This review is primarily a travelogue of what we did in the various ports, including links to tourist sites and maps. As is our custom, we mostly took self-guided tours/hikes or private tours arranged with other members of our Cruise Critic roll call. However, we did take some Princess tours when timing or availability was a major issue. We had previously visited only one of the ports (Reykjavik).
We booked this as a 36-day cruise. However, it was marketed as two 18-day cruises, "The Land of Fire and Ice" (NYC-Dover) and "The Top of the World" (Dover-NYC). Thus I have reviewed each segment separately. Only one port (Qaqortoq) was included in both cruises.
Day 0 (Saturday, July 25) NYC, on EDT John and I flew to NYC on Friday afternoon and spent the night (on Marriott rewards points) at a Fairfield Inn near LGA. The next morning, we taxied to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal with hopes of a fast embarkation so we could hike across the Brooklyn Bridge. We arrived at the terminal about 11AM and checked in quickly. However, we had to wait in the Platinum/Elite lounge for over 2 hours before we could embark due to an extensive Coast Guard inspection of the Tahitian Princess. By the time we made it to our cabin, time was getting short and we decided to save the hike for another visit.
In case you are interested in trying the hike, these are the instructions that Coo359a2 obtained from the General Manager of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal: Exit the cruise terminal at the Pioneer and Conover Street gate. Go two blocks to Van Brunt Street and make a left. Take Van Brunt for several blocks to Union Street. Make a right and go to Columbia Street. On Columbia make a left. Follow Columbia all the way to Atlantic Avenue. Make a right onto Atlantic. Go a few blocks and make a left onto Clinton Street. Clinton becomes Cadman Plaza. Follow Cadman Plaza to Old Fulton Street. At Old Fulton make a right onto Prospect Street. There is a pedestrian stair case to the bridge in that area. Total walk from the terminal to the bridge is about 2.5 miles. The bridge itself is about a mile walk. You might want to think about following Court or Smith Streets as they have some nice shops, restaurants, and bars along the way. All the streets along the route I gave you have sidewalks that are in good shape. If you want to cut down some of the walk, you could take the B61 bus which stops outside our terminal on Van Brunt Street and Pioneer Street. Take it to Atlantic Avenue and Court Street and you will cut off about 2 miles of your walk. (Note: Coo359a2 bought bus tickets at the little corner quick stop on the street straight from the ship. For more information on pedestrian access to the bridge, see transalt.org/files/resources/bridges/brooklyn.html.)
For a self-guided walking tour of the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, check out www.brooklynhistory.org/publications/download/Brooklyn_Heights_tour.pdf or www.galttech.com/research/travel/brooklyn-heights-promenade-walking-tour.php.
Day 1 (Sunday, July 26) At Sea on EDT+1 The first full day was a sea day and we were in dense fog all day. In the afternoon, there was a Cruise Critic get-together in the Tahitian Lounge. Tonight was the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party and the first of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise.
Day 2 (Monday, July 27) Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on EDT+1 We were supposed to dock at Pavilion 22 in Halifax (www.cruisehalifax.ca/our-city/halifax-seaport.html) at 7AM but that was delayed due to the low tide. Then the Captain announced that the Customs & Immigration officials thought we were arriving at 8AM and were not even at the dock yet. We finally got off the ship at about 8:30AM and hiked along the waterfront boardwalk and over to the car rental agency to pick up our compact car, which turned out to be a Sebring convertible. Unfortunately, it was foggy and misty all morning so we did not bother trying to put the top down — we just took off along the Lighthouse Route (novascotia.com/en/home/planatrip/gettingaround/scenic_travelways/lighthouse_route/default.aspx) for Peggy's Cove (www.peggyscovearea.com), hoping to get there before the tour buses. The fog was even worse at Peggy's Cove but we could walk up to the lighthouse and see it and the gigantic granite boulders. In some ways, the fishing boats and lobster traps in the village had a special beauty in the fog. We continued on along St. Margaret's Bay and the fog was not as dense there. We left the Lighthouse Route at Upper Tantallon and returned to Halifax along the main highway. By now the fog had cleared and it was warm and sunny. We stopped at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery (www.halifax.ca/history/titanicfvc.html), where over 100 Titanic victims are buried (including "J. Dawson" — J. for Joseph or James, not Jack). It is a lovely cemetery with lots of trees. Next we dropped off the car and hiked up to the Halifax Citadel (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/halifax/index.aspx), just in time for a guided tour. It was fun to watch the reenactors (dressed in kilts) trying to teach some kids under 7 how to march in formation. On the way back to the ship, we walked through the Public Gardens and the Victoria Gardens. We also stopped at an Atlantic Superstore near the dock to pick up some sunscreen, wine, and granola bars. I was able to find flags for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the cruise terminal and a flag for Scotland at the Citadel.
