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

 

Reykjavik, Iceland, Day 2-
Our last day in Iceland would be limited for touring, since the ship would be departing at 3:00 PM, and we had to be onboard by 2:30 PM.  The GeoIceland tour we had booked was normally an 8-9 hour tour; but Javier had made a special 6 hour itinerary that would allow us to get back to the ship by 2:00 PM.   The tour was supposed to start at 8:00 AM; and I arrived on the dock at 7:30 AM, since the busses were scheduled to arrive a half hour early.  A very attractive benefit of using GeoIceland is that there is no deposit requirement and you can cancel up to the time of the tour.  Carol’s knee was bothering her from all the walking she did the previous day, so we emailed Javier after the Golden Circle tour that she would not be coming.  While waiting for the bus, a woman that had been on the previous day’s tour came out to tell those waiting that her husband was sick and couldn’t go on the tour and she wasn’t either.   Don, who was on our Cobh tour told me that his wife also wasn’t going on the tour.  There were only 8 of us waiting for the bus and it was 8:00.  We started to get worried that perhaps the tour had been cancelled, since too many had cancelled.  Don called Javier’s office and was told that the bus was on its way.  Sure enough at 8:10 a larger GeoIceland minibus pulled up than we were in the previous day. 

   

Our tour guide for the day, Sola, checked off the names of those boarding the bus and was surprised there were so few of us.  With 19 people booked for the tour, a lot had cancelled.  It would give us a lot of room, plus this was a much larger bus inside with much more legroom in each seat.  I felt bad for GeoIceland; but they are very liberal with their cancellation policy.  We waited a few minutes more to see if anyone else was coming; but it was obvious they weren’t. 

I was surprised that we had Sola for a guide rather than Oscar, who said that he would be doing the tour.  Perhaps, his not showing up is why the bus was late.  When Sola went over the itinerary, she didn’t mention going to the church.  I asked her about it and she said that her group went there the previous day on the Golden Circle tour; which is when it is supposed to be visited.  I thought that Oscar was fibbing yesterday.  I was not happy.  Sola said that we would see if there was time at the end of the tour.  I appreciated that she would consider the unscheduled stop and hoped that we would have time.  Sola was a good guide and those on the bus that had her the previous day were very happy to have her again.  There were only three of us on the bus that hadn’t been with her the previous day.

The tour we were taking was one that visited the southwest area of Iceland including the Reykjanes area and the famous tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon.  Not far out of town, we passed by an area of long racks.

As we pulled in, Sola told us that these were fish drying racks and that the smell might be rather strong.  When the van doors opened, we were most pleased that there was no unusual smell.  Apparently, the fish had been drying for a while.  She told us that after they filet the cod, the fish heads and rest of their bodies are put in these racks for one to two months to dry.  Apparently the fish heads are very popular in cooking, especially for soups.  It was a most unusual and rather disgusting sight; but it was also interesting to see at the same time.

   

The terrain in this part of Iceland was totally different from the places we had previously visited.  It is an active volcanic area and a rugged landscape of lava fields. 

   

We pulled up on a ridge for a scenic view of a black sand beach.  The ground was covered in orange from the sulfur.  The colors against the blue water made it a lovely view.

   

We continued our drive through the lava fields until we reached the geothermal area of Krýsuvik with its boiling mud pots and sulfur springs.  Now this was an interesting place!  It had the appearance of a land that time forgot.  There were wooden pathways through the area, since it was life threatening to walk off the paths.  The soft earth combined with boiling temperatures was not something I wanted to be too close to.  This was one very unusual looking place.

   

   

   

   

When one of my sons saw a photo of this place that I posted on Facebook, he asked “Is that the entrance leading to the center of the earth?”  I guess the answer to that question is yes.  This had been quite a place to visit.


We continued our drive through the miles of rugged lava fields.  Much of the lava appeared to be covered by some type of moss.  I was intrigued by the unusual cloud formation.  We could see it for quite some time during the drive.

