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December 13, 2017

Part 2: More Nordic Adventure Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

by Randy Mink.

Click here for Part 1 of Randy’s story, “Circumnavigating Iceland with Iceland ProCruises.” He spent nine nights aboard the 199-passenger Ocean Diamond round-trip from Reykjavik…. here’s his account of the second half of the voyage.

From Akureyri the all-day Lake Myvatn excursion exposed us to an otherworldly landscape of steaming fumeroles, mud pots, volcanic craters, and weird lava formations. After lunch, we had time to relax at Myvatn Nature Bath, typical of hot springs swimming pools in Iceland.

Circumnavigating Iceland

The author soaking in the thermal waters of the Myvatn Nature Bath. * Photo: Jackie Sheckler Finch

Following the long day, it was good to get back to the Ocean Diamond. Though I have been on nearly 40 ocean and river cruises, this was my first expedition-style voyage, and I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by the amenities and service. The passenger-to-crew ratio is 2-1. Our captain was from Norway, the hotel manager from Germany, the dining room manager from Portugal, the executive chef from the Philippines (as was my room steward). The same crew staffs the Ocean Diamond in winter, when it is chartered by Quark Expeditions for cruises at the other end of the world—Patagonia.

Formerly the Explorer Starship & Song of Flower

Though it’s been around since 1986 (under various names, including Exploration Cruise Lines’ Explorer Starship and Seven Seas Cruise Line’s Song of Flower), the Ocean Diamond, renovated in 2012, truly was in ship shape and even had touches of elegance. All three lounges, for example, were graced with a baby grand piano.

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

One of the ship’s three lounges, the pink Club Lounge. * Photo: Iceland Pro-Cruises

The dining room produced many “wow” moments, and I was never disappointed. Among the four entrees offered each night were regional foods like Icelandic haddock, cod, and lamb, Norwegian salmon, and juniper-marinated reindeer. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style. The most festive evening focused on a dessert spread in the reception lobby, a photo-worthy event with artistic creations from the Guatemalan pastry chef along with liqueurs and specialty coffees.

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

A diet-busting dessert buffet. * Photo: Randy Mink

Flatey Island

Day 5 circumnavigating Iceland with Iceland ProCruises started with a Zodiac trip to tiny Flatey Island, inhabited these days by just a few vacation-home folks who like the solitude. Worn grass paths took us to the 1913 lighthouse, a 1929 school, and 1960s church. Getting close to puffins on the clifftop was a high point, but wildlife viewing that afternoon was even more exciting as we cruised Skjalfandi Bay, the “Whale Capital of Iceland.” With cameras and binoculars in hand, passengers would shift to the other side of the deck whenever a blue or humpback sighting was broadcast over the loud speaker. (Whale-watching from Zodiacs was the original plan, but conditions weren’t right.)

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

An excursion to Flatey Island via Zodiac. * Photo: Ottar Sveinsson

On to Seydisfjordur

In Seydisfjordur (pop. 650) I had a whole afternoon to explore. I discovered handicraft shops in vintage timber buildings, a photogenic church, and quaint houses in hues from bright red to deep blue. It was Thursday, so cars and camper-vans were lined up to board the weekly ferry to the Faroe Islands and Denmark.

Just blocks from the harbor, I walked to a mountainside pasture to say hello to four Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies). The stocky steeds (a gentle breed as symbolic of Iceland as puffins) came over to the fence and let me pet them. That day’s horseback excursion was highlighted by seal-watching along the beach. Another group paddled around the fjord with members of the Seydsifjordur kayaking club. I had gotten my exercise on a morning hiking excursion in a valley dotted with sheep and laced with babbling brooks. We hopped over streams, sank in squishy fields, and scaled steep crags.

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

Icelandic horses. * Photo: Randy Mink

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

The next day also included a hike to a waterfall, this one at Skaftatell National Park. But the showstopper was floating among the magnificent icebergs at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. From amphibious boats we got up-close to the luminous blue chunks that had broken free from the glacier and were being carried by the current to the river’s mouth and into the Atlantic. It’s a surreal scene, and spotting a seal on his cold perch was “icing” on the cake. Our guide passed around a 1,000-year-old chunk and then cut it into pieces for us to eat. The glacier, covering much of southeast Iceland, is an offshoot of the Vatnajokull ice cap, the largest outside the poles and part of Vatnajokull National Park, Europe’s largest national park.

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. * Photo: Ottar Sveinsson

Last Stop, Heimaey

Heimaey, in the Westman Islands off the south coast, fittingly was our last stop in this geologically young nation. The new Eldheimar Museum, built around a house excavated from mounds of pumice, tells the dramatic story of the 1973 volcanic eruption and how residents were evacuated by sea. Though Eldfell Volcaco destroyed a third of the buildings, only one person died.

Leaving behind the velvety green cliffs of Heimaey, the Ocean Diamond made its way back to Reykjavik, having gone full circle around a country we felt lucky to have discovered. Cruising, many of us agreed, is the way to go. It’s Iceland made easy.

In 2018 the Ocean Diamond will offer seven, 10-day Iceland circumnavigation departures between May 11 and July 13. Fares start at $2,035 per person, double occupancy, including Zodiac outings; other excursions are extra. An eight-day voyage (from $1,650) departs Sept. 15. For details, log on to icelandprocruises.com.

Circumnavigating Iceland With Iceland ProCruises

A cabin aboard the Ocean Diamond is awash in sunny orange. * Photo: Iceland Pro-Cruises

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