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I Booked the Most Controversial Cabin on a Cruise Ship – P&O’s Iona Conservatory Mini Suite

Normally if you take a cruise in a balcony cabin you can look forward to views of the ocean and the ports that you’ll be visiting.

That is not what happened on my last cruise though because I stayed in what is called a ‘Conservatory Mini Suite’ which although it did have a balcony, had no clear view of the ocean.

It is one of the most controversial cabins at sea and definitely the strangest cabin I’ve ever had. I saw some weird things from here too!

We paid £1157 for the room based on 3 sharing for a weeks long cruise. We were upgraded into this room though so the cost to book this cabin normally would be more. (P&O moved most people my agency booked onto this cruise up into better cabins and resold the cheaper ones last minute). If you’d like to book a cruise with us, please fill in our form here.

Bad Reviews of the Conservatory Mini Suites on Iona

There are plenty of videos and reviews online that warn others not to stay in these types of cabins, but because I had booked what is called a ‘guaranteed’ cabin I was automatically assigned this room.

Usually, when you book a guaranteed cabin, you get assigned the leftover cabins. I did wonder if that was what had happened here. 

Still, I was very happy with the cabin I was assigned. It was cabin 8304 on deck 8. The deck 8 cabins are the most controversial ones.

p&o iona deck plan deck 8

On P&O’s website, the conservatory suites look amazing!

On the P&O website, it looks like the Conservatory Mini Suites have clear views of the ocean. I knew from looking at the deck plans that there would be a promenade deck between our cabin and the sea.

The conservatory cabins are some of the most expensive cabins on the ship so I was looking forward to finding out what – if anything – made them worth the price!

I was sharing the cabin with two other adults so was looking forward to the extra space that the conservatory cabins offer over a standard balcony.

I’d heard that there were a few extra perks that came with the room too, and I wondered if I would receive those, as I had actually only paid for an inside cabin.

Looking at the deck plans I noticed that we were located by the stairs and also that there was a whirlpool outside the cabin’s balcony.

I’ve never had to think about noise from beyond the balcony before but I did wonder if this would be a problem.

I didn’t want to be constantly bothered by the noise of people on the deck.

I knew that there were over 900 children onboard because this cruise was during the school holidays. 

The Layout of the Ship

When we embarked on the ship we walked into the huge atrium on deck 6 and went up the central staircases to deck 8 to find out room.

Having a cabin on deck 8 did turn out to be a big benefit as most of the restaurants and lounges are on decks 6, 7 and 8.

I wondered if the walk right up to deck 16 to the buffet would be difficult, and I certainly did climb a lot of steps during this cruise!

My Initial Impressions

My first impression of the cabin was very good, I loved the design and although it felt a little narrower than some other cabins I’ve stayed in, it felt spacious and bright.

The ship was launched in 2020, just before the pandemic which in hindsight wasn’t great timing. For a cruise ship, she is pretty new.

The sofabed would become my bed for the cruise, so I hoped that this would be comfortable.

It’s more common for kids than adults to stay on these sofa beds so I hoped that it would be designed for somebody like me too!

The cabin also had a big double bed, a TV and a desk with a kettle and coffee maker.

I really miss my morning cup of tea when I stay in a cabin without a kettle!

I was really happy to see the kettle, but I did already know that P&O provide tea and coffee-making facilities in every cabin.

Our coffee machine was an additional Conservatory Suite perk and I’m told the coffee was pretty nice!

There were biscuits in the back of the drawer too which were replaced every day.

It would be really easy to miss these, tucked away right at the back, if you weren’t looking for them. If you do stay in this cabin, make sure you eat them every day – you’ve paid for them! 

Next, I headed out to the ‘conservatory’ as it is called to have a quick look around.

If you’re not from the UK you might be wondering what I mean by a “conservatory.” A conservatory is a room that’s mostly made of glass, often found on the back of a house. They are very popular in the UK.

The space was decorated in the same style as the cabin which I really like and it felt like a go-between area between the cabin inside and the balcony outside.

There were sliding glass doors at both ends and a big sofa. I wasn’t sure at this point how much we would end up using this space, and what we’d actually end up using it for. 

