The vast rugged landscapes, natural beauty and colorful stories of the Vikings and mythical creatures, have fueled the world’s fascination with Iceland. With the success of Game of Thrones, this lava-sculpted island, roughly the size of Cuba, is now more than ever in the spotlight as a tourism destination.
Iceland’s power to fuel fantasy is grounded in the country’s illustrious past. Historical facts remind us Iceland was once an untamed isolated land until the arrival of settlers over 1100 years ago. Iceland’s founding father is said to be Ingólfur Arnarson of Norway who sailed into Reykjavik in 874 AD, discounting other accounts claiming that Irish monks and hermits were there first.
It is without doubt, Iceland’s heritage can be traced to Scandinavia and the British Isles. Icelanders are descendants of brave Nordic and Celtic people who survived and thrived in challenging conditions. These first settlers were sheep and cattle farmers, fishermen and enterprising explorers who would build industries that would become the backbone of Iceland’s economy.
*Fun Fast Facts:
- Iceland is a short 5 hour direct flight from New York.
- Iceland is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes.
- Iceland has more land covered by glacier (11%) than the rest of Europe.
- Iceland’s total population equals that of a small U.S.city – 334,000. And, almost 80% of the country is uninhabited.
- Iceland’s weather can be compared to New England. But wind and rain can create extreme weather patterns. Changes in conditions can happen in instant.
- Iceland’s warmest months are June to September when visitors can witness the midnight sun (18+ hours of daylight). The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights illuminate the sky between October and March.
- Iceland’s Favorite Sport/Social Activity: Swimming and Soaking in a Hot Spring. There is a community pool in every town. Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa, is a world-renowned attraction.
The Iceland’s folklore comes alive as one travels to remote fishing and trading villages along the coastline. Large rock outcroppings, like those in Dimmuborgir aka the Dark Fortress at Mývatn, are said to be giant trolls frozen in time. And, Icelanders believe that elves can be found everywhere. In fact, pilings of small rocks on the roadside are considered the magical habitats of these beloved little people. Locals often build tiny elf houses in their gardens to garner good luck.
To fully experience Iceland, I recommend traveling with an expert team. Iceland Pro Cruises offers several immersive guided sea and land adventure tours. I chose a 10 day circumnavigation cruise on Iceland Pro Cruises’ Ocean Diamond.
The robust itinerary and size of the ship were deciding factors in my final booking. Iceland Pro Cruises has successfully created a cruise travel program designed with the discerning traveler in mind. The ship is able to navigate into fjords and bays too shallow for larger vessels. This advantage saves travel time and allows access to quaint harbors and outlying islands which otherwise would be missed.
Grimsey, a tiny island of 100 inhabitants north of the mainland at the Arctic Circle, is among the Ocean Diamond’s special finds. A birder’s and photographer’s dream, Grimsey is unique in every way. We traveled by zodiac boats to view the near million seabirds nesting in the island’s high cliffs. Iceland’s famous puffins were plentiful. Later, we hiked the path to the official Arctic Circle marker for a photo opportunity.
The Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) Archipelago, another itinerary port of call, enlightened us on living in the midst of an active volcano. In 1973, the islands were rocked by a powerful eruption. Heimaey, the largest island was nearly destroyed; 400 of the 1200 houses in the main town were buried in lava. A museum recounts the tragic events and aftermath.
Whether on land or at sea, Iceland Pro Cruises will transport you to a world of discovery with comfort and care at a competitive cost.
Cruise guests are treated to a truly elevated experience visiting Iceland’s unearthly treasures – ancient glaciers, thundering waterfalls, geothermal geysers, dramatic volcanic peaks, majestic fjords and so much more.
Prior to my cruise, I chatted with other travelers who opted for camping or a self-drive land tour of Iceland. Most confirmed my findings, Iceland can be very expensive. A simple bowl of soup can easily cost you $20. When you add in the cost of food, accommodations with land tour or rental car, you are much better off booking a cruise. And, with the unpredictability of the weather and road conditions, cruise travel is a much safer and stress-free option.
More important to your trip planning, cruising allows you to see and do so much more.
Iceland Pro Cruises’ shore excursion list is extensive. Sport enthusiasts will enjoy the active hikes and outdoor activities like snowmobiling, sea angling, kayaking and horseback riding. As in my case, the creative offerings were all so amazing, choosing was a daunting task. Tours to Iceland’s favorite sites are among the mix lead by a talented team of multi-lingual naturalists and native guides. And, not to worry…you will not go hungry while away. A hearty box-lunch is provided.
Here a just a few of my top picks:
Seal & Bird Watching on Horseback: a two-hour unique riding experience on an Icelandic Horse – a beautiful ancient pure breed dating back to the Vikings. Fast Fact: no other horse breeds are allowed in Iceland.
