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Travel review: Cruising in to pole position

By Simon Hill | Travel | Published: | Last Updated:

And it’s GO, GO, GO! That’s what I had in my head (in a Murray Walker voice of course), as the red lights counted down to green, my heart pounding.

Grandstand tickets this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, ticked off the bucket list

We were at the Monaco Grand Prix 2019, which turned out to be just one of the highlights in our week on board P&O Cruises’ ship, Oceana.

After this year’s Formula 1 season came to an end at the weekend, my wife and I look back on our trip to the narrow streets of the Monaco circuit, with a slight detour in the shape of a seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

The cruise itself kicked off in Valletta, Malta and sailed across the Mediterranean, taking in Ajaccio, Corsica; Villefranche-sur-mer, Monaco; Livorno and Civitavecchia, Italy; then ending up back to Malta, with a couple of days at sea.

After an early Thursday morning start, we flew from Birmingham to Malta. Even in Birmingham airport, there were friendly P&O staff to answer any questions and get you where you needed to be. As soon as you get off your flight in Malta, again there are P&O signs and staff directing you to the coaches and then after a short ride, we could see the ship and were at the check-in desk. In no time, we had left our cases with the porters and were having lunch and a drink or two on the top deck, looking out on to the Valletta coastline on a beautiful, sunny day.

2,000 passengers and 900 crew

The ship feels huge, both inside and out, especially for first-time cruisers like us, and I’m told this is a relatively small one. Weighing in at 77,000 tons, with a capacity of just over 2,000 passengers alongside almost 900 crew, it seems big, but put those stats next to its big brother, P&O’s new ship, Iona, due next year at 5,200 passengers, maybe it is on the smaller side of the fleet.

Sail away time was later that evening, so we had a chance to get back off the ship after lunch, and explore what Malta had to offer that afternoon.

Ahoy there! Room with a view on P&O Oceana

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A short walk from the ship is a lift that takes you up to Valetta. Malta feels very historic, but with modern twists. New architecture and materials, such as steel, beautifully intertwine with old stone. We could see why it had recently won the European City of Culture award, it is really very beautiful and somewhere we’d definitely return to. After a drink in the sunshine, we made our way back to the Oceana.

The cabin was ready so we headed up to our room with a view for the week. Our bags had been dropped off right outside our door, and we were good to settle in.

We had a balcony cabin which meant waking up to a new view every day. Pulling back the curtains to see somewhere different each day was great. A new port, or just miles and miles of nothing on our sea days, was just as interesting. No land in sight and no phone signal, there is something so refreshing about that. (For the people that are panicking right now, don’t worry, there is Wifi available if you need it)

This afternoon’s view was the very picturesque Valletta port, pretty buildings with coloured doors run alongside the dock, a lovely start to our postcard views.

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Attention to detail

That evening, before we could set sail, a Muster drill for all guests is mandatory. After welcoming us on board, we were all instructed by the captain speaking from the bridge, over the speaker system in our cabin. You heard from him from time to time throughout the week, and if you were interested, like me, there was a TV channel with information of the manoeuvres they had to make to get in and out of port.

All we had to do for the drill was head down to our muster station, life jackets in hand and a safety briefing took place, similar to an aircraft one. When this was all done, we headed for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.

The busy streets of Valletta, Malta

There are two main restaurants for dinner on Oceana, these are club dining, so you sit at the same table every night, and get to know the lovely staff. The emphasis really is on lovely when describing the staff, we really felt looked after. They took the time and trouble to remember your names, your likes and dislikes and even what your go-to bottle of wine was. From the housekeeper for your room, to the restaurant waiters and bar staff, their attention to detail is massive, so hats off to them.

There is a buffet restaurant, which is open from breakfast, throughout the day, to late-night snacks, and along with these there are two more restaurants, these come with a small supplement to dine in, but for only around £6 per person you can try out a bistro-style menu developed by Chef Marco Pierre White.

The next morning, we signed up to the guided tour of the ship, (we might have made a few wrong turns the previous night) to see what Oceana had to offer and to get our bearings. After a few key points, we soon picked up where everything was and we were shown the restaurants as mentioned and entertainment venues on offer.

Onboard the Oceana

There really is something for everyone, with two theatres hosting many different forms of entertainment from bingo to magic shows, singers and ukulele groups to karaoke in the pub and a casino.

Our first sea day, we had nowhere to be and no deadlines to make, so feeling very chilled out, we headed for the top deck where the sun was shining, and the BBQ was in full swing. There are pools and jacuzzis, bars and snacks, what more could you want.

After a relaxing afternoon soaking up the rays, we went to get ready for dinner. There is a smart casual dress code for most nights, but also two formal nights, where you can get dressed up in your best– black tie and evening dresses are the attire, as advised on your daily cruise newspaper which also includes an itinerary for the day.

We got dolled up and headed down for the captain’s welcome, centre ship, before dinner and an enjoyable night.

