Cruise travel has long been on our radar here at House of Coco. Between our jaunts around the world exploring some of the globe’s most celebrated cities, we had yet to board a cruise liner and sail the open sea. That is, until we sent our travel duo Eulanda & Omo to experience a seven day Mediterranean adventure onboard P&O Cruises’ Oceana. Pair this with an incredible opportunity to attend the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, and you get the perfect holiday combination; where relaxation meets high octane adventure!
“Land ahoy!” we felt like shouting from our balcony cabin. The Mediterranean was as still as glass as the Oceana glided silently into Villefranche-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera. A thick morning mist parted grudgingly before her to reveal brooding, dark-green hills in the horizon. Angry clouds hung low in the sky, as if forbidding us to approach land any further. However, their threat of a wet day ahead did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm and excitement for our first ever Formula One Grand Prix de Monaco.
As well as the exciting prospect of the grand prix, after spending two full days at sea travelling from the Dalmatian port city of Zadar, it came as no surprise to see that like us, many other passengers were keen to get ashore that day. An early morning start meant that the ship was already buzzing by 6am. The excitement during breakfast was palpable all around us at The Plaza, one of seven dining options aboard the P&O Cruises Oceana. Over the din of cutlery, we could overhear other Formula One enthusiasts trading grand prix stories and making predictions for the day’s event.
Attending the 74th Monaco Grand Prix was one of a series of first time experiences for us on this trip. Although the idea of a cruise had appealed to us for some time, we never quite felt ready for it. Preferring more active and independent travel, somewhere at the back of our ‘travel minds’, we were saving a cruise for a significant wedding anniversary or perhaps post-retirement relaxation. However, an opportunity to attend our first grand prix not only turned that script on its head, but also introduced us to the timeless culture of cruising.
The French Riviera in a Flash
The family-friendly, mid-sized Oceana, one of a fleet of seven cruise ships in the P&O stable was experiencing one of its busiest days on our seven-night journey through the Mediterranean. After fuelling up with some breakfast, we joined an organised queue to board one of the Oceana’s many tenders to ferry us ashore from her anchor point. A rare glimpse of the sun from behind the clouds helped us appreciate the pastel colours of the waterfront buildings as we approached the small fishing village of Villefranche.
Compared to other Côte d’Azur resort towns like Nice, Cannes and Monaco, Villefranche retains a certain old-school Riviera charm. Steep terraced streets and narrow alleyways in its old town combine with chic boutiques, traditional cafés and colourful fishing boats to provide the curious visitor with enough variety to fill a day trip. However, any exploration of Villefranche for us would have to wait for another time. We had our sights set nine miles north-east, on Monte Carlo.
Our coach wound its way through the narrow roads towards Monte Carlo allowing us to take in the unfolding coastline of the French Riviera. Super yachts, deep blue waters and grand villas reminded us why this region of the Mediterranean has been an attractive luxury escape for the world’s wealthy since the end of the 18th century.
Unfortunately, an intimate exploration of Monaco, its harbour and casinos and neighbouring Cannes and Nice would have to wait. Today, the streets of Monte Carlo were packed with colourful Formula One merchandise and thousands of flag waving fans speaking a medley of languages.
The Monaco Grand Prix
Every race in the Formula One race calendar is unique. However of all the races, the Monaco grand prix is arguably the most attractive prize for the drivers, the most luxurious for the celebrities and the most thrilling for regular fans. Speaking to CNN before the event, Sir Stirling Moss, a three time race winner in Monaco said, “Any driver in the world would say: This [Monaco] is the jewel in the crown.” The unique circuit winds its way through the narrow streets of Monte Carlo making overtaking almost impossible. Competing drivers must apply intense concentration, skill and sheer bravery to have any chance of not just winning the race but completing it at all.
We secured grandstand tickets thanks to P&O Cruises and following security checks, we took our allocated seats between sections 12 and 14 of the current circuit. Our hearts began to beat faster as the smell of scorched rubber filled the air and the drama began with the safety car leading the pack. Although we had no visibility of the starting grid, behind us we could hear the cars sprinting along Boulevard Albert Ier. Our view also allowed us a short glimpse of the cars as they charged uphill along Avenue d’Ostende before eventually racing in front of us along Route de la Piscine, navigating a chicane and disappearing towards La Rascasse.
With cars speeding past at over 200 km/h, we always wondered what Formula One spectators did to pass the time between laps. We soon found out that people-watching and enjoying the atmosphere were the next best things to do. At the Monaco Grand Prix, tightly parked super and not-so-super yachts lined Port Hercule opposite our grandstand. In between glimpses of the racing cars and watching the big screens, we busied ourselves speculating on the shenanigans of the rich and famous. With their prime views and deck chairs, the wealthier spectators enjoyed luxury parties, taking selfies, crazy golf and more importantly shelter.
Rain and Adrenaline
Just before the race began, the dark clouds had made good on their threat and unleashed heavy rain, levelling the viewing experience for both grandstanders and standing spectators. Exposed and barely covered by our emergency over-priced ponchos and umbrella, we literally soaked up the adrenalin packed race while tucking into a generous packed lunch which P&O Cruises had provided to all passengers going ashore.
Serial world champion, Lewis Hamilton, delivered another spectacular performance for Mercedes, outsmarting bookies favourite, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to win the race. The national anthems blared through the speakers as we made our way out of the grandstands and towards our waiting coach. Although by the end of the race, the rain had stopped and the sun made an appearance, we were glad to return to the warmth of the Oceana.
Never having been on a cruise before, we enjoyed the opportunity it presented to vary our pace of activity. After the heart pumping excitement of the Grand Prix, it felt good to slow things down again. Changing into drier clothes, we joined the throng of revellers on the communal Lido deck to enjoy the DJ pumping sounds of the classic Oceana sail-away.
As we said goodbye to cloudy Monaco, we looked forward with excitement to exploring Ajaccio, Genoa and Rome, our next Mediterranean port stops. Thanks to a memorable Grand Prix event, cruise holidays had gained two new converts.
- 7 night full board Mediterranean fly-cruises start from £799pp, and do not include Grand Prix tickets.
- Should you choose to travel to see the Monaco Grand Prix with P&O Cruises, note that the tickets get sold out very quickly. Be sure to familiarise yourself with booking deadlines cancellation and refund policies.
- P&O fly-cruise packages include economy class flights to the gateway port on various airlines like British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways, and Easyjet from London (we flew into Venice on Easyjet).
- Grandstand seats at the Monaco Grand Prix are plastic and exposed. We recommend taking a soft cushion, rain jackets, comfortable clothing, walking shoes, ear protectors and sunglasses.
Visit www.pocruises.com for booking information.
Photos ©Eulanda Shead