Exotic Canary Islands is where Charlotteans board first cruise ship

They say you never forget your first cruise. If that is true, I just collected a treasure-trove of memories to last a lifetime.

My husband and I recently took our first cruise together, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

There are hundreds of cruise options, but here’s the catch: My husband, Kevin, is an IBM executive, and we’ve traveled extensively. And we planned to go with dear friends who were celebrating their 20th anniversary. One of them is a flight attendant, they both well-traveled, and they had taken cruises.

We decided to have a first-class trip to celebrate life, love and friendship. After dinner one night, we put a globe on a table here in Charlotte and looked for interesting places we’ve never been.

We found a cruise line that would take us to a few of the Canary Islands, two cities in Morocco (northwest Africa) and Maderia (off the coast of Portugal).

After a few days in Spain, we flew to Las Palmas – the largest city in the Canary Islands – to board the Silver Sea cruise ship.

I have seen many ships docked in various ports around the world, but never stepped onto one. Our luxury ship – Silver Wind –accommodated around 300 people. Each cabin had butler service, and anything your heart desired was taken care of for eight days.

The entire cruise covered 1,468 nautical miles. The port stops included: Santa Cruz De Tenerife and Arrecife – both in the Canary Islands – Agadir and Casablanca (both in Morocco); and Funchal, in the Portuguese Madeira archipelago just north of the Canary Islands.

At Santa Cruz de Tenerife, we enjoyed a tour of a winery and picturesque scenes throughout the island. The second stop, Arrecife, is the capital of Lanzarote, the driest Canary Islands. Lanzarote has an array of amazing landscapes due to a massive volcanic eruption in 1730 and another in 1824. It almost felt like being on another planet. During our tour of Fire Mountain, we actually held very warm stones from the ground. We watched steam shoot up from water poured into a hole in the ground, and saw a deep hole in the mountain used for cooking food at a restaurant. We rode on dromedaries – one-hump camels.

At Agadir, Morocco, we experienced a Moroccan “fantasia” show that included dancers, acrobats, Berber horsemen and a snake charmer. We also took a remarkable 30-minute walk through a souk – a Moroccan marketplace. It offered a variety of food, vegetables, clothing, housewares and much more.

In Casablanca, we arranged for a private tour guide and driver, which made the experience more meaningful. We visited the extraordinarily beautiful Hassan II Mosque (one of the largest in the world) and a variety of areas of the city. Our tour included a Christian church, an old city hall and the opportunity to purchase rugs. After the guided tour we took off on our own to enjoy a lunch of authentic tagine dishes and shopped at a souk (which was not for the faint at heart).

The final port was Funchal in Madeira, a quaint, rustic island full of beautiful flowers and other vegetation. We took a 4 x4 Jeep ride on roads so rough and narrow that it was at times frightening. The island had majestic mountainous views and portions of Funchal frozen in time from centuries ago. It is said that the island was accidentally discovered in 1419. The islands most famous product is their fortified Madeira wine.

After disembarking in Las Palmas, we toured the island – visiting the Christopher Columbus museum, sampling food and taking in more beautiful landscapes.

It was clear that most tour guides want you to understand how the contributions from their homelands have contributed to the cultural lives of others.

The "beyond fantastic voyage" was meaningful and memorable for more reasons than I can count. If it is true that nothing lasts as long as your memories... I have a boat-load of them to enjoy.