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Experience Iceland on a Circumnavigation cruise!

January 14, 2016 | Shauna Cook

Imagine circling Iceland for ten days on board a beautiful, small ship, taking in amazing scenery, meeting new people, and experiencing the culture and food of one of the world’s most fascinating and interesting destinations.  I have been to Iceland before and have taken the tours that Great Canadian Travel offers. You could say Iceland is like a second home to me. My heart races when the plane approaches Keflavik every time because I can’t wait to breathe in the amazing air and say “I’m back!”

Let me tell you about this great new cruise that tours all around the coast of Iceland. This was the maiden voyage and, while I’ve been here before, I had a chance to fall in love with Iceland all over again.

The ship is the M/S Ocean Diamond. It carries a maximum of 200 passengers. On our voyage, we had 100 passengers, which made our entire trip friendly and comfortable. We got to know the staff and the servers, and got to know the other passengers, quickly becoming a large group of friends in no time.  We knew each other’s names, where we were all going, and every day it was like getting up to not only have an adventure, but to hang out with some awesome people.  Because we were a small group the staff really got to know us individually, too.  They remembered what we liked to drink, knew our names and gave us incredible personal service that you may not typically get on a large ship.

Our tour began in Reykjavik, Iceland.  For ten days we would stop at a different port in the day time and travel to a new port overnight.  A different day, a different destination, a different adventure!

Day 1 – Depart Reykjavik

Day 2 – Stykkisholmur

Day 3 – Isafjordur

Day 4 – Morning in  Siglufjordur. Afternoon in Akureyri. We would overnight in port in Akureyri.

Day 5 – All day in Akureyri

Day 6 –Morning on Flatey Island.  Afternoon cruising.

Day 7 – Seydisfjordur

Day 8 – Djupivogur

Day 9 – Westman Islands

Day 10 – Port in the morning and then depart the ship in the morning by 8:30am.

Cruising and exploring

Okay, cruisers, if you think you have a been-there-cruised-that kind of trip in mind, wow are you in for a surprise! A day cruising on the Iceland Circumnavigation trip is anything but typical.  Most excursions departed the ship by 8:30 or 9:00am, so waking up early in time for breakfast is important.  Eat like a Viking and dine on a delicious buffet in the restaurant where you can find most North American favourites such as bacon, sausage, fruit, breads, yogurt, and eggs cooked to your liking. But part of travelling is trying new foods, so don’t forget to try out some of the terrific Scandinavian assortment of deli meats, cheeses, and salmon and, of course, herring. Fish for breakfast? Of course!

The excursions were mostly full day and passengers heading out to explore are given a big bag lunch.  Typically this includes a delicious fresh sandwich, fruit, yogurt, cookies and/or a granola bar, a bottle of water, a bottle of juice, and a bag of chips. Sound filling? Well, let’s just say you’re not going to be losing weight on THIS trip.  There is enough food in that bag for our lunch and for snacks while you’re out and about exploring your port.

Every port is different.  The first was amazing. There were cliffs, little beaches, bird cliffs, and dramatic waves along the coastline.  Photographers would lose their minds at the scenery! I could just picture explorers coming to the rugged shore and writing tall tales of discovery.  In the Westfjords we went inside the fjord, where there really isn’t a lot of space between the water and the shore. Everything is quite sheltered, but it didn’t feel too claustrophobic. What DID feel claustrophobic was the tunnel system. Believe it or not, there is a roadway that travels THROUGH the mountains for about six kilometres.  The roads with mountain passes are often closed throughout the winter, so this single-lane road was blasted through the mountains for year round passage.  There is a pull-off every so often so cars coming one way can get out of the way of oncoming traffic.  It’s very dark, though there are a few lights, and some people found it a little hair-raising.  That’s part of the fun!

All of the expedition and excursion teams are incredibly friendly knowledgeable guides. You know you’re in good hands with them and their stories and experiences make each excursion enjoyable.  We had some great laughs along the way! Passengers are able to take amazing tours of waterfalls and glaciers and, in some cases, go on a hike, go golfing, or even snowmobiling.  Excursions do cost extra and we recommend you book your excursions with your Great Canadian Travel consultant well in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment should spaces be filled.  The only excursions included in your cruise fare are the zodiac excursions. Weather permitting, passengers interested in heading out on the zodiac need to sign up for the trip the day of the excursion and it is on a first come first serve basis.   If you don’t sign up early, you may just miss the boat – literally!

