When designing the first truly double-ended modern ferry to sail between Britain and France, P&O Ferries and designers OSK Group were able to start with an entirely clean sheet of paper when it came to the layout of the passenger facilities. At the invitation of P&O Ferries, NI Ferry Site stepped onboard P&O PIONEER in early July 2023 to sample the new ship.
P&O PIONEER is laid out a little differently to other English Channel ferries with the shape of the accommodation mirrored at both ends. One benefit of this layout is large amounts of publicly accessible outside deck space at either end of the vessel.
Facilities at each end of the ship are totally different which aids passenger orientation. Large screens displaying deck plans are located in the centre of the vessel, further aiding navigation of the passenger accommodation.
As this is a double-ended ship, P&O PIONEER never turns around 180 degrees in regular operation as a conventional English Channel ferry normally would. Because the forward and aft of the ship changes depending on which direction the ship is sailing in, P&O Ferries refers to the Dover facing end as the blue end and the end facing Calais as the yellow end.
Passengers move between decks via stairwell lobbies located in the centre of the vessel. There is a stairwell lobby at each of the yellow and blue ends.
The sides of P&O PIONEER are referred to as red (Facing towards the North Sea) and green (facing down the English Channel) rather than port and starboard. For the purposes of this guide we will work from the blue (Dover) end to the yellow end.
Table of Contents
This is the first deck above the vehicle decks and will likely be where most passengers enter the accommodation. The passenger facilities on deck 8 are broadly split into three areas: The Main Lounge, The Food Market, and the Duty Free Shop. Additionally there are two wraparound outside decks which all passengers can access. The reception desk is located to one side of The Food Market.
Access to all spaces on deck 8 is available to all passengers at no extra charge.
P&O Pioneer Deck 8 Plan
Duty Free Shop
The 588 m2 Duty Free Shop is located at the blue (Dover) end of Deck 8. As with all other P&O Ferries vessels, the Duty Free Shop is a Dufry concession run under the World Duty Free brand. Passengers can purchase a range of discounted fragrance, alcohol, and tobacco products as well as gifts and souvenirs.
A large wraparound outside deck surrounds the outside of the shop giving passengers views of the White Cliffs of Dover. This outside deck space is accessible to all passengers.
The Food Market
The largest space on P&O PIONEER is the self-service Food Market, located in the middle area of deck 8. The concept is a development of the facility on P&O Ferries’ SPIRIT OF BRITAIN and SPIRIT OF FRANCE. Passengers help themselves to a selection of pre-packaged hot and cold food items.
Items available to purchase include pizzas (which are hand topped onboard), paninis, sandwiches, wraps, sausages rolls, salads, and soup. A cooked breakfast box, breakfast wrap, and porridge are among the items offered on morning crossings. A selection of muffins, pastries, chocolate bars, and crisps is also available throughout the day for those looking for a lighter bite to eat. Passengers pay for items at one of the self-service tills at the exit to the food market.
Seating with panoramic views of the English Channel is located on either side of the vessel where the double-height glass walls that dominate the side profile of the ship are located.
A small Game Zone branded arcade area is located on the red side towards the blue end of P&O PIONEER.
Children’s Play Area
There is a children’s play area located between the Food Market and Main Lounge. There is also seating overlooking the play room for parents to use whilst supervising their children.
There is also a small additional play area located in the family section of The Kitchen restaurant on deck 9.
Main Lounge (and bar)
The Main Lounge and bar is located at the yellow (Calais) end of deck 8. Passengers can purchase a selection of hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, and pastries from the counter. A large outside deck with its own seating is located towards the forward area of the lounge.
P&O PIONEER’s deck 9 houses The Kitchen Restaurant, the premium Club Lounge, the Quiet Lounge, the Pet Lounge and the Commercial Drivers facilities.
On deck 9 only The Kitchen is open to all passengers without additional charges.
P&O Pioneer Deck 9 Plan
P&O PIONEER’s Club Lounge is L-shaped but spans the full width of the ship at its widest part. The Club Lounge is only accessible to passengers who have paid the premium to upgrade. The lounge is split into two areas. The dining area is at the side of the ship, and the relaxation area spans the width of the ship overlooking the Dover bow.
A dedicated outside deck spans the blue (Dover) end, giving Club passengers the best views of the White Cliffs on the ship. For those who prefer to stay inside, a range of comfortable seating is available in surroundings like those in a premium airport lounge.
Passengers access the lounge using a barcode given to them at check-in or when they pay the upgrade fee onboard. Guests are welcome to help themselves to a complimentary cooked or “Continental” breakfast on morning crossings or a selection of hot and cold items on later crossings. Cakes and pastries are also available.
