P&O Cruises has taken ownership of of new flagship Iona at an official handover with the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany.

The ceremony for the 5,200-passenger ship is being touted as a “positive signal for the future”.

The largest cruise ship built for the UK market was originally due to be launched in May but delivery was postponed as the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all ocean cruises.

The first cruises by the first British cruise ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) are now scheduled for March from Southampton.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow, who was present at the event in Papenburg and signed the protocol for delivery and acceptance, said: “Iona’s delivery is a very positive signal for the future of cruising.

“She is now officially part of the P&O Cruises fleet and we are focused on readying her to welcome guests during her new maiden season to northern Europe, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands from our home port of Southampton.

“Already eagerly anticipated by our guests, crew and the communities we visit, events this year have increased the sense of anticipation even more.

“Whilst our operations are currently paused until early 2021 Iona will not be sailing for the moment but we look forward to our guests experiencing this game-changing ship as we will continue to offer unparalleled holidays at sea whilst also upholding the latest approved travel protocols.”

At 185,000 tonnes, 345m in length with 17 guest decks, Iona will feature a two-deck SkyDome, the first gin distillery at sea, eight speciality restaurants including yet to be unveiled concepts, as well as 13 entertainment venues, four swimming pools and 16 whirlpools.

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