P&O Cruises’ new ship provides “hope” for the travel industry which has been “suspended in limbo” by the pandemic, the firm’s president declared.
Paul Ludlow described the arrival of Iona – the largest vessel built for the UK cruise market – as “momentous”.
Iona has 17 passenger decks, creating capacity for 5,200 holidaymakers before social distancing is taken into account.
She is the first British liner fuelled by liquefied natural gas, which Mr Ludlow claimed makes it “Britain’s most environmentally-friendly cruise ship”.
Vessels of her size are normally powered by diesel engines which emit nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality.
Iona will be used by the operator for its summer season of domestic sailings.
The firm suspended sailings in March last year due to the coronavirus crisis.
Iona was greeted by a water salute as she sailed into Southampton on Sunday morning.
At her naming ceremony that evening, Mr Ludlow said: “It is 427 days since we have been able to do what we do best, welcome our guests onboard and give them unforgettable, joyous holidays, where they make memories on board and see the sights of the world.
“That world as a whole, and the travel industry in particular, has been paused, and it has felt like being suspended in limbo for almost 14 months.
“But today heralds a new beginning and new hope for the industry.
“Anticipation of a new ship is always momentous but never more so than here tonight with Iona.”
The ceremony featured a performance by Take That star Gary Barlow, who is music director of an onboard entertainment venue.
Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel, is the ship’s godmother.
Iona – 345 metres long (1,132ft) and weighing 185,000 tonnes – was built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.
She will sail on her maiden cruise to the Scottish island she was named after on August 7.
The first major sailing following Monday’s lifting of the ban on cruises in England as part of coronavirus restrictions will be operated by MSC Cruises.
Its ship Virtuosa will set off on a four-night trip from Southampton on Thursday.
Cruises operating in England are only allowed to carry up to 1,000 passengers – or 50% of their capacity if that is lower – until all limits on social contact are removed.
Under Boris Johnson’s road map for easing restrictions, that was due to take place on June 21 at the earliest, but the Prime Minister has warned that the Indian coronavirus variant means his plan is in jeopardy.