Welcome to yet another trip report of our travels. It seems our trips to Iceland are always plagued with problems, and this was no different in that respect. I will cover the itinerary and the several changes to it more completely below, but briefly, things did not go as we had planned.
On this trip we are in Iceland for about 10 days and this report will follow the same general design as the past several reports, with a general overview with basic information (which you are reading now), followed by a daily log of our trip. Along the way there will be a short section dedicated to the ship we were on, the Windstar Star Pride, in order to sort of set the stage so you have an idea of where we spent a lot of our time. After that section, there will be multiple “Chapters”, with each chapter covering a couple of days of activities.
For each different destination of our trip, I will use a map of Iceland to point out where we are. As it turned out, we didn’t really visit that many different places.
We’re in Reykjavik!
There is quite a bit to cover “up-front”, before we actually get started properly, so let’s get started.
We have wanted to visit Iceland for several years but, on our first attempt about 3 years ago, we were prevented from getting there by a miscue between Jet Blue Airlines and Iceland Airlines that left us stranded in Boston with no way to get to Iceland for 3 days. This summer, after making arrangements for a November trip to Europe, we decided we needed another trip before that. It was the middle of a hot summer and Susan said “nowhere hot”. So I responded, “How about Iceland?”
I knew that Windstar offered cruises around Iceland, so I checked the schedules and also the flight schedules of Delta Airlines. (I was not going to trust Iceland Air again.) Since the 7 day cruise did not spend any time in Reykjavik, we decided to stay there another 3 nights after the cruise to see the sights in that area. I investigated tours in the area and arranged two full-day tours for the days after the cruise as well as a Windstar excursion on the day of our return to Reykjavik.
It had been a couple of years since our last Windstar cruise and we were looking forward to to getting back to Windstar and possibly seeing crew friends from previous cruises. All of our previous Windstar cruises have been on their “sailing ships” or yachts but this would be our first on one the three Windstar “Motor Yachts”. Given the likely cool weather in Iceland, I thought that having more warm interior spaces might be a good thing. This time we would be on the 312 passenger Windstar Star Pride.
The Windstar Star Pride
As usual, I made our cruise arrangements through the “Vacations to Go” travel company and James Bingleydid his usual excellent job of taking care of all the details and getting us a decent rate. We were relatively late making arrangements and the cruise was pretty full, so the choice of cabins was limited but we got a decent mid-range suite. I took care of the flights and went with all Delta flights to avoid the kinds of problems we had on our previous Iceland attempt.
Delta does not offer non-stops to Iceland from Atlanta, so we had to make connections both going and coming home. On the outbound trip we had a 2:30 layover in Minneapolis and on the return trip we had another 2:30 connection at New YorK’s JFK airport.
The Flight Information screen departing Minneapolis - 2893 miles to go
All flights were on time or slightly early. I had played my usual game of signing up for Comfort+ hoping that we might get a cheap or free upgrade, but all flights were basically completely full with no chance for a reasonable upgrade. Cabin service on all flights seemed a notch or two better than on our trip to the Greek Islands. Immigration and customs in Reykjavik was a bit confusing and the line seemed to go from practically nonexsistant to huge and not moving, to decent, but we did get through in about 30 minutes. Coming back into the US through JFK was quick, although they seem to keep changing the machines and procedures used for the Global Entry process.
Approaching Reykjavik, Iceland
I had arranged appropriate transfers through Windstar and they all worked fine, although there ended up being some complications. (More about that later.)
Normally, I would not talk about the itinerary very much at this stage of the report, but since the itinerary, and changes to it, was such a major impact to our trip, I’m giving it a lot of attention. This is going to get a little confusing: please bear with me. The original itinerary has us starting in Reykjavik and completely circumnavigating Iceland in a counter-clockwise direction.
The planned sequence was to be:
o Reykjavik Saturday, Sept 2, Depart 6:00PM
o Heimaey Island Sunday, Sept 3, Arrive 10:am - Depart 5:00 PM
o Seydisfjordur Monday, Sept 4, Arrive 6:00 PM - Depart Tuesday, Sept 5, 1:30 PM
o Ajkureyri Wednesday, Sept 6, Arrive 9:00 AM - Depart 7:00 PM
o Isafjorur Thursday, Sept 7, Arrive noon - Depart 6:30 PM
o Grundarfjordur Friday, Sept 8, Arrive 9:00 AM - Depart 6:00 PM
o Reykjavik Saturday, Sept 9, Arrive 7:00 AM and disembark
Of the six planned ports, including Reykjavik, we actually got to three of them.
