P&O Cruises is one of the most prominent operators of sailings for British passengers, with a seven-strong fleet of high quality ships sailing to destinations around the world. It isn’t a cruise line that’s just popped up in recent years, but rather it has one of the longest histories of any line sailing today.
P&O Cruises dates all the way back to 1822, making it just a decade shy of being 200 years old. Originally the company was working in shipping between England and the Iberian Peninsula, under the name Peninsular Steam Navigation Company. The name grew to include “& Oriental” when it was incorporated, with new contracts won to deliver mail to Egypt.
It was in 1844, 22 years after the formation of the line, that P&O began offering passenger services to let people take a sea tour to destinations including Gibraltar, Athens and the island of Malta from Southampton. These were the first ever ‘cruises’, in essence, as nothing similar had been done before. The fleet and range of destinations grew towards the end of the 19th century.
The first official cruise from the company was on the Vectis, which was a ship purpose-built for 150 passengers. The voyage took place in 1904. The two world wars brought much interruption and, particularly in the Second World War, heavy ship losses. But as line voyages became less popular in the 60s and 70s, cruising came more to the forefront. The company acquired the remained of Orient Lines, which it already had the majority stake in, in 1961 and then in 1974 Princess Cruises were bought.
In the late 70s the company went under a re-brand, creating P&O Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia. The next major event in the cruise line was when all the cruise operations were demerged from the P&O group in 2000, creating a completely independent company P&O Princess Cruises. It was then in 2003 that this company merged with Carnival Corporation in 2003, creating Carnival Corporation & plc.
And that is the state of the company today. So dating back from a shipping and mail company way back in the early 1800s, P&O were the first company to offer cruises, had a fleet of almost 200 ships at one stage, and now is one of the leading cruise lines for voyages from the UK. And in 2015 it will take delivery of a new ship, the largest ever built for the UK market – sure to continue this long tradition.
By Ian Lewis