Iceland/Ireland Cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse
5/10/16 to 5/22/16

 

Due to the length of the review, it is in 4 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.

Page 1 -
Embarkation from Southampton, England, Ship, Dining, Entertainment, Activities 
               Ports of Call:  St. Peter Port, Channel Islands 
Page 2 - Ports of Call:  Cork, Ireland; Akureyri, Iceland
Page 3 - Ports of Call:  Isafjordur, Iceland; Reykjavik, Iceland Day 1
Page 4 - Ports of Call:
  Reykjavik, Iceland Day 2; Belfast, Northern Ireland

 

Isafjordur, Iceland
Overnight we had moved from north central Iceland to the northwest area called the Westfjords.  To get there, we once again had to cross over the Arctic Circle and back down again.  We would receive Arctic Circle crossing certificates from Celebrity later that evening with all the details of our two crossings.  I thought that was a very nice gesture.

Isafjordur is located at the base of a large wide fjord.  This would be the only other tender port on the cruise and we were due to arrive at 8:00 AM.  Since we would be cruising down the fjord, I had to wake up early to see what it looked like.  I was out on deck 14 by 6:00 AM.  It was cloudy and the mountains did not have as much snow as in Akureyri. 

   

There were several people on deck enjoying the cruise in.  We all started to pay attention to a mountain on the port side that was being highlighted by the sun.  The clouds on top of the mountain were slowly swirling around it.  It was really cool for the few minutes it lasted.

Isafjordur is the largest town in the Westfjords with only 2,600 residents.  As we approached the town, we could see that the town stretched out onto a peninsula with tall mountains nearby.

   

As the ship moved into its anchorage position, it appeared to be rather close to the mountains.

We had booked a tour for the day with Wild Westfjords (www.wildwestfjords.com).  We were sharing it with three other couples, all of which were at least Elite status with Celebrity; which meant we all had priority tender tickets.  This worked out very well, since people with priority would meet in the Ensemble Lounge rather than having to get in with the large group in the theater.  Once we all arrived, we were told to go right down to the tender.  This was also around a ten-minute ride to the dock.  The weather was supposed to be cold again, with the high in the low 40’s.  I had found that even with the wind, I had not needed to use my long johns or additional insulated vest we had packed to keep warm.  I was quite glad, since we normally took off our coats while riding in the vans; and the less layers to remove the easier.

Our tour was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM; but with us being on the first tender once again, we were very early.  With it being cloudy and windy, it gave our cold weather gear a chance to perform.  We were most appreciative when our guide showed up before 8:30 AM.  His name was Magnús.  He was a very good guide and fortunately he had excellent driving skills; which we would be most thankful for later in the day.

The van had plenty of room and a very good sound system for the folks in the back.  We would find out later that the most important feature of the van was that it had four-wheel drive.

As we headed out of town we realized that the town was surrounded by very high mountains. 

We were glad to see a tunnel further up the road, since that seemed like a much easier way to get to the other side than going up the mountains.

   

The tunnel actually had an intersection and it went in two directions inside the mountain.  We were taking the longer route, which was 3.6 miles.

When we got to the other side of the mountains, the sun was shining and the landscape was gorgeous.  We would be driving around several fjords on the way to our main destination.

   

   

We were really enjoying the ride until the pavement turned to a dirt road.  It was a good dirt road; but everyone in the van did not enjoy the hairpin curves and lack of guard rails.  But the scenery was awesome.

   

This one narrow road was the only way to drive over these mountains.  In the winter it isn’t passable.  Looking at the snowbanks on the side of the road, it didn’t look like it had been “passable” for long.

   

We finally got over the peak and started heading down into another fjord.  We were going to stop to get out to stretch our legs, since we had been in the van for over an hour.

We stopped at a bird sanctuary area.  There were old automobile tires throughout the area, where birds could nest on their eggs with some protection.  One nest was missing the mother bird.

   

   

We got back in the van for the 40-minute drive to our main destination of the day, the Dynjadji waterfall.  Because the only way to get to this waterfall was over the narrow dirt road over the mountain, there were no large bus tours offered from the ship.  They did have a very expensive overnight van tour that was offered, that stopped at Dynjadji and would end up in Reykjavik.

The first thing we did when we arrived was to head for the two toilet buildings.  Since we were visiting the port on a religious holiday Whitsunday, most stores, restaurants and public buildings were closed.  This had presented us a problem earlier in the drive when we were supposed to stop at a gas station to use the restrooms.  It was closed, so we were so glad when we found that there were toilets at the waterfall.  Magnús had told us that they could be locked, so he was concerned; but not as much as the girls.  Fortunately, they were open for business.