   

   

We then turned off onto a dirt road to visit the fishing town of Grindavik.  On the way through the lava fields we saw a lighthouse; as well as a piece of ship wreck.  Sola said that the ship had been thrown up onto the lava fields during a bad storm.

   

It must have been a very strong storm, since there was another large piece of it a few minutes later further down the road.

After the drive through the lava fields, it was refreshing to see the fishing docks in Grindavik.  This was the town we were going to have lunch in; but it was way too early for it.  So we headed for the Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.com), which was less than 10 minutes away.

As we approached the Blue Lagoon, we saw a huge geothermal power plant.  Sola told us that the water in the Blue Lagoon, right next to it, is runoff from that plant.

Since we were on an abbreviated tour that was two hours shorter than the normal tour, there was no time to actually swim in the Blue Lagoon.  Everyone on the tour had agreed to just do a photo stop there when the tour was booked.  Sola told us to take a path that would run along the old Blue Lagoon.  This original one was not as tourist friendly, since the floors were natural lava rock, which could be rough on the body.  The contrast of the black rock and blue water was rather pretty. 

   

I was able to get close up to what I had previously thought was moss on the lava rock.  It was not what I was expecting it to look like.

   

The lagoon area was quite large; and broken up into several different pools.  The power plant was just on the other side of it.

   

The milky white water along the edges was not very appealing.

   

After walking around the original lagoon, we entered the main building for the newer area that is so heavily promoted.  It was pretty crowded inside.  I am sure that many people had taken ship excursions to swim in the Blue Lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon sells packages online from 40 to 195 Euros per person.  So the cheapest swim is around $45.  What is included in each package and prices are on the website link I provided earlier.
           
Sola had said that we would have to pay to enter the swimming area for photos, so we took some through the windows.  Then I saw Don walking through a door to the pool area, so I headed that way.  The pool area itself is quite large.  Unlike the original lagoon, this one is man made with a smooth surface to make it more tourist friendly. 

   

   

   

The water was quite milky and wasn’t that appealing to me, so I was kind of glad we didn’t have time to swim there.  I will say that the spa we visited in Akureyri three days earlier was much more appealing and I would like to have tried it out.  This place was just too commercial and the water not that blue for me.  I talked to a friend on the ship later that had gone swimming there during the day.  He used the expression “rip-off” several times and was quite disappointed in the experience.  Of course, he paid $139 for the excursion; but I wouldn’t have been happy even paying $45 for it.  I know that lots of people rave about the Blue Lagoon and love it.  So I must be in the minority.

After leaving the Blue Lagoon, we headed back to Grindavik for Lunch.  We stopped at a small restaurant named Bryggjan.  Like all the other restaurants we had visited in Iceland, they had expensive soup and bread.  I had hoped to have another hot dog; but they didn’t serve them there.  I was so glad I had tried them while at Isafjordur, since I never saw them again.  Had we hung around Reykjavik rather than doing a tour, there would have been many opportunities for them.  But hot dogs are not a major driver in selecting a tour itinerary. 

Sola pointed out that people in Grindavik liked to make their houses look like castles.  I took a couple of shots through the windows to show what their castles look like.  Kind of different.

   

We then stopped at the Gunnuhver geothermal area.  When Sola said we were visiting another geothermal area, I was not that excited, since we had seen many during our Iceland tours.  It was similar to the Krýsuvik area we previously visited, but not as dramatic looking.

   

But what it did have was a very active and loud steam vent.  Unlike the geyser we had previously seen, this vent was a constant stream.

Below is a short video to allow you to see and hear it. 

We could look one way and see the power plant and blue run off pool.  The other way was a lighthouse.  This had been a good place to stop.

   

We then drove a short distance to the other side of the lighthouse, where there was a large rock formation along the coast.  People were climbing to the top of it; but that wasn’t on our agenda.

   

   

The seacoast itself was quite nice.  We could see Eldey Island 10 miles off the coast.  It is one of the largest northern gannet colonies in the world. 

