You’ll remember last week we left off leaving Rome (after Barcelona for Mobile World Congress), in our bid to burn a few weeks of time while our landlord pulls up and renovates the flooring in our apartment. So for the past 7-8 days we’ve been floating around the Canary Islands on the Mein Schiff 4, part of the German cruise line TUI. A long-time DCR reader suggested we try it out after seeing us on our previous cruise adventures (from Dubai to Singapore via India, the not-so-awesome Queen Mary 2, and another trip for our honeymoon).
The only catch? We don’t speak German. So we dragged along some friends…that also don’t speak German. With that – let’s begin.
Gran Canaria (Canary Islands)
We boarded the ship in Gran Canaria last Sunday. Our flight got in mid-afternoon, but the ship didn’t leave until late night (around 10PM), so I decided to go for a run around that end of the island.
I had no particular plan, but just sorta went wherever looked interesting. In this case, a big hill-looking thing.
Once up there, I realized that the coastline was spectacular, so I worked my way down trail-running style:
This would eventually end at a military/restricted zone. They seemed kinda serious about it.
So I then backtracked my way along the coastal areas to the beach boardwalk and then finally back across town to the ship.
It’s here I wrapped up a bunch of shots for the Fitbit Blaze review. Regrettably, it started pouring out – making that job slightly more difficult. That seemed to be the case anytime we were near the port in Las Palmas – it was just cold, windy, and rainy. Drive or cruise just 30 minutes away and it’d be all sunshine. Go figure.
In any case, we got all settled on-board and cruised off into the (rather rolling) seas.
Agadir (Morocco, Africa)
After about 36 hours at sea, we arrived in Morocco. Agadir to be precise. While I’ve been to the continent to Africa more times than I can count, I’ve only been to Morocco once before – with The Girl some years back (our first trip together). It was a day trip from Spain using the high speed ferry that connects the two.
Agadir sits on the western coast of Africa, close to the beginnings of the Sahara desert. While there are sand dunes not too far from here, they weren’t in our day plan (no desire to sit on a packed bus for hours).
Instead, I started the day with a run around the town. Mostly, it was a run to get out of the vast port area, followed by a short snippet on the beach.
Still, it was nice. After that I headed back to the boat to get breakfast. From there we all grabbed the shuttle bus back to the beach for some beach relaxation. It was warm, but not hot. And with the winds howling a bit – it wasn’t quite as hot as you’d like. Still, we made it work.
We were killing time until our afternoon reservation for dune buggies (or karts or whatever you call them). Here’s Liz during one of her driving stints:
We’d take these up into the mountains on a multi-hour trek.
Two per buggy, and we traded a bit here and there.
No actual sand dunes, but just more mountain/desert than anything. Plus, a mile or two on the quiet beaches on the way back – which was pretty fun.
Afterwards, I got the brief required camel sunset photo.
With that – it was time to head back to the boat and back to the Canary Islands.
Lanzarote (Canary Islands)
After getting back to the islands, first up was Lanzarote. This island is home to Ironman Lanzarote, coming up again in May. This race is well known for being utterly brutal, and we saw plenty of evidence of that during our wanderings around the island. Just check out the elevation profile for the bike leg of the race (180km):
Of course, the hills are really the least of your issues. It’s the non-stop wind and ever-present searing sun that’s likely to make you cry first. Even this time of the year the sun out in the lava fields will quickly crisp you up. So it’s best to act like a camel and take lots of water.
As for us? We just started with the beach instead. We picked up a car rental and headed on down a long dirt road that would eventually get us to this rather pretty spot:
We burned a bit of time in that area, which overlooks a string of beaches:
From there we went over to visit the volcano area – but it was getting late in the day and we didn’t quite have enough time to go through the entire park on the busses they have. So we just did a short stop before moving along.
But we did get to see these cool line-ups of camels as they finished their work for the day and trekked back to…well…wherever a parade of camels sleeps for the night.
Along the way we saw plenty of cyclists/triathletes out and about riding around.
I think this island would be one of my top two picks to come back to if I wanted to do a bit of riding (along with La Gomera). Both seem a bit more low-key than Tenerife or Gran Canaria.
Tenerife (Canary Islands)
Next it was off to Tenerife. An island with far more infrastructure than we expected. In the main city center where the port was, it was basically like being in Honolulu, kinda crazy. First up that morning was a run along the coast with The Girl.
After which we grabbed another rental car here and started off spending our morning on a white sand beach. I note this because the beach should have been black sand, but they decided to truck transport a boatload (or rather a lot of boatloads – anyone know exactly how many?) of sand from the Sahara desert to here, making it a white-sand beach. For realz.
If you head up to the top to see the above view, and then turn around, you’ll see the more natural black sand beaches:
At about this point, the bike tour from the TUI ship pedaled on by. Somewhat impressive since it wasn’t an easy climb up there, and not everyone was athletes. I don’t have a picture of them there, but I do have a picture down at the ship:
Even more impressive is that TUI actually takes a flotilla of bikes with them onboard, and every morning there is a bike tour for a few hours that you can join. There’re also organized runs in each port too. Pretty cool
Oh, and they also do spin classes (90 minutes!) – complete with real-course style videos playing on the massive big-screen TV.
