by Arie Boris
Cold, windswept, light rain (sometimes pouring) with sun occasionally peeking through low clouds…this is summer in Iceland!
As with the unique attractions of other popular “extreme” destinations, Iceland’s spectacular volcanic terrain, limitless streams and lakes, along with their delicious thermal hot springs (my two favorites: Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik and Mývatn Nature Baths in Northern Iceland) attract thousands of adventure travelers each summer (bring layers and warm winter parkas for the Icelandic “Summer”).
Now, thanks to Iceland Pro Cruises, you can now enjoy the wilds of Iceland from the vantage point of a small ship luxury adventure cruise.
Iceland Pro Travel has been producing custom tour programs for visitors to Iceland and Scandinavia for years. A well-established tour operator with offices throughout Scandinavia, they decided to offer a series of summer adventure cruises around Iceland and Greenland onboard the Ocean Diamond.
This grand dame of the seas has a prestigious past. I had actually sailed on this intimate vessel twenty years before from Yangon to Bangkok, when she was ‘Song of Flower’, the flagship of the then luxury cruise line Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (now Regent Cruises). Coincidently, it turns out the current Captain, Knut Hanssen, was also onboard then, serving as First Mate…small world!
The Ocean Diamond, like me, is showing her age, but at the end of the day is in quite good condition! With a capacity of only 220 guests, this ship is intimate and still maintains the vestiges of luxury from a different age. The original accommodations are spacious, albeit the small bathrooms are somewhat cramped. All the balcony suites (A Cat) on deck seven have been recently renovated. They are tastefully decorated, have a wide screen flat TV/DVD and the bathrooms have been completely rebuilt with lots of space and an enormous shower! Best of all they are located just down the hall from the Observation lounge. Perfect for viewing the magnificent Icelandic scenery while staying warm, dry and enjoying a cocktail!
The staff is very nice and accommodating. Cabins are kept spotless and the public rooms are still very appealing. Dining, for the most part, was just OK, with some hits, but more misses. My made to order breakfast omelets always hit the spot and the fresh grilled or broiled Icelandic fish selections were well prepared and delicious. They do need to upgrade the culinary experience, get rid of the heavy sauces and the breaded fried onions on every entrée! A simple, more contemporary culinary style with a focus on fresh, healthy ingredients would be a perfect complement to visiting the spectacular natural wonders of Iceland. At the end of the day, you won’t starve and it is, after all, about experiencing Iceland. The Ocean Diamond is still a wonderful ship and a great way to enjoy this fantastic destination!
The adventure team is well informed and operates a very safe and efficient zodiac operation when weather permits. Zodiac activities included bird watching, hiking on isolated islands and cruising in the fiords.
The shore excursion program is coordinated by Icelandic Pro Cruises (Icelandic Pro Travel) and is excellent. These lengthy full day trips are well planned, cover lots of territory, have intelligent, knowledgeable and interesting tour guides and are well run. I especially appreciated the tour guides limiting their comments on the way back to the ship, so everyone could just enjoy the views or nap after a long day.
Highlights included Snæfellsjökull glacier, Dynjandi waterfalls, near Ísafjörður (Ice Fields), the capital of the Westfjords region, the Herring Museum in Siglufjörður and Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland (where we dined at Bryggjan, the best Pizza in Iceland!) and gateway to the natural wonders of the north.
Our eight hour excursion from Akureyri, took us to the Mývatn Lake region where we saw fields of venting volcanic steam, a volcanic crater, hiked through lava fields and had a glorious swim in the thermal Nature Baths. Popular among the locals, these naturally heated pools are medicinal…especially for those sipping beer while floating in the warm waters. The only down side was the outdoor sprint in the cold from the pools to the locker room.
On the western side of the country we took a snow cat across the Vatnajökull glacier and a small boat ride among the most beautiful icebergs in Glacier Lagoon Jökulsárlón…a truly remarkable experience!
Our last port of call was the capital city, Reykjavik, where we spent the night onboard. It gave us plenty of time to shop, dine and enjoy Iceland’s biggest city before flying home.
Icelandic Pro Cruises has a limited number of itineraries each summer that really highlight all that Iceland has to offer. It is a brilliant way to add a touch of the adventure that is Iceland, to the indulgence of a cruise vacation. Don’t forget to pack rain gear, a wool hat and gloves. Summer in Iceland can be that way! For more information, visit Iceland Pro Cruises.
Insider Tip – Icelandair has been serving Europe and North America for decades with friendly and efficent service. They are well known for allowing affordable Iceland stop overs in either direction. If you want to add a level of comfort, but not swing for their more expensive Saga Business Class, try Economy Comfort! The middle seat is always left open and you are eligable for unlimited food and drink from the inflight catering menu. We even got upgraded to a Saga Class Seat on the way back to JFK. We loved it and comes highly recommended. For information, visit Icelandair.