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If you are looking for sun and warmth in Europe during the winter, your options are very limited. We followed the lead of Europeans who travel to Canary Islands beaches in droves during the peak season, November to March.

Harmony V in the Canary Islands
Harmony V in the Canary Islands
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Located at the same latitude as Florida, Spain's Canary Islands are closer to Morocco than they are to Madrid. With winter temperatures averaging 20 degrees C (68 degrees F), the Canary Islands climate is described as eternal spring.

Resorts to rental apartments

No two of the seven major Canary Islands are alike, so we wanted to explore as many of them as possible. Although the Canary Islands archipelago offers a wide range of resorts, hotels, apartments and B & Bs, we didn't want to move our luggage from one hotel to another as we island-hopped.

Nor did we want to waste time in airports, waiting for inter-island flights, or in cruise terminals lining-up to board the Naviera Armas, Fred Olsen and Trasmediterranea ferries and jetfoils that transport passengers and vehicles between islands. We also looked for an alternative to renting a car on each island.

Cruises to the Canaries

The number of ports-of-call on Canary Islands cruises varies considerably. Many ships depart from Britain, Spain or Portugal, stopping at several other European ports before reaching the Canaries, where they visit one, two or three islands.

Variety Cruises Harmony V cabin
Variety Cruises Harmony V cabin
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Variety Cruises Harmony V occasionally offers eight-day round-trip cruises, departing from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Los Cristianos Port, South Tenerife.

The sleek 25-cabin ship looks like a private yacht. In 2016, USA Today readers voted Variety as the best boutique cruise line in the world.

Upper Deck cabin

A bowl of fresh fruit and a bottle of Arria Yaia Bio Hellas red wine greeted us in our cabin. At our request, cabin attendant Nilam converted the twin beds into a double. Each day, she replenished the drinking water in our fridge.

Every morning, we eagerly looked out the large window to see a new destination in the Canary Islands. A daily copy of The Variety Times, delivered to our cabin, informed us of the weather, meal times, shore excursion highlights, spa specials and cocktail of the day.

The newsletter also described on-board entertainment (movies on the cabin's flat-screen TV, DVDs, books and board games in the library), suggested clothing for shore excursions, Wi-Fi availability and cost, as well as special events, such as the Captain's cocktail party and dinner.

Captain Vasileios Panagiotou on the bridge
Captain Vasileios Panagiotou on the bridge
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Open bridge

We felt very safe in the Harmony V with Master Class A Captain Vasileios Panagiotou at the helm. His maritime experiences have ranged from captaining tankers and private yachts to special search-and-rescue training.

"Call me Billy," he said on the first day as he gave us tips for an interesting walk in Los Cristianos, Tenerife. As affable as he was capable, he regularly chatted with passengers, answering questions in the dining room and on the decks when the ship was docked.

The bridge was always open. During our visit, Captain Panagiotou pointed out the ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display & Information System) which pinpointed the ship's position, as well as other vessels, the GPS, bow thruster, depth meter and other equipment. "There's no problem with reefs here," he said. "The sea is 1,000 meters deep."

Dolphins and whales

We noted a silver icon on the wall opposite the wheel. "It's St. Nicholas, the patron saint of seamen," explained the captain. "You'll find this icon in all Greek ships."

Bartender David Didier serves Blue Lagoons
Bartender David Didier serves Blue Lagoons
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Just after he showed us the paper charts that he kept in case the ship loses electricity, several small dolphins jumped in arches beside the ship. As we took photos from the deck, the captain noted that passengers can also occasionally see whale spouts in the distance.

Cosmopolitan crew and passengers

Although Captain Panagiotou, his chief and second officers were Greek, the rest of the crew came from around the world. The sailors and motorman were Egyptian, while the deck cadet was Spanish.

The hotel manager and cruise coordinator were Greek, but the chefs were Egyptian. Waiters Vik and Sundeep and bartender David came from Mauritius. The spa therapist, utility and laundry staff were Indonesian.

Everyone spoke English, as well as a host of other languages. Passengers were equally cosmopolitan, coming from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the USA. Most were baby boomers.