The food was observed to be replenished regularly by the friendly crew throughout the two crossings we undertook on the ship. As ever with P&O’s Club Lounge offer, passengers are also free to help themselves to hot and cold drinks including alcoholic beverages.
The two Quiet Lounges are accessible for a small premium and feature luxurious reclining chairs with their own fold out table and USB charging port. The chairs are orientated towards the windows on the green side of the vessel
P&O PIONEER‘s quiet lounges also have their own dedicated outside deck space on the side of the ship.
The Kitchen is located to one side of the ship (the green side facing down the English Channel) and offers customers a selection of meals which are prepared to order. While a more premium offer than the pre-packaged selection downstairs in the Food Market, the food choice in The Kitchen again reflects the 90 minute duration of the crossing. On our July 2023 crossing the menu consisted of fish and chips and a range of different burgers, including a vegan option.
Orders are placed via a self-service kiosk and collected when the passengers’ order number is displayed on a screen. The setup is similar to how many fast food restaurants work. Each meal is then prepared to order in the main galley which is located immediately behind The Kitchen.
Passengers pay for their drinks at the kiosk and help themselves at the dispensers located on the other side. As with the Food Market on the deck below, seating in The Kitchen overlooks the double-height glass curtain wall. There is also a family area towards the Dover end of The Kitchen which incorporates a small children’s play area.
Passengers with pets can enjoy the crossing with their dogs in the dedicated Pet Lounge. This is accessible for a premium paid at the time of booking. The Pet Lounge has its own dedicated lift access direct from the car deck and its own outside deck. A dog toilet area is provided on a dedicated part of the outside deck.
Human passengers can take advantage of the free TV, Wi-Fi, charging points and plugs, and complimentary hot and cold beverages in the Pet Lounge. P&O Ferries has also considered dogs should the highly unlikely event of an evacuation ever occur, with procedures in place to allow dogs to be evacuated with their owners via the inflatable chutes.
Commercial Drivers Facilities
Commercial drivers onboard P&O PIONEER are catered for with separate restaurant and lounge areas. Drivers can also take advantage of a dedicated outside deck space (facing Calais). Separate male and female shower, changing, and toilet facilities are also priovided.
Drivers can enjoy their meal in the restaurant then relax in an entirely separate lounge area. Shower availability is shown graphically via a screen near the access corridor which is updated in real time. All commercial driver facilities are located together on the red side of deck 9 on the opposite side of the vessel to The Kitchen and the Pet Lounge.
Deck 10 – Crew accommodation
The accommodation provided for P&O PIONEER’s crew is to a very high standard and includes a gym, male and female saunas, relaxation spaces, and a games room. The crew mess has its own dedicated chef who prepares a menu to cater for all nationalities onboard, offering something for everyone. Officers cabins are located on the red side of the vessel with ratings cabins on the green side.
There are signs at regular intervals indicating which side of the ship you are on and indicating which way the Dover and Calais ends are to aid orientation in the crew areas. Both navigational bridges are located on deck 10 and are a mirror image of each other. Control is handed between the blue and yellow bridges whilst in port.
P&O Pioneer has five lifts in total, all of which are wheelchair accessible. There are multiple disabled toilets located on both decks 8 and 9. A Changing Places accredited toilet is also available on deck 8 next to the duty free shop. This is equipped with a hoist and a changing bench.
As a modern ferry, all seating areas onboard P&O PIONEER have spaces to accommodate wheelchairs. A hearing loop is installed in front of reception.
The P&O PIONEER is like no other ferry to sail on the English Channel before – both in terms of appearance and the onboard product. Even on a busy crossing she feels spacious despite the number of premium access areas. Her outside deck areas are plentiful for those wanting to take in the sea air.
Her décor could benefit from more artwork but is nonetheless contemporary, comfortable and modern. P&O PIONEER’s facilities reflect modern catering trends so it is unsurprising the only place with a conventional cafeteria is her driver’s lounge.
The Club Class Lounge is probably the best on a UK ferry to date, bringing it more in line with a decent airport lounge.
All in all, P&O PIONEER offers passengers a modern customer experience that will more than satisfy most who travel on her.
The author and NI Ferry Site would like to thank Kim at P&O Ferries and the crew of P&O PIONEER on 01.07.23, particularly Anna, for their hospitality and assistance with this feature.
P&O Ferries invited NI Ferry Site onboard P&O PIONEER for a round trip at a date and time of our choosing. While P&O Ferries covered the cost of these crossings, there was no expectation that we wrote a positive review of the vessel and we were free to say whatever we wanted. The cost of all additional expenses, including overnight accommodation and transport to and from the port, was self-funded. P&O Ferries has not had any opportunity to review this article or its content before publication.