Fake tans, tight trousers and enough sequins to outshine a disco glitter ball can only mean one thing -- "Strictly Come Dancing" is back on tour. And just a cha-cha-cha from their cabin, cruise passengers can enjoy all the elements of their favourite show at sea on one of P&O Cruises' The line's new ship Iona will also host a series of Strictly Come Dancing experiences at The Limelight Club, with the intimate adults-only supper club playing host to a special Strictly guest, plus a Strictly pro dance coupling from the hit BBC series.
What It Is
Two professional dancers and a judge from the BBC show join selected P&O cruises out of Southampton and bring the toe-tapping glitz and drama of the dance floor to sea. In addition to the regular entertainment programme, Strictly cruises include performances by the dancers, dance classes, a Q&A session, a costume display, photos with the stars, and even the chance for passengers to take their place in the limelight in front of a celebrity panel and the chance to win the coveted Strictly Come Dancing cruise glitter-ball trophy.
For once, the spectacular scenery of the Norwegian Fjords wasn't the only star of the show after we set sail from Southampton. Also onboard were former Strictly dancers Ola and James Jordan, Kristina Rihanoff (famously paired with broadcaster John Sargeant) and her professional partner Robin Windsor, plus catty judge Craig Revel Horwood.
Over a welcome drink on the first evening we gathered in the lounge and excitedly poured over the programme detailing the themed events (to be strictly accurate, it seemed to the women who were paying the most interest, and I spotted a few men hiding behind newspapers or chatting at the bar).
For once, shore excursions and mealtimes took a back seat as we plotted the course of the ensuing days around talks by Strictly's costume designers (it turns out some dresses take four days to make and incorporate 7,000 hand-sewn sequins), concerts with singers from the show, a talk by Edwina Currie -- onboard in dual guise as a former MP and former Strictly contestant -- the Q&A stints with the stars, and dance shows.
The walk to the restaurant for dinner provided a tantalising taste of what was to come. The ship's corridors were lined with mannequins dressed in gorgeous, tiny costumes from the show.
The next day heralded the first of the daily dance classes, which are led by the ship's resident dance teachers, not the Strictly stars. I decide to give them a miss, but stopped by to watch part of a lesson where the teachers are trying to instil the basics of the tango. Throughout the cruise there are lessons for all levels, including beginners, plus daily dance sessions where passengers can practice and strut their stuff.
Later in the week the audience with Craig Revel Horwood didn't disappoint, and he candidly shared details of his early life and spilled the beans on Strictly gossip, including his very public fall-out with "EastEnders" actress Patsy Palmer.
However, the real highlights of the cruise were to come with dazzling performances by the professional couples, which definitely earned a 10 from me!
Worth a Try?
Absolutely! For Strictly fans and cruise-lovers -- and to borrow an adjective from Craig -- it's "fab-u-LOUS" and scores the perfect 10. Any flat-footed partners, or those who don't share the same passion for the pasodoble, won't end up as wallflowers as there will be all the usual elements of the regular cruise itinerary to keep them entertained.
Things to Note
You might be the star turn at your local dance school, but don't enter the mock Strictly competition unless you've got a thick skin and a sense of humour. After the three competing couples took to the floor on our cruise they were buoyed up by polite constructive comments from the two Strictly dancers before Craig had his less complimentary say. He described some of the moves as dance "di-sah-sters", and on asking an elderly couple how long they'd been dancing -- which added up to more than three figures between them -- retorted: "That's well over 100 years wasted". One of the feisty pensioners had the last laugh when he quickly bit back and said it had been "worth every minute", but others might not be so amused.
P&O Cruises is running Strictly-themed cruises onboard Azura, Britannia and Ventura in 2019, plus The Strictly Come Dancing experience on Iona from 2020.