Hotspot volcanoes

Canary Islands cruise – from volcanoes and fiery drinks to a life-size chocolate statue of Cristiano Ronaldo and fried cheesecake

I am amazed to watch an erupting volcano with pungent gases and echoing, unearthly sounds filling the air.

But enough of those onion bhajis I had eaten the night before… I am less than two miles from the main vent of Cumbre Vieja, La Palma in the Canary Islands, enjoying the mesmerizing fury of nature.

Even from this distance, I can see clouds of gray ash spewing from the cone, with boulders flying hundreds of feet in the air. Through binoculars there is glowing lava rolling down the slope towards the Atlantic like an apocalyptic scarlet river.

Add an eerie, raucous roar to every pulse of ash and I could imagine a giant angry dragon waking up in the bowels of the island.

I was witnessing this remarkable event with my family on a unique cruise ship excursion from TUI’s Marella Explorer 2 – and although it was an amazing sight for us, the volcano had a terrible impact on the locals of this delightful island.

Nigel at the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma

Ash clouds have forced many flights to be cancelled, hitting tourism hard, 95% of banana plantations – the main cash crop – are ruined and thousands of residents have had to abandon their homes, many buried or set on fire. Even though the eruptions stopped after 97 days at the end of December, the road back will be long.

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 nights sailing in the winter sun Flavors of the Canary Islands from Santa Cruz, Tenerife. But we are not done with volcanoes yet…


The all-inclusive, adults-only Explorer 2 is one of four ships in the Marella fleet, with a fifth joining next year. At 71,545 gross tons, it carries 1,814 passengers, as we sailed at reduced capacity for Covid.

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

Topping the list is Champneys Spa, offering all the treatments you could want.

Marella Explorer 2 in the port of Santa Cruz, Tenerife

While our adult descendants Charlie and Alexandra both highly enjoyed their individual massages, we all enjoyed an hour in the thermal suite (£15 pp).

Pores were opened in the heat and steam rooms, skin chilled in the downpours and we sprawled in the Jacuzzi-style infinity pool overlooking the sea. A lovely treat.

We considered taking line dancing lessons or participating in the lively poolside sing-alongs and quizzes, but found it hard to get away from reading and playing games in the sun in the quiet rear seating area.

That’s the beauty of a cruise ship, if you prefer peace to louder places, there’s always a place for you, although the pool also offers blockbuster movies on the big HD screen.

Head four decks above the pool, though, and you can play with a putter on the mini golf course and take in the ocean views, or five decks below the pool, it’s a more fairway challenge. sophisticated to the impressive simulators of the 19th Hole bar. Being woodier than Tiger Woods, we stuck to the action in the open air.


No one goes on a cruise to lose weight and we dined beautifully. Explorer 2 offers 11 locations – inclusive and cover charge – and the Thompson tasting team willingly jumped into the foodie fray:

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

Latitude 53 – a good choice and a lot of quality for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many thanks to the breakfast eggs Benedict, decent tea and ‘good’ bacon.

The restaurant club – the premium cover venue (from £29.95 pp) and chateaubriand were beautiful. The amuse bouche was mango mousse, pomegranate crisp and smoked peach schnapps.

The marketplace – your must-have multi-course buffet (Covid didn’t mean self-serve, no problem) and we succumbed to a few treats for afternoon tea and dove into quick breakfasts before starting excursions early.

Beach Cove Meat Skewer on Marella Explorer 2

beach cove – seaside ambiance by the pool and the Portuguese shrimp and meat skewers were terrific (loved the unusual pickled cucumber salad). Our only complaint was with the lighting: too bright to set the right mood (included daytime, £11.95 evening).

Surfing & Turfing – the lobster and steaks were delicious and you’ll never have a better New York cheesecake (from £23.95).

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

Also a nod to the swish Flutes bar, where you press a “bubbles” button near your seat for a glass of bubbly. We have verified that it works.

NB: In restaurants and bars, and from the hard working crew throughout the ship, including our cabin stewards Jonaisy and Allister, the service was stellar.


We spent so much time enjoying our quiet dinners that we didn’t see many live shows. But as someone who doesn’t understand all the Adele hype, I enjoyed a tribute concert at the upscale Squid and Anchor bar and saw David Bowie’s life story on the Broadway Show Lounge.


Debbie and I were lucky enough to be in a junior suite, which had plenty of space, plenty of storage, a bathtub, luxury amenities, a flat screen TV, and a large balcony with lounge chairs, a table and chairs. If we had one small complaint, it would be that there aren’t many outlets.

Alex and Charlie’s balcony staterooms were, of course, smaller than a suite but still excellent.


One of the things many people appreciate about a cruise is the “new day, new destination” aspect.

Our first stop was La Palma before spending the night in Funchal, the charming capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Here we joined a stunning Land Rover tour of the colorful Camara de Lobos harbor – as painted by Churchill in 1950 – and the mountainous interior.

Local Madeira Beer and Poncha

Our terrific driver-guide Sandro was a non-stop information fest on Madeira as he tackled the steep and narrow roads to stop at spectacular viewpoints and took us off-road through a forest to at a village bar to sample the fiery local drink Poncha. Locals claim it can cure a cold, I think it could propel a spaceship to Mars.

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

If you love football, it’s worth €5 to see CR7’s many artefacts, including a million trophies, facial massagers and various life-size statues, including a chocolate one! I think he was wearing the KitKat away from Portugal.

Chocolate statue of Ronaldo in Madeira

After a relaxing two-night sail from Madeira, we arrived in Lanzarote, a Unesco-designated biosphere reserve island famous for its low-key tourist developments and (yeah) volcanoes.

The must-do excursion is Timanfaya National Park, an otherworldly 20 square mile area of ​​lava fields and volcanoes, which has been used as a filming location for sci-fi movies.

It is a fascinating and spectacular landscape and the tour includes a visit to the visitor center at Hilario Islet where there are geothermal party towers with lava pellets, fire and water and a restaurant with a barbecue fed by a volcanic vent. You don’t get that on MasterChef.

Flaming Towers at Timanfaya Volcanic National Park, Lanzarote

Our last excursion was to Gran Canaria, but we spent way too much time sitting in the coach. The Bandama Caldera, 3,300 feet wide and 700 feet deep, was impressive but we would have liked more time in the pleasant old town of Las Palmas to climb the cathedral tower and see the Columbus Museum.

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


Marella Cruises is offering an all-inclusive seven-night Adriatic Affair return cruise on Marella Explorer 2 from £919 pp. Sailing from Dubrovnik, Croatia, stopover in Rijeka, Croatia; Ravenna (for San Marino), Italy; Koper, Slovenia; Venice, Italy; and Split, Croatia. Fly from Cardiff on May 5th, other UK airports available, includes transfers and gratuity. Use code CRUISE300 to save an additional £300 per booking.