Conservatories can often be described as ‘sun rooms’ but we definitely didn’t use it like that on our cruise. We didn’t see much sun, it was February and we were cruising from England. 

The next room that I wanted to explore was the bathroom. I was very impressed with the size and the design – the shower was pretty big and it had a glass shower door, not a shower curtain.

We did have a bit of a problem with the shower because it didn’t seem to drain very well so having a shower was a bit like a race against the water, you’d start showering and soon feel like you were standing in a little pool.

Still, it never spilt out into the rest of the bathroom, and my friends who were also on board had the same problem, so I think it probably is just the design.

Also in the bathroom was the classic cruise ship toilet that flushes using suction and lots of towels as there were three of us sharing the room.

We’re all pretty tidy people luckily so we had plenty of space for our stuff. If you were sharing with somebody that was a bit messier, you’d definitely have to set some ground rules to stop your bathroom from becoming overrun with toothbrushes and medicines! 

As far as cruise ship bathrooms go, I think Iona’s bathrooms are probably my favourite

I definitely didn’t miss the glass wall from the Costa cruise I took a little while ago.  To see that unusual bathroom, watch the video below:

Nowhere to Hide! – I Stayed in The Weirdest Cruise Ship Cabin – Costa Smeralda

The biggest complaint that I had heard about the cabin pre-cruise was that there was a lack of privacy on the balcony because the promenade deck is right next to it.

We went outside to have a look around and it was just exciting at that point to have a cabin that was different.

There wasn’t anybody outside really, and I enjoyed looking up and down the promenade deck.

I realised pretty quickly that I could see into the cabins beside me if I looked that way, and looking up, I realised that there was deck upon deck above that could all look down into my balcony!

I wasn’t planning on sunbathing during this cruise so I didn’t think that it would be a problem.

If this was a warm-weather cruise, that would definitely bother me. I usually do like to sit out on my balcony though and watch things like sail-aways and the fact that the sea was so far from my cabin did worry me a little.

Conservatory Mini Suite Perks

We had a bottle of bubbly in the room when we arrived, which was one of the suite perks. We also had an atlas and some binoculars.

I was travelling on this cruise with a couple of children who were staying in other cabins. They used the binoculars most, usually just to look at other people up close but it was fun!

There were some other perks listed on the website like daily fruit, mineral water and canapes which we didn’t seem to get.

We did have fruit once and canapes once, but I did find something in my room that was much much better… You’ll have to read to the end of the article to find out more!

Three Berth Cabin

It wasn’t long after this that our luggage arrived and we unpacked.

There isn’t a huge amount of storage in the cabin and there aren’t any drawers, but we never had any problems with the 3 of us staying in there.

We each just had a couple of shelves, and a bit of hanging space – and then threw things like our shoes at the bottom of the wardrobe.

I did see a quote that said:

Organised people are organised because they’re too lazy to spend time searching for what they want’

That is definitely the case with us, if you’re sharing a cabin like this with other people, organisation can save so much time!

The Balcony and Conservatory Area

When my friends came over to watch the sail away I was impressed with how many of us we could fit onto the balcony. The space itself was pretty big, and we had two chairs and a footrest. My niece, who’s pretty small, liked to stand on the footrest to see over the railing.

Usually, I wouldn’t encourage kids to stand on things on a balcony, but worst-case scenario – she would just fall over and onto a chair on the promenade deck – so it didn’t worry me too much. That is one benefit of this cabin I suppose!

I imagine that the space would be really nice on a hot day. You could open up the doors at the back of the balcony.

I’d probably choose to spend more time sitting in my conservatory area so that not as many people walking by could see me!

It was difficult to see too much of the land from our balcony – and I definitely couldn’t film sail-ins, like I usually like to.

That said though it was a fun place to spend time and every person who walked along the promenade deck said hello to us.

I think if you were a person who was cruising solo or just somebody who wanted to make new friends, a deck 8 Conservatory Mini Suite would be a fabulous cabin for it!

I had lots of people stop to chat with me including people who wanted to ask about the cabin because they’d read online about the bad reviews. 

I hadn’t wandered around the promenade deck yet, so I didn’t really realise how different some of the conservatory cabins were.

