A conversation with P&O Cruises
Managing Director Carol Marlow
Richard H. Wagner
Carol Marlow is in the unique position of having headed two of world's
most historic passenger ship companies. In 2009, Carol Marlow was
appointed Managing Director of P&O Cruises. Prior to that, she was the
Managing Director of Cunard Line. I began by asking her how the two
"P&O Cruises and Cunard are the two iconic, historic lines of the cruise
"P&O Cruises was the original cruise line, which can trace its roots back
to 1837. The company, then called The Peninsular Steam Navigation
Company won the contract to carry the mail for the British Admiralty to the
Iberian Peninsular and then all points east, as far as Australia. Cunard line
was formed in 1839 and won the Admiralty contract to carry the mail west
to Canada and America. Both companies started carrying passengers
relatively early on. Both companies have had over 200 ships in their time,
and have fascinating stories to tell of their years of service, both in
peacetime and in war".
"Nowadays, P&O Cruises caters for largely British passengers, with all
elements of the cruise tailored to suit those who like our British ways -
albeit now British tastes are much more cosmopolitan than they used to be.
Voted 'Britain's Favourite Cruise Line' for the third year running this year,
we have seven quality cruise ships ranging in size from 710 passengers to
3100 passengers, with differing facilities depending on whether they are
exclusively for adults (2 ships) or Family Friendly (5 ships). They all
mainly cruise out of Southampton England, into the Med, up to the Fjords
and into Baltic, as well as longer cruises over to the Caribbean and
ultimately around the world. There is some winter cruising in the
Caribbean, home-ported in Barbados, and also now some autumn Med
cruising, open jaw cruises from Civitavecchia to Athens, Barcelona to
"People who travel on P&O Cruises tend to feel as though they are 'coming
home' every time they travel with us. They feel very comfortable and at
ease, and families have great fun, although they also enjoy dressing up for
formal evenings now and then. They often remark on the friendly crew and
visible officers. We hope we offer a holiday of a lifetime on a ship (not a
floating resort!) every time."
"Cunard, on the other hand, has 3 grand ocean liners [i.e., Queen Mary 2,
Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth], offering signature transatlantic
crossings, voyages out of Southampton, New York, the West Coast of
America, and world cruises. It hosts a very international passenger list -
probably the most international at sea, all brought together by a cultural
like-mindedness. Their experience is filled with elegance and grandeur,
and is akin to attending a series of very grand events, with several formal
receptions and dinners during a voyage. This type of voyage attracts
celebrities, and those that enjoy meeting celebrities from all spheres of life.
Cunard's white gloved service is first class."
"So, both very special experiences, but quite different."
Ms. Marlow has taken control of P&O during a time of significant change
and with change come challenges. "As the company has been at the
forefront of British cruising for so long, I feel very honoured to be able to
take it forward for the next few years. I see my role as one of leading and
inspiring our large team as we grow further. We have just added Azura to
the fleet, and have Adonia joining us next year,"
"With seven ships, we must make sure we continue to offer that unique
'P&Oness' on all seven ships consistently, even though our ships are of
differing sizes, with differing facilities. I travel on our ships often,
encouraging and acknowledging excellent service from our crew, and
making sure that we all know the direction in which we are headed. We
need to stay very much in tune with our passengers' needs, and so I meet
and chat with them regularly, and we look to innovate and evolve their
experience with every new cruise. My aim is for P&O Cruises to continue
as Britain's Favourite Cruise Line' for many years to come!"
This will be no simple task as P&O faces more competition than in recent
memory. The UK cruise market is growing rapidly. In 2009, a period of
harsh economic conditions, British passengers took more than 1.5 million
cruises and some within the industry have predicted that this figure will
eventually double. Approximately 40 percent of these cruise sales were on
ships of the Carnival UK brands of which P&O is one. However, the other
major cruise lines have noticed this growth as well and are deploying more
and more ships to the UK. These are not just ships making occasional calls
in British ports but large ships such as Independence of the Seas and
Celebrity Eclipse which are sailing regularly from Southampton and which
are being marketed primarily to the British public. Nonetheless, Ms.
Marlow believes that P&O is positioned to meet the competition.