Back on the ship, almost everyone returned on time except for two older men. An officer had to go fetch one of them away from the shops. When the ship left, the Captain announced that some of the passengers had used calendars instead of watches to tell time. Day 3 (Tuesday, July 28) At Sea, on EDT+1.5 We had some sun in the morning and John actually saw a whale spout (I was brushing my teeth and missed it). Later the fog moved in again.
Day 4 (Wednesday, July 29) St. Anthony, Newfoundland, Canada, on EDT+1.5 It was foggy all night but it was pretty clear by the time we started tendering into St. Anthony (www.town.stanthony.nf.ca/attractions.php) at noon. We had hoped the dock would be the municipal dock but it was one furthest from where we wanted to be (Fishing Point Park) and near the "downtown" by the Grenfell Handicraft Center. Once we got off the tender, we headed for Fishing Point and the trails there (www.town.stanthony.nf.ca/Hiking_trails.php); that took 23 minutes at fairly fast pace. The trails were quite nice, especially the Santana Trail to the top of the headland — only 477 steps to a great viewpoint. After hiking all the trails there, we went back towards the dock and did the Tea House Trail around the Grenfell House; it has nice lookouts. After that we headed for the Harbour Trail but we were getting tired, so we decided to punt on that and go back to the ship about 4PM. The last tender was at 4:30PM and the ship left at 5PM — no stragglers today.
Day 5 (Thursday, July 30) At Sea, on EDT+2 Today was the "Most Cruised Passengers" luncheon; this is for the 40 passengers with the most days on Princess. The Captain's Circle host, Sylvain, told us we barely made the cutoff with 282 days; we were just happy to have made it. BTW there are supposedly 674 people onboard and 80% are past passengers. There is a new perk for Elite members — a special lounge with snacks and a $5 special drink. John and I have been twice but it doesn't seem very popular; only 2 or 3 other couples were there. The snacks are not very special either although the smoked salmon yesterday was very nice. Also, there are wordy signs in the Internet Cafe explaining that you cannot get bonus minutes (like the embarkation special) unless you buy an internet package that costs more than the complimentary Platinum/Elite package.
Day 6 (Friday, July 31) Qaqortoq, Greenland, on EDT+2 The people on the previous cruise (Dover-NYC) could not get into this port because of ice. We arrived in Qaqortoq (www.qaq.gl/index.asp?lang=eng&num=45) at noon, grabbed the first tender, and headed out to hike the mountain behind the town. If you want to hike, download a map (www.greenland.com/content/english/tourist/towns_regions/south_greenland/qaqortoq/map_of_qaqortoq); the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town but it does not show the trails. Princess does not offer any tours in Qaqortoq but there were some local tours listed on a board outside the tourist office.
The weather was sunny and cool when we started to hike but we were down to shirt sleeves by the end. The trails were supposed to start behind the high school (#1 on the map). We found something that looked like it might be a trail and headed up. I would call it a "slightly improved pig track" but John said that would be an insult to pigs. There was nothing to mark the trail except a few cairns near the top. Occasionally though there was some litter and a shotgun shell, which told us people must have passed that way sometime in the last 50 years. Fortunately, there are no trees and few bushes of any size; it is easy to see where you want to go even if you can't see a trail.
Anyway, we first took the "trail" past the lake but did not go all the way to the green triangle (that's on the next fjord), only as far as the saddle between the hills. This is where we first encountered midges. We had brought DEET wipes and also no-see-um head nets that drape over our hats (www.coghlans.com/catalogue/productList.php?catID=11) because we had been warned they would be needed at Lake Myvatn in Iceland. However, all of that had been left back on the ship and we had to resort to vigorous swatting instead. We then backtracked to the second trail shown from point #1 to the top of that peak (about 1000 feet high). The views from the top of the ocean and all the icebergs were spectacular!
