Early June 2014 and this was my first visit to Iceland. What better way to achieve that than in the comfort of CMV's sleek and elegant cruise ship – 'Discovery'. With some 700 guests on board, it was a marvellous way to see the scenic delights of Iceland's fjords and view some of the interior of the 'Land of Fire and Ice'.. Only having to unpack one's luggage once is always a bonus. The itinerary took us to Iceland via the Outer Hebrides and the Faroes. Thereafter we cruised round Iceland in an anticlockwise direction, taking in three of the smaller ports before our last stop at the capital, Reykjavik.
Everybody has a different experience on his or her voyage – depending on what excursions one chooses to do, and which entertainment show to watch; and also depending on one's personal circumstances. As a Solo traveller, here is my story of the trip.
It was a Liverpool embarkation this time. Fortunately, boarding is usually scheduled for an afternoon allowing plenty of time to reach the port by car, train or coach. I elected to drive from Gloucestershire to Liverpool using the motorways. I checked the location and appearance of the Long-Stay car park on 'Streetview' and was therefore confident about finding it alright. CMV had posted me my prepaid parking permit for a dockside multi-storey car park; and I checked in with the reception office there on arrival. A short walk across a pedestrian bridge over Prince's Dock took me to the cruise terminal. I chatted to an Australian couple before checking in and boarding the ship at half past three. One signs a health declaration and also passes one's jacket and metal accoutrements through a regular security X-ray check. Having deposited one's luggage with a porter when you arrive at the terminal, the next time you see it is outside your cabin. All very easy and convenient.
Time for a coffee and a brief exploration of the ship. Then the mandatory Safety Drill. Sailaway was great. A sunset cast a pink glow on the Liver Building – one of the famous 'Three Graces'. The 'ferry cross the Mersey' steamed back and forth – and, yes, they still play the 'Gerry and the Pacemakers' song over their tannoy. A large Sea-cat style ferry headed off for the Isle of Man. A host of wind turbines dotted the shoreline and large 'wind farms' stretched out across the estuary. I had an 'Oceanview' cabin – a twin bed room for Solo use. The second bed was useful for placing my open suitcase and clothes. The bedside cabinet is good for setting out your daily programme sheets and notepads, 'swipe card' and optional excursion tickets. You will not need your passport again during the trip. I had chosen a 'table for six' at the 'First Sitting' for dinner. I had made mistakes with regard to all that in the past and had now found my ideal arrangement. The 'Welcome Show' in the Carousel Lounge at eight was introduced by Cruise Director Gary Rich and featured many members of the Show Team. Throughout the cruise, the team put on excellent high tempo shows. Guests with a taste for classical music could also enjoy that in another of the on-board venues.
The next day was a full day at Sea. The UK is bigger than one might think and it was many hours before we spotted the Mull of Kintyre off to our starboard side, I attended the 'Port Excursions' talks – always a mine of information even if you choose to explore independently. By late afternoon we were passing the Isle of Skye. It was the first Formal Night. We enjoyed the Captain's 'Welcome Cocktail Party' before a hearty dinner, then a show. The theme was 'Round the World' and featured Greek, Irish, Scottish, French, American and Russian dance numbers.
Our first port of call was Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. Five of us hired a taxi and visited the Callanish Stones and Visitor Centre.. I also walked around the grounds of Lews Castle back in Stornoway before taking the tender boat back to the ship for lunch. We left the Hebrides at 3. Time for some sunbathing. That night, the highly entertaining UK Guest Act 'Sister Sister' put on their 'Forties' show
Next morning we were in the Faroes. We spotted our sister ship 'Marco Polo' berthed at Torshavn as we sailed further on up the sea inlet to berth at Kollafjordur. There was a sea mist that later cleared. A complimentary shuttle coach took us in to Torshavn It is a fascinating and attractive sea-port. A group of red wooden houses on a promontory has 'sod' roofs that are covered in lush green turf. Beyond there was another large harbour and marina, I bumped into a well-known BBC sports commentator. It transpired that he and his wife were passengers on 'Marco Polo'. Back on 'Discovery' the steep mountainsides flanking the fjord looked magnificent as the fog lifted and folks began sunbathing on the aft decks. That night the Show Team's vibrant 'From Russia With Love' show entertained us all. Time to put the clocks back one hour.
Thence to Iceland and our first stop was Eskifjordur on the East coast. It is a quiet and pretty place and a myriad blue lupins swathed the lower slopes of the mountains. Numerous waterfalls were in full spate due to the seasonal snow melt. I enjoyed some independent exploration of the village on foot. There was the regular four-course dinner on board ship. I chose the trout for main course. Then we enjoyed the 'ABBA' music show. We crossed the Arctic Circle about half past ten and later we all received a personalised certificate to confirm that. The sunrise/sunset times normally printed in the 'Daily Programme' were replaced by the word 'no', meaning non-applicable. We had sightings of distant whales from the ship in the evening. We had glimpses of their black dorsal fins and their flipping tails breaching the surface of the calm water. We also saw the occasional high spouts of misty condensed air exhaled from their blow-holes.