"At P&O Cruises we put all our long experience into creating memorable
holidays for our passengers, with the highest emphasis on service, quality
"We are conveniently home-ported in Southampton, England for our British
customers, with all our seven ships sailing from Southampton. When two of
our ships undertake some winter Caribbean fly cruising, they have
convenient regional flight departures from around the UK. We offer the
British cruiser the greatest amount of choice tailored to their needs, with
more departures, more ports of call, more choice of ships and more holiday
durations suited to them than any other line."
"Our recent research shows us that our passengers particularly love the
way we tailor everything to their British needs; the way we actually
celebrate being on a ship, with the officers and crew making this a real
nautical experience, as only we can due to our long heritage. They also
love the way that a cruise with us is a special occasion that they will
remember for a long time to come."
"And of course, this is the 'P&O'ness' that they will experience whichever
of our fleet of seven modern and stylish ships they travel on - from small
and elegant, Adonia, exclusively for adults, to vast, fun and family friendly
Even though cruise lines from other countries are actively courting the
British market, P&O has no plans to retaliate by enlarging its overseas
marketing. Indeed, to become more international would be to jeopardize
one of the company's core strengths.
"P&O Cruises is committed to the pleasing the UK market and we will
always be first and foremost British, with ships designed specifically for
the British market and the vast majority of our passengers British, or those
that like the British way. However, as marketing and media goes global we
welcome passengers from outside the UK. We have a special relationship
with Australia, which we can trace right back to the early 1900s, and so we
welcome Australians on board for our world cruises, and we also enjoy
some American passengers joining us for our long cruises - mostly
A growing fleet
In the last two years, the P&O fleet has expanded dramatically with the
addition of two 116,000 gross ton mega-cruise ships each capable of
carrying more than 3,000 passengers. The first of these, Ventura, entered
service in April 2008. Ms. Marlow has just overseen the entry of the
"Our newest superliner, Azura, blends all the much-loved P&O Cruises
traditions with the exciting modern luxuries and innovations of a
contemporary ship. She offers the classic service, quality and entertainment
associated with cruising at its best."
"Azura's atmosphere is stylish, sophisticated and serene and every element
of life on board is delivered with a meticulous attention to detail."
"She offers the ultimate in relaxation and pampering, featuring The Retreat
- an adult only haven offering alfresco massages and sumptuous loungers."
"The choice of dining on board Azura is really exceptional, with everything
from Indian fine dining to bistro style fare accompanied by vintage wines
served by the glass."
"For entertainment there is: dancing in the Atrium; live music in Manhattan;
drinks in Brodie's (our traditional London pub named after one of our
co-founders); and mesmerising shows, of two very different kinds, in The
Planet Bar and The Playhouse."
"And of course we also have SeaScreen, a huge cinema screen over the
Aqua Pool, delivering a rather special cinematic experience, day and night"
"There really is something for everyone on board and we have already had
fantastic feedback from passengers, who are particularly enjoying the style,
décor, traditional touches and comforts of the ship."
While there is a P&O style of cruising that runs throughout the fleet,
traditionally each of the ships in the P&O fleet has had her own distinct
character. Moreover, recognizing that the British market is composed of
different people with different tastes, there are different nuances to the
P&O experience on the different ships, e.g., some are family-friendly while
some are exclusively for adults; some have a three-tiered dress code and
others two. In keeping with this approach even though Azura and Ventura
are based upon the same design, Azura is not a mere clone of Ventura.
"Azura and Ventura are the largest sister ships in our fleet. However, their
decor and facilities differ, with Azura offering a more classic style of
cruise, plus innovations such as The Retreat and SeaScreen. Ventura, on the
other hand offers 'Cirque Ventura' entertainment, bungee trampolining and a
rock school for the children, and a pool under a magradome for the
"Both ships offer fine dining at its best, with Ventura featuring the
extremely successful partnership with Marco Pierre White, authentic
Spanish tapas in Ramblas and Asian fusion delights in East."
"Azura's Seventeen restaurant offers fine dining P&O Cruise's style and an
innovative Indian menu in Sindhu, in conjunction with Michelin
starred-chef Atul Kochhar. Azura also has the perfect venue for
wine-lovers, with The Glasshouse, with vintages served by the glass and
chosen by British wine guru OllySmith."
At the same time, P&O has sought to harmonize its new large ships with the
rest of the fleet.
