Most Iceland itineraries include a stay in Reykjavik, the capital city. A series of day trips from this home base will give you a glimpse of this island nation’s extreme natural beauty: glorious geysers, gleaming glaciers, and volcanic springs. But, experiencing all that the “land of fire and ice” has to offer, requires a days-long drive around the extensive outer loop roadway… or a cruise around the island’s perimeter.
My recent articles on Iceland highlighted the Best of Reykjavik, a Day at the Blue Lagoon, and an Excursion around the Golden Circle. After these amazing adventures, we boarded a Windstar Cruise, docked in downtown Reykjavik, and embarked on a week-long circumnavigation.
Our home for the seven days was the Star Legend. Windstar’s small, boutique-style ships take you into off the beaten path ports — a more personalized approach to cruising that larger ships can’t match. The Star Legend, one of the cruise line’s yacht-style ships, carries 212 passengers in 106 suites. This small ship is big on service. The staff is exceptionally welcoming — by the second day they greeted us by name; by the end of the week we knew all of theirs.
The Star Legend has just enough onboard services to keep you busy on those occasional “days at sea” including a small outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, main dining room, library, coffee shop, salon/spa, casino, several bars, specialty restaurant, and a show lounge. The well-stocked watersports platform, a real benefit in warmer climates, unfortunately did not apply to our itinerary.
On board, it was very easy to meet fellow travelers. The Yacht Club, with its cozy chairs and sofas, was a favorite hangout with floor to ceiling windows offering extensive views of our fjord entrances and exits. It was the perfect place to grab freshy baked cookies and cappuccino, dig into a novel, mingle with shipmates, and play games and work on puzzles (yes, the old-fashioned kind that require no smart phones or laptops). The ship has an “open bridge” policy, which my sons took full advantage of, chatting up the captain and chief engineer about navigation tools and cruising speeds.
While larger ships can make claim to an abundance of onboard activities, dining outlets, and entertainment options, the star attraction of small ship cruising is the ability to access smaller ports and offer unique, small group excursions. And now, a rundown of the ports we visited on our Iceland cruise:
Located about 10 kilometers off the southern coast of the country, it is most famous for the 1973 five-month long volcano eruption that forced its inhabitants to abandon their home and flee to the main land. Afterwards, over 400 homes and buildings had been completely covered by ash and lava. Visit this island to experience this “Pompeii of the North,” which also happens to be the breeding ground of the largest colony of Atlantic Puffins.
Our favorite port was both a fjord and a charming and creative town of just 700 people. For a glance, rent the 2013 movie Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The town is featured in the scene where Ben Stiller takes his long board and skates for miles through picturesque scenery. The photogenic Blue Church, which gets a quick glimpse in the film, and the quirky Technical Museum of East Iceland, are both worth a visit. A half-day hike Chasing Waterfalls was our most memorable excursion of the whole cruise. Climbing the trails that wind their way through the Vestdalur Valley (a protected nature reserve) offered a true feast for the eyes (and the heart). At every turn, at every new height, the spellbinding display of waterfalls, mountains, valleys, and ocean vistas unfolded.
A small city in northern Iceland, it’s the second largest urban area and a center for the fishing industry. Located in the Earth’s sub polar region, its only 60 kilometers from the Arctic Circle. The most popular excursion, Jewels of the North, includes stops at Godafoss Falls, Lake Myvatn, Dimmuborgir (a dramatic landscape with strange lava formulations and caves that have become the source of Icelandic folktakes), Skutustadir (a crater-pocked landscape formed by boiling lava and gaseous explosions), and Namaskard (an other-worldly geothermal field of mud-pots, steam vents, Sulphur deposits, boiling springs, and fumaroles).
Located in the northwest of the country, this “ice fjord,” once known as a trading post for foreign merchants in the 16th century, is now a nature and adventure lovers paradise. Gentle fjord kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding are popular excursions. Equestrian fans will be intrigued by old Icelandic laws: to keep the famous “Icelandic Horses” purely bred to withstand the harsh elements, the country forbids the import of horses, and any horse that leaves Iceland is barred from ever returning.
This fjord, perched on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, in the western portion of the country, is well-known for its dramatic landscapes. Weather permitting, partake in a glacier hike to the top of Snæfellsjökull Glacier, which rises 4800 feet above sea level — its snow-cap covers a volcano. According to Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, the entrance to the planet’s core lies through a caldera (crater) at the top of this glacier. On our excursion, we donned helmets and flashlights and visited a lava cave deep underground and explored a cavern that had been hidden from the outside world for thousands of years.
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