TRAVELLED SEPTEMBER 2017
The sun was beating down furiously on the Lido deck. It was so hot my backside felt welded to my lounger. Ten miles away one of the world's major heritage sites, the Acropolis, beckoned. Ten yards from where I was sat, a cool, enticing swimming pool was winking at me, come on in Chris!
I struggled to do either. That's the problem with cruise ships, once you are on them you find you don't want to move - an inch. Oceana, part of P&O Cruises (Peninsular and Oriental for when it next pops up at a quiz) is our haven for the week. Five-star opulence, a 10 passenger deck hotel on the seas, a floating paradise that delivers a different destination at its gangway almost daily.
I once vowed never to join the sea worshippers on a ship, 15 adventures later I suppose I'm one of them. I'm hooked. Cruising is the in-thing and the sailors get younger each year- it's now age two to 82. It's not hard to see why. We clap, laugh and cheer with top line performers across the vibrant vessel day and night. There are wonderful extravagant shows fit to grace London's West End and take your pick ... karaoke, poolside games, dancing, quizzes, cinema, casino, watch Premier League football. The list is endless.
We are on a seven night Greek Odyssey with a little bit of an oddity thrown in, a fleeting stop in Albania. Anyway, with a little coaxing we finally ease off the lounger at our first port of call, Piraeus, defy the heat and head for one of the most historic ancient structures which is forever propped up by scaffold. It's always busy, so the tip is go early and make sure you've got your comfiest shoes on. The hop-on hop-off bus, close by, brings respite from the foot slogging and is perfect for the city tour of Athens before we return for a late lunch on board Oceana.
Food is never more than a heartbeat away. The choice is yours, it's overwhelming. Burgers and pizza to a dining experience based on an extensive menu inspired by Marco Pierre White in the Cafe Jardin. A snack or five courses in the restaurants, afternoon tea? No problem, sir. Eat your way to heaven or oblivion. Near reception there are scales for people to weigh their luggage, interestingly few decide to see how many pounds they've put on since we left Valletta. It all sounds quite hectic, but it's not really, and we have sea days where you just chill. In any case the next port of call, the pretty paradise of Mykonos gives us breathing space. It's everything you imagine of a sleepy Greek island, tiny streets, seafront bars, crystal clear waters and fabulous beaches. Simply heaven, and it's hot again so we've basically moved our lounger from the deck to the sandy shore. We love it.
Katakolon is next stop. We wake to see Oceana has berthed yards from the quaint promenade, the quayside looking glorious in the sunshine. We take the horse drawn carriage along the beach, clip clop around the town then opt to jump the bus to Olympia, the birth place of the Olympic Games. It's another marvellous moment to savour as I do my less than finest impression of Usain Bolt along the sprint area and decide to keep running...not quite all the way back to the ship. One of many beauties of cruising, is it's uncomplicated. You know where you are going each day, once on board you can get off, free of restrictions at each call and you get to see places you never thought you would.
And so Oceana captain Chris Bourne sets sail for Albania. I scouted around and couldn't find anyone who had actually been there. I later discover barely 80,000 Brits visit each year. Bizarrely, one of its most adopted famous sons was comic Norman Wisdom, who became a cult figure for his work with children's' charitites. It's a busy day for the crew. We previously docked in port but today we anchor in the bay and the ship's tenders run non-stop shuttles to the waterfront at Sarande. We had signed up for a six hour trip through the countryside but it was cancelled due to lack of interest. Hmm.
So Sarande it was, a town with a population of 17,000, just nine miles across the sea from Corfu. Its long curving prom gave way to a resort clearly in development but with much potential. It's fair to say it offered us more than a taste of life in Albania.Eventually we glide away from Sarande and head gently across the calm Ionian Sea bound for Malta. Dinner tonight is in the Beach Hut speciality restaurant which offers fabulous views across the ocean. It's an amazing dining experience and I cook my steak on hot lava stones, one eye on the glorious sunset as we sail, on our port side, beyond Sicily. Finally, 12 hours later I pull back the curtains on my balcony and we are where we started in Valletta's Grand Harbour area a week ago.
The sun is doing its best again and my last morning is once more spent melding myself to that lounger. This time it's not the swimming pool or Acropolis winking at me. In my mind's eye it's a nod from the boss reminding me not to be late for work in the morning... Needless to say I'm thinking hard about it.
For more information visit: http://www.pocruises.com
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