23 Feb 19
The Scottish Sun
“THIS is the life,” Rob Brydon yells in my head as I watch the sun set over Sicily’s silhouette.
I was thinking of other things before the smug Welshman interrupted with P&O Cruises’ oft-repeated tagline.
The Monaco Grand Prix is the highlight of the Formula 1 season
But Rob has a point. This was my first proper cruise. With seasickness pills packed, this was set to be a leisurely week-long waft over the Mediterranean . . . with a high-octane peak in the middle.
That peak was to tick off an entry on my bucket list — a grandstand seat to indulge my passion for Formula One at the Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Following a charter flight from rainy London to sunny Malta — the start and finishing line for this cruise — I first set eyes on my floating hotel, Oceana, docked in the picturesque port of Valetta.
With an hour or two to play with before we set sail for Corsica, me and my globe-trotting Chilean cousin Diego quickly explored Valetta’s sun-soaked streets.
The Oceana P&O Cruise ship
The sleepy city is a treat for Instagrammers.
A maze of tiny, empty, cobbled alleyways canopied by beautifully colourful, overhanging balconies that decorated the city’s dominant pinkish-orange colour scheme.
Remembering we had a boat to catch we legged it back to board Oceania and kicked the cruise off in true “this is the life” fashion with champagne and canapes delivered to our balcony quarters.
The cabin was a reasonable size for a week on the water complete with TV, fridge, wardrobe and shower room.
Starting the trip off with a day at sea gave the perfect opportunity to explore the enormous 14-deck ship — which, to my wet-behind-the-ears surprise, was by no means the largest in the P&O fleet.
Inside the spectacular cruise ship
With five restaurants, nine bars and cafes, four pools, five whirlpools, a theatre, a cinema, an art gallery, a casino, shops, a spa, a gym and, of course, wifi — the chance of getting bored on board turned out as likely as me getting seasick.
I happily stood no chance of that — it was as stable as a hotel on dry land.
Unlike being in a hotel with the same view of a street for the week, waking up and looking out over my balcony at a new Mediterranean port every morning is something even someone who has all but given up on life can appreciate — as are the epic sunsets every evening.
Corsica, or more specifically Ajaccio, wasn’t the most attractive of ports and — due to Napoleon Bonaparte being born here — there was a plethora of tat being peddled at you with every 20 paces.
Your journey will begin in Malta’s Valetta
However, it is worth exploring the café-strewn streets and tree-lined squares, even if you only have a few hours to spare.
But by 5pm Oceana was sailing again — many of it’s less culturally inquisitive guests having just spent the day drinking, eating and basting themselves on the vast sun decks. Well it was a very welcome 28C after all.
Sunday — race day — arrived sometime after an enjoyable evening gambling the night away at the ship’s blackjack table.
We didn’t dock at Monaco for the race but a short distance away in the charming fishing port of Villefranche-sur-Mer — a place I’ve spent some time at before and will always have a soft spot for.
But today I gave the town barely a glance, as a coach was waiting to whisk me and other F1 devotees into the busy streets of Monte Carlo for the Monaco GP.
Join the crowds in Monte Carlo
The grandstand seats P&O procured were simply stunning with a wonderful vantage point taking in a large part of the track and party-yacht-festooned marina.
Everything went super-smoothly. No hanging around at any point — which was most unexpected from my previous Formula 1 race day experiences.
Armed with a packed breakfast and lunch to see us through the day’s track action, the only disappointment — beyond the fact Lewis Hamilton didn’t win that sunny day — was that it was orange juice in the lunchbox and not champagne.
Monaco on race day is an amazing spectacle you really need to see to believe — regardless of whether you are into motor racing or not.
Lewis Hamilton will be looking to win this year’s Monaco Grand Prix
The colour, the horns, the noise, the smiles filter through every tiny alleyway, designer shop and enthusiastic street vendor in this unique principality hosting what is an unrivalled, historic celebration of sport.
Returning swifty after the champagne, not orange juice, was sprayed by the winners, it was time to join the reclining majority of Oceana’s guests who had plumped for turning an extra shade or two darker for not moving, except to the sun deck bar for a refill.
