A Mediterranean girls’ cruise is the chance to unwind, reconnect and chill, discovers Becky Wiggins
I’m floating with my ears below the waterline. Above me is nothing but blue, reaching to the very outer limits of my vision. I take a deep breath of salty air and feel the ebb and flow of the waves as they move me gently towards the shore. The cool water lapping over sun drenched skin, worries melting away, toes just skimming the deep black sand of the sea bed.
My friend Erica and I have long planned a relaxing getaway; some time away to reflect and recharge, soak up some sun, immerse ourselves in a bit of culture, perform our usual task of mutual therapist, eat some delicious food, and spend time enjoying the mood enhancing effects of relaxing by the sea. We decided to choose P&O Cruises’ Oceana for our few days away, imagining exploring the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean by day, and easy relaxed dining and colourful cocktails by night.
Stepping on board at the pretty port of Valletta, we’re instantly impressed. Oceana has the charm of the golden age of cruising. From the sweeping marble staircase and white piano of the opulent atrium to the very impressive Art Deco glamour of the Footlights Theatre, there’s a gentle elegance about this ship.
The informal pace of life on board means Oceana is perfect for a relaxing getaway (although party animals can strut their funky stuff in Le Club which is open from midnight until late). We chose to linger over dinner, take in some of the entertainment and spend sea days lazing in the sunshine.
On shore, we were determined to immerse ourselves in the unique heritage of the islands: birthplace to some of the world’s oldest civilisations, offering culture and history aplenty. Our first port of call was Piraeus, Athens, where we joined a small guided tour to the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site, Delphi, home to the remains of the beautiful Temple of Apollo. Those who were seeking future predictions came to visit the Pythia, the young girl installed as a high priestess who served as the Oracle, dishing out quite ambiguous advice, as it turns out, and possibly under the influence of some sort of narcotic. We caught the expert talk in the theatre the day before by the very well-informed onboard historian, Ron Gatepain, who pulled no punches and peppered his talk with humour.
‘Feel free to nod off,’ he said, ‘if you snore loud enough, it might wake some of the others.’ It’s a three-hour bus journey from the port, but so worth it. There’s a crackling energy to the site, believed by the ancient Greeks to be the centre of the earth. It’s also hotter than Hades, and it’s a sweaty slog up endless steep slopes and steps to the stadium, site of chariot races, but the rewards are sweeping views over these sacred ruins, and of course calories burned, ready for a frozen cocktail by the pool.
Although we love dancing, and drinking cocktails, we weren’t looking for a particularly wild time; the entertainment on board Oceana was just what we needed. Evening highlights include some great shows in the Footlights Theatre. We loved Encore, a performance of the cream of London’s West End theatre productions by the incredibly talented cast of Headliners Theatre Company. We were taken from wonderful Wicked to Sweet Charity with a little Dirty Dancing along the way with spine-tingling vocal performances.
We also enjoyed a gin and jazz night in the Yacht and Compass and a wonderful performance by singer Samantha Lomax, who performs modern songs in a vintage style with a big band sound and provides some excellent banter too.
Most nights we dined in the Ligurian Restaurant, heading in to eat whenever we fancied after drinks in Magnums, the elegant champagne bar. Service is spot on and the food is absolutely delicious. We were also quite taken with pretty Café Jardin. It has a slightly odd setting, perched high over the atrium, but it serves tasty, laid back breakfasts and lunches by day and in the evening transforms into one of the ship’s two speciality restaurants with a menu created by Gino D’Acampo. The cover charge is a reasonable £8.50 and the menu is modern Italian. We loved the melting beef short rib, served in cast iron cocottes, although the desserts were a little disappointing. The second select dining option is The Beach House, where we ate outside as the sun set and the deck came alive with colourful lights shimmering out over the sea. We loved the creative cocktails and sharing plates and went back twice for the fabulous steaks served on searing hot lava stones.
After a few full on excursions, we decided to explore Heraklion on our own. Crete’s largest city and capital might seem a little uninspiring, but there’s a pretty marina fronted by ancient fortifications that are well worth exploring, and a bustling city centre with an interesting mix of ancient and modern.
We stocked up on local herbs, olive oil and carved olive wood before heading back to the ship early to take advantage of the port day special offers in the spa.
I booked in for the relaxation package of a combined soothing scalp massage, Swedish back massage, foot and ankle massage and collagen eye treatment. The scalp massage must have been particularly good as I remember nothing of the other bits and jolted myself awake with a snort five minutes before the end of my treatment, which is the sign of an excellent spa treatment, surely.
Our final port before returning to Valletta was the stunning old city of Rhodes. It’s well worth waking up early to watch Oceana sail into the dock, the glowing fortifications appear like sandcastles lined up next to the shimmering emerald shoreline. The beautiful old city is the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is alive with history, the narrow, cobbled streets echoing loudly with the footsteps of the Knights of St John and architecture reflecting the old styles of the many invaders, from minarets to ancient temples.
As we sailed back into Valletta, I took one last breath of salty air before returning to the real world. We’ve managed to pack a lot into just a few days, but I still feel truly relaxed and revived. Maybe there really is something in the water.
A seven-night cruise round trip from Malta departing May 2 2019 on Oceana starts form £749pp. Ports of call include Piraeus; Mykonos; and Katakolon. Price includes return flights from selected UK airports, full board meals and entertainment on board. To book, call 03453 566 699 or visit pocruises.com.