When we arrived we could see that Dynjadji is actually a series of seven waterfalls, with the largest and most photographed one at the top.  To get the best view of it required climbing up dirt paths and rock steps.

   

   

Unfortunately, the sun was positioned as badly as possible for photographing the falls, it was right above it and shining into the camera lens.  But I did the best I could to try to capture the beauty of the falls.  Each of the seven falls had boards with their names on them.

   

   

It was an easy walk at the lower end of the path; but it kept getting more difficult.  I am not real fond of climbing up rocks to begin with; and that was most of the steps were.  Adding to this, the winds were very strong.  The higher I got the more difficult it was to just be able to stand up on a flat surface.  Looking back, I could see how far I had come and the view kept getting better.

   

 

I decided to go up to the next plateau, where others were mulling around.  This section of the climb had some actual makeshift dirt stairs created with boards.  I liked them a lot better.

The next section was really bad; but I continued on.

The next section had some of the dirt stairs along with rocks.  It looked like if I just got up to that level, I could get a really good photo of the main falls.  I went up and it was a good angle; but the sun prevented me from getting shots that I would be proud of. 

There were more steps up ahead to get closer to the main falls; but I decided it wasn’t worth it to go any further.  The wind was getting stronger and I was worried that I would even be able to get down safely.  It was a most stressful climb down in some of the areas.  I was calling myself all sorts of bad names for being so foolish to climb up as far as I did.   When I finally got down to the lower areas where it was easy to walk, I took some more photos.  I felt even more foolish that I made the climb, since the photos of the main fall from below was better than the closer up ones.  Plus, there were some people in the photo at a higher level for size comparison.  I am sure if I had continued to the base of the falls, I would have gotten some better shots, if I hadn’t hurt myself doing it.  I was still most pleased that we had been able to visit the series of lovely falls of Dynjadji.

   

   

The Westfjords are the oldest part of Iceland.  Therefore, there are no active geothermal areas for power plants.  Hydroelectric plants are the main source of power in the area.  I am sure that the water from Dynjadji powers a lot of turbines downstream.

Back in the van we headed back the way we came; but with a different perspective.  It was such a gorgeous landscape.  We got great neck exercise constantly turning our heads to see everything.

   

   

Our next stop was at Hrafnseyr (http://hrafnseyri.is), the birthplace of Jón Sigurðsson, who was the leader of the Icelandic campaign for self-determination in the 19th century.   Like most places we had seen, it was closed for the holiday; but we would still be able to look around.  As we approached the buildings, we saw a bird sitting on the rocks on the road to the parking area.  Cars were driving by and she just watched them.  Later a car arrived with visitors who had a dog.  The dog chased her off the nest and we could see that she had been sitting on her eggs.  It did appear to be a very bad place to make a nest.

   

The museum had several old farm implements in the yard; but the main attractions to me were the grass roofed buildings where Jón Sigurðsson, the national hero of Iceland, was raised.  Right next to these beautiful little wood houses there is a museum that presents an introduction to the national hero.

   

Jón Sigurðsson is memorialized by a metal relief on a large rock in front of the museum.

We then headed back to the twisty narrow dirt road to go back over the mountains.   Magnús pointed out where a mini snow avalanche had occurred next to the road.  As we drove past that area, we held our breaths.

   

It was such a beautiful drive.  At each turn there would be something else to gawk at and snap photos of.  I know that some of the readers are probably already tired of seeing mountain photos; but I don’t want to forget the beauty of Iceland.  By having them in the review, they are forever remembered for me.

   

   

After we got down to lower levels and flatter ground, Magnús stopped to shift into 4-wheel-drive.  We didn’t understand why, since we thought the worst roads were behind us.  Oh no, they were just ahead.  A small SUV turned into the rough dirt road we were going on just before us.  Magnús said that he didn’t think the rental car company would appreciate that car taking this road.  The road was quite steep and we were concerned when he said we were going to the top where the communications tower was.  Good grief!

   

We kept climbing higher on the very rough road with lots of loose rocks and dirt.  The SUV wisely gave up and we passed them in a wider area of the road.  The road was so steep in one part, that it looked like we were going off the edge of it rather than to another plateau.  I can honestly say, it was the most scared I have ever been in a moving vehicle.  When we got to the top, Magnús said that we could get out while he turned the van around.  Most of us jumped out as fast as we could.  We couldn’t imagine how he could turn it around in such a small area.  For some reason, some of the group including Carol stayed on the van.  The below photo shows the area he was maneuvering in.  I don’t know how he was able to turn around.  We were certainly glad that the van was built for this type terrain; but there is no way I would even think of attempting what he did.