"The beauty of larger ships is that you have the space to be inventive,
whether that means having a space dedicated to weddings and renewal of
vows - as with the Ivory Suite - or a room catering solely for games
enthusiasts, like Game On, the Wii room on board Azura. There is enough
space to create different holiday experiences for every kind of passenger."
"Both ships offer the same 'P&O'ness', though, that our passengers
experience whichever of our modern and stylish ships they sail on. This is
the atmosphere created by our officers and crew, and is unique to our ships,
whichever you choose."
Azura and Ventura are the fulfilment of one of P&O's long-held goal. In
1998, P&O brought out the Grand Princess for its then-subsidiary Princess
Cruises. This was the largest ship of that time and its innovative style was
an immediate hit with the public and over the years some eight more ships
have been built based on this design for Princess. P&O also wanted to
build some Grand-class ships for its own fleet but circumstances never
permitted. Indeed, it went so far as to order a larger version of the original
Grand class design (sometimes referred to as a "Super-Grand" class ship)
but it was determined that Princess needed that ship in order to meet market
demand. (She is now Caribbean Princess).
With Azura and Ventura, P&O finally obtained the Super Grand-class
ships it desired for so long. While this design is now very much
associated with Princess, Azura and Ventura are not the Princess product
with a British accent.
"Whilst Princess Cruises is a brand within Carnival UK, the P&O Cruises
ships have a very different look and feel. It felt natural to incorporate some
of the very successful Princess features onto Azura and Ventura but we feel
we have done so in classic British style. Our cruises are designed with the
British passenger in mind, we know what they like to eat, to see, how they
like to be entertained, and this is different from an American style. Officers
are also more visible, and there is a heightened sense of formality on
Azura, with her more classic style of cruise."
The addition of the Azura is not the only change to the P&O fleet. In 2011,
the 45,000 gross ton Artemis, will be leaving P&O. Artemis was
originally ordered by P&O for its Princess subsidiary and sailed as Royal
Princess from 1984 to 2005 at which time she came to P&O as Artemis.
This was an innovative ship - - one of the first to have ocean views from
all of the cabins. She is used for longer cruises and has a loyal following.
However, last year P&O received an offer to buy the now 26 year-old ship
from MS Artania Shipping. The new owner plans to charter the ship to the
German tour operator Phoenix Reisen.
"Whilst it had not been our intention to sell Artemis so soon, we received a
commercially attractive offer for the ship. As our capacity was already due
to grow with the introduction of Azura, we decided to accept the offer."
However, this does not mean the end of small ship sailing at P&O - - the
current Royal Princess is coming to P&O, and will take the traditional
P&O name Adonia. "Adonia will join the P&O Cruises fleet in May 2011
just after Artemis leaves the fleet, and whilst she will not be an exact
replacement for Artemis, she will offer a similar small ship experience
exclusively for adults. "
"Adonia is considerably smaller than Artemis and will enable us to
offer a more diverse collection of cruise holidays, to more off
the-beaten-track destinations. Adonia will be our pathfinder ship and will
offer a truly intimate and traditional cruise experience."
The new Adonia is a jewel of a ship. She began life in 2001 as R8, one of
eight essentially identical ships built for Renaissance Cruises. When that
line went bankrupt the eight ships were purchased by other cruise lines and
now form the backbones of the ultra-luxury cruising lines Oceana and
Azamara Club Cruises. P&O, however, does not plan to market the ship in
that way. Rather, P&O guests will be able to enjoy these luxurious
surroundings but with the familiar style of a P&O cruise.
"Adonia will compliment the rest of our P&O Cruises fleet perfectly and
will not be sold or marketed any differently to the other ships in our fleet."
"Adonia will celebrate all those things our regular passengers love about
cruising with us - a classic dance floor, Crow's Nest observation lounge,
formal nights, classical music recitals, guest speakers, silver service dining
and a dedicated card room."
"She is traditionally furnished with wood paneling, leather armchairs and
fine artwork, library with over 4,000 titles and staterooms with Egyptian
cotton linen and more than 75% with their own private balcony".
Cruise ship interview - - P&O Cruises - - Carol Marlow
P&O's latest large ship Azura. (Photo courtesy of
|Its all about ships
|Oriana is a much-loved member of the P&O
fleet, providing cruises in the classic style.
P&O Cruises Managing Director
Carol Marlow (Photo Courtesy of