No luck finding flags here, The tourist office had patches but the only flags were "party picks." They suggested that I try the grocery stores. I finally found paper flags about 8x10 inches in pack of 10. I decided to try to find one in Nanortalik.
Day 7 (Saturday, August 1) Nanortalik, Greenland, on EDT+2 Today we had a full day in Nanortalik (www.nanortaliktourism.com/uk/home.html) so we did not even get up until the Captain announced that tendering had started. The tender ticket system was abandoned today because there was no huge demand to go ashore (unlike yesterday). However, we thought the scenery around Nanortalik was even more beautiful than at Qaqortoq. Princess does not offer any tours in Nanortalik but the tourist office had a number of activities scheduled (for a price). Princess did not seem to know anything about these activities; an announcement was made about them after the ship had started tendering and they are listed on the Nanortalik web site.
We had downloaded a map (www.nanortaliktourism.com/uk/map.html) and copies were available from the tourist office. We climbed up the second highest mountain, Quassik or Raven Mountain. Again, we encountered midges but this time we were prepared. The DEET did not seem to have any effect; the midges seem to like "tourists with DEET sauce". We did use the netting and it works but obscures your vision. Plus you look like a real dork. However, it beats midges in your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Take my word for it, they do not taste good but are high in protein.
We originally planned to walk back down the trail to town and then take the trail along the coast to see the fjord. However, the trails here were only slightly better than the ones in Qaqortoq. We decided that if the Greenlanders didn't care about marking their trails, then we did not care about staying on them. So we simply hiked down the opposite side of the mountain to the fjord and walked along the shore back to town. There were some small bergs grounded on the beach and we got to touch one. John saw one further out calve and another split — I was not looking and only heard the crack. Again, the trail (such as it was) appeared and disappeared but we made it back after about 5 hours (John estimates we hiked at least 9 miles). There have been a lot of icebergs — in fact the Captain said that he had to thread his way into Nanortalik very carefully. It has been interesting seeing so many weird shapes. Not much sea life although John did see a seal yesterday leaving Qaqortoq; by the time I got my binoculars focused he had dived. Also, the wildflowers are gorgeous; we took a lot of pictures of those. The wild blueberries were ripening in both Greenland ports and were delicious, much better than the midges. There were no flags here.
There were high winds in the Denmark Strait so we did some rocking and rolling during the night. The Captain made an announcement to the cabins and public areas at dinnertime that anyone prone to motion sickness should pop their pills, slap on their patches, or snap on their bands in preparation.
Day 8 (Sunday, August 2) At Sea, on EDT+3 Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. The Captain's Circle Cocktail Party was held tonight. Day 9 (Monday, August 3) At Sea, on EDT+4 Tonight we did the Chef's Table for the third time. We had previously done it on the Emerald and the Pacific. It was outstanding, as usual. The people who went to the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon on Thursday were allowed to visit the bridge today. This was top secret!
Day 10 (Tuesday, August 4) Grundarfjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 This was our first of 5 ports in Iceland. As we sailed into the harbor, we could see Kirkjufell mountain, reputedly the most beautiful mountain in Iceland. We took the first tender ashore and walked into town; I was told that the town provided a free maps and a shuttle later in the day. In all our cruises, this is the only port for which Princess did not provide any port guide.
Although we had doubts (given the difficulty of arranging it), our rental car was available once we found the office and someone to fill out the paperwork. If you want to rent a car (the availability is very limited), get the details from the tourist office (www.grundarfjordur.is/default.asp?tre_rod=002|&Sid_Id=10283&tId=1&qsr) well in advance. Bobtroll and his wife joined us on our tour of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, so we opted for a slightly larger Toyota Avensis instead of the Hundai Getz that I had originally reserved.
First we drove east on Hwy 54 (www.bigmap.is/resources/Images/6238_bigmap2008_1.jpg) to see a tall waterfall just outside of Grundarfjordur. Then we made a U-turn and drove towards Olafsvik, stopping at the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall and reflective pool near Kirkjufell. There are many waterfalls all along the coast road. About 5 km before Olafsvik, Hwy 54 turns inland and becomes a gravel road. We think the bus tour went that way but we did not.