Our last stop of the tour was at the Bridge Between Continents.  It is a bridge that crosses the fissure between the north American and European continents. 

   

   

There are a lot of places in Iceland that have this feature apparently.  When I first read about this stop on the tour when booking it over a year ago.  I was quite excited to see it.  Obviously, during the previous tours, we had seen some more dramatic examples of a separation between the tectonic plates.  This one was just a very popular tourist attraction; but I did like what the other tourists were doing and snapped away.

When we got on the bus around 1:00 PM for the return trip to the Eclipse, I asked if we would be able to stop quickly at the Hallgrímskirkja church.  She thought we might be able to if the traffic was good.  When we were halfway back to Reykjavik, she said we would go, but couldn’t stay long.  When we got into Reykjavik, the traffic slowed down.  Since I like to be early to everything, I was freaking out and worried if I shouldn’t have pushed Sola to go back into town to see the church.  We finally got to the church just before 2:00 PM.  For some reason the bus driver parked at the side of the church rather than closer to the front.  Since I didn’t know how long it would take to get back to the ship, I had to run up to the front take a few quick photos of the church and statue of explorer Leif Erikson.  I then ran back to the bus.  I wish I had taken my time a bit and gotten some better shots and angles; but I was thrilled to be able to see it.  It turned out that he church wasn’t that far from the port.  We got back to the ship at 2:10 PM.  I was so grateful to Sola and the driver for going out of the way for me.  Had Oscar done what he was supposed to do the previous day, I could also have seen the interior; but I was quite satisfied to just see the exterior.

   

Our time in Iceland was now over.  By having four days there, we had been able to get quite a sampling of Iceland’s beauty.  Especially since the weather had been so cooperative.  I couldn’t believe that we hadn’t had any rain on tours in 15 days.  We looked forward to the upcoming sea day to rest from our strenuous four days of touring.

 

Belfast, Northern Ireland
Our last port day had arrived.  We weren’t supposed to dock in Belfast until 10:00 AM; but I was out taking photos by 7:00 AM.  The weather forecast had a chance of rain with a high temperature of 59, a heatwave for this cruise.    The scenery coming in was quite nice with steep cliffs and green mountains.  We were looking forward to seeing more green after Iceland.  Podium speaker Cathy had told us about the giant 300+ foot tall ship building cranes named Samson and Goliath.  She was correct that we couldn’t miss them.

   

   

We appeared to be arriving in port early, which would be great; but for some reason we weren’t docking too quickly.  We were told that we had to go to a different dock than the cruise ships normally go to for some reason.  When we finally did dock there was no announcement that the ship had been cleared.  We waited and waited.  Finally, at 10:40 AM we were told that we could disembark.  We aren’t sure what the holdup was; but there were a couple of ambulances at the dock.  This was really going to put us behind schedule for the day.  Fortunately, there was no rush to get back to the ship, since we didn’t leave port until 11:00 PM.  

This was our second visit to Belfast.  When we visited there in 2004, we had arranged for a private tour for 43 people in a large bus.  This time we were just going on a private tour with Barbara and Charlie, who we had toured with most of the cruise.  The main place that cruisers visit on day tours is the Giant’s Causeway.  We went there the first time and looked forward to seeing it again.  Our tour guide for the day was Alister with City and Causeway Tours (www.cityandcausewaytours.com).  We did luck out by having Alister.  He was just a fantastic guide and such a lovely, humorous and knowledgeable person.   I knew within a few minutes of listening to him discuss the itinerary in his Irish accent that this was going to be a special day.

One of the things that helped me to choose Alister’s company was that instead of taking the main roads on the long drive to Giant’s Causeway, he was going to take the much less traveled coastal roads that buses weren’t allowed to drive on.  He had a very comfortable Mercedes van that we would put around 180 miles on that day.  It was a good thing it was comfortable. 

