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A Marvellous Mediterranean Cruise with P&O Cruises

Nick Valentine sets sail on the Mediterranean with P&O Cruises

With the UK summer over before it began, an invite to come aboard P&O Cruises' new 345-metre cruise ship Arvia on its Mediterranean cruise is gleefully and gracefully accepted. We will fly to Cartagena in southeast Spain and join for 9 days. Arvia has previously departed Southampton and docked at La Coruna in northern Spain and Valencia over the last five days, before arriving in Cartagena.

P&O Cruise Arvia

A thirty-minute taxi ride from Murcia airport to the ship, a few customs formalities at the port and we head back into the town after first dropping our luggage off in our cabin.

Cartagena is best known for its Roman ruins, Carthaginian castle, National Museum of Underwater Archaeology and an active naval base. It is a beautifully bright, sunny day and in no time at all we stumble upon an alluring, shaded bar, where I order a ritualistic, welcoming ice-cold cana and bread and freshly made allioli, heavy on the garlic. Perfect. A farewell cana, a leisurely stroll around the shops, bars and old town and then it’s time to head back to the ship as we depart for Barcelona this evening.

I say ship, it’s more like a city with its 16 guest decks. 2,659 cabins in total including 1,506 balcony cabins, 26 suites, 28 single occupancy cabins and 56 wheelchair accessible cabins. 3 clubs; The Club House, the vintage-styled 710 Club, which has Gary Barlow as its musical director and a resident band and the larger Limelight Club.

And then there are the 30 restaurants and bars, a theatre, a multi-screen cinema, a spa, a salon, a state-of-the-art gym and health club, a medical centre, an adults-only outdoor retreat, teen zones, various child play areas including The Reef, a nursery, tropical island themed minigolf, a multimedia submarine simulator, a large selection of shops, Splash Valley aqua zone, 10 infinity whirlpool spas and 10 whirlpool spas.

And a retractable roofed SkyDome and Grand Atrium that showcases acrobatics, aerial acts, physical theatre, dance, music, cookery demonstrations… day or night and whatever the weather. Oh, and a casino thrown in for good measure. This miracle of engineering weighs 184,700 tonnes and can accommodate 5,200 guests and 1,800 crew.

Our cabin located on Deck 8 is a Conservatory Mini Suite. A brand-new innovation for Arvia and its sister ship Iona; the conservatory mini suites let the outdoors in via an additional lounging area with floor-to-ceiling glass (and an external door) between the main cabin area and balcony so that you can sit back and relax inside or out in comfort, with panoramic sea views.

The cabin has an en-suite bathroom, The White Company toiletries, a television with a good selection of movies and box sets, a fridge, a desk/vanity area, adequate storage, a safe, a telephone, tea and coffee making facilities and a daily dedicated housekeeper. It’s clean, it’s cosy, it’s cool. There are a whole range of other cabins on offer to suit every budget and requirement.

Tonight’s dinner is at the Olive Grove, a Mediterranean-style restaurant featuring the region’s iconic dishes, from Greek mezze to Moroccan lamb tagine. This is a complimentary restaurant, though you do have to book in advance. A few of the restaurants on board charge a supplement, albeit a very reasonable amount. We dive straight into the mains. Tofu and New Potato Spanish Tortilla with avocado and pea puree, cherry tomatoes and pickled red onions for my guest. Sardinian Yellowfin Tuna Salad with capers, rice gnocchi and friarielli broccoli for myself. Suitably sated, we retire for the evening, by way of the Amber Lounge for a nightcap.

Today is an at sea day. The ship is so large you barely notice you are afloat. After a hearty full English, veggie breakfast at the a la carte Zenith restaurant, which also offers a celebration dinner menu created by superstar chef Marco Pierre White, we decide to explore Arvia. First, we consult the daily Horizon newsletter that is dropped off at your cabin every night and lists the following day’s activities, ranging from line dancing classes, Spanish guitar workshops, LGBTQ get-togethers, shuffleboard, body sculpt boot camp… to art talks. Our trek takes all morning, and we keep getting lost, stumbling upon new facilities at every turn.

After a spot of lunch at Horizon, one of the two main buffet-style restaurants at your disposal, I stop by the ship’s salon, which offers premium beauty and grooming services for both women and men and have my holiday haircut. Freshly trimmed, it’s back to our private terrace for an afternoon of sea-facing, sunbathing and a bit of room service, which incidentally is 24-hour. That’s the thing with a cruise, pretty much everything you need is within your immediate orbit.