Another spectacular sunset and a restful sleep later the ocean-going hotel cruised serenely towards Italy.
The Tuscan port of Livorno is Italy’s third largest and has been razed to the ground more often than most during Italy’s colourful history.
But in docking here, if you can tear yourself away from the sunbeds — which you really should — one day allows just enough time to take in the sights of both Pisa and Florence.
Visiting Rome is one of the high points on the Italy leg of the cruise
Granted, you have to spend a couple of hours on a coach to do so. But to witness the quiet and gracious morning air by Pisa’s iconic leaning tower plus the grandiose lure of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, Basilica of Santa Croce and the brilliance of the Ponte Vecchio in just one day makes this optional excursion a no-brainer.
My tip is to book this ace-value, non-guided trip up well before you start your holiday as this optional jaunt, quite rightly, sells out fast.
Beyond a spot of lunch at your own expense when exploring the nearby cities, the inclusive breakfast, lunch and dinner services aboard P&O Oceana are reliably delicious.
You will simply never go hungry.
It’s only the drinks — refreshingly Wetherspoons’ fair — and wifi you’ll need to pay extra for.
At meal times you can dine as a couple, or a family, or take pot luck in sitting with random fellow cruisers.
[boxout headline=”Stash your cash in crafty cache” featured-image=”3917762″]Key Cache by Wingback, from £28, wingback.co.uk
I BARELY ever carry cash when travelling.
With debit cards and contactless payment accepted in more countries than ever before, I have stopped visiting the currency exchange before most trips.
So when I need to pay using notes, it catches me out.
That is why I love the idea of this tiny metal stash for emergency cash.
The minimal, machined keyring has just enough room to fit one large bill and your vital details.
Designed in London and made in the UK, it neatly clips on to your keyring while containing a secure compartment to store banknotes and contact details in case your keys go missing.
Having emergency cash tucked away can get you out of an awkward search for a cash machine while on holiday.
Plus tucking a little “if found, please return to . . . ” note inside might help track down your keys if you are unlucky enough to misplace them.
You can also pick a brief inscription for the bottom.
The only downside?
If you tuck a £50 note in there, you will be even more upset the next time you lose your keys.[/boxout]
And with various sittings throughout the evening you’ll never be kept waiting for your lobster thermidor or sirloin steak either.
There was still one more city to hit on this grand Mediterranean tour. And Rome never disappoints.
Docking in Civitavecchia, it’s a couple of hours by coach to the Italian capital. With a little research it’s remarkable how many touristic hotspots you can hit on foot from the doorstep of the Colosseum where the coach drops you.
The Vatican, Forum and Trevi Fountain are all within easy reach.
Before setting off on the cruise, the Grand Prix was easily the focus for me.
But as the week’s waves rolled by it somehow became just another experience in a succession of superb ones that will stay in my memory from my debut cruise.
[article-rail-section title=”MOST READ IN TRAVEL” posts_category=”33″ posts_number=”12″ query_type=”popular” /]
And while there is, as I expected, a good majority of mature guests on board, everyone there has discovered that cruising is an easy, cost-effective way to see the world.
And I’d defy any of them not to occasionally hear their inner Rob Brydon whisper “this is the life”.
[boxout headline=”GO: MONTE CARLO”]GETTING THERE / STAYING THERE: P&O Cruises seven-night Corsica, France and Italy itinerary – including a stop for the Monaco Grand Prix – is from £749pp onboard Oceana.
Price includes inside cabin and return flights on May 23 from UK airports to Valetta, Malta, kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
Visit pocruises.com or call 03453 555 111.
OUT & ABOUT: Shore excursions for the Monaco Grand Prix start from £177pp for standing ticket, coach transfer, picnic box and ear plugs.
Seated Grandstand tickets are from £599pp.
[bc_video video_id=”5790241184001″ account_id=”5067014667001″ player_id=”default” embed=”in-page” padding_top=”56%” autoplay=”” min_width=”0px” max_width=”640px” width=”100%” height=”100%” caption=”Daniel Ricciardo wins the Monaco F1 GP as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel reflect on an amazing race”]