Corsica to Monaco

Saturday morning, we woke up in Ajaccio, Corsica, the birthplace of French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte. After some breakfast on board, we went to explore the port city. There are plenty of excursions on offer to see more of Corsica if you want to go further afield, but we stopped relativily nearby and had a walk along the seafront. There was a market full of all sorts of food gems such as cheese vans and cured meat stalls, very French, as well as lovely bars in the port area.

We had an early start on Sunday as the day was finally here, we were at the Monaco Grand Prix. This cruise usually stops off in Villefranche-sur-mer, but today wasn’t like any normal day, today was race day. Talk about ticking something off your bucket list. I’ve been learning the twists and turns of Monaco since Formula 1 came out on the Playstation 1 in 1996. I know it like the back of my hand, but to actually be there is something else.

Meeting at 7am to get our tender boat from the ship into the port, we were all handed a packed lunch which was perfect for the day ahead. A boat took us into Villfranche-Sur-Mer which looked beautiful and then we boarded a coach for a 30-minute drive into Monaco.

There were around 500 people visiting Monaco from the Oceana and the organisation by P&O was fantastic. Every step of the way was like they do it every week. I don’t know how they did it, but I felt they had found a secret way in and out, as I expected to be in hours of queues. Walking through Monaco was very impressive, even if it had been taken over by thousands of F1 fans. Driving in you can soon tell you’re in Monaco, when every other shop turns into a supercar car showroom.

Onboard the Oceana

Just a short walk and before I knew it I had found my bearings and I could see red and white kerbs, I could see yellow Pirelli signs, and yes, through the gap in the fence while we were queuing, I could see turn 1. We are actually here. Once through security, we took our grandstand seats, opposite the famous row of yachts, just after the tunnel at turn 12. You could feel the buzz even early on and this got bigger and bigger as the day went on as the pre-races and parades went past.

Forget the celebrity spotting now, forget the cute coffee shops and the light drizzle. The lights were counting down and all of a sudden, behind us, on the main straight there is such a noise as every car hurtles into the first right-hand corner and we catch a glimpse of them shooting up the hill. We follow on the huge TV screens dotted around and it’s not long before they are through the tunnel and whizzing past our seats. The sound, the sparks, the smell, and the wind as they fly past, it’s like nothing else.

Yes it’s not the cheapest excursion if you go for grandstand tickets but the section P&O had were amazing seats, and if there is one race to see, this is it. I can’t think of a better way to get here other than a cruise though. It was completely stress free and we didn’t have to fork out millions of pounds to moor a luxury yacht.

We’d done such a lot already and this was only halfway through the week.

The next port of call, quite literally, was Livorno. From here you can visit Pisa, Florence or further if you prefer. After our long day the day before, we opted for a slower morning and opted for just a 15-minute train journey to Pisa. We of course had a walk to the famous leaning tower and the two other beautiful buildings in the same place. A great one to tick off the sightseeing list.

Tuesday’s port wasn’t too far from Livorno, stopping in Civitavecchia for Rome. Knowing there was so much to see in here, we got a train in to the city in the morning and jumped straight on to a hop on hop off sightseeing city tour bus, this was a great way to do the sights in a few hours, such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and more. We stopped for some Italian pizza, when in Rome, and Gelato near the Trevi fountain which was fantastico!

The famous Colosseum, Rome

Wednesday was another sea day and it was lovely to have a bit more relaxation to finish the week off. We found a spot on the sun deck to soak up the sun, read and joined in the music quiz from the entertainment team. There are always things going on, on the ship, especially on a sea day – talks, classes and games and of course the onboard spa, or even the casino.

What a week we had, writing this has made me wish we were doing it all again next year, and if you’re a Grand Prix fan, I can’t recommend this enough for seeing Monaco on race day itself, or just the famous streets on another weekend.

So with the future of Formula 1 set to change in the next few seasons, with bigger wheels, better-looking cars and revised aerodynamics, maybe it’s time to start booking your seat now, or maybe you should go for the cabin.

Travel Facts

Fly Med – Monaco Grand Prix, 7 nights, £779pp

P&O Cruises is offering a 7 night cruise on Oceana (E012B) from £779 per person for an inside cabin. Departing May 21, 2020, the price includes flights from selected UK airports, kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.

Departing from and returning to Malta ports of call include Olbia, Villefranche-sur-mer, Florence/Pisa, and Rome.

To book, visit www.pocruises.com, call 03453 555 111 or visit your local travel agent.

Excursion

Monaco Grand Prix This Mediterranean fly cruise includes a call in Villefranche, France, to take in the drama of the Monaco Grand Prix in glamorous Monte Carlo where guests can experience the rush and high-speed atmosphere of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Arguably the most popular and prestigious race on the annual Formula One calendar. P&O Cruises offers various ticket packages for guests all from the port of Villefranche just down the coast. Tickets are bookable through the cruise personaliser approx four months prior to departure.

Standing ticket: From £177 per person.

Seated Grandstand tickets: From £599 per person.

Monaco grand prix transfer: From £55 per person, for guests who have already purchased their own tickets.

Simon Hill

By Simon Hill

MNA's group head of editorial art

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