A surprisingly powerful shower and it’s time for dinner. Apart from one black-tie celebration evening, the dress code is smart/casual, and the climate pushes me towards linen. We decided to try out the 6th Street Diner for its great selection of background music, whooping from the jukebox. It’s pure ‘Back to the Future’ with a menu to match. I’m a pescatarian and my guest is vegan, so we pick around the choices on offer before I succumb to a Fro-Yo Cherry Mess for dessert. With my sweet tooth satisfied, we head to the Sunset Bar for a pre-theatre, obligatory cocktail.

Arvia’s Headliners Theatre is a great place to catch the stage musical Greatest Days - The Official Take That Musical. It is an adaptation of the acclaimed West End musical The Band, which features the songs of Take That and a story by Olivier Award-winning writer Tim Firth. It is cheesier than fondue but thoroughly enjoyable. Barlow’s songs lend themselves effortlessly to the musical theatre genre.

A stroll through the casino on our way back to our suite. Temptation for a quick flutter is resisted. If I ever bet on a horse it is guaranteed to shed its rider at the first fence, if it hasn’t already refused to leave the starting gate.

Up early, a quick breakfast and we head for the gangway. Of the many shore experiences on offer in Barcelona, the Catalonian capital (all bookable in advance on the My P&O Cruise link and managed by using the My Holiday app onboard planner), we have chosen the Catamaran Coastal trip: with a percentage of our fare going towards the removal of plastics from the Mediterranean Sea. There is a complimentary shuttle bus operating throughout the day, so the toing and froing is effortless. The charter lasts for around two hours and it is a great way to see the Barcelona skyline and unleash your inner Duran Duran.

We then head up the world-famous, tree and street entertainer-lined, Las Ramblas boulevard, which stretches for 1.2km in search of an authentic Spanish tapas bar. I’m not a food snob, my death row dish would be bubble and squeak, but the whole street is lined with restaurants with pictures of food on the menu, which is a great shame. No matter, by veering off into a side street we discover a gem, whose name annoyingly now totally escapes me. A couple of glasses of local cava, a bowl of fat olives and Paco Pena blaring out of the speakers. It's well worth the detour.

We also stumble upon a year-round Christmas shop which my travelling partner can barely contain her excitement for, before heading off to Sagrada Familia, the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world, designed by the whimsical, Art Nouveau architect Antoni Gaudí, whose life was sadly ended, on his way there in 1926, when he was knocked down by a tram.

Back on board, we continue the tapas theme with dinner at The Glass House created by renowned restaurateur José Pizarro, paired with wines selected by Saturday Kitchen’s Olly Smith, who have both been guest speakers on board on the days before we joined the cruise. You will certainly never go hungry on Arvia. An early night in preparation for our second day ashore in Barcelona.

We head from the shuttle bus to Drassanes on the Barcelona metro and get off at Ciutadella Vila Olímpica where you are well placed to check out Barcelona’s beaches. This area is where the globally famous Pacha nightclub is situated. From here we strike west to Barceloneta and spend the day checking out the beaches, chiringuitos and shops as we make our way slowly but surely back to our pick-up point.

We set sail this evening for Seville. We have both built up quite an appetite for today’s activities, so it is with great pleasure that we join the affable P&O Cruise PR director, Jenny, for dinner at Sindhu, described as a contemporary Indian kitchen.

I opt for Keralan Styled Spiced Crab Meat in a light coconut curry sauce as a starter while my guest chooses Puffed Flatbread Bites filled with chickpeas, potato, red onion and a sweet tamarind chutney. Both dishes are superb. For a main, I go for the Lobster Thermidor Sindhu Style with ginger, green chilli and coriander finished with a grilled cheese melt with curd basmati rice and a spiced seafood bisque while my partner in fine dining settles on a vegan Thali Plate of baby potatoes with cumin and sesame seeds. Lentils with garlic, chilli and cumin. Sweet potato, pumpkin and black sesame seeds. Aubergine, cinnamon and basmati rice. The dishes are sensational. The dessert menu presents a challenge. I gravitate to Sindhu Bread and Butter Pudding with Dundee marmalade, English sloe gin, macerated fruits and cream. The conventional pudding dish; my food heaven, marmalade: my food hell. I take the risk. It somehow works for me. It is supremely delicious. I think we have found our favourite onboard eatery.

Happily, stuffed we head off to the Headliners Theatre to catch Singer/Pianist Jo Rochell belt out a few crowd-pleasers before retiring to Anderson’s Bar which boasts a boutique rum distillery, the first at sea, and in addition to which they produce Marabelle gin. When in Rome…

Another day at sea. I book myself in at the Oasis Spa, a “sanctuary of serenity” for an acupuncture session with the award-winning Dr Azad Bose M.D. I’m hoping to alleviate an ongoing back injury. I only end up having one session when three are recommended, after an initial consultation, but I have since noticed a positive difference.