Now that we were up 1,214 feet, we were able to appreciate why he brought us up there.  It was an amazing view.

   

   

   

   

When we got back down sea level, we looked up to see where we had been.  It was way up there.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped in the small town of Thingeyri.  It is one of the bigger towns in the area with 260 inhabitants.  It was the town we had originally come to on the way to Dynjadji where the gas station was closed.  He took us into a small restaurant that he normally goes to for tours.  The sign on the door said it was closed for the holiday; but people were inside.  The owner told us that they were having a small private lunch and weren’t open.  It appeared that the gas station/mini mart was now open so we walked over to it.

One of the things I had read about prior to the cruise was the Iceland hot dogs.  People raved about how great they were and how different from those that we are used to.  We hadn’t been able to get any while on the previous day’s tour, so I had high hopes of finally trying one in Thingeyri.  Sure enough in addition to sandwiches and some other items, they had hot dogs.  The attendant asked what we wanted on the hot dog.  From my research, the proper response to that question was “everything”.  That included crispy fried onions, raw onions, spicy mustard, ketchup and a remoulade sauce.   Carol and I both got one.  They were delicious.  The hot dog itself had a milder slightly different flavor; but the combination of everything was really good.  So we went for another round.  I thought that the packaging was kind of cute too.

   

After lunch we continued our drive through the fjords and mountains.

 Our next destination was quite unexpected.  We were going to the beach of Holt on the Onundarfjordur fjord.  When we arrived, we were shocked to see a beautiful sandy beach with very clear water.  It was so beautiful.  If it wasn’t for the snowcapped mountains, it would have looked like we were in the Caribbean.

   

   

The sand itself was very soft and quite pretty.  Magnús told us that very few people ever swim at the beach because the water was always very cold; but in the summer, sun bathers did hit the beach.

We were happy to see the other side of the tunnel we had driven through in the morning, since it meant we were almost back to Isafjordur.

We stopped to take a quick photo of a small waterfall close to town.  It might have been small for Iceland; but it was a nice size waterfall to us.

As we approached town, we enjoyed seeing the Eclipse at anchor.

Magnús drove us through town before heading to the tender dock for us to see if any stores were open that we wanted to go to.  There were very few open and just a few Eclipse passengers walking through the streets.  I guess that most of them had given up earlier in the day to find something open.

 

I walked around some to see if I could get a nice shot of the Eclipse, but it was in vain, since the wind blew it the wrong way.  When I boarded the tender, there weren’t many passengers in it.  The ride back to the ship was rougher than in the morning; but not bad.  What was bad for some people that sat in the rows of seats just behind the door openings, was when the ice cold water splashed in on them.   Some of them moved after the drenching.  Then another wave came in which scattered the few that hadn’t heeded the ocean’s previous warning. 

It had been a very long and tiring day; but such a wonderful one too.  I was so glad that we still had two more days in Iceland.

 

Reykjavik, Iceland, Day 1-
One of the things that appealed to me about this particular itinerary was that we would have an overnight in Reykjavik.  It was needed since there was so much to see from this port. As we approached Reykjavik, it was apparent that it was a large modern city of approximately 120,000 people, 200,000 in the region.

   

The area near the port was a lush green, something we hadn’t seen yet in Iceland.  It was most welcome.  With Reykjavik being further south, I assumed they had warmer weather; but not for this day, since we were only supposed to have a high of 43.  With the sun shining and minimal wind, it was actually pretty comfortable.

   

I was able to get a photo of the unique Hallgrímskirkja church from the side; but I was most interested in seeing the most unusual front.  Our tour for the day was with a company called GeoIceland (www.geoiceland.com).  I had been communicating with a fellow named Javier for over a year.  I had asked him if the tours would stop at the church for a photo opp.  He told me that they usually do.  I was glad of that, since it is one of those must see places.

The ship’s announcement said that we could exit on deck 5 forward or deck 4 midship.  When we exited from deck 4, it was quite a steep incline to the dock.  As we walked past the front of the ship, I was even more surprised at the incline from deck 5.  No one was looking forward to climbing back up either of those ramps when we returned later in the day.

