P&O Iona Epicurean Restaurant Interior

Celebration Night On P&O Iona: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide (Chef’s Table Included)

On P&O cruises, formal night is known as “Celebration Night” and the Celebration Night dinner menu is a special menu, created by celebrity chef Marco Pierre White. As someone on a gluten free diet, I was curious about how my dietary needs would be accommodated on this special evening. Also, having cruised almost entirely with US cruise lines, I was utterly perplexed as to why the “Chef’s Table” was included and available for me to book at no extra charge!

For my UK readers, the “Chef’s Table” in mainstream US cruise lines usually refer to an intimate group dining experience (usually there’s only a table of 8-16), with optional wine pairings and sometimes includes a galley tour or a conversation with the chef about how the meal was prepared. If offered, it’s usually the most expensive dining experience onboard and often gets sold out very quickly due to limited capacity. That’s why I found it odd that I could book the “Chef’s Table” at no charge!

So let me share my experience and insights into what you can expect from P&O Celebration Night (at least on the Iona), from the dress code to the food and how to navigate it all while being gluten free.

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What is P&O Celebration Night?

Celebration Night is P&O’s version of formal night, a time-honoured tradition on many cruise lines. It’s a chance to dress up, enjoy a more upscale meal, and perhaps partake in some celebratory activities. 

On Iona, Celebration Night takes place once during a 7-night cruise and more often on longer itineraries. It usually takes place on the first sea day on a 7-night cruise. (You’ll know by logging onto your P&O account and checking the itinerary.)

P&O Celebration Night Dress Code

1. The Official Celebration Night Dress Code

The P&O official dress code for Celebration Night is “Black Tie”. For gents, this typically means a tuxedo or dark suit with a tie. For ladies, it’s usually an evening gown or cocktail dress. On my cruise, there were definitely loads of cruisers who did a LOT of packing, with gowns, suits and extra shoes that no doubt took up a lot of space in their suitcases! So what could one get away with, if one tried? 😅

2. The “Least Dressed Up Possible” Option

I’m not a huge fan of dressing to the nines for cruising. While I do like the idea of getting dressed up in a nice dress, I don’t like having to pack so much extra stuff just for one evening when I’m travelling. There’s the evening gown, high heels, a jacket or a shawl, and an evening bag. That’s half my suitcase!

So I did the “least dressed up possible” option for the Chef’s Table – dark trousers with a casual knit top, a top I had planned to wear ashore anyway. I also wore my dark sport shoes and because my trousers were long, I didn’t think that it was obvious my footwear did not count as “black tie”!

I think the servers were too busy to look at what everyone was wearing. So I think so long as you’re not in shorts, T-shirts or flip flops, you’re good! I saw many gents wearing a long-sleeved collared shirt (no tie) with dark trousers at other tables at the Chef’s Table.

Not all Dining Venues are Black Tie on Celebration Night

P&O Iona Horizon Newsletter dress code for Celebration Night
Dress Code as printed on the onboard Horizon newsletter

Only selected dining venues are Black Tie on Celebration Night. But if you want to have the Celebration Night menu, then the only option is to go to one of the Black Tie dining venues. The daily Horizon newsletter will state which venues are black tie. Everywhere else is smart casual.

If you absolutely want to stay in shorts, all the other casual dining venues including the buffet and the poolside grill (Taste360) remain open – see the GF options in my Gluten Free Foodie’s Guide to P&O Iona’s Included Dining Venues.

The P&O Chef’s Table Explained

P&O Iona Chef's Table Deck 16

If you’ve never cruised with P&O, then you’re probably just as perplexed as I was. What is the Chef’s Table? Let me do the big reveal…

It turns out that parts of the Horizon Buffet Restaurant on Deck 16 was turned into the “Chef’s Table”, with a slightly wider menus choice than what the MDRs are serving that same evening. I was told, at least for my cruise, that if I had chosen to dine in one of the MDRs, the menu would have been roughly the same.

The only difference in booking the Chef’s Table was that I would be on Deck 16 (as opposed to a lower deck where the MDRs are), with a slightly “better” view… although I would be eating in what’s normally the casual dining buffet area.

It wasn’t exactly an intimate dining experience either. There were at least a few hundred people there. Just like the MDRs. You can see why it was all a bit odd to me 😂 ! Thank goodness I didn’t make much of an effort to dress up for the Chef’s Table!

P&O Celebration Night Chef’s Table Menu – Gluten Free Choices

P&O Iona Celebration Night Dinner Menu, June 2024
P&O Iona Celebration Night Menu – copyright P&O cruises
P&O Celebration Night Desserts Menu served on Iona June 2024
Copyright P&O Cruises

So as a gluten free cruiser, should you book the Chef’s Table? (If you want to book the Chef’s Table, your best chances of securing table is to book 14 days before embarkation date, when specialty dining opens up for pre-booking.)

My Take: I won’t book the Chef’s Table again. But I will choose to be in my “least dressed up possible” outfit to eat in one of the main MDRs that require Black Tie dress code on Celebration Night. And here’s why:

  • Harder to Pre-Order: I specifically asked what the pre-ordering procedure for Celebration Night would be on embarkation day. I was told that because I booked the Chef’s Table, I need to pre-order at lunch time on Celebration Night itself. Because there isn’t a Chef’s Table at Horizon normally, I couldn’t order at Horizon the night before nor could I pre-order at one of the MDRs the night before either. And because Celebration Night happens on a sea day, the Horizon buffet was extremely busy at lunch. I simply gave up on tracking down the right person to place a pre-order for the Chef’s Table.
  • Very Limited GF Choices: Because it was so hard to pre-order for the Chef’s Table, I showed up with my fingers crossed that there would be a gluten free option. The Celebration Night menu was the only menu I saw onboard the entire 7-night cruise with only one GF option as the main course. (Every other menu had at least two!) I did discuss this with my server and he basically said that it was the only choice. At least I wasn’t offered fruit as dessert…

Top Tip: I learnt my lesson. If I were to take another P&O cruise, I would definitely make a reservation in the MDR and pre-order there for Celebration Night. At least I can then preview the menu and make alternative plans if I don’t like it. For pre-ordering procedure, read my Gluten-Free Cruiser’s Guide to P&O Dining on Iona.

Alternatively, if your dining companions are really keen to do the Chef’s Table, you can visit a MDR the night before and check the menu for Celebration Night and ask what the differences in the Celebration Night menu are.

Gluten Free Celebration Night Options

1. Starter: GF French Onion Soup Gratin with Gruyere Cheese Croûte

GF French Onion Soup Gratin with Gruyere Cheese Croûte, served on P&O Iona, June 2024

The GF croûte was crispy and not soggy which was a big surprise, though it didn’t taste as cheesy as it looks. Unfortunately the soup was quite watery and I wouldn’t order this again.

2. Main Course: Roast Mock Lamb Stuffed Butternut Squash

Roast Mock Lamb Stuffed Butternut Squash

This is the one main course that I would not have ordered if I were given a choice of main course! I generally don’t buy any kind of “mock meat”, even though the bulk of my diet is plant based, as it’s generally UPF. I have to admit that this was rather tasty and I’m not even a fan of Brussels sprouts (outside the holiday season, at least!)

3. Chocolate and Passion Fruit Delice

Chocolate and Passion Fruit Delice served on P&O Iona, June 2024

The dessert saved my meal! In fact, it was the scoop of rich chocolate ice cream that did it! 😉

Don’t miss the chance to elevate your cruise experience with Celebration Night on Iona. This post wraps up my Gluten Free Dining series for the P&O Iona – if you haven’t seen the rest, here’s the entire series. Happy cruising and bon appétit!

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