The drive north was a never ending journey of gorgeous scenery.

   

   

Alister stopped on a bridge for us to take photos of a lovely river scene.

We continued along through quaint villages.

   

He pulled up along an unusual looking dock area.  He had told us during the drive that there were many sites in Northern Ireland that were used as sets for the popular TV show, Game of Thrones.  This little dock area was one of them.  I had never seen a dock cutout like this one.

   

As we continued the drive, Alister pointed out the yellow bushes that were blooming everywhere.  We had also seen them during our pre-cruise trip to Yorkshire, where they were called gorse.  In Northern Ireland they are whin bushes.  We were really enjoying the drive and we hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet.

   

   

   

   

As we were driving down the road we saw a sheep and its lamb on the road.  They started to charge us.  I had to agree with Alister when he said that they really aren’t smart animals.  Or did he just say that they are stupid?   Either way, he was right.  They did quickly wise up and head for the grass.

We continued past beautiful countryside and finally got to the coastal road where the sign pointed to the Torr Head Scenic Route, where coaches and caravans (motor homes) weren’t allowed. 

   

   

As we drove along the coast road, Alister was pointing out in the distance where we could see Scotland, just 13 miles away, as well as other islands.  He said that the dome shaped rock island in the distance, Ailsa Craig, was where most of the granite in the world comes from that is used for making curling stones.

The drive was really pretty and we pretty much had the road to ourselves.  I was so glad that we were able to take this drive in the sunshine.

   

   

Alister pulled up to the side of the road for us to get out and stretch and for him to take our photo.

We also got to see the whin bush up close.  He had told us that the leaves were very soft; but to watch out for the sharp spikes underneath.  He was correct, they were sharp.

   

We came up to the first car we had seen along the road.  It was a farmer who was moving his sheep back to his land.  Alister said that he sees him doing this regularly.  It was interesting to watch the sheep dog doing its thing to keep the sheep in line.

   

We continued the beautiful drive.  Alister pointed out a windswept tree that had been permanently pushed to the side.  We also passed by an old stone kiln.

   

We could definitely see why busses were not allowed on this road.  It would be perfect for motorcycles.  We were most surprised when Alister told us that the Circuit of Ireland Rally actually ran on the Torr Road.  He said that they race at speeds over 100 mph on some of these roads.  Seems suicidal to me.

   

   

We pulled over to another scenic overlook where there was a sign showing a scene from Game of Thrones.  We could see the place where the scene was shot.  Of course they did add CGI in most scenes; but it was the place.  We saw several of these signs and places during the day. 

   

We continued the scenic drive eventually coming to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  We had visited it previously and had gone down to it; but it was closed at that time.  We didn't have time to get in the que to cross it and no on was inerested in doing anyway.

   

   

Not far away we came to another Game of Thrones sign, with the set in the background.

   

Not far away was another sign.  It was interesting that these beautiful places were used on the show; but the beauty and unique geologic formations were reason enough to visit there.

   

   

   

   

   

We kept stopping along the road, since there were so many beautiful spots.  We were having a great time.

   

We pulled into another area where in addition to a lovely view, was a very tiny building.  Alister said that it was Ireland’s smallest church.  I believed him.

   

For the first time in 17 days, it started to rain.  The rain wasn’t that heavy; but the wind was not nice to the umbrellas.  We had been driving and exploring for over four hours and it was after 3:00 PM.  We hadn’t thought about lunch until we pulled up to a restaurant named the Wee Cottage.  It was right across from Dunluce Castle; but we wanted to eat first.

   

The restaurant was quite small inside and also so homey and welcoming with lots of cute decorations and couches.  Alister had called in reservations for us earlier, so we had a table right next to a warm fire.  It was so nice and relaxing to be sitting there. The small kitchen was crowded. 