Remember to pack plenty of layered, breathable clothes, a waterproof jacket, hats, mitts, scarves, extra socks, and good walking shoes. Depending on your excursion you probably want to pack some rain pants, too.  Whatever you do, do not forget your camera! The scenery is breathtaking!

On my trip there was an 87 year old woman who was amazing! This senior traveller took on a hike that would beat the pants off the younger travellers, and she was in that zodiac boat and raring to go when some people chickened out!  She was amazing! She told us stories about her travel adventures and reminded us that life is for living and that we shouldn’t be spectators. She said we should live our dreams, have our adventures and get out there and go for it!

One couple from Scotland had an amazing fishing adventure. On their particular excursion they were the only two that signed up for a fishing tour. Now, you’d think that could be disappointing to be the only two, but they loved every minute of it! They had their guide to themselves; they were able to fish at their leisure and have personal attention, trade stories with the guide.  I have to admit, some of us were a little jealous. What an experience!

After our excursion of the day ended, it was time to head back to the ship.  Every day had new stories and adventures – some crazier and funnier than the day before.  Yes, the scenery is great, the shopping is great but the fun we had with each other was priceless! There is usually time before dinner, so we were able to go back to our cabin to rest.  Passengers can also visit in the lounge, hang out, meet people, enjoy a cocktail and relax before dinner.

Depending on the day, either before or after dinner, a staff member gave us a fun informative recap of the day, talked about the excursions, answered any questions we had, and told us what we needed to know about what was happening the next day. This half hour gathering was presented in both English and German.

Then it was time for a delicious and interesting dinner.  Dinner is an informal and relaxed affair, where jeans and a presentable top are certainly acceptable.   At the plated served dinner we were given four to five different food options, often including local foods to whatever area we were visiting. For example, in Akureyri, we had fresh fish that the chef actually got from the fisherman that day. In Djupivogur, we were treated to reindeer. Most meals included meat, potato and vegetables and a sauce. There was always a pasta or stir-fry dish to choose from as well.  If you have a sweet tooth you’ll be glad to know there was always a great dessert, such as cake, cheesecake and ice cream  to top off each meal perfectly. There is always a vegetarian option; however a vegan would need to make sure they requested special consideration at the time of booking their trip.    By the way, let me tell you about eating reindeer.  It tastes like venison, a tad gamey, but pretty tender and tasty! I couldn’t help but chuckle at the reactions some of the passengers had when we were served reindeer one night. Earlier in the day we saw a herd of these gorgeous reindeer running wild…and then at dinner we had some on our plate.  A little too close to home?  No, don’t worry; no one actually hunted those reindeer!

Check out the cabins

The cabins were typical of many cruise cabins. In the cabin we had on deck 3, there were two single beds and a small bathroom with a shower.  On decks 4 to 6 the cabins are bigger, with a large picture window, a larger bathroom, a half tub and shower.  There are also two types of suites on board, one which is as big as two of the larger cabins and can host up to four people, and a larger state room which has a balcony. All the rooms have a small lip to step over to enter the room, so they are unfortunately not wheelchair friendly.

We were surprised to find an Iceland Pro Cruise wind breaker jacket in our cabins to take home with us! This light shell jacket would a wonderful brag-worthy souvenir!

A specific cabin attendant is assigned to your cabin for the duration of the trip. On our trip a very friendly woman came to our room in the morning when we left for breakfast and made the room up for the day, tidying, making the bed and so on. In the evening, while we were at dinner, she returned to once again tidy the room, close the blinds, turn the lights down and prepare our cabin for another comfortable, restful evening.  We were delighted to see friendly towel animals left on our bed. One day we had a seal, and the next day there was a towel monkey hanging from the ceiling!  Of course now at home I try to make these and end up making a big knot…but on board they were adorable!

Laundry service is available on board.  It can be costly as it is priced per item. So bring extra undies and socks and t-shirts to avoid any laundry issues if you want to save a few bucks.

There is an on-board medical doctor available during specific hours on the second deck.

Looking for some pampering? There is a spa on deck 3 that offers massages and facials.  We recommend you make your appointments as soon as you get on board because they book up very quickly.  Appointments for the spa cannot be booked prior to boarding the ship.

There is an elevator on board, it is a little small, and not necessarily high speed – but it does the trick when needed! The majority of the passengers simply took the stairs.

