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Rolling the dice in Monaco

SmarterTravel

Cruise Editor Erica Silverstein is currently sailing the Mediterranean aboard Windstar’s Wind Surf. If you have any questions about Windstar, the ship in particular, or Mediterranean cruising, please email her at cruise@smartertravel.com.

I must admit that I didn’t really see the point of an overnight stop in Monaco. I wasn’t about to dress up and gamble away all my money at the Monte Carlo casino, and the principality does not have the wealth of tourist attractions that cities such as Florence and Rome provide.

After two days in Monaco, I realized why we stopped here for so long. The long layover allows guests to take tours to other cities along the French Riviera, while still having a chance to explore Monaco. For those of us not heading into France, we could take advantage of the lazy mornings and relaxing pace of a sea day, while having the option to go into town whenever we wished. The overnight stop is also good for cruisers wishing to dine on local food.

I decided to play the Monaco tourist—especially since the last time I was here, I got lost and never saw any attractions, even though Monaco is smaller than New York’s Central Park. On our first day in port, I headed to Monaco-Ville at the top of a high rocky cliff. I visited the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, which has wonderful fish displays; the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried; and the Royal Palace, where I explored several bedrooms and parlors with the aid of the complimentary audio tour.

On day two, I braved the rain and set out across the harbor to Monte Carlo. I never made it inside the beautifully designed gambling hall, but if you don’t want to play poker in a suit and tie, you should visit during the day. Instead, I hopped a local bus to the Exotic Gardens, situated along a high cliff. The entrance ticket includes visits to the cactus garden and anthropological museum, as well as a half-hour tour of the caves below the garden.

I found Monaco surprisingly easy to navigate from this port (on the last cruise, the ship’s tenders docked on the opposite side of Monaco-Ville). The staircase to Monaco-Ville is located just at the end of the pier, and a boat-bus departs from a nearby location to take guests across the harbor. An all-day tourist pass is good on both the boat-bus and the regular bus and costs an affordable €3. The tourist information desk at the port provides helpful maps, schedules, and discount coupons.

Clearly, to visit the top sights of Monaco, you don’t need a private yacht or limousine.

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