We continued along the coast on Hwy 574 until reaching Hwy F570 (also a gravel road) just before Olafsvik. Here we turned left (south) towards the town of Arnarstapi. Hwy F570 passes through the Snæfellsjökull National Park (english.ust.is/Snaefellsjokullnationalpark). The volcano is the setting for Jules Verne's "Journey to the Centre of The Earth." As we crossed the volcano, we could see parts of the glacier but the top was hidden in the clouds. The road was a little rough but the rugged volcanic scenery was fascinating.
On the southern side of the peninsula, we rejoined Hwy 574 and turned left (east) towards Budir for a couple of miles. We stopped at the Raudfeldargja ravine just north of the highway; this is an unbelievably narrow gorge that was cut into the east side of Mt. Botnsfjall by the Sleggjubeina River. It is supposed to have elves and many birds during nesting season; we did not see any elves or many birds. We only walked a short way into the ravine because of the amount of water flowing out. Further east we could see the Hnausahraun lava field.
We turned west on Hwy 574 to Arnarstapi. By now we the clouds were dissipating and we were getting good views of the glacier. At Arnarstapi, we caught up to the ship's tour. Here, we took a short hike to the coast and along it for about a mile towards the Arnarstapi harbor. There is a sculpture of Bardur Snæfellsas (a demi-troll who protects the area from evil) above the beach at Arnarstapi. The coast is lined with magnificent lava formations, columnar basalt, ravines, natural bridges, and grottoes. One landmark is a large arch with a hole alongside called Gatkettur. More formations surround the pier.
Continuing clockwise around the peninsula towards Hellnar, we passed through the Hellnahraun lava field, which stretches from the sea up to the glacier. Turning off the main road, we followed a steep dead-end road to Hellnar, with its picturesque hoof-shaped harbor and tiny pebbly beach. To left of the harbor is a sea cave, Badstofa, known for its special light exposure and colorful interior (we did not have time to hike to it). Valasnos, a freestanding rock, extends east of the bay. The National Park Visitor's Center is here; there are displays and some brochures and maps on the area. Hellnar is the birthplace of explorers who settled Vineland and had the first European child there. As we left Hellnar, we passed Lake Bardarlaug, an explosive crater from the close of the last glacial epoch. The crater is said to have been the bathing pool of the Bardur Snæfellsas.
Driving further west along Hwy 574, we stopped at Malarrif to see a lighthouse, the basalt pillars of Londrangar, and the hill Svalthúfa. The latter two are the remains of a crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. The farmers in the area never made or make hay on the hill, because it is said to belong to the elves living in the area. Younger lava fields surround this old crater ruin.
About 10 km west of Hellnar is the turn off for Djupalon, where a short steep trail took us to Djupalonssandur, a beautiful pebbled beach with the remains of a shipwreck. On the beach there are also 4 big stones, which people used to test their strength in the days of the fishing stations: Fully Strong 154 kg, Half-Strong 100 kg, Weakling 54 kg, and Bungler 23 kg. Weakling marked the frontier of wimphood; any man who couldn't lift it was deemed unsuitable for life as a fisherman. The stones were actually less impressive than the beach.
After another 4 km, we saw the Holaholar Crater (113 m), believed to be an elf town/community. We drove through the wall of Berudalur Valley and into a natural amphitheatre inside the cone. We did not have time to hike to the top of either this crater or the Saxholl crater, which is a little further down the road.
Next we turned east onto the gravel road up the Eysteinsdalur valley, which runs alongside the Móðulækur river, towards the Snæfellsjökull glacier. We hiked to the waterfall Klukkufoss, just a short distance from the road, before returning to Hwy 574.
We took another detour from the main road to Skarðsvík, an attractive little bay with light-colored sand and then the long road to Öndverðarnes for relics of fishing and domestic occupation and a lighthouse. It turned really cold and windy here. An ancient well named Fálki was a water source for the residents of Öndverðarnes that was supposed to have three flavors — fresh water, sea water, and wine. I didn't get to find out for sure about the well as it was dark in there and I didn't bring a flashlight.
Retuning to Grundarfjordur, we had time to drive through the town and visit the church before returning the car and walking back to the tender dock.
Day 11 (Wednesday, August 5) Isafjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 Our day in Isafjordur (www.isafjordur.is/english/) was a bit of a disappointment. We had planned to hike to the Gleidarhjalli shelf above Isafjordur in the morning (www.vesturferdir.is/index.php?k=3&p=140