguria, Italy

The next day we arrived in Marseille. The short shuttle bus from the ship drops you right outside Cathédrale La Major, a huge, stunning cathedral that is very palace-esque. A short walk through the cultured French streets lead us into the scenic old port, surrounded by lively markets, cafes, and restaurants. A delightful taste of the south of France.

Barcelona was up next, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region. Having seen the main architectural works of Antoni Gaudí on previous trips, we headed for the Parc de la Ciutadella and a relaxing stroll across the seafront, as well as digging out the bustling Boqueria food market for lunch.

Then, on to our final stop in Cadiz. At over 3,000 years old, this city is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Europe. The narrow, ancient streets had restaurants around every corner and we had our fill of tapas before we had to leave Spain for the last time.

Cathedral de Santa Cruz from tower Tavira in Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain

Back on board, in between all of these amazing places, my son had the best time too. Arvia is certainly family-friendly in more ways than one and it felt so safe for children of all ages. Any railings, like I’ve seen on other ships, that resemble ladders are all swapped out for safety glass on balconies or on decks. We were so relaxed for him to wander around... until he doesn’t come back and you have to run after him. Parenting life eh?

Children’s entertainment is just as big a thing on Arvia, and there was an action-packed itinerary for him. Not only is there the usual swimming and outdoor splash zones that keep children entertained, there are always classes or activities for all different age groups throughout the day. We even had tea with Shaun the Sheep, as P&O and Aardman Animations join forces to provide fun events and activities with Wallace and Gromit, both in the children’s clubs and around the whole ship.

Talking of children’s clubs, The Reef is included. Within this there are five different clubs on Arvia, accommodating an age range from six months to 17-year-olds. My son was signed up for Splashers, for two to four-year-olds, and he had a great time. There was soft play, toys and books, ride-along cars, slides and crafts and it was all supervised by Reef Rangers in bookable sessions.

There is also the Night Nursery for six months to four years. If your child transfers beds well, you leave them to sleep in their own bed there and grab a drink or a show child-free, safe in the knowledge that your little ones are asleep and in good hands. If they wake up, staff contact you.

If you are completely child-free, then there are adult-only sections and a pool too. And if you want to go one step further for more peace and tranquillity, there is the Oasis Spa & Health Club complete with salon, treatment rooms and wellness spa as well as an alfresco spa terrace, a premium VIP open-air deck area in The Retreat, for a little extra.

Arvia Mission Control

As I said before, there is a bit of everything for everyone. It is great for large families with different generations to be on the same trip, but they can all go at their own pace or separate ways when they want to. There are adjoining rooms and balconies that can be made into one when two rooms are next to each other too. There is a choice of cabin sizes and grades and of course prices.

With all the varied places you visit in such a short space of time, you get such a mix of food and drink, architecture and culture. You just have to remember whether it’s bonjour, bonjourno or hola!

If you’ve never cruised before, there are some things that you don’t get from other holidays. There always seems to be part of the trip where there are just still and calm waters, when the ship is very slowly cruising along. There is hardly a ripple, apart from a few splashes from the occasional pod of dolphins. The fresh sea air and setting sun, with miles and miles of sea views, there really is no calm like it. I can’t wait to feel that again.

How to plan your trip

P&O Cruises is offering a 14-night Mediterranean cruise on Arvia (K508) from £929 per person for an inside cabin. Departing April 13, 2025, the price includes children’s clubs, full board meals and entertainment. Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are La Coruna, La Palma, La Spezia, Toulon, Barcelona and Cadiz.

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