We ended up going to the top deck to watch the sail away and it was the next day that we really started to notice some of the benefits and drawbacks of the cabin.

I was up pretty late at night on this cruise. but my cabin mates who are my parents usually weren’t and they woke up earlier than me.

If we were in an inside cabin there wouldn’t have been any way really that I could have slept while they were awake and vice versa – but because we had this extra space they could sit out in the conservatory and have a cup of coffee while I was in my ‘bed’ – or the other way around.

I did joke at one point that they should just leave the balcony doors open and I’d climb in from the promenade deck and sleep in the conservatory so as not to wake them – but they didn’t think that was a good idea… 

I was worried that we would be woken up by the noise of people on the promenade deck, but when the two sets of patio doors were closed we couldn’t ever hear a thing outside.

Out on the balcony, you could hear everybody’s conversations. Inside the cabin, it was pretty quiet.

I slept very well on my sofa bed too, every bit as well as I would have in a regular bed. I would recommend the sofa, it was good! 

Our cruise was sailing to Hamburg, Bruges and Rotterdam – so it wasn’t exactly sunbathing weather outside but we did see a lot of people walking laps of the promenade deck.

Sometimes when people were out in quite strong winds, they would be walking at quite a serious angle!  

I found it quite difficult to take a photo on my balcony because there were either:

  • People in the background of my photos
  • Teenagers in the hot tubs
  • Somebody wanted to chat to me about something!

When we sat down on the balcony we were pretty much out of view of people walking past. The glass is frosted, so it felt like we were hiding when we sat down!

There is also some sort of reflective tint on the outside doors too so people really can’t see into your cabin.

If it’s dark outside and the lights are on they can see some shapes, but only in the conservatory area.

We never felt as though people could see directly into the main area of the cabin, once the patio doors were shut 

We could see people’s heads bobbing past though, and that’s really strange when you forget what type of cabin you’re in!

Usually, if you see heads bobbing past the end of your balcony you’ve got a problem!

If it was a sunny day I imagine the promenade deck would be full, and you’d be so close to people sitting out there that you could literally reach over and touch them.

There was a height difference between my cabin and the promenade deck. When I went for a walk a little later I realised that the height of the promenade deck slowly increased but the cabins stayed the same.

I think we were quite lucky with our cabin’s position, and I wouldn’t want to be in a cabin that was at the same level as the promenade deck. Then I’d have to properly duck down to hide from people walking by! 

Having the extra space in the conservatory was really useful.

We used it when we had friends round, and often used it just to store things like the extra cushions from the sofa bed, or our suitcases when we were repacking near the end of the cruise.

Our cabin really became the hub where we would meet before dinner, not just because of the extra space but also because of the location in the middle of the ship.

Occasionally we could hear people outside near the stairs or lifts, but it really wasn’t a problem for us and I loved always knowing how to get back to my cabin.

I don’t have a great sense of direction, so being roughly in the middle of the ship was helpful. 

I’m glad I had the space to invite my friends round to the cabin because one day when I came back to the room there was a mysterious tray waiting for me with a napkin over the top.

When I pulled it off I could not believe my eyes! I was expecting maybe a few little canapes – but I was so surprised to see 4 gigantic cookies!

These were pizza sized and I did share them with as many people as I could think of onboard. Whenever people were passing I’d say do you want to come in for cookies?

This does sound a bit weird, but I honestly did have lots of cookies to share!

There was a little note from the chef, and I guess somebody must have heard about my cookie addiction because these definitely aren’t on the cruise ship menu! Whoever made this happen out there, thank you so much!

On P&O’s Iona, they also have Conservatory Mini Suites up on deck 9.

Given the choice, I’d definitely prefer one of those where you get all the benefits of the suite without looking out onto the promenade deck.

I didn’t dislike my mini-suite, but I wouldn’t pay extra for it and I’d probably pick a regular balcony cabin over it – but it was much better for the three of us than staying in an inside cabin.

I have cruised on P&O’s Iona before, and I spend a week in the cheapest and smallest inside cabin with my brother. To find out how we got on and if we were sick of each other by the end of the week, check out this video next. 

I Booked The Cheapest Cabin on a MEGA Cruise Ship

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