   

GeoIceland has group private tours, which means that each couple booked with them individually.  This means that no one has to be a tour organizer who keeps everyone coordinated; but it also means that there is no control over the group size.  It is limited to the mini bus or van you are on.  We were told that the van would be ready for boarding at 9:30 AM, so we of course got there before then, since we are early people.  We walked over to a fellow with a GeoIceland sign and a clipboard.  He checked off our names and told us which mini bus to go to.  It was Javier, who I had been communicating with.  I was glad I was able to meet him.

When we got to the bus, it was almost full.  Apparently they had arrived much earlier than we were told.  We were lucky to be able to get seats together.  Shortly after we boarded a few more people came in to fill the 21 seats.  The bus was quite nice and the seats were comfortable; but there wasn’t much leg room.  It would be a long day.

Our tour guide for the day was Oscar.  He was a jovial fellow and did provide us a lot of very good information.  We were taking the most popular tour for all of the tour companies.  It is called the Golden Circle.  It takes 8-9 hours and covers the most important and popular sights from Reykjavik.  The cost was $70 compared to the same tour through the ship on a full size bus for $140.  The ship tour did include lunch; but I don’t think it was worth $70 pp.

On the way out of town, we passed by Reykjavik’s suburbs; as well as a large geothermal plant. 

   

The landscape in this part of Iceland was different from the other ports, plus the snow had pretty much melted in most places.

   

About 45 minutes into the tour, we stopped at a small shopping center.  Oscar told us that this was quite special because it was built on two continents.  Iceland is partially on both the north American and the European tectonic plates.  At the beginning of the mall’s construction, the workers discovered a fissure in the ground.  They had to redesign the center and they scrapped the plans for the office tower to be built there.  Good idea!  They incorporated the fissure into the construction; as well as special construction to withstand earthquakes.  I still bet it is difficult to get insurance on the building.  I was anxious to see what Oscar was talking about.  It was rather strange to see the glass covered fissure on the floor.  They had put some red lights along the fissure line for drama.  Everyone was trying to get photos through the glass; but the reflection made it very difficult.  I went up, put my lens down on the glass and snapped away.  It came out pretty good.  Others that saw me copied my technique with their cameras.

   

In addition to the fissure, the shopping center had a small museum and several shops, including a bakery.  I had to try one of the sweet Icelandic treats.  It was delicious.

While waiting to get back on the bus, one of the people on the tour asked if we wanted to try some lava bread.  It is called that because it is very black and baked in geothermal ovens.  It tasted like really good pumpernickel bread.

As we continued our drive, we started to see lots of lava rocks on the ground and up the mountains.  The terrain was ever changing.

   

   

As we were driving down the road, we saw some Icelandic horses in the distance.  I had hoped to see some while in Iceland.  They were too far away to take photos.  Shortly thereafter, we pulled into an area where there were several of the horses standing at the fence.  They knew that the tourists would feed them.  Everyone got out to pet them and take pics with them.  They were just so cute.  Carol found one that she liked.

   

   

As we were leaving one hollered at us to stay.  Nah, he was just yawning.

Our next stop was to see the Faxi Waterfall. It is a lovely one that is normally not included in many Golden Circle tours.  We were glad it was, since it impressed us.  We stopped at a point above the falls and could see that there was a salmon ladder on one end of it.

   

   

Oscar told us that if we wanted to walk down the trail to get closer to it, he would pick us up at the bottom of the hill.  I took him up on that offer.

   

It was interesting how few tourists were visiting this beautiful waterfall.  In any other country it would be a major tourist attraction and the parking lot would be full of busses and tourists; kind of like the one we would see later in the day.   I was glad that Faxi was much lower key.

While driving to our next destination, Oscar pointed out some newly planted trees and told us that Iceland and some private organizations were trying to reforest Iceland.  Only 3% of the country is covered with trees.  It was certainly obvious from the tours we had taken that there weren’t many trees, just some short scrub brush, if any.  We heard the following joke a few times:  What do you do if you get lost in an Iceland forest? Just stand up.  It would be funnier if it wasn’t true.  Until it had been pointed out to me, I hadn’t realized what was missing, merely that it was different.

Our next stop would be at the Geysir hot spring area.  This is where the term geyser comes from for any type of spouting hot spring.  Geysir was the first geyser known to the Europeans.  This place is a very large operation with a large restaurant/shopping building.  I didn’t even take a photo of the building, since I was so focused on the real attractions.  After exiting the bus, we passed by a steaming geothermal area with lots of bubbling pits.

   

I couldn’t believe how many people were coming in to see the geysers.  The place was packed.  The main geyser, Geysir, only erupts every 5-7 hours, so there weren’t many people hanging around it.

