5 Fundamental Difference Between P&O Cruises and Cunard


If you are considering a cruise with either P&O Cruises or Cunard you may be wondering how they compare. I’ve cruised with both cruise lines so in this post we will explore the differences in dress codes, dining, onboard experience, and more.

What Are The Main Differences Between P&O Cruises and Cunard?

Cunard cruises are usually more expensive than P&O cruises and offer a more traditional cruising experience. P&O cruises attract a younger market than Cunard and have a busier daily schedule. Dress codes and dining times are less strictly enforced on P&O cruises.

Both are British cruise lines but this really is where the similarities end.

Note: It’s worth noting that for the purposes of this article we are talking about the British portion of P&O cruises. There is also an Australian part which is much more of a party cruise line. 

Dress Codes & Formal Nights

Both cruise lines do have formal nights and dress codes in place but the dress codes for Cunard cruises are much stricter and are enforced ship wide. Lovers of formal dress would love both cruise lines as compared to other cruise lines they are both quite formal.

cunard dress code examples womens mens childrens

Cunard – Dress Codes & Formal Nights

The formal dress codes on Cunard are actually the reason why I started this website! I couldn’t believe how strict the dress codes were even on informal nights.

I had cruised before my Cunard cruise but only with Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC, both of whom are incredibly relaxed. The informal nights on Cunard cruises are more formal than the formal nights of most other cruise lines so I started this website to tell people what I had learned. The rest is history!

Formal Nights

On a 7 night Cunard cruise you’ll typically find 2 formal nights with the other nights being informal nights. On formal nights men have to wear a shirt, tie and jacket which cannot be taken off. On informal nights jackets are still required for men but the tie is optional. There are no dress codes during the day but guests have to wear long trousers to go to afternoon tea.

Are The Dress Codes Enforced?

The dress codes are strictly enforced and guests who aren’t dressed appropriately will be asked to change. The dress code does apply ship wide with certain places being ‘formal nights dress code free’ such as the buffet.

Cunard cruisers take the dress code very seriously, I doubt that other guests would actually tell you off if you were underdressed but you’d certainly get some stares!

Generally speaking I wouldn’t recommend a Cunard cruise to anybody who doesn’t want to take part in the formal nights and dress codes.

To learn more about Cunard’s dress codes, including what you cannot wear, check out this post:

Cunard dress code – (Mens, Womens, Kids Examples 2020)

The post above contains lots of photos of members of our Facebook groupOpens in a new tab.. A massive thank you to all who submitted photos!

P&O Cruises – Dress Codes & Formal Nights

P&O also have dress codes but these aren’t as strictly enforced as the dress codes on Cunard cruises.

Evening wear – Black tie

Our Gala Evenings, or Black Tie nights, offer a chance to get dressed to the nines in glamorous evening wear. Don your favourite cocktail dress, tuxedo, ball gown or dinner jacket, or alternatively a dark business suit and tie. You may also wear formal national dress or military uniform. – source.Opens in a new tab.

Some guests cruising with P&O really do go all out and wear tuxedos and ball gowns. That said, other guests who don’t want to take part won’t look out of place either. The dress code is enforced only in the main dining room so guests wanting to avoid dressing formally usually eat in the buffet or order room service, more about the room service later!

Are P&O Cruises Dress Codes Enforced?

In a recent survey  76% of P&O cruisers said that they didn’t feel as though P&O’s dress codes were enforced.

The survey was conducted in our Facebook group and 130 people voted for no, 41 for yes.

are p&O cruises dress codes enforced?

There are no specific day time dress code rules on P&O cruises.

Target Market/Families

Generally speaking P&O have a younger passenger demographic than Cunard. P&O often advertise to families and have discounted places for children to encourage families to come onboard.

Cunard – Target Market/Families

In my experience, the Cunard cruise which I took on the Queen Victoria had the oldest passenger demographic of any cruise that I’ve been on, I’ve been on 23 cruises to date on a range of cruise lines. My gran who’s 92 LOVES cruising with Cunard and she’s probably Cunard’s target market.

Traditional Experience

Cunard focus on the traditional elements of cruising that older passengers tend to prefer. You will find some younger people on a Cunard cruise but I have to say at 23 I was probably the youngest person on my Cunard cruise. I didn’t feel out of place but if I was looking for night life or friends my own age I would have been disappointed.