My guest opted for the Elemis Biotec resurfacing facial and commented. “It is easy to get carried away with the indulgent lifestyle on deck. Soaking up the sunshine, having a pina colada or two and enjoying all there is on offer, experience and food wise, so I also thought it was important to balance the indulgencies with some essential self-care.”

Upon arriving at the spa, she was greeted by her aesthetician, who scanned her face to highlight the target areas. Being a skincare junkie, she thought she had her routine down to a T and knew her skincare goals. The information the scanner revealed was both a shock and fascinating. “It took me through my skin layers and showed me hydration, wrinkles and mild pigmentation were the areas I need to focus on, although the blow was softened by the calming and charming ocean view from the spa window.”

Two spicy red bean burgers and chips courtesy of room service and we head off to an art talk on Warhol and Banksy. I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Warhol many years ago, though Banksy’s identity is still shrouded in mystery. On the way to this discussion on all things pop art, we pass the ship’s resident busker, Craig Stuart, at Brodie’s bar mashing up ‘Valerie’ with ‘Kung Fu Fighting.’ Genius.

Culturally refreshed, I head off to Infinity, the swim-up bar on board Arvia for a secondary refreshment, while my companion heads off to the gym, which boasts the latest Evolt 360 body scanning technology so that guests can get a unique 360-degree picture of their physical conditioning to set individual goals. Wellbeing consultants are also on hand for professional advice on nutrition, sleep and stress management.

Tonight, for dinner, Jenny hosts us again. This time it is Green & Co. feat. Mizuhana which has a plant-led menu reflecting the latest trends in vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian dining. It offers guests exquisitely crafted fish and plant-based dishes and also a sushi bar. We collectively tuck into a selection of seafood and vegan sushi platters before ordering our individual courses. They are, as you would expect, delightfully appetizing.

I follow with Nepalese tofu momos in roasted sesame, edamame and aromatic citrus soy broth. My guest chooses sesame-crusted fried tofu, kimchi spiced allioli, sticky Korean sauce, crisp garlic and spring onion. For a main, I’m torn between the Chakalaka Wellington with mock lamb in a warm green bean salad and the Miso-glazed Celeriac Fondant with horseradish remoulade, soused red onions and shaved black truffle. I choose the latter and I am not disappointed. My guest, the Hot and Sour Dashi ramen with crispy tofu, Umami broth, pickled mushrooms and sweet vinegar onions. She proclaims it her new favourite on-board restaurant before we have even looked at the dessert menu.

I go for the Rum-steeped Calamansi Pineapple Carpaccio with Alphonso mango mousse, tropical sorbet and seaweed shards which totally hits the spot. My salivating vegan guest, the Chocolate Earth Plate with beetroot pebbles, forest sponge moss, cherry chocolate toadstools, tarragon jelly fizz, chocolate soil, tarragon bark and vanilla gelato. It’s a work of art but is enthusiastically demolished, nevertheless. Another great dining experience under my, by now creaking belt.

A swing by The Club House to check out party band Pulse, who tonight are paying homage to the 70s. Scarily I know the lyrics to every song. “Every song,” my companion keeps repeating all the way back to the cabin.

It’s an early start as we dock in Cadiz. This small Andalusian city, on a narrow peninsula jutting out into the sea, is thought to be the oldest inhabited settlement in Europe, dating back to the 12th century BC. It’s famed for its seafood, vast plazas and stunning architecture, the centrepiece being the Cathedral of the Americas.

We are only here for one day, so will have to visit again. We have opted for the Sights of Seville tour (roughly a two-hour drive from Cadiz), which incorporates photo stops at Plaza America, Plaza de España and Maria Luisa Park before arriving at Seville Cathedral, which houses both the tomb of Christopher Columbus and Pierre Dancart’s altarpiece, known as one of the finest in the world.

Seville has long been on my bucket list and I’m not disappointed as fleeting as this visit is. We leave the tour and head off into the surrounding areas of the Santa Cruz quarter for a couple of hours spent racing around the old Jewish quarter, white-washed, bougainvillea-clad, back streets, cafes, bars and shops while soaking up the ambiance and the 36-degree heat in one of the consistently hottest cities in Europe. See you again Seville for sure.

Back on deck, a welcome lie down with the aircon on full blast before dinner. The Beach House features Caribbean and Latin American dishes. I work my way through two starters, the Crab Tostadas with guacamole, chilli and sour cream and the Halibut and Salmon Ceviche cocktail, followed by a main of the Caribbean Seafood Basket, all while gazing out to sea. My vegan sidekick obviously sidesteps the fishy theme and opts for Chilli Sin Carne, a three-bean and sweet potato chilli. All washed down with a couple of Mai Tais before moving onto The Crow’s Nest lounge bar for a couple more and a late-night performance from pianist/vocalist Elena Safonova.