The geyser Strokkur, on the other hand, erupts every 5-7 minutes.  So that is where the crowds and I were headed to.  I squeezed between some people so I could take some photos of an eruption.   The first one wasn’t that great.  But the next was really good.  I liked the way the eruption started and then how it sunk back into the earth when done. 

   

I stood around for a while to wait so I could take a video too.  It was funny how everyone who had seen a previous eruption was trying to tell the new comers that the bubbles meant it was about to go.  Since it bubbled most of the time, it didn’t mean much; but every time the waters started moving everyone paid close attention.  Then it blasted away.  I didn’t have much luck with video, since I had already spent too much time taking photos.  The below video shows the end of one small blast and another small one after.  Even though it isn’t a big one, it does show what the activity looks like quite nicely.  So keep watching after the first few seconds to see the action.

After lunch I went back to Strokkur to see what was happening.  There was still a large crowd standing around the perimeter.  I was lucky enough to get a shot of nice high blast.

   

I walked over to the ancient Geysir itself, where no one was waiting around.  It has been spouting steam for over 10.000 years.  But it isn’t much to see from the perimeter fence.

While driving to our main destination of the day, we passed by some green pastures and then found one with lots of Icelandic horses grazing. 

   

We finally arrived at one of the top ten waterfalls in the world, the Gullfoss Waterfall.  The translation is golden waterfall.  An excellent name for it.  It is unique in that it is in two tiers 90 degrees from each other.  Oscar dropped us off close to the falls.  He told us that we could take photos there, then he would take the bus up to the top of the hill where there was a large facility for restrooms, restaurants and a shop.  If we wanted to stay at the falls longer, we could climb up the stairs.  I chose to stay lower longer, since I was in awe of the amazing powerful sight before me.  I took loads of pics and was so grateful that the weather was still partially sunny while there.  Especially, since it clouded up before we left.

   

I took a photo of Carol in front of the falls before she headed back to the bus for the ride to the top.

I also took a short video, since it really shows it so much better, along with the sound of it.


Knowing what I know now, I should have walked up to the viewing platform closer to the first drop; but I instead climbed the stairs for the view from above.  There were a lot of stairs.  The view was very nice and I could see the path I should have taken to the closer viewing platform.  I almost went back down, since there was more time left than I originally thought; but decided I had already taken more than enough photos.

   

On the way back to Reykjavik, Oscar pointed out the almost 5,000 ft. high Hekla volcano in the distance.  It is pictured on the back of some of Iceland’s currency and is one of Iceland’s most active volcanos. 

We continued past more beautiful scenery.

   

We stopped at a lower section of Thingvellir National Park where two tectonic plates met.  We were able to stand on a bridge to get a photo of the gap between them.  We walked a little further and saw the main reason for stopping at this site.  We could see the edge of the north American plate rising high above the European plate.  The junction of the plates is more clearly visible there than anywhere else in the world.  The plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and gullies throughout the area.  We would be driving there momentarily.

   

When we got to the top of the ridge, we could see the plate separation much more clearly.  This was really cool; as long as the plates didn’t decide to move while we were there.

Oscar told us that if we wanted to walk the path down, the bus would pick us up at the parking lot we could see in the distance.  It was strange to walk between these two massive sections of the earth’s surface.

   

   

Near the end of the walk, was a small waterfall.  It made for a nice finish to the visit. 

   

During the ride to our next destination, I was intrigued by some cloud shrouded mountains.  Remember that we don’t see mountains in Florida, so they are really special to us.

We then passed by a lake formed in a volcano crater.  The cone formed an island in the center.

The place that Oscar was taking us to next was a geothermal area in the mountains near a large power plant. He said they normally don’t go there; but he thought that we would enjoy the beauty of the area.  He was right.

   

As we were headed back to the ship, I asked Oscar if we were headed to see the church.  He said that we would see that on the next day’s tour.  I told him that we were supposed to see it on this tour; but he said tomorrow would be better for it.  I was not pleased; but as long as it was on the next day’s tour, I would be OK with it.  It just seemed more logical to do it when we didn’t have the time pressure of getting back to the ship.  Oscar said that he would be doing the tour the next day and make sure we went by the church.

I understood why the Golden Circle is the most popular tour from Reykjavik.  It really did show off the highlights of Iceland.  When we got back to the ship, we were pleased that a ramp going straight in to deck 2 was now being used in addition to the other two steeply inclined ramps to get back onto the ship.

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