Next stop was Akureyri, a fairly large sea port located on a sheltered inlet of the North coast. Brilliant sunny weather. The mountains all around were snowcapped. I took my first organised excursion visiting the Botanical gardens then onwards in the comfortable coach to the spectacular Godafoss waterfalls. In the afternoon, I walked around Akureyri visiting the modern church and the historic buidings of Old Town. Sailaway was at 6 More whales and dolphins were spotted. 'All That Jazz' was the show in the Carousel Lounge.
The following day the ship berthed at Isafjordur in the far North-west of Iceland. The town is built on a spit of land that stretches out into the fjord. I climbed up the side of the mountain to get an overview. Large patches of snow still lay all around me even in mid June. The information centre in town was excellent. Several of the very keen birdwatchers aboard 'Discovery' took an organised excursion by small boat to Vigur Island and they were in 'Seventh Heaven' with so many bird sightings. They particularly enjoyed seeing numerous puffins on the rocks there. An expert ornithologist gave fascinating talks on 'Discovery' during the cruise about birds that we had seen; about birdlife in general; and about bird migrations. Another guest speaker – a former airline pilot – also gave marvellous talks. After our great day at Isafjordur, 'Out of Africa' was the theme of the show that evening. The sea conditions were calm – and really and truly there was hardly any swell during the entire ten days of the cruise, No one can guarantee the weather so we were very fortunate in that regard – especially in those regions of the North Atlantic and Arctic Sea,
And so to our final 'port of call', Iceland's capital – Reykjavik. The weather was not quite so good that day with some low mist and some passing rain showers but that did not really spoil our enjoyment of the major excursion - the 'Golden Circle' tour. It was fairly intensive tourism – 8.45 am till 5.15 pm but really scenic and interesting. First stop was at the Thingvellir area where we walked in the rain along a track following the rift between the Eurasion and Amercan continental plates. High cliffs of tortured solidified lava flanked our path. Thence to the Geysir area for a soup and salmon lunch at a bright clean restaurant – with a complimentary beer or soft drink provided. That lunch was a little early at 11.30 am but never mind as a real treat lay ahead – a walk round the neighbouring area of geysers and mud pools. The 'Strokkur' fountain geyser shot up some eighty five feet from a gurgling pool at seven minute intervals. A rope barrier discreetly kept folk at bay!. Back on the coach we then visited the amazing Gullfoss waterfall. A series of timber board-walks and stairways facilitated safe access for the hundreds of tourists visiting the falls. On the drive back to the capital we also stopped at the town of Hveragerdi to view an earthquake exhibition within the shopping mall. The town had suffered a quake of 6.3 on the Richter Scale in recent times. Thence to Reykjavik and an overview of the city from the vantage point of 'The Pearl' - a look-out glass dome and observation platform built atop six pre-existing hot water tanks. We were driven back to 'Discovery' skirting the city centre then along the waterfront. We bade farewell to our marvellous Icelandic lady guide – and re-boarded our floating hotel. We all enjoyed the pirate-themed dinner. That night I participated in the 'Sister Sister' Irish folk show getting up on stage for the fun and dancing. I was beating a bodhran Irish drum while playing a fictional character Sean O'Mara from a spoof rival band 'Brother Brother'. Much mirth all round and reportedly a cruise entertainment highlight for some ... (misguided people!). We later sailed past the steaming volcanic island of Surtsey. A late night Motown themed cabaret in the Discovery Lounge completed a great night.
The final Monday was a Sea Day heading South-east back to the UK. There were two interesting talks from the Guest Speakers and a special 'Solo Travellers Lunch' at two round tables in the 'Seven Continents' restaurant. That was fun. Later on was another Formal Night. I enjoyed the Captain's cocktail party in the 'Yacht Club' on Deck 9 for members of the newly formed 'Columbus Club' for past CMV cruisers. Then the Farewell dinner. I chose salmon for the main course. The 'Baked Alaska' parade was great. We were all given a glass of champagne for the final toast. The show was 'Rock 'n Roll Dreams'. Fast and furious and top class. My word, the dancers are energetic. Time for bed and a reminder to put clocks and watches forward one hour to synch with UK Summer Time.
Another full day at sea followed. Yes the oceans are large – really large. Further talks by the Guest Speakers. I enjoyed my first use of the jacuzzi and sauna. Very invigorating. A tribute to the music of 'Queen' that night was followed by a wonderful sunset over the Antrim coast. A late night Farewell party cabaret was our chance to applaud again the very hard-working and hugely entertaining Show Team. I said goodbye to fellow passengers and some postal and email addresses were exchanged.
So back to sunny Liverpool the following morning and 'express disembarkation' for those of us who were fortunate to be 'Columbus Club' members. I was driving off in my car by 10.30 am and home in Gloucestershire by early afternoon. It was a great holiday – intensely and immensely social and with great food and stunning scenic treats from beginning to end. The few 'first-time' cruisers loved it; and the large number of 'repeat-cruisers' had their enthusiasm for this mode of travel and vacation bolstered and affirmed.