The first evening on the Start Pride, the captain gave a presentation in the lounge about just what the problem was and what changes we would have to make. The primary problem was a storm system (or systems) in the area with strong winds and rough seas. Captain Rowden showed several charts of the storms and resulting winds and it did not look good.
The weather chart showing storms and wind forecasts was not pretty.
Given the wind and sea conditions, Captain Rowden showed us the new planned itinerary:
o Reykjavik Stay in Reykjavik on Sunday, Sept 3 and Monday, Sept 4.
o Reykjavik Monday, Sept 4, Depart Reykjavik at 10:00 PM
o Grundarfjordur Tuesday, Sept 5, Arrive 8:00 AM - Depart 6:00 PM
o Isafjordur Wednesday, Sept 6, Arrive 8:00 AM - depart 6:00 PM
o Akureyri Thursday, Sept 7, Arrive 8:00 AM - Depart Friday, Sept 8, 9:00 AM
o Reykjavik Saturday, Sept 9, Arrive 7:00 and disembark
So we had “lost” Heimaey Island and Seydisfjordur, gained a couple of days in Reyjkavik and we would no longer do a full circumnavigation of the island. Losing Heimaey Island was not a big problem as that is where we had hoped to see the largest nesting ground of Puffins, but they had left on their annual migration a week or two previously. This new time in Reyjkavik caused some complications for us: Windstar was now offering a couple of tours in Reyjkavik on our unplanned days there, but I had already scheduled very similar tours during our planned time in Reykjavik after the cruise. Something had to give, so we compromised, taking one of the Windstar tours and canceling one of the tours I had booked. There will be further changes to the itinerary, but I’ll cover those as we get to them.
Enough talk of the itinerary, let’s get started. First a look at the Windstar Star Pride, then we’ll start the daily activities log.
This trip was certainly interesting, but it definitely had both hits and misses. Probably the biggest miss was that we saw no sign of the Northern Lights, which had been one of our major objectives. In order to see the Northern Lights, when they do occur, you need a mostly clear sky at night, but the only clear night sky that we experienced was our last night in Reykjavik: we looked that night, but saw no hint of any lights. All other nights the sky was too overcast to possibly see anything in the heavens. We had hoped to see the cute Puffins and whales, but the Puffins had already left their roosting island and the seas were too rough to comfortably go out in the relatively small whale watching craft.
We did see some amazing sights and experienced things we had never done before, like climbing onto and across a huge glacier. The local people we met and talked to were all friendly and helpful and very proud of their country. Iceland is definitely a land of contrasts, with the blistering hot volcanos and molten lava so close to the surface in many locations, contrasted with the many waterfalls and the many large frozen glaciers. Walking in the fissure created by two huge tectonic plates that are slowly moving apart was memorable also. I am almost(!) disappointed that we did not experience an earthquake or volcanic eruption while we were there.
At a physical level, the Star Pride was not as luxurious as either the Retreat section of the Celebrity Beyond or the Seabourn Encore, but it was certainly not far off. However, more important to us, the Star Pride offered the more friendly and social atmosphere that we have come to enjoy on Windstar ships. We saw crew member friends that we had met on previous Windstar cruises and made more friends on this cruise. It is just a more friendly environment that encourages you to meet and get to know other guests as well as crew members. We met two delightful couples who turned out to also be from the Atlanta area.
We felt the food and restaurant service on the Star Pride was better than on the Encore and at least as good as on the Beyond. I commented to the head chef that the food I had the first night on the Star Pride was better (in my view) that anything I had during two weeks on the Encore. Seabourn has a tie-in with Thomas Keller (of “The French Laundry” fame) and Windstar has a tie-in with the James Beard Foundation. (Although, as I write this, Seabourn has announced the termination of the relationship with Thomas Keller.) Based on our experience, I think we prefer the James Beard menus and recipes. The wines available as part of our “all-inclusive” plan were very appropriate and I did not feel that the staff tried to push any cheap, mass market wines as on the Seabourn Encore. If we wanted better wine while on the Star Pride, the list of optional wines was extensive and more reasonably priced than on the Encore.
I hope you enjoyed this trip report. If you have any comments, please send them to me at: email@example.com