I recently had the opportunity to experience small group travel…
Iceland has become the new hot and popular spot recently. In deciding this year’s family vacation we asked the kids: “Where should we go?” And not surprisingly they said, “Iceland.”
With just over 300,000 people in the country, they host more than 2 million visitors each year. Many people visit Iceland as ports of call from a cruise ship, there are organized tours and also private tours. We chose to see the country with a private tour for the four of us for eight days.
While WOW airlines is a discount carrier with non-stop service to Reykjavik, Iceland, we chose to take Delta Airlines through Minneapolis to use miles for a few tickets and get mileage credit for the others. About 3 ½ hours to Minneapolis, a few hours to change planes, the 6 hours to Iceland was not too bad at all. We arrived just after 9am in the morning, our guide picked us up, we stopped for breakfast at a local place and then it was off on our adventure.
To visit the Blue Lagoon thermal hot pools you need a reservation. In addition to our reservation we also reserved a private changing area for two, while the kids used the general changing facilities. The private area comes with all the benefits and amenities you’d expect from a luxury resort: private showers, lounge area, drinks, snacks and an exclusivity not available at the rest of the area. We also pre-arranged ½ hour massages while in the Blue Lagoon. These were great, while laying on a raft floating in the massage area of the thermal pools, your therapist provides you a relaxing treatment that only enhanced our visit to the Blue Lagoon.
After 3 hours at the Blue Lagoon it was time to head to Reykjavik to check into our hotel. While Iceland hosts millions of visitors annually, the selection of hotels is sparse. We enjoyed the 101 Hotel in central Reykjavik throughout our trip. It was centrally located, nice rooms, good breakfast and a mellow bar. It’s not a far walk in any direction to find a busier bar every night, so that worked out fine. FYI – During our entire time in Iceland it never got dark, so the term “night” only referred to a time of the day, as it was never dark.
After a few hours in the hotel we left to go ride Icelandic Horses. Everything seems to be 45 minutes to an hour away, but we had a really comfortable “Sprinter” style van with plenty of room. Upon arrival at the farm, we were outfitted with our riding gear and taught what to do. From there we went off on a 2 hour ride through some beautiful country. It did rain a little (seems to rain a bit every day) but we were prepared in our rain jackets. Back to the barn the horses were unsaddled, and we went upstairs with the girls who took us horseback riding to enjoy dinner and dessert.
45 minutes back to the hotel, and that was the end of our first day! Yes, we have not yet been in a bed since leaving LA the day before; but what a great first day we had.
I think the Icelandic language is one of the most difficult languages that uses many of the same letters we use in English. However, when in Iceland, English is widely spoken, except for all the areas, waterfalls and places we visited are Icelandic words, and for that reason I’m not going to list them.
My plan is to just list many of the things we did during our week in Iceland. But to set the expectation we went between 12,000 and 22,000 steps per day, which was 5-10 miles. We enjoyed some great meals (the food is wonderful, but not cheap), drove through some beautiful areas, and met some extremely nice people. The hotels we stayed in were all very nice, there’s a few areas I would not go back to, but many things I would do again on another visit. Overall, it’s going to be hard to find something for next year’s family vacation that was so perfect for us!
So in no particular order here’s some of the things we did:
*Hiked a glacier in cramp-ons for 3 hours, walked into caverns, drank melting glacier water, and learned about the history of glaciers in Iceland
*Drove onto a glacier to the entrance of an Ice Cave and walked through the Ice cave for an hour
*3 hour hike in the beautiful mountains of Iceland, amazing views of the country side and a scenic overview of a glacier
*Saw numerous waterfalls – the next one was always more beautiful than the last one. We walked behind a waterfall, looking through the falling water to the valley. We walked into a cave to see a waterfall coming through the top of the cave. We hiked right up to the base of a waterfall, and up to the top….and the list could go on
*Saw a baby Puffin – walked right around us
*Took a Zodiac boat whale watching to find the Humpback whales
*Took a Zodiac boat to see the sea caves at an off shore island chain (We took a ferry to the islands)
*Visited a memorial museum for a volcano that erupted 40 years ago
*Went snowmobiling on a glacier
*Watch a geyser erupt
*Visited a Black Sand beach (the last “Star Wars” movie was filmed there)
*Visited “Diamond Beach” (I listed this name since it’s in English) – where the icebergs floating from glacier lagoon float onto the beach and remind you of diamonds (really big diamonds)
*Took a Zodiac boat through the icebergs in Glacier Lagoon
*and one of my very favorites… Snorkeled between the continental plates of North America and Europe. We wore dry suits, the water was 34 degrees (no you could not feel the cold that much) and the water was crystal clear.
So that’s the somewhat complete list, as you can see we were busy. We didn’t have much down time at the hotels, but we did have plenty of time in the van to relax while traveling between sights, hotels and adventures. We enjoyed many great meals, felt that we saw each place at a relaxed enjoyable pace and would highly recommend Iceland as one of the top destinations on your bucket list.