Some younger people do love Cunard though! Chris who wrote this post is one of them: Are Cunard for Young Adults?

Cunard cruise ships do have kids clubs but the ships themselves aren’t designed with children in mind, no ships in the Cunard fleet have waterslides or play areas. I love the design of the Cunard ships, they’re very elegant and having waterslides on the top would definitely ruin this!

Cunard__So much to do, so much time__Landscape

P&O Cruises – Target Market/Families

P&O advertise themselves as a family cruise line and you’ll find lots of families on board. I constantly recommend P&O to families, to find out why check out our recommended cruise lines page here:

Best Cruise Lines For Families (Tried & Tested, Pros & Cons!)

Family Discounts

P&O cruises often have discounts on children’s places and sometimes even have £1 children’s places. Walking around a P&O cruise ship you’ll usually see younger people than on a Cunard cruise.

With the launch of P&O’s new ship Iona the cruise line are definitely trying to attract younger cruisers and families to the brand.

P&O’s cruise fares include gratuities and are generally good value for money which is often attractive to families. They have kids clubs onboard and many of their cabins house 4 or 5 people. There is a lot more for children to do on a P&O cruise compared to a Cunard cruise.

P&O Cruises Sail Away Party Top Deck

Ship Design

Cunard and P&O’s cruise ships are similar in age and passenger capacity. The style onboard the Cunard ships is much more traditional and there is less variety between the Cunard ships than on the P&O cruise ships. That said all ships in both fleets are widely loved for different reasons.

Cunard Ships – Ship Design

Cunard’s cruise ships are among some of the most famous in the world. They have a distinctive classic style and have become well known as being elegant and classy.

Cunard currently have three cruise ships in the fleet with a fourth on the way.

Cunard Fleet

The Queen Mary 2 was built in 2003 and is the only remaining ocean liner. She cruises across the Atlantic and cruises on her are often described as being the best way to take a transatlantic cruise. I would agree! If I was to take a transatlantic cruise I would definitely want it to be onboard the Queen Mary 2. She is built for such journeys.

If you’d like to find out why she’s so well designed for this journey check out this post which describes the differences between cruise ships and ocean liners, theres more to it than you’d think: Cruise Ships vs Ocean Liners: 5 Fundamental DifferencesOpens in a new tab.

Cunard also have the Queen Victoria who was built in 2007 and the Queen Elizabeth who was built in 2010. I sailed on the Queen Victoria in 2016 and had the most amazing time.

Onboard Style

The styling and facilities onboard all three ships are very similar. They feature classic designs and colours with all elements that you’d expect from a traditional cruising experience such as a promenade deck and open atrium. It feels as though the ships are incredibly well look after and they are always clean and cared for.

cunard christmas tree

P&O Cruises Ships – Ship Design

P&O cruises have a range of cruise ships ranging in size and age. The oldest was built in 2000 with the newest ship Iona being launched in 2020.

The stylings onboard are fairly modern and they appeal to a wide range of passengers. The older smaller cruise ships are a little more traditional than the newer bigger ships but even still there is a style onboard which is instantly recognisable across the fleet.

All P&O Cruises cruise ships have a union jack flag on the bow which makes it easy to identify them from far away.

Onboard Activities/Entertainment

Generally speaking the schedule on a P&O cruise is busier than that of a Cunard cruise. Both cruises do have daily schedules which will be delivered to your cabin each night, these detail the events which will be happening the next day of the cruise.

Cunard Onboard Schedule

I’ve been on 23 cruises to date on a number of cruise lines and without a doubt the schedule on my Cunard cruise was the quietest of any cruise line. Most guests will fill their days sitting by the pool with a book, dancing in the ball room or enjoying afternoon tea. Cunard do have some very reasonable drinks packages, to learn more about these, including what I’d recommend, check out this post: Cunard Drinks Package Guide and Menu With Drink Prices.Opens in a new tab.

Typical activities found on a Cunard cruise include:

– Trivia
– Movies
– Needlework/Knitting
– Live Music (String quartet, harpists, mostly classical music)
– Theatre Lectures

If you are considering a Cunard cruise make sure that you bring a good book and are ready to entertain yourself. This isn’t a problem for me at all and I loved the chance to really relax but I do know that some people like to have busier onboard schedules. On most days there tends to only be one activity per hour at most times on the onboard schedule.

