Sometimes magic happens. Nothing you can really plan. Even if you make all the best arrangements in the world, some trips just don’t quite come together as hoped.
Maybe the food isn’t to your liking; the shore excursions too tough or too tame; entertainment rather bland or not your type; crew members inattentive or rude; fellow travelers are prima donnas or grouches. Maybe your room that looked so great in a brochure turns out to be dingy and depressing.
Any of those unplanned glitches can mar what should be a great experience.
Then other trips seem touched by magic from the very beginning.
So it has been with my Ocean Diamond 10-day circumnavigation cruise around Iceland. I had never been to the country before and I learned that the Ocean Diamond is the perfect way to discover incredible Iceland.
To be honest, I have never met a ship I didn’t like or taken a cruise that didn’t make me happy. But the 224-passenger Ocean Diamond was big enough to be comfortable and offer plenty of private spaces and public gathering spots but it was also small enough to easily navigate all decks and to nestle the ship into ports that might be a challenge for larger vessels.
The first Icelandic-owned expedition cruise line set sail in June 2015. Although it is a new company, Iceland ProCruises is a subsidiary of Iceland ProTravel – a leading DMC in Iceland. Owners Gudmundur Kjartansson and Anne-Cathrin Brocker are seasoned veterans in Icelandic travel and tourism bringing their expertise to each cruise.
Charming ship/crew made trip memorable
When I returned home at cruise end, friends asked what I liked most about the Ocean Diamond and our adventure. Here, in no particular order, are some of the Ocean Diamond’s charms that made this trip so memorable:
- Being greeted at the Reykjavik airport by a driver who transferred me to a “day room” at a local hotel. After a complimentary breakfast, brief nap and shower, I was ready for the five-hour tour around the Golden Circle. Then we headed to the ship where we were welcomed aboard with a safety demonstration, evening program and relaxing dinner.
- Crew went above and beyond to anticipate whatever we needed. They were fun, friendly and fantastic.
- My cabin was roomy with big picture windows, heavy blinds to shut out the 24-hour-a-day sunlight for sleep, big shower and tub, flat screen TV (which I never turned on), plenty of storage space and a comfy bed. My cabin was cleaned twice a day with the next day’s itinerary left on my bed at turndown each night.
- Meals were delicious with plenty of choices. One nice thing I noticed on the Ocean Diamond is that several of the evening’s menu offerings were placed on the decorative front table entering the ship’s dining room. That was a great way to help diners choose what they would like to eat. Often in a restaurant, I have gotten one look at a companion’s dinner and thought it looked better than mine. This way, diners can get a glimpse of some of the specialties on the night’s menu. It’s really quite helpful and makes choices somewhat easier.
- History galore. Instead of a cruise director, the Ocean Diamond has an expedition leader and team. These are Icelanders who know their country’s history and seem to have endless energy. They led the daily tours and the evening recap/briefing where they went over what we had done that day and what we would be doing the next day. Although they spoke Icelandic and German, their English also was excellent.
- Fellow passengers were a very congenial group. On my cruise, about 60 percent of the passengers were German. The rest were mostly American, British, Scandinavian and Canadian.
- Shore excursions were tops. Every day we would stop in a different port and have a choice of several shore excursions. Often the trips would last the better part of a day. Some were almost eight hours in length but, oh, the things we saw and did. We would leave after breakfast, take a huge bag lunch, board a bus and be back in time for a shower before evening recap/briefing and dinner. After all, the star of this cruise was Iceland.
- Iceland itself is spectacular. About the size of Kentucky, Iceland is a country like no other: 15 active volcanoes, 10,000 thundering waterfalls, 800 hot springs, immense lava fields, glaciers covering 11.5 percent of the country. Then there are the whales, puffins, fuzzy Icelandic horses, erupting geysers, postcard-pretty fjords, Northern Lights and Midnight Sun.
- Icelanders are friendly and proud to share the treasures of their country. The Land of Fire and Ice is no place for sissies. Life on this frozen rugged island in the middle of an ocean has not be easy with volcanoes, glaciers, deforestation, months of 24-hour daylight followed by months of endless night. But Icelanders I talked with would choose to live nowhere else.
For 14-year-old Solvi, it is the place where he was born and where he plans to live until he dies. “It is beautiful,” he said, gesturing around his hometown.
For three months every summer, Solvi and other teens volunteer to do landscaping and cleanup work around their communities. That is one reason, I expect, that the small towns we saw had beautiful flowers and litter-free roads. The youth groups work weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and get paid.
“This is my third year. It is not hard work,” Solvi said, adding that he rides his bike to and from work each day. Today he is raking city property and sweeping streets. Other teens in the group of about 30 are planting flowers and weeding public gardens.
The countrywide program keeps young people busy and gives them spending money said customs officer Andrew Borksten. “I did it for five years when I was a young boy,” he said. “It’s a good program.”
At the other end of the age scale, writer and tour guide Guðlaugur Arason said he has seen enough of the world to know that he wants to stay in his native Iceland. No place is perfect – “I hate the winter,” he said, but “when you have lived abroad and then come back here, you see how amazing it is. We have fresh air, fresh water, fresh food. It is a very clean country.”
Icelandic legend and lore
Learning about Icelandic lore was a big part of my visit. Such tales are often nature related and comforting for people trying to deal with the sometimes difficult journey through life, Guðlaugur said.
One of my favorites is a tale about a low-lying mountain named Helgafell on the north coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. In ancient times, it was believed to be a gateway to the afterlife. From its peaks, it was said that a person could see into the paradise of Valhalla. Those nearing death would often try to make a pilgrimage to Helgafell to ease themselves into the other world or to pray for a miracle to remain in this one.
Today people ascend Helgafell in hopes of being granted three wishes. However, the hopeful must follow three important rules. They cannot look back as they climb. They must walk in silence. And they must never reveal their three wishes.
Without revealing my three wishes, I will say that I hope the Ocean Diamond has a long successful life sharing the treasures of Iceland with passengers. Visiting Iceland was certainly a wish come true for me and I’m so glad I saw it with the Ocean Diamond.
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch