The Sun. That is the possibly the most significant impression I have of Iceland, or possibly, more accurately, the light. That light had the effect of making all the colours so vivid, the blue of the ocean and the sky, the black of the lava rocks and the coloured houses. Then with our latitude it was almost constant. A sun that also stayed with us throughout.....anyway to start at the beginning
The big white shape of the ship loomed through the deluge and the double speed windscreen wipers. We had arrived at Southampton in early July, the height of the English summer, with flood warnings and we were escaping to the north and the sun of Iceland and the Norwegian fjords.
Check in was smooth, drop your luggage, park the car and then walk back to check in. We were on board by 11.20. We had booked this cruise the day it went on sale in March 2011. We had carefully picked our room, a huge balcony, on the 'hump' with cover, which we felt would be essential for this cruise and itinerary. We had been 'upgraded' 3 days prior to sailing, to an aft, no cover to the balcony which was a quarter of the size of our original room. DW was not happy. We thought we would get no usage at all from this balcony. How wrong we were to be.
We had sailed on Eclipse before, and had recently taken a cruise on Silhouette. The ship was in immaculate condition and looked as good as her younger sister.
The concierge room we felt was slightly larger in length than the usual rooms. As there is so little usable surface space we found a floor area between sofa and window where we could store the unused kettle and tray. Both the kettle and hairdryer had European plugs, leaving 2 USA plugs free. The toiletries had an additional Rejuvenate body wash and a nail file along with the usual selections.
We had a delivery of a dozen red roses, then a bud vase with freesias, and a single pink rose in the bathroom. On the first formal night we got 2 further roses from the Captains club hostess. The place was beginning to resemble a funeral parlour....
The little balcony suffered from the spots of soot so often mentioned.
Drinks: on Eclipse when sailing from the UK the 15% service charge is built in. A few sample prices: $5.75 for a Corona, $7 for Peroni, $7 for a G&T made with Gordon's and $8 for one made with Bombay Sapphire, and $38 for a bottle of Gavi. Interestingly the little carafe of wine that you can get in the Oceanview cafe which was â‚¬11.44 on Silhouette was $11.50 on Eclipse. A little bit of rounding up.
Sales: on the first day they had 10% off the wine package, and 75% off =X= branded goods; they had a 50% off all watches sale on day 2, and the Bombay Sapphire for just $16 led to a queue out of the shop! There were sales almost every day on one thing or another.
We had 2 sea days whilst heading north to Iceland. The sun shone and it got warmer and warmer. Reports from home showed that it was indeed still raining. The first formal night was moved to the Monday evening to allow us to watch Murray win Wimbledon. Which he didn't. The clocks want back one hour before we arrived in Reykjavik. We arrived ahead of schedule. Head for the volcano and turn right. On one side we could see the city, on the other several little green islands, including one with the John Lennon memorial on. This shines a beam of light into the sky for a few months each year between the dates of his birth and death. The sun shone high in the cloudless sky.
We had a private tour arranged via the roll call with IG Tours for the Golden Circle. This cost 7300 ISK pp which is around $57/Â£36. The ships tour was $129pp. We had a private van for the 13 of us. We saw fissures in the earth's crust going through houses and buildings, Gullfoss waterfall, Stokkur geyser, and Thingvellin where the earth's tectonic plates are shifting apart.
Our guide was very good, and in addition to the geological phenomena that is Iceland we learnt about their health care system, their education, their lesbian prime minister, and their belief in the Trolls and the Hidden People. And their purebread Icelandic horses. The terrain we saw would be a Geography teachers dream, and bought to life the cyms, corries and cols, hanging valleys, u-shaped valleys and ox bow lakes of our O level geography lessons. We were dropped in town where we enjoyed a few beers. The sun still shining brightly at 10.30pm when we returned to the ship. A cab cost 2000ISK. The walk into the city apparently took around 30 mins. The ship offers a shuttle for $9 pp return.
As we retuned we noticed that the ship was actually causing a bit of a distraction as cars were queuing to have a look at her. Docked overnight we rose early the next morning to visit the Blue Lagoon. Again a private trip there with Netbus, at a cost of Â£47pp. Our private trip was 5 hrs in total. The ship offered one for 3 1/2 hrs at $96.75pp. Given that the BL is 45 mins drive they did not have a lot of time there. There had been some discussion and concern amongst the ladies on the roll call about the requirement to shower naked before entering the BL. This was not enforced, so ladies please do not worry! Take a towel from the ship as they charge you â‚¬5 to use theirs. Water shoes are handy as the pool floor is uneven. They provide a wrist band which gives you entry, locks your locker and which you use to buy drinks if you wish. There are also steam rooms and saunas. We wallowed....a very relaxing day.
We were confused about the tour that came to the lagoon, looked wistfully at us in the water but didn't have enough time to go in. We missed the point of that as, whilst the sight of the lagoon is amazing, the real reason to be there is to experience the waters. I guess they must have seen something else on that day. I do hope so.
Again beautiful sunshine for the day and the Captain allowed us to go onto the helipad for the lunchtime sail away.
That afternoon there was the Elite members afternoon tea. Apparently there were 500 Elites on board. The evening drinks were never over crowded though. We got a blue bag as our Captains Club gift which DW reliably informed me was very like a Longchamps style. The night of the Select and Elite members drink was a bun fight. The queue stretched from the Sky lounge door, past the lifts and back into the conference room. Tip: there is a door that leads from the conference centre straight into the Sky lounge if you want to skip the receiving line and head straight for the drink!
We rounded the west coast of Iceland, stunning cliffs and scenery and that night we crossed into the Arctic Circle.....and we all got a certificate to prove this!
Akureyi was our next port. The sail in through the fjords started around 7am. Another glorious day. Our tour this time was with Fjallasyn who drove us to the northern town of Husvik, via sights such as the Godafoss waterfall.
After a great little lunch (I had local lamb, spiced, and on local soft bread, delicious) We boarded the Gentle Giants whale watching trip. This was to be the highlight of the cruise for us, we saw 8 whales, including humpbacks sailing alongside within touching distance. This total cost was 16000ISK pp (Â£81/$125pp) and worth every single penny!!
Clocks went forward that night. Another sea day ahead as we cruised towards the Faroe Islands. Glorious sunshine again. People were even in the swimming pools and on the sun loungers. A quick check showed it was still raining in England.
The pink bathroom rose wilted and died, to be replaced with a yellow one.
Activities: there certainly was a lot to do on board. A series of talks by a charming old boy with the uniquely English name of Glenmore Trenear-Harvey entertained and educated us into his life with British secret service, and his insight into the Russian spies. There were also talks on the countries which were not just shopping biased, and talks about how the ships move. There were the usual galley and backstage tours too. Certainly enough to keep you occupied.
There have been many comments recently about the level of noise/music on the ship. Honestly I do not know what they are talking about. There is a gentle guitarist playing whilst you done outside the cafe, occasionally music in the grand foyer, the Martini Bar wouldn't be the Martini Bar without its blend of funky music. The Sky Lounge was quietly playing the smooth tones of Karen Carpenter as we approached Iceland. All very unobtrusive.
We didn't go to any shows so cannot comment about those. However one was apparently so bad (by someone called Mike Osman, no, never heard of him either) that there was a letter of apology about the offensive content outside all cabins the following morning! We did go to dance lessons and interestingly they were also doing 'flash mob' dances. How very refreshing and modern, despite the mainly very senior demographic on board.
Food: mainly good. I was pretty uninspired with the offering and selection at dinner, perhaps because we had identical menus on Silhouette the previous month. The chateaubriand was excellent though. Brunch was on the 4th sea day. Qsine we dined as a group of 13 with others from the roll call. The best way to do it. We still did not manage to order every item on the menu though. Tuscan Grill still remains our favourite, both for menu and location. Leisurely service and we had a great steak there. Murano seems less 'stuffy' than before and we enjoyed our meal there too. Bistro on Five suits us when we have reached that 'I can't face another meal' bloated feeling that often comes with cruising!
Half price or 35% off the restaurants were being offered on a daily basis. Indeed we dined a second time at Qsine on the second formal night after negotiating a 50% off deal.
We had Select Dining which meant that we could dine when we wished. We always tended to use the left side of the dining room (starboard) and enjoyed excellent service there: we were happy to recognise Denville, a charming young man from Jamaica from our last Eclipse cruise. We never had to wait more than a minute to be seated. However on one occasion we were seated on the other side. Service was terrible. It was the only time we had to send back our meals, and they even got our after dinner cup of tea order wrong! So go to the left!
Faroe islands: Which proved that sometimes the mountain comes to Mohammed. Started as an overcast and quite chilly day. There was a complimentary shuttle bus into the little town of Klaksvik. We had been full of good intentions to take the local bus to Torshavn at 7:45am but we did not wake up in time! As hinted on first glance Klaksvik is quite uninspiring. Given that it was Saturday and that the population of the town and just doubled with the arrival of the ship, many shops did not even open! However we set off in search of a bar selling the award winning brew. The town's only bar was not open either. Feeling disenchanted we went to the sports hall where there was a craft fair.....and we found the beer seller! From then on our view of the place changed, they really had made an effort, putting out tables with jam jars of local flowers, and that is when the town came to us!! It started with 2 guitarists / vocalists who were very good indeed, and then came the dancers, all in local folk dress to dance. We thought it a great, charming experience helped by the fact that the local beer (Foroya Bjor) was very good....we were the bartender's best customers that day and we were given a brewery logo baseball cap as a souvenir. So if you do visit...make sure you go to the sports hall craft fair!!! Hic.
Another sea day followed. The clocks went forward another hour.
Geiranger: a destination of dramatic scenery, landscapes and waterfalls. The sail in took several hours, passing the famous 7 Sisters waterfall to our port with their Suitor on starboard. We had hired a car via Hertz for 941NOK. Pick up was easy, a nice little VW Golf. We shared with 3 others from the roll call making it a very economical day. We headed straight for the top of Dalsnibba, stopping frequently for photo shoots of the view below, and of the ice covered lake. Reaching the summit, the car informed us that it was 3C outside and a few snow flakes began to fall. All we could see was cloud...then slowly this cleared to reveal the view of the toy-sized ships in the fjord 1500 metres below us. The view was astounding and well worth the 100NOK toll road fee.
As with all sites we had visited on this trip, there were no railings or safety barriers or warning signs. You stood on the edge at your own risk. 'Elf n Safety fans be aware! Back down the hill, through the town and up the other side to Eagles View vista and then over to the next valley and fjord where the plan was to have lunch. No restaurants or cafes in sight. So ever the enterprising Brits went to the nearest supermarket and bought bread rolls, sliced cheese and ham, cherry tomatoes, plastic cutlery, and even napkins and we treated ourselves to an impromptu picnic at the water's edge in the sun. After returning the car the driver downed a well earned beer - 120NOK for 2!
Flower update: the dozen red roses have wilted and died, as have the 2 in he bud vase and the yellow rose in the bathroom. The freesias are holding on.
Molde: an early arrival at 7am and we were docked by an industrial area. It was dull, overcast and drizzling as we disembarked but within 10 minutes the rain has stopped and the sun was trying to come out. It was a short 15 min stroll into town, just keep the sea on your left and head straight. There was a queue of people waiting for a shuttle bus as we left but I'm afraid we have no idea what it cost, if anything, or how often it ran. We never were passed by one in either direction. The Molde Jazz Festival was on, and the place was jumpin'! Stalls in the street, a band of young musicians and dancers, and a few buskers. Molde is also known a the city of roses, and there were roses everywhere. Including a display on the roof of the town hall (Radhuset). The modern church has some lovely stained glass and an impressive altarpiece. And a boat hanging from the arched ceiling. After a beer on a boat that was also a bar we strolled back. Another town that delivered a nicer day than anticipated.
Free wifi: we found free wifi at the following places; in the pub in Reykjavik (the yellow one on the right as you walked up the main street- on the corner and you walked down 2 steps to enter), at the dockside souvenir shop in Akureyri; in Husvik generally available, at the TI Office in Molde and this had a good range and in Flam at the very modern metal and glass building with the sloping roof on the quayside. I hope this helps future cruisers! Anyway, back to the itinerary...
Flam: what a sail in! Stunning. And it lasted for around 3 hours. We were meant to arrive at 10.30 but the Captain put his foot down and we were there an hour earlier. The plan was apparently to beat the HAL Rotterdam ship into port, but we didn't. They must have put their foot down too. A tiny little place with a handful of shops selling very touristy items. We had tickets for the famous Flam railway. We had to buy these through the ship as they appeared to have bought out the entire availability online. Our early arrival should have meant that those who were not able to buy on line could buy tickets independently for one of the earlier trains, but none were available. The train ride takes around an hour with increasing spectacular views. You stop to view a waterfall where the sirens are singing to lure the men away. Closer inspection with the zoom lens revealed that the sirens were men in drag! We were taken to a hotel for waffles and coffee and we had about an hour to walk the various trails and enjoy the views. The aft balcony was a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the sail away with a glass of wine in hand.
Bergen: this city gets 330 days if rain a year. Today wasn't one of them as we awoke to beautiful cloudless skies. Our final port and a short stop from 7am-2pm. A free shuttle took 10 minutes into the centre. We visited the wharf side area, bought a few items and had our final beer. 160NOK for 3 bottles and a prawn sandwich. This country is expensive. It even cost 10 NOK to "spend a penny". The department store in Bergen charged too! Motto for Norway: don't drink alcohol and keep your legs crossed! It was blazing hot sunshine for our sailaway, DW even donned her swimsuit to catch the rays on our balcony. Final formal night. It must be said that 90% of gentlemen wore DJs on this cruise. I have never seen the after dinner parade of chefs on Celebrity before - we avoid the ghastly dirty napkin waving that happens on RCI at all costs - but the dining room descended into a hoard of screaming banshees as everyone cheered on their waiters. As we were on the ' wrong' side that night and because the service had been terrible that night we did not join in. Neither did any of the tables around us and we all looked stony faced at this event. Most un-Celebrity like. Perhaps they think the Brits enjoy this sort of thing? After a Martini Flight we stayed in the Quasar until the early hours. Thank goodness the clocks went back that night giving us an extra hour in bed with our aching heads.
Final sea day. The fuchsias finally wilted and died. Time to pack, one final drink in the Martini bar, the last supper, suitcases outside by 11pm.
The big white shape of the ship loomed through the early morning light as she glided silently up the Solent. Turning on a sixpence she docked. Instead of soaring cliffs, majestic fjords and thundering waterfalls we saw Ikea. Reality bites. We were home.
Thank you to those on the roll call for making this such a super cruise and to Becky and Lynne for organising the private shore excursions. We hoped you enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you for reading.