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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Nigel Thompson

Canaries cruise - from volcanoes and feisty drinks to a life-size chocolate Cristiano Ronaldo statue and fried cheesecake

I’m standing awestruck watching an erupting volcano with pungent gases and resonant, unearthly sounds filling the air.

But enough of those onion bhajis I’d had the night before… I’m just under two miles from the main vent of Cumbre Vieja, on La Palma in the Canaries, taking in the mesmerising fury of nature.

Even at this distance I can see clouds of grey ash spewing from the cone, with rocks flying hundreds of feet into the air. Through binoculars, there’s glowing lava spilling down the slope towards the Atlantic like an apocalyptic scarlet river.

Add an eerie, rasping roar to each ash pulse and I could imagine an angry giant dragon was awakening in the bowels of the island.

I was seeing this remarkable event with my family on a one-off cruise ship excursion from TUI’s Marella Explorer 2 – and while it was an extraordinary sight for us, the volcano has had a terrible impact on the people of this delightful island.

Ash clouds forced numerous flights to be cancelled, badly hitting tourism, 95% of banana plantations – the main cash crop– are ruined and thousands of locals have had to abandon their homes, many buried or burned. Even though the eruptions stopped after 97 days in late December, it’s going to be a long road back.

TUI has launched an appeal, and you can find more ­information and donate at

While our pyroclastic ­pilgrimage was memorable, it was not the only highlight of our seven-night Canarian Flavours winter sun sailing from Santa Cruz, Tenerife. But we are not quite done with volcanoes...


Adults-only, all-inclusive Explorer 2 is one of four ships in the Marella fleet, with a fifth to join next year. At 71,545 gross tonnage she carries 1,814 passengers, though we were sailing at reduced capacity for Covid.

Lavishly refurbished before joining Marella in 2019, she’s mid-size in modern cruise ship terms – but packs in a lot.

Top of the list is Champneys spa, offering all the pampering you could wish for.

While our adult offspring Charlie and Alexandra both rated their individual massages highly, we all enjoyed an hour in the Thermal Suite (£15 per person).

Pores were opened in heat and steam rooms, skin cooled in rainfall showers and we wallowed in the Jacuzzi style infinity pool overlooking the sea. A lovely treat.

We considered stepping out at line dancing lessons, or joining the lively poolside singalongs and quizzes, but found it hard to tear ourselves away from reading and playing games in the sunshine at the quiet stern seating area.

That’s the beauty of a cruise ship, if you prefer peace to more boisterous spots, there’s always a place for you, though the pool area does also offer blockbuster movies on the huge HD screen.

Head four decks above the pool, though, and you can potter with a putter at the minigolf course and admire the ocean views, or five decks below the pool it’s a more sophisticated fairway challenge at the 19th Hole bar’s impressive simulators. Being more shanked woods than Tiger Woods, we stuck to the alfresco action.


Nobody goes on a cruise to lose weight and we dined magnificently. Explorer 2 boasts 11 venues – both included and cover charge – and Tasting Team Thompson willingly threw themselves into the foodie fray:

Vista – the Italian section of the main (included) Latitude 53 restaurant won us over on the first night with prawns, pasta, Florentine steaks, gelato and cheeses. We went back.

Latitude 53 – a good choice and plenty of quality for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A big shout out to the breakfast eggs Benedict, decent tea and ‘proper’ bacon.

The Dining Club – the premium cover charge venue (from £29.95 per person) and the chateaubriand was magnificent. The amuse bouche was a showstopper mango mousse, pomegranate crisp and smoked peach schnapps.

The Market Place – your go-to multi-dish buffet (Covid meant no self-service, not a problem) and we succumbed to some afternoon tea goodies and dived into to rapid brekkies before early start excursions.

Beach Cove – a seashore vibe by the pool and the Portuguese prawn and meat skewers were terrific (loved the unusual pickled cucumber salad). Our only complaint was the lighting: too bright to create the right atmosphere (included daytime, £11.95 evening).

Surf & Turf – the lobster and steaks were lovely and you’ll never have a better New York cheesecake (from £23.95).

Kora La – this Asian venue was our favourite, with the Japanese style filet mignon absolutely exquisite. There’s also a dazzling range of curries and adventurous desserts including tempura (fried in batter) cheesecake and green tea fondant (from £19.95).

Also a nod to swish Flutes bar, where you press a 'bubbles' button by your seat for a glass of fizz. We thoroughly checked it was working.

NB: in the restaurants and bars, and from the hard-working crew all across the ship including our cabin stewards Jonaisy and Allister, the service was stellar.


We spent so long enjoying our leisurely evening meals we did not catch much of the live shows. But as somebody who does not get the whole Adele hype, I did enjoy a tribute gig in the upscale Squid and Anchor bar and saw the David Bowie life story in the Broadway Show Lounge.


Debbie and I were lucky enough to be in a Junior Suite, which afforded heaps of space, ample storage, a bath, luxe amenities, a flatscreen TV and a large balcony with sunloungers, table and chairs. If we had a quibble, it would be that there aren’t many plugs.

Alex and Charlie’s balcony cabins were, obviously, smaller than a suite but still excellent.


One of the things many people love about a cruise is the ‘new day, new destination’ aspect.

Our first stop was La Palma before an overnight stay in Funchal, the lovely capital of Portuguese island Madeira.

Here we joined a superb Land Rover tour to the colourful port of Camara de Lobos – as painted by Churchill in 1950 – and into the mountainous interior.

Our terrific driver-guide Sandro was a non-stop Madeira info-fest as he tackled the steep, narrow roads to stop at spectacular viewpoints and took us off-road through a forest to a village bar for a taste of the feisty local drink Poncha. Locals claim it can cure a cold, I reckon it could power a spaceship to Mars.

The overnight stay gave us time to explore the busy flower and fish market, the cathedral and Sao Tiago fort plus the museum celebrating the island’s most famous son, Cristiano Ronaldo.

If you like football it’s worth €5 to see the many CR7 artefacts, including a gazillion trophies, his facial massage devices and various life-size statues, including one in chocolate! I think he was wearing Portugal's away KitKat.

After a relaxing two-night sailing from Madeira, we arrived at Lanzarote, a Unesco designated Biosphere reserve island famed for its unobtrusive low-rise tourism developments and (yep) volcanoes.

The unmissable excursion is to the Timanfaya National Park, an other-worldly 20 square mile area of lava fields and volcanoes, which has been used as a filming location for sci-fi movies.

It’s a mesmerising, spectacular landscape and the tour includes a visit to the Islet Hilario visitor centre where there are geothermal party tricks with lava pellets, fire and water and a restaurant with a barbecue grill powered by a volcanic vent. You don't get that on MasterChef.

Our final excursion was on Gran Canaria, but there was far too much time spent sat on the coach. The 3,300ft wide, 700ft deep Bandama Caldera was impressive but we would have liked more time in the pleasant Old Town of Las Palmas to go up the cathedral tower and see the Christopher Columbus museum.

Back on the ‘lava boat’ for the last night, we all came to the same conclusion: where could we stow away for the next cruise?


Marella Cruises offer a seven night all-inclusive Adriatic Affair round trip cruise on Marella Explorer 2 from £919 per person. Sails from Dubrovnik, Croatia, calling at Rijeka, Croatia; Ravenna (for San Marino), Italy; Koper, Slovenia; Venice, Italy; and Split, Croatia. Fly from Cardiff on May 5, other UK airports available, includes transfers and tips. Use code CRUISE300 to save an extra £300 per booking.


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