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Home > Virtual Cruises > MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean
MSC Fantasia in the Mediterranean
Day 1: Introducing … Genoa!
Day 2: Navigating a New Ship; Winter in Barcelona
Day 3: Multinational Sea Day; Aurea Spa Experience
Day 4: Madeira and a Bit of Italy on Fantasia
Day 5: Tenerife, Canary Islands
Day 6: Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Day 7: MSC Yacht Club, Family Cruising
Day 8: The Cruise Is Over, Reflections
Related Links
MSC Fantasia ship review
MSC Fantasia Member reviews
Western Mediterranean Cruises
Western Mediterranean Messages
MSC Cruises Messages
Day 6: Friday, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Lanzarote, Canary IslandsOn the last of our trio of ports in this part of the world, we headed to Lanzarote. (Incidentally, all three islands are located in the Atlantic, as opposed to the Mediterranean; the Canaries, in particular, are right off the coast of mainland Africa.)

Most photos you see of Lanzarote, one of the smaller Canary Islands, focus on its otherworldly, lunar landscape. The island is defined by the volcanoes that erupted in the 18th and 19th centuries and is primarily marked by the eruption of 1730, one of the longest on record.

What the photos don't really show you is how diverse -- and stunningly beautiful -- Lanzarote is. It reminded me of a moonscape, crossed with the Greek island of Mykonos. Lanzarote's towering, conical, volcanic mountains, with sides eerily bare of vegetation, are contrasted by seaside villages that consist of clusters of stark white houses with nautical blue and green trim.

The major tourist draws here are primarily nature-focused or volcanically inspired and aren't so much about culture, history or great shopping opportunities (though it was pretty weird to spy a huge Ikea, amidst the moonlike terrain, just outside the port's gates). Lanzarote is also amazingly well-organized when it comes to its attractions, particularly for cruise visitors. Rental companies at a port facility that houses makeshift car-rental counters include Cicar, Hertz and Avis. For the first time in any port on our trip, there was also a long table, fairly groaning with all manner of maps and brochures. Roadways are well-paved and well-marked. For do-it-yourself shore tour organizers, Lanzarote is a dream.

There are four self-guided tour options on Lanzarote. As first-timers to the island, we chose to explore the "North Land of Contrasts," and it was an excellent place to start. This area is home to a cactus park, the panoramically situated El Mirador del Rio and two different volcanic caves.

Full disclosure here: If given a choice between visiting a cactus garden and a couple of caves or exploring art galleries, interesting boutiques and historic monuments, I'm going to pick the latter just about any old time. But what's really special about Lanzarote -- and particularly about the north coast, where we spent our day -- is that major attractions here are a blend of art and nature.

That's due to Lanzarote's most famous citizen, Cesar Manrique. Born in 1919, this island native was a true Renaissance character; painting, sculpture, interior design and architecture were among his many talents. His vision, which you can see in attractions and buildings all over the north coast, is one that shows a clear aim at creating harmony between design and environment. Add a dash of whimsy, too. His creations -- which include the Jardin de Cactus, the volcanic caves of Jameos del Agua, La Cuerva de los Verdes and the panoramic spot of El Mirador del Rio -- are all located within an easy, 12-mile drive from our ship.

Lanzarote's Jardin de Cactus We started our day with a stop at the Jardin de Cactus. This cactus garden offers more than 1,400 different types of the spiky plant. What I found more intriguing than the cacti themselves was the setting. They're all tucked into an amphitheater, comprised of volcanic stone; when you enter, you're at the top and look down onto the wavy gardens, with some cactuses so huge and so oddly shaped that they're like sculptures. You walk on paths, lined with lava dust. Other cool spots here include a windmill, a lake, numerous sculptures and a fantastic shop that sells Lanzarote-made soaps (made from aloe vera) and other local handicrafts. If you have time, enjoy a drink or a snack at the outdoor cafe.

Next, we moved on to the Jameos del Agua, the first natural wonder that Manrique rescued. This volcanic tube was created when the roof of a volcanic cave collapsed. The tube is illuminated underground by spots of sunshine and specially colored lights, and the ambience is dictated by soft, new-age music that's piped through the cave. The most intriguing part is the lake that runs through it. It's so crystal-clear you can see the tiny, white (and blind) crabs that reside here, swimming around.

On to another cave. La Cuerva de los Verdes was part of the same eruption that carved out the Jameos del Agua (created between 3,000 and 4,500 years ago). It was, in the more recent 17th century, used as a place for locals to hide when pirates approached the island. (The government is working now on cataloging a lot of the artifacts, such as china and glassware, that were left behind.) It's huge; our tour, which was about an hour long, only took in a small portion of it. There's a lot of climbing, up stairs and down again; quite a few spots, where even the shortest adult had to walk, bent over halfway, so as not to clock one's head with a volcanic stalactite; and a few fantastic surprises, which I'll not destroy for you.

Lanzarote's El Mirador del Rio Our last Manrique-inspired stop today was the first that took us upward, instead of underground. The panoramic site of El Mirador del Rio was once an old military and artillery spot -- because from here you can see forever. (Beyond its scenic value, it's also a good place to check out potential pirates and other invaders.)

Today, the gorgeous, stark-white structure, built into the mountainside, features wide balconies, decks and other viewing perches that offer breathtaking vistas over much of Lanzarote, the Chinijo archipelago and also the nearby island of La Graciosa.

The day, the most serene and relaxed of our forays into ports of call, wound up with a lazy lunch in the atmospheric seaside village of Haria. This village, a favored haunt when Manrique was alive, is distinctive on Lanzarote, with its groves of palm trees and a surf so thunderous that spewing salt water flew through the sky. Better yet, it's past lunchtime. Down toward the marina, where fisherman have docked their trawlers, the rich and tart smells of garlic and fresh fish at a handful of cafes swirl around the sidewalk. Try the head-on shrimp, so fresh you'll swear they were literally just steamed.

I've really enjoyed the relatively laid-back ambience onboard, and it occurred to me -- nine days into the cruise -- that one of the reasons for this is MSC Cruises' "minimal" public announcements policy. There are no annoying reminders about bingo or pleas to join art auctions, which -- on a ship where the safety drill is repeated five times in five different languages -- could be maddening if the same approach was required. When we arrive in port, there's no one on the squawk box to tell us it's okay to get off the ship. The info on schedules and events is listed very succinctly in our daily programs, which we're expected to read.

And, kudos to MSC for opting not to include sheets of paper advertising art auctions, spa sales and inch-of-gold bargains with each day's program.

--Photos of Jardin de Cactus and El Mirador del Rio are courtesy of Heinbloed.
Day 5: Tenerife, Canary Islands red arrow Day 7: MSC Yacht Club, Family Cruising

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