Vicky Mayer discovers gushing geysers, black volcanoes, bubbling hot pools and baby pufflings on a voyage on Viking Jupiter.
On a sunny day in August, the view from the beach on the island of Vigur is one of vast blue skies and friendly Eider ducks.
Situated half an hour by boat from Isafjordur in the West Fjords of Iceland, this pretty island is home to only one family, British polar explorer Felicity Aston and her Icelandic husband Gisli.
Together with their four-year old son, they’re the proud custodians of this tiny part of the world where the ducks roam free and 40,000 puffins set up home in the spring.
What a sight it is to behold. The reason for my visit? I’m on a week-long cruise around Iceland on Viking Jupiter.
The Iceland’s Natural Beauty cruise is part of Viking’s Welcome Back itineraries that offer guests the chance to get back on board their favourite Viking ships.
Like many of my fellow cruisers, I have never visited Iceland so this port-rich circumnavigational trip is a real treat. Cruising around the island is a smart way to go and this trip offers guests the chance to see some of the most remote and spectacularly beautiful parts of the country.
Over the course of a week, I see sperm whales up close, drive a chunky four-wheel ATV over the slopes of a black volcano, duck under gushing waterfalls and enjoy pool-hopping at an out of the way geothermal bath.
Think back to geography field trips and this is the feeling guests will get travelling around Iceland – though of course, lumpy dorm beds in damp YHAs have been replaced with the luxury of a Viking cruise.
Epic excursions with Viking
My Icelandic adventure begins in the country’s capital Reykjavik. Though Iceland is 40,000 sqm in size, its volcanic terrain means much of it is sparsely inhabited, and two thirds of the country’s 330,000 population live here.
On board, the excitement of the first day is palpable. Viking Jupiter usually sails with 930 passengers but with Covid-19 restrictions still in place, there are only 600 passengers on board as I take my first steps on Viking Jupiter.
Viking is taking no chances – they are the only cruise company to boast PCR clinics on board all their ships. What this means in practice is that it’s common courtesy to wear a mask when walking around the common areas of the ship and my temperature is taken as I enter every restaurant.
My home for the week is an elegant penthouse veranda stateroom, decorated in cool blues and creams and boasting a roomy balcony, that offers great views of the mist-covered ports as they come into view.
My first excursion begins with an eight-and-a-half-hour Golden Circle coach trip. At $199, it offers Iceland’s greatest hits in a day – Pingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart from one another; the Geysir geothermal area where guests will see hot water being thrown up into the air and the mighty Gullfoss waterfall, where getting wet is just part of the fun.
Sailing overnight, the next stop is Isafordur in the west of the island. Known as the area’s ‘capital’, it is a lively and industrious port.
Speeding across the sea in a RIB is also exhilarating but nothing can compare to the sheer joy of seeing sperm whales in the wild.
Every day brings more adventures and I’m wowed by the trip to Vok baths, a new development of thermal baths situated on Lake Urridavatn in the east of Iceland. Here it is common to spend hours moving between the hot pools with a drink in hand from the bar, then braving the cold in the lake.
Viking Jupiter: Easy to navigate
Back on board, each day over a cocktail in the Explorer’s Lounge, I chat to my fellow cruisers about wonderful wild Iceland and how funny and charming our guides are.
Viking Jupiter was built in 2019 and she still feels like a new ship. Like her sisters, she is incredibly easy to navigate.
Her four restaurants – Italian Manfredi’s, the signature restaurant, stylish Chef’s Table and fun and varied World Café – offer exemplary meals at no extra cost. Manfredi’s scores highly with juicy steaks that are marinated overnight to make them extra succulent and I love the daily five-course tasting menus at the Chef’s Table.
As there is so much to see on shore, I often advantage of an hour or so relaxing in the ship’s cosy Nordic spa before dinner. Here there is complimentary use of the hydrotherapy pool, steam room and sauna. As I can confirm, after a day trekking around Iceland lying back in the pool as it bubbles up is totally addictive.
The final stop on the cruise takes me to the Westman Islands in the south of the country. Heimaey is the only populated island in this area, and it is famous for the volcanic eruption of Eldfell mountain that happened here in January 1973.
As I am reliably informed, everyone, including the residents of the old people’s home, were evacuated in an orderly fashion to Reykjavik. However, some people did arrive without their false teeth, so someone was sent back by air to collect them.
It’s not surprising that tourism is booming in Iceland – its epic landscapes, incredible wildlife and self-deprecating locals make it a bucket-list destination that any cruiser is sure to fall in love with.
- Viking has a Covid testing lab on board, as well as daily testing, so for any clients who are wary of booking, highlight this to assuage their concerns about the safety of cruising
- Despite its small size, Iceland has a number of world-famous attractions, and the ease of travelling by ship means that a cruise is the easiest way to take them in without the hassle of organising transport
- From a wellbeing point of view, Iceland is a great destination to take in natural beauty and invigorating hot springs and thermal baths. Suggest to clients who want a cruise with a distinctly natural feeling