Said TV is also used for football games:
Anyway…after our beach we headed inland in an attempt to get to the 3,718m (10,46ft) tall volcano, Teide. The road up to it is amazing, full of huge trees and incredible views. Such as this:
Unfortunately, said road to the volcano was also closed. We eventually hit a gate in the road where a maintenance worker was stationed to point confused tourists such as ourselves in another direction. He didn’t speak any English (and us, no Spanish), so we aren’t quite sure why. Perhaps it was closed due to snow. He showed on the map that we could drive all the way around to the other side of the island to get in that way, but it would have taken hours more for us to do that. It’s alright, we just went back down to the water again to check out more random beaches:
As we refilled the car’s gas tank, I found it somewhat amusing that the highway gas stations have a bar in them.
La Gomera (Canary Islands)
The last stop on our trip before heading back to Gran Canaria was San Sebastián de la Gomera. For this island, we decided against a rental car (or packaged tours), and just did wandering on foot from the boat. I started with a 7ish mile run in the morning, over some relatively hilly terrain.
It was nice though – and super quiet. Perhaps only 2-3 cars passed me during the run.
The entire port area is very convenient, and probably the best port that we had from a running standpoint. I took this photo as I came back down out of the hills.
Afterwards I ran through the center of the then bustling (albeit tiny) town. I’m pretty sure on days where there isn’t a cruise ship in town, it’s totally empty.
Following grabbing some food, it was back to the beach for a few hours. However, unlike most beaches we visited, this one actually had these little cubby hole cubicle-like things near the upper edges. They made for small private stone ‘cabanas’ if you will, but most importantly – blocked the wind. Pretty nifty!
While the water was still a bit chilly, it wasn’t too bad since it was a rather warm day out.
I’m sure as the weather warms, folks would be much happier to dip into the sea.
We were soon on our way back to the home port. Though, some were out getting in a few last loops on the ship’s track.
Astoundingly, I didn’t run a single loop up there this time (you’ll remember the last time I did a cruise workout and the fun tracks that made). Nope – I just kept to running in almost all the ports instead. More fun anyway!
Random Tidbits From The Ship:
I figured I’d mention a few things about the ship – after all, we spent a week on it. First up, as I alluded to earlier, TUI is a German company and the TUI cruise line is very much a German focused endeavor. We knew that going in, as the website for booking makes abundantly clear. It’s all German, all the time.
Except, when it’s not. That’s because despite being a German ship – everyone spoke English, and were more than happy to. Seriously – the crew were awesome. We knew precisely two words in German upon arrival, and it didn’t matter. Everyone was astoundingly friendly and more than happy to speak English at every turn.
This is mostly because the ship itself operates heavily in English – many of the non-customer facing workers will be from dozens of different countries, and English is the most common language. Even the captain is actually American. The only two announcements made in English were safety related (the muster drill at the beginning, and the do-not-smoke while they fueled the ship).
As for the ship itself – it’s brand new, still less than a year old. And it shows. It’s really rather pretty, modern yet classy. And not in a overly glitz way like many other cruise lines.
Plus, they have this giant model on one of the floors, with the opposite side all cutaway. Super cool.
The cruise is all-inclusive (except when it’s not), which means in theory all alcohol is included. But some premium stuff isn’t, along with some higher end restaurants.
We ate at pretty much every restaurant over the course of the cruise, and in general things were quite good.
Obviously, fairly German focused – especially at the buffets. As well as just in terms of some of the cultural tastes and food preferences in items you’d find at various food outlets. But still, a vast selection of food at the buffets and most of it quite high quality. The fruits were amazing, as was the stir fry station (make your own). Lots of great European cheeses at the cheese station, and a massive bakery (ovens baking away behind the counter and all!). Every meal they had 25+ types of freshly baked breads:
Probably our only complaint would be that the meal hours ended a bit early for us. Our group being all from Paris, we’re used to eating later. Combine that with wanting to get a full day outside in ports, we’d often arrive at restaurants at 9:30 – which was too late in most cases. Also, there’s no room service option either. But you get used to that. They do have one 24×7 bistro of sorts, so that’s your only late-night option (no late night ice cream regrettably).
Of note is while most US cruise lines have ‘formal nights’ or similar more dressy dress code, that wasn’t the case here (and not in a bad way). We actually really enjoyed the lack of pushiness or over the top formality. It’s hard to describe exactly – other than to say that everything was very ‘relaxed’. Nobody was trying to pitch or sell anything to us, nor was anyone pushing us around on various timetables or forcing you to pose for corny photos (to sell you) at every turn. You just did what you wanted when you wanted. It was incredibly relaxing in that respect.
We’d have no concern booking again despite our lack of German language skills, because you just don’t need any German. We used our phone apps to translate various paper stuff in the cabins, so that worked out. Of course – all of us are expats living in another country that isn’t our native language, so we’re all kinda used to being in that mental state of constantly translating (either in my head or via an app, depending on country). If this was your first time being outside your language, it might be more stressful.
Again – huge thanks to reader David for the suggestion, and the ship tips along the way. We definitely appreciate it!
And for everyone else, thanks for reading!
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