What are the pros and what are the cons of cruising to Iceland? What are the good and bad about choosing to come to Iceland on a cruise rather than a land-based trip? What do you need to know?
Watch my Iceland Cruise Pros and Cons Video
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Location of key sights
Probably one of the biggest pros and good things about choosing to cruise around Iceland, rather than do it land-based, is the fact that all of the key sights and places you should go to are around the coastal area.
The centre of Iceland is basically a large wasteland of lava, and so all the key sights and places you’re going to want to see, stop at or go to are around the coast. So, going on a cruise is very logical. If you want to see Iceland by land, you have to drive around one key road that goes right around the island. This is Highway 1, the Ring Road, and it is 880 two miles long (1,300 kilometres) and, if you want to see the island, you’re going to have to go all the way around the coastal area.
So, a cruise is a great way of getting there. The Ring Road is not a particularly big road and can be very busy, so it makes a lot of sense to go on a cruise. It’s going to take you to all of the key places and sights that you want to see as they are in easy access of the port’s that you call on.
The two big classic things that you’re going to want to see are what’s known as the “Golden Circle” out of Reykjavik, and then you also have the “Jewels of the North”. If you go on the “Golden Circle”, you’re going to see three of Iceland’s most impressive and important landmarks: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir.
If you go to see the “Jewels of the North” you visit the bubbling mud pots of Namaskard, Dimmuborgir and then the incredibly beautiful Godafoss, the waterfall of the gods. All the key sights that you’re going to want to see are on the coast or accessible from the coast. You will have to drive quite long distances or fly to some of these places if you want to be land based, but as you really need to get around the island to see the key places, why not go on a cruise?
Range of excursions
On a cruise at all of the ports of call you’re also going to have a wide range of excursions. The cruise line will have curated and pulled together all the important places you need to see , and you don’t have to do any research as they will take you on things like whale watching, can to see birds like puffins, some take you to key sites where the Game of Thrones series had some of its key scenes filmed and, of course, there will be a series of different excursions, particularly at places like Reykjavik to the baths, like the famous Blue Lagoon.
I think the next key reason for doing a cruise around Iceland, rather than land-based, is all of the benefits of going on a cruise. I think these are particularly important when it comes to Iceland.
The fact on a cruise you only unpack and have to pack once. If you’re going to try and see Iceland on land, you have to keep moving between different places and you will have to be packing and unpacking quite a lot. On a cruise, you get all of that hassle and stress taken away.
Then, of course, you have all of the perks of being on a cruise ship. For example, on the Saga Cruise I wrote this on, we had a choice of different places we could eat, including room service. On board Saga there were bands playing in the various bars, a show every night which was either guest entertainers or a production show.
And of course, even facilities like a Medical Centre if you had any medical issues was available, so no need to worry like on land with dealing with all of that. There was a shop on board if you’d forgotten any bits and pieces.
Coming to Iceland on a cruise makes it so much easier, and you can just focus on the whole experience of enjoying the place.
Another big Pro is for those people who don’t like to fly, or want to avoid the hassle of flying, is you can do no-fly cruises from a number of places in Europe.
For example, out of the UK you can cruise on cruise lines like the one that I’m on, which is a Saga Cruise. They sail out of Dover up to Iceland around the island and back to Dover. If you are UK-based, you can avoid flying. There are other cruise lines that will come to Iceland out of other ports around mainland Europe, so if you are based in Europe (or you want to minimise the amount of flying) going on a cruise to Iceland is definitely one way of doing that.
Expensive on land
For me another big pro of going on a cruise rather than land-based is that when you’re on land in Iceland, it is pretty expensive. If you want to have snacks, buy drinks, go out for meals or book accommodation and hotels, it can all mount up.
It’s surprisingly expensive in Iceland, which I guess makes sense because they have to ship so much of stuff into the island and Iceland is pretty far away. The first time I came to Iceland I thought I was getting the exchange rate wrong because things seemed really expensive when I converted them, but that’s not the case as things are expensive across Iceland.
The advantage of coming on a cruise is you’re going to know what it’s going to cost you to get there, get around and other costs associated with eating and dining. You will know that before you go and once you’re in Iceland you’re not going to have a lot of additional costs.
The fact that Iceland is a pretty expensive place once you here on land, going on a cruise is great because before you go what it’s going to cost you, and you have that all locked down.
For me personally, one of the big pros is that when you come on a cruise, you’re can learn a huge amount about the place and the line will have curated what you need to know, and they make sure you see the key sights.
For example, on the cruise that I was on with Saga there are enrichment lectures, a whole series of experts who talked about the history, ports, sights, folklore, culture and food.
You learn a huge amount Iceland and it is all included within your fare.
On the cruise ship you get destination guides for all of the ports, with information around history, what to see, what to do, where to go and maps of the places. On the in- room television you’ll often find the cruise ship will have documentaries about Iceland.
You have an opportunity to learn about, know about and understand what you’re seeing, where to go and how to do it without having do the research yourself.
You also have the shore excursion team who will have been to Iceland a number of times and you ask them questions and they can help you. You have all these experts on hand with huge
amounts of information about Iceland that you can learn and get without having to do any extra work.
You have all the excursions to choose from with expert guides, so again you know you’re going to see the places you need to see, and the local guides know the place inside out.
Excursion cost not included
One of the key additional costs above your cruise fare is likely to be excursions. If you come
to Iceland you certainly want to go out and see all the great sights but bear in mind most cruise lines do not include excursions within your fare.
For example, here on Saga, everything other than excursions were pretty much included: drinks, accommodation, all the dining options including speciality dining, some Wi-Fi and gratuities were included. The only extras were things like spa treatments and shopping, and also excursions were
These can add quite a lot. For example, to give you a sense of what that could be, if you go on a Golden Circle tour that cost around about £120 per person (US$150), Jewels of the North was about £175 (US$200) per person. If you went whale watching, depending on where it was, that could be anything from £129 / $1505 up to $200 or £190 pounds per person.
Bear in mind that one of the downsides of going on a cruise is that you still will have excursions to do, and there is a cost associated with those.
Lack of lack of local immersion
One of the cons that you could argue of going on a cruise, is that you are traveling around Iceland in a little bit of a bubble as you’re not on land staying hotels, eating in local restaurants and so you will not get much immersion and interaction with local people.
Of course one thing you could do if you go on a cruise is, there will be excursions which are going to give you more cultural immersion and opportunities to mix and get closer to the Icelandic people, and there are some ports, like Reykjavik, where many cruises stay overnight. On my cruise we had a night in Reykjavik so there was an opportunity to go out and experience much more of the city and the local bars and places to eat.
The other con one could argue, is that a cruise isn’t going to buffer and protect you from the crowds at the key sights, and certainly isn’t going to guarantee you great weather.
Iceland has become incredibly popular, especially since about 2010, and many of the key sites, particularly Golden Circle and Jewels of the North, get very busy and coming on a cruise is not going to give you any special access or ways of avoiding the crowds. Of course, the guides when they take around will try and take you the best times, but it is pretty difficult.
Do the cons outweigh the pros?
The fact that I’ve come here for a second time cruising to Iceland probably answers the question! I think a cruise is a phenomenal way of seeing Iceland.
If you want to come to Iceland you do really need to go around the whole island to see the key places, so why not do it on a cruise?
I have many more videos including some about Iceland, loads around cruising with tips and advice, so why don’t you watch one of those right now: http://www.youtube.com/tipsfortravellers
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