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Iceland Circumnavigation


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Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer (2021).  I looked at driving the ring road, but I only have 8-10 days and I don't want to have to pack and unpack alot.  A cruise that circumnavigates Iceland would seem to fit the bill.  Ocean Diamond does this as does the Hurtigruten MS Fridtjof Nansene, a ship similiar to the Roald Amundsen.  Hurtigruten is a lot more money than the Ocean Diamond.

 

Any suggestions or comments on these ideas?

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Cruises are tough in Iceland.  You will be in these tiny port towns (other than Reykjavik) with everyone else on your ship all looking for the handful of tour options available.  Some of those stops don't even have a tour company, rental car, or anything.  And you are quite limited as to what you can see in each area by the limitations of the tours offered by the cruiseline.

 

We found doing a Ring Road drive to be much easier than expected.  Roads are extremely well signed, and there aren't many of them.  We took one big suitcase with the heavy stuff (coats, boots, sweatshirts, snacks) and never took that out of the car.  We each had a small "carryon" that went into the hotel each night, with toiletries and underthings, so the packing and unpacking were minimal.

 

Tons of itinerary recommendations over at TripAdvisor in the Iceland forum.  I suggest a minimum of 9 nights to do the Ring Road, and although Reykjavik is a cute city, I recommend staying there for as short a time as possible and get to see the country.  It's all about the amazing nature.

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Our plan is do both, take the Hurtigruten cruise and drive the ring road.  Our travel companions have some mobility issues, like cruises and do not spend two weeks in a car.  We will do the two week self drive, after the cruise.  Each option has its advantages.  If I had to chose one, it would be the self drive.   However the self drive appears to require a lot more work; finding a vehicle, hotel reservations and route planning.    With the Hurtigruten, one call, a credit card deposit and you are set.  Hurtigruten is having a Black Friday sale through December.   Hurtigruten is not cheap, but the sale appears to save some money.

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Cruising is easy, I agree with that. But the freedom you have in your own car in Iceland, to be able to be somewhere and not see a single other person for hours on end, is something I haven't experienced anywhere else, not even in Antarctica.

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Truly, aside from the freedom aspect, you will see sooo much more of Iceland driving.  The port towns are small and most do not really have tourist infrastructure like ports on other cruises.  There are no cars to rent, no tour guides waiting for the ship to try to recruit tourists, no public transit anywhere, and few things to see in the cities. You will be limited to excursions the ship offers.  Iceland's appeal is the countryside.

 

A cruise would be easy, and you could check the Iceland "box" but if you want to see and experience Iceland, drive.

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2 hours ago, ljandgb said:

You will be limited to excursions the ship offers.  Iceland's appeal is the countryside.

 

I'm not trying to convince anyone to cruise v. drive, but what you posted above regarding cruisers being limited to ship-sponsored excursions is not correct, at least not pre-pandemic, which is the only cruising experience in Iceland any of us has had.   Two years ago, on a HAL cruise, we had fabulous private, mini-bus tours out of Akureyri and Reykjavik, for example, and a private excursion out of Isafjordur, and could have arranged a private excursion out of Djupivogur if we'd wanted to.  In fact, the South Coast tour we took with GeoIceland out of Reykjavik was one of the best tours we've ever had, with one of the best guides.   (Sadly, I believe that GeoIceland and its travel partner, Saga Tours, have gone bankrupt since the pandemic began.)

 

I totally agree with you that Iceland's appeal is the countryside.

 

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(photos by turtles06)

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True, I should have said from some of the smaller ports.  Reykjavik and Akureyri are the two largest towns (though Rey is larger by a factor of 10+.)  The smaller towns frequently have a few hundred people at most.  Isafjordur, as the largest town in the Westfjords also has some tourist options.  I think the important thing to remember is that it is not like most cruises, though, where you can walk off the ship and find a variety of locals all willing to take you on a tour, drive you around, etc.

 

I think to evaluate if this sort of cruise appealed to you, you'd have to look at the exact ports and what was offered there.

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We're doing both.  

 

Right now the loose plan is to arrive 6-7 days ahead of the cruise to do a partial driving vacation of the southern coast.  Then a full trip via cruise.  It looked to be the best of both worlds since none of us were up for a 2 week driving trip and we truly love the cruise experience.

 

Now i just have to figure out how much time on land first.  It started with only 3 nights and I've already doubled that.

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Once you get there, you'll wish you'd doubled it again.  Iceland sucks you in.

 

Depending on what you'll be doing on the cruise, and when you're going, you could look at seeing the south coast in just a day or 2 (long days!) and then a trip to more fully exploring the westfjords, which are some of the most isolated areas in Iceland.  Depends a bit, too, on what you like to do - hike vs drive and take a picture then move on.

 

Hot pots are very much a thing in Iceland, so consider looking up some of the more out of the way scenic ones for your driving portion.

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We found that 10 days was perfect for a "lap" of Iceland.  We started and ended with a day in Reykjavik, when I help friends with these plans I suggest no more than one day in the city and the rest in Iceland.  I think we saw about 2/3 of what we might have wanted to see on this circuit

 

Our other trips have been 6 days in the Westfjords (8 would have gotten us everything), 5 days in the South in winter (never planning to drive there again between October and April) and 7 days last September in the SW, where, other than a day trip to Jokulsarlon and back, we saw and did nothing that we had done before.

 

We already have our next 2 itineraries planned . . .

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