I absolutely love cruise holidays. The wonderfully relaxed feeling of being at sea, the excitement of the ship, the top-notch food and entertainment, the stunning sunsets and sunrises, the ports and the sundecks all tick a lot of boxes for me.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough, I’ve just had the opportunity to experience a cruise holiday with P&O Cruises which I think trumps them all. For once a year they offer guests the chance to take a holiday with an optional visit to the one and only Monaco Grand Prix, a winning combination if ever I heard one.
Oceana is one of the smaller ships in the P&O Cruises fleet but if you’re new to cruising you (or being around big ships) you will still find it absolutely huge! I’d only been on their largest ship, Britannia before and to be honest it still felt really quite sizeable to me. There was never a shortage of places to eat or drink or of things to do whilst at sea or of an evening.
The historic Maltese port of Valletta is postcard pretty and as most of the charter flights from the UK arrived quite early in the morning, there was plenty of time to explore prior to the ship leaving in the evening. It’s less than 15 minute’s walk from the ship to the bustling lanes and streets of the city so you really should make the most of your time there.
I had a balcony cabin near to the rear of the ship and I found that it was pretty well proportioned with enough storage for all of my things. The bed was incredibly comfy too. My only niggle was the lack of plug points, but as this is a slightly older ship, I suppose that is to be expected.
The compact bathroom had a powerful shower, white company toiletries and plenty of storage space for all of your grooming essentials too.
With the ship setting sail, it was time to get familiar with the facilities onboard Oceana and with 14 decks, numerous restaurants, bars and cafes, a gym, spa, pool and more there was plenty to see. If you find yourself on Oceana, my top tip is to try the speciality restaurant, The Beach House for tasty steaks and grill food. It was delicious!
After a lovely and relaxed first day at sea, we arrived into our first port of call, Ajaccio, Corsica. If there are any history buffs among then you might know that this was also the birthplace of Napoleon.
Aside from that factoid, I didn’t find this the most interesting or pretty of places but as I had pre-booked a catamaran excursion via the ship (highly recommend), I still really enjoyed my day. The ‘Catarman Adventure’ was a half day trip that takes guests from the ship over the bay to a very picturesque area where the anchor goes down to allow swimming, sunbathing, lunching or a combination of all!
Back onboard Oceana and it was the night before the big race. You could feel the excitement building among the 2,000 odd guests on the ship – many of whom would be making the trip to Monaco the following morning.
Pre 7 am on the morning of the race, Oceana laid anchor in the lovely little French town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, where a fleet of coaches was lined up to take us on the short journey along the coast to Monte Carlo in plenty of time for the Grand Prix kicking off.
P&O Cruises have a few pre-bookable excursions for the Grand Prix ranging from the all singing all dancing package that included a seat in the grandstand from where you can watch the action unfold down to a simple coach only transfer to the city.
Whichever option you opt for they really did seem to have everything organised with military precision. From the transfer from the boat to the local guide who walks you from the coach park directly to the spectator’s entrance point to the freshly prepared lunch bag ram packed with enough snacks to keep me going all day.
We arrived in the morning and as the big race did not get underway until mid-afternoon, we had plenty of time to take in the sights beforehand. There are fan zones and events going on in the streets around the race track so you’ll not be short of things to keep you entertained.
Even if you’re not hugely into the F1 yourself it is still worth making the trip over to Monaco for the day. The city becomes alive and if people watching is your bag then grab a perch on one of the pavement cafes and fill your boots.
The grandstand that P&O had managed to block book our seats in was in the most amazing of positions, directly opposite the yachts in the harbour (one of which was playing host to Lewis Hamilton’s family) and gave a great view of a bend and chicane on the track. I couldn’t help reminding myself just how amazing it was to be sat there under the warm blue sky watching the F1 cars zoom past.
Before I knew it, the 78 laps were up and Hamilton was crowned the winner. An unforgettable day was coming to an end and it was time to head back to Villefranche to re-join the ship.
The great thing about the P&O Cruises Monaco Grand Prix trip is that even after the high of the race itself you still have a few days of relaxation and sightseeing ahead before you need to think of heading back to the greyer skies of the UK.
There were still 2 Italian ports to go and a chilled sea day before arriving back where it all started in Malta.
The first of those ports was Livorno, a fairly industrial style town that is located close to Pisa. If you’ve seen the leaning tower (there didn’t seem to be much more worth checking out there) then you have the option of heading slightly further afield to beautiful Florence. In fact, you have time to do both if you really want to make the most of your time in port.
I discovered that the ships organised excursions to these cities had sold out, so I’d recommend booking these before you leave the UK if it something that you want to do. Instead, I just jumped on the local train into Pisa myself, but I did leave wishing I had planned a little better in advance and seen both places.
The final stop for this cruise was Civitavecchia, the closest port to Rome. If you’re still in the mood for sightseeing, you can take the free shuttle bus from the bottom of the ship’s gangway into the town where you can catch the express train over. It’s under 10 euros each and takes around 45 minutes (far quicker than the journey by coach if you book an organised trip).
Get off the train at Roma San Pietro and you’ll be within a 5 minutes walk of The Vatican, from there it’s easy to navigate the city and take in the main sights. Just remember to pack some comfy trainers or shoes as you’ll need them!
Stop for gelato, find an authentic local spot for lunch (a few streets off the main tourist routes are the best bets) and soak up the atmosphere before making your way back to Oceana.
In a week, I’d visited the bustling streets of Malta, enjoyed a relaxing morning on a catamaran, taken in the excitement of the Monaco Grand Prix from the grandstand, dropped by the Leaning Tower of Pisa and spent the day exploring Rome. That coupled with a couple of chilled sea days soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine from the pool deck made this a trip like no other.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have your won yacht then I don’t think there is a better way to do the GP in Monaco than this holiday. Not only do you get to experience the race itself but you have the bonus of a week-long holiday thrown in too for not much more than the price of a weekend in Monaco itself!
Booking your trip for next year:
P&O Cruises 7 night cruise on Oceana taking in the ports of Olbia, Villefranche-Sur-Mer (for the Grand Prix), Florence/Pisa, and Rome departs from Malta on May 21, 2020, and is priced from £779pp and includes flights from selected UK airports, kids clubs and full board meals and entertainment on board.
To book, visit pocruises.com or visit your local travel agent.
The Monaco Grand Prix Excursion options:
Shore excursions to the Grand Prix start from £55 per person for a transfer only option over to Monaco. This is ideal if you already have your own ticket to the race or simply want to head over and soak up some of the party vibes.
If you’d rather have everything taken care of then you’ll pay from £177pp for a standing ticket along or £599pp for the Grandstand package with allocated seating. Both options include your ticket to the race, coach transfer, picnic box and earplugs.