Dining during Canary Islands cruise
Dining during Canary Islands cruise
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Freshly baked breads and pastries

Open-seating dining gave us opportunities to get to know each other. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. On warm days, servers set up the lunch buffet on the Sun Deck.

Dinners were served. Menus included an appetizer, soup, choice of meat or fish and a selection of two desserts. Chef Makis Bozas handled requests for vegetarian, diabetic and other dietary requirements.

Food was a highlight of our Canary Islands cruise. Pastry chef Mohamed Othman baked fresh bread daily, as well as breakfast pastries and decadent desserts. He garnished the plates with expertise.

Bountiful breakfasts

Breakfast buffets were delicious. They featured hot and cold cereals with yogurt, fig, pistachio, walnut and raisin toppings, tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, sliced meats, assorted cheeses, bacon, sausages and a variety of egg dishes, including the best scrambled eggs we've ever eaten.

Paella for dinner on the Harmony V
Paella for dinner on the Harmony V
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

A tray of fresh fruit, toast and baked goods (chocolate pastries, cherry coffee cake, apple tart), juices, coffee and tea rounded out the bountiful repast.

Delicious meals

Dinners featured appetizers such as smoked trout with avocado tartar and salad with dried fruit and Parmesan shavings.

Entrées ranged from paella with large shrimp, mussels, chicken, chorizo sausage and saffron to beef sirloin with garlic, wine, Parmesan risotto, sautéed Portobello mushrooms and spinach.

Luscious desserts spanned the spectrum from lemon meringue pie to mille-feuille with chocolate and pistachio-covered strawberries.

Dinner menu, wine and appetizer salad
Dinner menu, wine and appetizer salad
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wine list

The Variety Cruises wine list included French, Italian, Portuguese and organic wines in bottles or by the glass. Especially notable was the selection of Greek wines, such as the white Santorini Nykteri Santo, the red Cabernet Sauvignon Hatzimichalis and the Chateau Nicos Lazaridis rosé.

A culinary highlight was the selection of Greek foods served during the cruise. Breakfast featured Greek honey, feta cheese and Greek-style yogurt.

International cuisine

Lunches included skoumbri (a sesame seed-sprinkled grilled fish appetizer) and fish with ouzo sauce. The Greek Night menu was especially memorable, with dolmades, Greek sausages and salad, lamb and syrup-soaked, nut-filled baklava and kataifi pastries.

Meals also featured other international dishes, as well as fresh Canary Islands fish, fruit and vegetables.

Banana wine

Culinary and other surprises delighted us throughout the cruise. During happy hour in the bar one evening, cruise coordinator Stella Giannopoulou served passengers glasses of pale-yellow, semi-sweet Platé banana wine.

Heart-shaped cherry cheesecakes for Valentine's Day
Heart-shaped cherry cheesecakes for Valentine's Day
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Our cruise coincided with Valentine's Day. The pastry chef surprised us with mouthwatering cherry cheesecake hearts. When we returned to our cabins we discovered a pair of love birds shaped from towels on our bed, with candies on their wings.

Balinese massages

As on most private yachts, passengers had three options each day. They could stay on board, sunbathe or read books on the deck, chat with other passengers in the bar or enjoy the mini-spa.

Mary (Meriati Ni Made Adi) offered several spa treatments, including traditional Balinese massage with acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy, as well as facials, stone therapy and manicures. "She is good," raved one passenger as she booked her third massage in one week.

Shore excursions

At each port-of-call, we could go for a walk, arrange our own tour with a taxi and driver or take one of Harmony V's optional shore excursions. We did all three. (See articles about what to see and do at each Canary Islands port below.)

With volcanic moonscapes, lush forest, mountainous terrain, vast beaches and UNESCO-listed historic cities, the Canary Islands offer a scenic smorgasbord. Our Harmony V Variety Cruises trip allowed us to experience what makes each island unique.

More things to see & do in the Canary Islands:

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands - Beaches, Surf, Dunes and Aloe Vera

Valle Gran Rey Walking Tour - La Gomera, Canary Islands

Lanzarote, Canary Islands - Wine, Volcanoes and Cesar Manrique's Home

La Gomera - San Sebastian, Garajonay and Mirador del Palmarejo

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Walking Tour - Cruise Shore Excursion