Another sea day. Time to check out the Oasis Spa once more. It features a thermal suite and thalassotherapy, specialist body and anti-aging treatments, an array of massages and various skincare solutions. While my companion takes a soak in one of the many outer deck Jacuzzis, I kick back with an old-school Swedish massage and thermal therapy. My masseur Reimichon uses a combination of sweeping movements, kneading and soothing essences to relax, restore and release muscular tension and re-energise my lymphatic system and thus release my toxins and improve my circulation, before shrouding me in hot towels. It’s extremely effective and I nod off. I’m gently awakened and then shuffle back to the cabin and sleep like a baby for most of the afternoon.

Tonight’s dress code is black-tie. Suited and bow-tied and sparkly dressed we head back to Sindhu for dinner, which upon reflection is now our shared favourite restaurant. My shimmering companion opts for the exact same meal as our previous visit, as she says it was unbeatable. I delve deeper into the menu and start with the Rice and Lentil Pancake with spiced paneer, peppers, ginger and coconut chutney and follow with Deep Fried Monkfish Medallions with Tandoori Tiger Prawns and crushed curried peas. To finish Rose Syrup Dumplings encased in a bittersweet chocolate and cardamom mousse. All the dishes are perfectly cooked and allowed to showcase their individual flavours, as opposed to being drowned in an overpowering sauce, as is often the case in Indian cuisine. I could happily eat here every night.

On to the 710 Club, which you need to book in advance. It’s small, intimate, and hosts a house-band trio of piano/vocal, bass and drums playing a selection of musical genres with singer/songwriter content at its core. It’s the perfect place to sip on an espresso martini or perhaps a negroni, hand-picked by Gary Barlow, while you decide on your next cruise destination.

Our last day. We were going to spend it lounging on our terrace, but the weather, which up to now has been pretty perfect, has taken a turn for the worse as if to welcome guests back to the Atlantic and as of tomorrow, the UK.

There are an immense number of indoor activities on offer, but we instead decide on a lazy day binge-watching a backlog of movies, with occasional trips to The Quays buffet restaurant on our deck, to help keep our blood sugar level up.

Our final dinner at Meridian. We have been pigging out all day so just go for a main. I chose the Garlic and Brandy Sauteed Tiger Prawns with orzo pasta and sauce Americaine, while my guest opted for Cabbage and Butternut Squash Sabzi with white rice and Poori. Like pretty much everything else we have eaten on this trip, it’s very good.

A lot of fellow guests have suggested that we must try out Epicurean, one of Arvia’s silver service, flagship restaurants, which is classic British fayre with a contemporary twist. Unfortunately, it is the only restaurant on the whole ship that does not have a vegan option, though if you are a meat eater you can feast yourself on, among other dishes, for a starter Pulled Smoked Gressingham Duck Leg and Hackleback Caviar with truffle brioche toast and parsley bubbles or Frogs’ Legs Sucette in a black garlic and parsley dressing and for a main Whole Dover Sole a la Meuniere in a butter sauce, Redman Limousin Irish Beef Fillet and Ox Cheek with smoked potato croquettes, glazed onions and salt-baked carrots or Black Leg Chicken Breast with pear tarte tatin, gorgonzola dolce, leg bonbon and carrot puree or choose one of the prime grills, perhaps Dorset Crown Lamb Rump with grilled artichokes, olive tapenade and minted Greek yogurt. And if you still have space, Coconut Panna Cotta with mango, passion fruit gel, wild strawberry and black olive tuile or a Valrhona Dark Chocolate Tart with hazelnut financiers and caramelised orange gel…

There is also a set three-course, supper option at the Limelight Club, with a rotating cast of cabaret acts, like one-woman cabaret diva La Voix, to entertain you while you dine, which is obviously a must-see experience, as it has been fully booked for the whole duration of the cruise, although on this, our last night, we have managed to catch the post-dinner show, featuring the Arvia Orchestra. They are an extremely talented bunch of jazz musicians and a great way to end our cruise as we will dock in Southampton, are final port, early tomorrow morning.

A special shout-out must go to the Arvia’s Captain, Robert Camby, a London-born P&O Cruise veteran, who not only gets us back to dry land in one piece but also on the dot of 5.45 pm every day, regaled us with his daily announcement and thought for the day or a gag straight out of the Tony Blackburn joke book. It quickly became my maritime guilty pleasure and I strangely miss it.

For more information or to book call P&O Cruises on 0344 338 8003, visit or contact a travel agent.


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