The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most iconic sporting events in the world – and experiencing it as part of a cruise is a winning combination, says Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis
Lewis Hamilton has just zoomed past in a blur of silver and jade, closely followed by Daniel Ricciardo in a whoosh of red, black and yellow. At least, I think it’s him – the cars are going so fast it’s getting a little hard to tell which one is which. Suddenly the sky behind Port Hercules turns black and then it’s raining again. Thousands of umbrellas go up, but the race isn’t stopping and no one is going anywhere because we’re all transfixed by the nail-biting action on the track.
This is the Monaco Grand Prix and it’s every bit as exhilarating and gripping as you imagine it would be. Watching from the grandstand means you’re close to the action and you’re part of the crowd – so every time a car hits the crash barriers (and this happens a lot during this particular race) everyone stands up and gasps together; and when Lewis starts winning, we all cheer. Formula One is definitely a group participation sport.
A visit to the Grand Prix is the highlight of our fly-cruise itinerary on P&O Cruises‘ Oceana. Other ports of call include pretty Ajaccio on the island of Corsica, where we opt for a sailing trip on a catamaran and have a dip in the clear but cold sea.
There’s a relaxed atmosphere on board and the cruise is full of like-minded people – interested in travel and exploring but also, of course, in Formula One. The distinctly British vibe makes it feel very familiar – there’s Pimm’s on offer and an impressive selection of proper tea – but the guests I talk to are also adventurous and keen to explore the different ports of call.
We enjoy the wonderful Marco Pierre White menu at Café Jardin, including his Italian cheese and deli board, which is so filling I hardly have room for my Salmon Saltimbocca. I’m also very impressed with the spa, where I have a fabulous mani-pedi and a good gossip with the therapist.
The main event of this itinerary, though, is the Monaco Grand Prix, considered to be one of the most glamorous sporting events in the world. Visiting the race with P&O means that everything is taken care of – they even provide a delicious and very substantial picnic lunch with cakes, sandwiches, crisps and water to sustain us (it’s a long day).
Oceana docks at Villefranche and, after transferring by tender to the shore, we board a coach that takes us along the spectacular Côte d’Azur, giving us plenty of opportunities to admire the breathtaking views and window shop for our perfect villas.
As we near Monaco, one of my favourite places in the world, a proliferation of helicopters and speedboats appear on the horizon, and then gleaming white yachts of all shapes and sizes to suit all budgets (although sadly none of ours).
Our coach parks and we make our way through the streets of Monaco where, despite the rain, there are stalls selling everything from branded T-shirts to ear defenders.
After finding our grandstand, which is brilliantly located near the famous Swimming Pool area of the track (which turns out to be an actual swimming pool) by the Tabac (an actual tobacco shop), we check our watches: 9am. Still, ooh, six hours before the race starts, and it’s pelting down.
So we decide to go for a coffee and look at the stalls, and there are lots of those, selling all kinds of memorabilia and, most usefully of all, disposable plastic macs for six euros. We end up close to the pit lane and my phone starts trying to log on to the Sauber F1 team wifi. And then we hear – and feel – the sound of the racecars. It’s utterly thrilling and we become slightly hysterical beause it is so loud.
By the time the race starts, we have eaten all our packed lunches and are soaked through. But after a couple of laps with the safety car, suddenly the sky turns blue and Monaco is gloriously sunny again as the race gets properly under way.
And here’s the thing about the Monaco Grand Prix. Although the setting is of course incredibly glamorous – that wonderful track, the palace, the Ferraris, the yachts – it’s really all about the race.
And what a race it is, utterly enthralling from start to finish. We’ve been given disposable ear defenders, although they’re not really necessary, because in the grandstand the noise isn’t too bad at all, although I do go up to the barriers at one point so I can be as close to the action as possible. The laps, all 78 of them, go incredibly quickly and, when Lewis starts winning, we all stand up and cheer.
The Monaco Grand Prix is the kind of event you may experience once in a lifetime, or decide to return to year after year, and the advantage of going on a cruise is that everything is taken care of for you.
That evening, as we sail away from Villefranche, sitting on our balcony drinking Champagne and enjoying the sparkling Mediterranean coastline, I decide that this has been one of my favourite cruise excursions of all time.
Even if you’re not an F1 fan at the start of your day at the Monaco Grand Prix, you’ll end up completely converted by the time the winner does his lap of honour. I’m already planning to go next year.
A 14 night cruise on Oceana (E912) from £1,349 per person for an inside cabin. Departing from Malta on May 16, 2019 ports of call include Zadar, Venice, Split, Kotor, Malta, Ajaccio, Villefrance-sur-mer, Florence, Pisa and Rome. The price includes flights from selected UK airports, kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board.
2019 Monaco Grand Prix
The ship will be docked in Villefranche-sur-mer on the date of the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix on May 26. Guests on this cruise can purchase tickets for the Monaco Grand Prix as an organised shore excursion with P&O Cruises. Here are the available grades of tickets:
Standing ticket – From £177 per person
The tour includes a standing ticket, coach transfer, picnic box and ear plugs. The transfer from Villefranche to Monaco takes around 40 minutes. On arrival in Monaco, a local escort will accompany you on the 1 mile walk through the busy streets to the Grand Prix admission area.
Seated Grandstand tickets – From £599 per person
The tour includes a Grandstand ticket with allocated seating, coach transfer, picnic box and ear plugs. The transfer from Villefranche to Monaco takes around 40 minutes. On arrival in Monaco, a local escort will accompany you on the 1 mile walk through the busy streets to the Grand Prix admission area.
VIP gold package – From £1,965 per person
Spend a day as part of the Club F1 Hospitality at the Dance Academy of Monaco. As one of the oldest buildings in the Principality, it sits just above ST Devote corner giving stunning views of the circuit. These tickets are on request only.
For more information or to book, visit pocruises.com or call 0843 374 0111 or visit your local travel agent.