Cruise around the “land of fire and ice” for enchanting landscapes and wildlife encounters
Though Iceland is an increasingly popular European tourist destination (as the multiple languages spoken on the streets of Reykjavik will attest), it’s often relegated to a back-burner status. It’s a second- or third-tier bucket list item, or a stop on the way to cities like London, Paris or Rome.
For those who consider landscapes as important as architecture, and who value active adventures as much as exploring museums, Iceland is well worth prioritizing. It’s possible to rent a car and drive around the country, but a weeklong cruise along the coast is a wonderful way to get a taste of the best Iceland has to offer.
Windstar Pride offers seven-night sailings around the country, giving passengers a luxurious trip and an overview of the often surprising and always awe-inspiring experiences that await the privileged few who stop here.
Spend a day or two in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, before embarking on your cruise. About 140,000 of the country’s approximately 375,000 inhabitants live in the city and the majority speak English as it’s taught in schools. This is a good place to unwind from your travels and recover from jet lag.
Windstar books passengers at Hotel Borg, but Hotel Holt is also a good option. Both four-star properties are close to Laugavegur Street’s shops, restaurants and art galleries and offer ample buffet breakfasts for an additional fee. From either hotel it’s possible to stroll the city streets, or catch a tour.
Set aside time to visit both the Perlan Museum and the National Museum of Iceland for an overview of the natural wonders and Icelandic history. Spend at least half a day at the famous Blue Lagoon. You can go with a tour or on your own via taxi. Day passes, ranging from comfort to luxury with various amenities added in, must be purchased in advance. Sip an included cocktail from the swim-up bars while soaking in the bathtub-warm geothermal water. It’s the ultimate in relaxation.
The Golden Circle is another popular full-day tour departing from Reykjavik and aquatic marvels are the star attractions. Stop at Thingvellir Valley – home to the largest freshwater lake in the country. Visit Geysir Park – home to Great Geysir, first discovered some 800 years ago and lending its name to all other geysers. Though it no longer erupts you can count on neighboring Strokkur Geyser to go off every three to eight minutes. The majestic Gullfloss Waterfall rounds out the stops, with an easily accessible path to various viewing points for photo ops and a visitor center in which to warm up.
Embarkation day on Windstar Pride runs smoothly on this recently expanded and renovated ship. One of three motor yachts in the Windstar fleet, the Pride holds a maximum of 312 passengers and 204 crew. Getting on and off the ship to sightsee in ports isn’t a problem, either. Multiple tour options, even in these intimate ports, mean the guests are divided and dispersed in a staggered, orderly fashion. The only problem is deciding what to do each day.
As you cruise around Iceland to ports including Heimay Island, Sedisfjordur, Akureyi, Isafjordur and Grundarfjordur, opt to explore on foot during walks through towns, on hikes to waterfalls or over lava fields. Traverse starkly beautiful terrain on an ATV or a 4x4 guided tour, or spelunk into a cave beneath the earth. Thrill to the waves and whale sightings on a RIB boat ride or raft a river canyon. Snap pictures of the largest colony of Atlantic puffins or the country’s only native terrestrial mammals – the Arctic fox.
Snowmobile, take to the sky in a helicopter or book a very special horseback ride. Icelandic horses boast five rather than the typical three gaits and are unusually sturdy yet small in stature. (Icelandic law prohibits any horse leaving the country from returning and no horses from elsewhere may be imported here.)
Back onboard, cozy up in luxurious, well-appointed cabins, with fully stocked mini fridges, large closets, seating areas, and bathrooms with double sinks and glass-enclosed showers. Or, watch the passing scenery from the Yacht Club, which serves as the ship’s library, game room and lounge. It’s the perfect place to grab a made-to-order coffee and nibble on a selection of sandwiches and pastries.
No one goes hungry while cruising, and the Windstar Pride does not disappoint in this regard. Justify regular feedings as fuel for your adventures or just dive in and enjoy the gluttony with reckless abandon. In addition to breakfasts and dinners in Amphora - the main dining room, the Veranda offers breakfast and lunch buffets. Tide yourself over with the aforementioned snacks in the Yacht Club, and visit the Star Grill – an outdoor option for buffet meals alfresco or grab and go. On a sunny day, many guests bundle up, grab deck blankets and eat while enjoying an invigorating chill, even capping off meals with soft serve ice cream from a machine located close by! Candles – an intimate, white tablecloth steakhouse – seats diners both inside and outdoors. Cuadro 44 is a cozy Spanish restaurant with both tapas and larger offerings.
Warm up and unwind in the spa – complete with sauna and steam room, two outdoor hot tubs and an infinity pool. Burn off some steam or calories in the fitness area or dance the night away to the tunes from live bands in the Compass Rose.
On the Windstar Pride, the daily schedule may include everything from name that tune and trivia contests, to lectures about the history and culture of Iceland or informative port talks, or dance lessons and cooking demonstrations. The Crossing the Arctic Circle Ceremony on the evening the cruise briefly sails this far north is full of fun (everyone dons a painted blue nose) and camaraderie – a big part of what makes this cruise line so special.
On a weeklong sailing, you’ll get to know fellow guests and much of the crew. They pride themselves on knowing each passenger by name, remembering everything from your drink of choice to special dining and room requests. The crew also seems to genuinely like and respect each other, something that makes guests feel right at home with gracious hosts seeing to your every need.
Feeling comfortable enough to step outside your comfort zone is important when traveling to a new destination. There’s no better way to explore a uniquely wonderful landscape than with a ship full of newfound friends. The weather may be as unpredictable as the wildlife you’ll spot during days spent here, but you can count on Windstar Pride to help you fall in love with Iceland.
For more information on Windstar, visit www.windstarcruises.com.