Shopping and WIFI

While everything is charged to your cabin and you settle your account when you leave, much like a hotel, any gift shop items must be purchased with credit card, cash is not accepted, and they’re open only when the ship is moving.   You can purchase items such as t-shirts, Icelandic jewellry, Blue Lagoon skincare products, Icelandic wool sweaters, books, and DVDs.  There aren’t any snacks to purchase from the gift shop; however the bar in the main lounge does have a few snacks you can purchase.  I would recommend that should you want any snacks to eat in your cabin in the evening, you should purchase them at one of the ports and bring them on board with you.

Now, what about WiFi?   There is Internet service available on board, but it is very expensive and spotty at best.  Your best bet is to wait until you get to port where you will be directed to where you can find WiFi services. Some ports even have handy little WiFi huts.

Satellite phone is available, and a satellite phone card is US$45.00 and will give you, if you are calling within North America, approximately 90 minutes of time.  Keep in mind that it is satellite phone service, so should there be cloudy weather, service may be slightly interrupted. Other than a slight delay in talking back and forth, we felt it was more than adequate for touching base at home.

Unlike large cruise ships, the entertainment on-board the Pro Cruise was relaxed and more laid back. You’re not going to find magicians and dancing theatrical productions and Wayne Newton on board! On some nights there were members of the expedition teams giving talks on the geology of specific areas, birds, and other interesting topics. There were Icelandic folk songs, stories, and a very interesting talk about the history of Iceland.

And speaking of history, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Icelandic belief in elves, trolls and hidden people.  Yes, I said belief.  We’re not talking simple fun folklore, they truly, truly believe it and take it very serious!  The elves are said to mess with electricity, camera energy, and there are are even lava formations that are so strange looking, the locals believe they are evil trolls that turned to stone when the sunlight hit them.   There’s a terrific elf school in Reykjavik where you can learn all about the different types of elves, too.

There is a true story about some road construction that was happening on the west coast of Iceland. The elves and trolls were causing problems with the road machinery, so the construction company rerouted the plans to go around the elves’ habitat.  You may never see an elf or troll on camera, but you can bet they’ll let you know they are there. And should you decide all of this is nonsense, we’d advise you to enjoy the stories, have fun, but don’t make fun of it. It’s considered quite rude. You wouldn’t want someone making fun of your beliefs, would you?

On the night the ship crossed the Arctic Circle all of the passengers were brought into the lounge and given champagne to toast to our crossing.  What a special memory that made for all of us, to share this adventure together and this special moment.

On the last day of the cruise,  as I was sitting on this green cliff on the Westman Island gazing out across the ocean with tears rolling down my face, all I could think was “I must be a Viking.” Why? I have no idea other than I had the amazing feeling that this was home. Or that I had somehow been here before and this spot meant something to me. The seabirds circling overhead, the easy hiking, the cliffs and almost NO PEOPLE – this was, is and always will be a special place to me.

Who couldn’t help but think that they were a Viking! I was standing on the bow of my “Viking war ship” MS Ocean Diamond in full sail with the sun out and the sky was that colour of blue that you can only get when you are near the Arctic Circle. The mountains were on either side of me and that huge feeling of adrenaline was rushing through my body.  It truly was more than just a holiday, spiritual travel adventure for me.

Is the Iceland Circumnavigation Cruise for you? YES!

We met a variety of passengers on our cruise, including some with children (minimum age to travel on this cruise is 8 years old).  Anyone who likes the idea of unpacking once and seeing an entire country would love to cruise around Iceland.  For photographers the scenery is breathtaking and unique.  And if you are someone who has been to Iceland, this cruise offers you a unique way to see Iceland from a different perspective as if you are experiencing it for the very first time.  No other cruise line offers this circumnavigation of Iceland cruise and we think it is wonderful!  We think cruisers would love to have the opportunity to experience traveling around Iceland in this way.  Like I said, if you think this is a been-there-cruised-that type of cruise, you’re sadly mistaken. This trip is awesome!

The circumnavigation cruise operates June to August only, with July being the peak season.  Of course there are 24 hours of daylight in July, so each cabin has blackout curtains to help you sleep.

Want to ask us questions? We’ve been on this cruise – we have the answers!

Are you ready to cruise around Iceland and explore this amazing part of the world?  Contact Great Canadian Travel Company consultant Shauna Cook for more information.  Shauna has been on this cruise and can answer all of your questions and help you book the dream cruise of a lifetime.