   

   

Alister had hoped that they would be serving the Cabbage-Bacon soup for us, since it was his favorite.  We were in luck; it was the soup of the day.  Everyone ordered a bowl.  Carol and I also ordered a chicken salad sandwich to share.  Both courses were just outstanding.  The comfy restaurant, good food, and great company made for a most memorable lunch.   The staff at the restaurant were also just so sweet and helpful.  We really enjoyed this stop. 

   

To top it off, after we finished lunch, Alister brought each of us a delicious scone.  We weren’t hungry; but every bit of the yummy dessert was consumed; but not before Alister took some photos of us.

   

With it still raining some outside, I went out to get some photos of Dunluce Castle.  The castle was originally built in the 13th century; but now only the ruins remain.  It would be interesting to go inside; but not with the rain or our limited time.

   

We next drove into the town of Portrush.  It claims to be the Major Golf Capital of the World.  It is the only golf club outside of mainland Great Britain to ever host a British Open.  It will be hosting it again in 2018.  I took a quick shot of the course while we were driving by to show how hilly and rugged it is. 

   

Because we were running late, Alister headed over to the Old Bushmills distillery.  He knew that it was closing soon; but hoped that we could at least get a few photos inside.  It was about 10 minutes before they closed at 5:00 PM; but the guard would let us in.  We were fine with that since we didn’t have time for the tour, even if we had been there earlier. 

A few minutes away was the main destination of the day, Giant’s Causeway (www.giantscausewayofficialguide.com).   As in 2004, everyone recommends not spending the £8.50 ($12.50) per person to go into the visitor center.  From what everyone says, it isn’t that great, plus there is no cost to see the main attraction, the causeway itself.  Alister dropped us off near the main entrance to the causeway, where we would walk through a tunnel to the other side of the wall to catch a shuttle bus.  A lot of people were walking down to the causeway, which is a mile away.  The shuttle bus was a bargain.  It was £1.30 ($1.90) for one way or £2.00 ($2.93) for a round trip.  This was not the place to save a few bucks, especially in the drizzly windy weather.  We were dropped off right in front of the natural wonder.

The causeway is composed of about 40,000 basalt columns, most of which are hexagonally shaped.  There is a cute story about how it was made by giants; but I won’t get into that, since I can’t confirm if it is true.  However, it was created, it is quite amazing.  The first time we were here, I was able to climb around on the columns; but now that I am older and wiser, I thought better of it with the rain making the rocks slippery.

   

   

   

   

After leaving the causeway, Alister drove into an estate so that we could come out facing a well-known street.  There was a sign pointing to the Dark Hedges.  This stretch of intertwined tree limbs was used in Game of Thrones and is a major tourist attraction now.

   

It was 6:00 PM, so we knew that we would be missing our main seating in the dining room; but that didn’t matter, we were having a great time.  It would take almost an hour to get back into Belfast.  As we got closer, Alister asked if we wanted to see some of the city.  I was thrilled to be able to, since I had attended several of Cathy Hurst’s podium talks about Belfast.  I really wanted to see some of the places that she had talked about and shown photos of.

The first place we passed that I had heard about was the Orange Hall, with the equestrian statue of King William III, who is frequently referred to as King Billy.

   

Cathy had told us about Northern Ireland’s troubles, where there was a lot of violence between the Catholics, who wanted to be part of Ireland and the Protestants, who wanted to remain a part of Great Britain.  One of the ways that Belfast tried to keep tensions down was to build large walls, called Peace Walls, between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.   Alister drove us down a neighborhood street, where the road dead ended, where a road used to be.  A tall Peace Wall was standing in the background.

We turned the corner and could look down on another Peace Wall down another street.  What a way to live.

Cathy had a whole presentation on the murals of Belfast.  They are put up by all sorts of groups to proclaim their beliefs.  They are a colorful addition to the neighborhoods; but the messages are not appreciated by all.

   

   

Alister took us into a Catholic neighborhood and pointed out the garish decorations in the windows of most of the homes.  He then went over to a Protestant neighborhood and they had the same type window decorations. 