Adventurous Jeep Tour: a two-hour off-road adventure. Cross glacial rivers and drive through spectacular mountain canyons where sheep dot the landscape like flowers.
Whale-Watching Tour: Buckle up for big time fun in Húsavik, the Whale Capital of Iceland. Guests are transported via high-speed inflatable boats to the playgrounds of the sea’s gentle giants.
Wonders of National Park Mývtan: the tour features Lake Mývtan and includes stops at Jökulsárgljúfur, part of Vatnajökull National Park, where you will find Ásbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss – Europe’s most powerful waterfall. A must (Ásbyrgi/ Tjörnes Tour): Eyjan cliff hike at Ásbyrgi – amazing views!
If the daily expeditions don’t completely wow you, Ocean Diamond’s dining will.
The hot and cold breakfast buffets were a delightful way to start the day. Simply delicious! Fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, pastries and made-to-order dishes will tempt you to stray off a diet. Dinner is divine and never boring. Local Icelandic fare is always showcased. Fresh seafood and organic grass-fed lamb are menu standouts. I couldn’t get enough of the fish; I over-indulged in salmon, cod, halibut and fish varieties I have never heard of for nine straight days. The well-appointed main dining room offers open seating; no reservations are required. For those who want a more elegant intimate dinner setting, the Ocean Diamond has a smaller dining venue (reservation only) with 10 tables, on Deck 4; the room is brighter with larger windows for your viewing pleasure. Coffee, tea, juices and water are complimentary. Alcohol, wine and soft drinks are available for purchase.
The last evening of the cruise, passengers were invited to a sail away party – a decadent chocolate dessert extravaganza. We tasted, toasted and kicked up our heels in celebration of a fabulous cruise.
Overview: The Ocean Diamond, a fast yet stable super-yacht, is perfect for icy polar sea cruising. The ship’s sleek design features two stabilizers and an ice-strengthened hull.
Staff & Crew: 106
Length: 124 meters/ 406.82 feet
Breadth: 16 meters/ 52.49 feet
Draft: 4.9 meters/16.07 feet
Passenger Decks: 5 (total decks: 8)
Iceland Pro Cruises cares about the environment; the Ocean Diamond is an eco-friendly carbon-neutral ship – focused on offsetting emissions and reducing pollution. The ship burns Marine Gas Oil– a clean burning fuel with a low emission factor.
Ocean Diamond Highlights:
• 107 Cabins – 87 standard cabins/10 Suites/ 10 Balcony Suites (max: 199 passengers)
• 2 Restaurants with Chef-prepared menus
• Club lounge with Full Bar
• Library stocked with books, movies and travel guides
• Small Outdoor Pool
• Fitness Center
• Panoramic Observation Lounge & Deck
• Spa Services
• Theater-style Auditorium with large viewing screen
• Clinic with Licensed Doctor
• Expert Guides & Lectures/Briefings
• Complimentary WiFi (Library & Lounges)
• Baggage Storage & Airport Transfers (embarkation/disembarkation)
Friends and family ask me “What was the best part of your trip to Iceland?” My response is sincere and simple – The Iceland Pro Cruise. I was able to explore the very best of Iceland in just under two weeks. The cruise gave me the freedom to enjoy every moment and experience picture-perfect vistas that could not be replicated on a land tour.
I would be remiss, if I did not mention my most memorable, truly comical, moment -“Flight of the Arctic Terns.” Be forewarned, if you visit Iceland during the summer months, you will encounter nesting Arctic Terns.
I learned first hand, these innocent-looking white birds can be aggressive when protecting their young. Don’t be surprised, when several swoop down with a bellowing cry toward your head while you are walking. It is a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. The terns will aim for the highest point. An umbrella or stick will serve well as a replacement target for your head.
But, I happily report… this voyage of discovery has left me changed and curious. I want to know more about my Nordic heritage and channel the spirit of my Viking brethren. Perhaps, I have been blessed with the gene for adventure and exploration.
Iceland, a natural wonderland of fire and ice, continues to excite the masses. Tourism is exploding. Perhaps it is the tranquility of isolation that is the appeal. Iceland’s vast wild landscapes give one a peaceful reassurance that the all is still well with the world. For visitors, travel to Iceland can be an emotional experience – taking in the magnificence of every awe-inspiring moment and breathing in the beauty. Iceland will long be remembered as a tempestuous and magical island that ignited my heart and renewed my passion for adventure.
To learn more about Iceland Cruising, visit the official Iceland Pro Cruises website.
Special Promotion: Save 15% on all bookings before December 2017
*For more on Iceland ,visit InspiredbyIceland.com
Stay tuned for my review post on Reykjavick, Iceland’s largest city, for pre/post cruise tips.