Afternoon tea is a very big part of any Cunard cruise and this is included in your cruise fare. It’s amazing how fast you can get used to having another meal between lunch and dinner!

The events on the daily schedule cover roughly from 7am until 10pm.

cunard afternoon tea dress code queen victoria

P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises tend to have a busier onboard schedule than Cunard but they are still relatively relaxed compared to the bigger American cruise lines. You’ll find activities happening much more frequently than on a Cunard cruise and there are definitely more entertainment options in the evenings.

Typical activities on a P&O Cruises Cruise include:

– Trivia and Gameshows
– Movies
– Poolside Games
– Live Music (Pop, Rock, Classical)
– Discos and Dancing
– Exercise Classes

On a daily schedule for a P&O Cruises cruise you’ll usually find an event happening every 15 minutes to half an hour. There are additional activities for children throughout the day.

I took part in a cookery class with Marco Pierre White which was so much fun. I’m not normally a fan of cooking but I really enjoyed the experience. This does cost extra.

The events on the daily schedule cover roughly from 7am until 12pm.

marco pierre white cookery class club p&o britannia
Photo by Christopher Ison. www.christopherison.com

Room Service/Dining

Both cruise lines include your meals in the cruise fare. Everyday breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea are available at a number of different venues. The dining experience with Cunard tends to be more fixed than with P&O cruises.

Room service is free on Cunard cruises but there is a charge for it on P&O Cruises. Most cruise lines do charge for room service, either by the item or with a set fee for the delivery of the room service.

Cunard Room Service

Some of the best room service that I’ve ever had on a cruise has been on Cunard. The room service is actually available 24 hours a day which is AMAZING. There is a wide variety of food available and one of my fondest memories of my Cunard cruise is sitting on the balcony with my family as we sailed away from a port eating room service.

I only ever order room service when it is free so if you do take a Cunard cruise make sure that you take advantage of this!

The room service is also a great option if it is a formal night or you simply can’t be bothered to get dressed for dinner. It is worth noting though that as the dress codes do apply ship wide you can’t go to the theatre in the evening wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothes.

P&O Cruises

P&O Cruises do have room service but like most cruise lines you will be charged for this. The charge will automatically be added onto your onboard account when you order and you’ll have to pay it at the end of your cruise when you get your bill. P&O Cruises charge by the item.

Room service is however free for breakfast so I’d definitely recommend that you take advantage of this. Breakfast in bed or on the balcony is brilliant!

Cunard Dining Times

For the majority of passengers Cunard only offer fixed dining in their main dining rooms for dinner. There will be an early and late seating which you will usually be able to choose before you cruise. If you are cruising in a ‘Britannia Club’ stateroom you are able to dining in the Britannia restaurant which doesn’t have set dining times.

There are no set timings for breakfast or dinner.

cunard queen victoria dress code main dining room

P&O Cruises Dining Times

P&O Cruises have both flexible dining times and set dining times. Ahead of your cruise you’ll be asked to pick either a set time for dinner or the more flexible option. I always go for the more flexible option because I like to eat when I’m hungry, not when it’s dinner time.

We never had to wait for a table and had no problem getting a table for two. We were able to share with others when we wanted to which was great. We shared a big table for 10 on the first night of our cruise and met up again for the last night.

P&O also have a number of speciality restaurants where you can have dinner if you want something a little special.

Which Would I Recommend?

I’d recommend both P&O Cruises and Cunard!

The experience on a Cunard cruise is much more traditional with fixed dining times, enforced dress codes and a relaxing onboard  experience so this would suit somebody who likes a quiet elegant atmosphere.

For families and younger cruisers I would usually recommend P&O cruises as the onboard schedule is busier and the dress codes and dining are more flexible.

To find out more about the cruise lines which I recommend, check out our recommended cruise lines page here: Recommended Cruise Lines, Full List

If you’re more used to cruising with American cruise lines, check out this comparison between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean:

7 HUGE Differences Between P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean

Emma Le Teace

Hey, I'm Emma, an award-winning cruise blogger, and YouTuber. I share cruise tips, tours, and videos on this website to help you master cruising on a budget. You can learn more here: About Me.

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