   

   

   

His point in showing this to us was to point out that even though each side of the conflict believes the other side is so different from the other, they really do the same things and are just the same as the other.  This mirrored what Cathy had told us.  One story that Cathy told was about a young boy throwing rocks over a peace wall.  A person asked why they were doing it.  The child said he was throwing the rocks at the monsters on the other side that had horns on their heads.  He had never seen the people on the other side that he had been told were monsters.  Quite a sad story.  Both Cathy and Alister said that it is a small minority that keep up the hostilities, some for political or financial gain; or just power in their neighborhoods.    

Continuing the drive, we came to a large gate between neighborhoods.  This gate is closed each day at a certain time to prevent conflicts.  Then further down the road another one.  I got a kick out of the happy emojis on the wall.

   

The Peace Wall lined streets really did feel like a war zone.  Further up, we came to a wall with lots of murals painted on it.  I put some examples of the artwork, but more so for the different messages.

   

   

   

   

We left the neighborhoods and headed for downtown.  There were many old beautiful buildings, but the nicest was the large city hall.

   

   

There was a lot to see downtown; but we couldn’t stay for long, since it was getting close to 8:00 PM.  Alister had really outdone himself, providing us with more than nine hours of touring and making us feel like close personal friends rather than clients.  Alister is a gem. 

Before we got to the port, we passed by the Titanic museum.  It was a place I would like to visit someday.  Others on the ship had gone and enjoyed it quite a bit.

With this being the last port, to me the cruise was over, even though we still had another sea day before disembarking in Southampton.  The sea day was most enjoyable, plus I finally got to see a sunset.  With the sun staying out most of the night in Iceland, we never saw one.

 

Disembarkation
For most people, disembarkation from a cruise is a sad day.  For us, it isn’t that bad; since we live in south Florida and will be returning to sunshine and warm weather.  After the cold weather we had experienced most of the cruise, we were looking forward to getting home.
 
We had requested an 8:00 AM disembarkation, since we were supposed to meet our transfer company Smiths for Airports (www.smithsforairports.com) at 8:30 AM to take us to Heathrow for our flight home.  Since we had a 2:00 PM flight, we were in no rush; but it pays to plan for problems and go early.  When our number was called, we were able to quickly exit the ship.  At Southampton it is very easy for people in wheelchairs or scooters to get down to the main luggage floor, since they have a system of ramps both coming from the ship to the terminal; as well as inside the terminal.  Many terminals have elevators; which can be a real hassle.

Our driver arrived early and we headed to Heathrow.  We had a very comfortable SUV that handled the luggage and Carol’s scooter nicely.  The cost for both of us was just £74 or $108.  Most reasonable, plus our driver was a most enjoyable and interesting conversationalist.

At Heathrow we got to use their new security screening system.  It was designed to speed up the process and it worked very well for most people.  Unfortunately, we put a whole lot of electronic equipment in our carryon that marked our luggage for detailed scrutiny.  We didn’t mind at all, especially since it was the day after the Egypt Air disaster hit the news.  The inspector showed us on the screen why we were called out.  We have a 220 power strip with Euro to US converters plugged into it.  That along with the numerous other cords, chargers and devices made it look suspicious.  They did take everything out of the suitcase and all was well.  Carol was not thrilled about trying to get everything back in correctly.

It was interesting to see how the new system worked, especially since we saw on the news a few days after we got back home that the Atlanta airport is going to try using the same system to help with their gridlock. It wasn’t long until we were in the air heading home.

 

Recap
We had always wanted to go to Iceland and were so glad that we could visit it while the snow was still there and the sun shining to reveal all of Iceland’s natural beauty.  Our enjoyable days in Ireland and Northern Ireland were treats we hadn’t planned on enjoying so much.  We also thoroughly enjoyed cruising on the Eclipse again.  This type of cruise vacation is the reason we love cruising so much.  It really is the best way to see a lot of awesome places in a short time with the least hassle possible. 

 

     

 

 

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