Vernon Volumes text

Vernon Volumes text

Friday, July 15, 2022

Iceland Adventures by Disney with Lauren and Stefan - Stebbi

Day 1: July 4th, late in the afternoon we got an Uber to the airport to start our fourth Adventures By Disney vacation, this time to Iceland. We planned it so we’d arrive an extra day early so that we would have a little extra time to get acclimated to the area and the time change. There had been lots of talk in the news about flight delays and cancellations, and we were concerned, but thankfully we had no issues. We first flew to Boston and had a long layover before our Iceland Air flight to Iceland. In Boston we ate at a cute little  restaurant right near our gate. Dinner was good, but after we finished eating and the restaurant was closing for the night, we were horrified when we saw mice running around under the tables. There were at least five or six that were grabbing dropped food and then disappearing through a crack in the wall. We enjoyed walking around the international terminal and seeing the diverse groups queuing for flights all over the world. Our flight boarded shortly before midnight and although we got upgraded seating, we were disappointed that our seats did not lay flat. Although it was only a five and a half hour flight, we’d been hopeful that we would be able to get some sleep. Paige got comfortable and slept almost the entire flight. I tried hard for a few hours to find a way to get comfortable, much to Andrea’s consternation, as I experimented with all kinds of positions which ended up jostling her seat which was in front of me. I gave up on sleep just as the dinner service was underway. Connor and I both had the short ribs and the meal was surprisingly delicious with quite a bit of variety and even a dessert. Paige was later quite upset to hear about the missed dinner and told us that we should wake her up for the in-flight meals. Finally, early in the morning on the fifth, we descended beneath the clouds and landed in an overcast Reykjavik. 

We got our bags and found the taxi driver that Disney had arranged for us, and he drove us to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik. As we expected, our rooms were not ready and we were not sure how to pass the time. Connor didn’t sleep a wink during our flights and he fell asleep quickly on a couch in the hotel lobby. I found a more isolated couch in a lounge area and with my travel pillow and mask, I managed to drift off finally in to a deep sleep. Andrea and Paige napped briefly in the lobby and eventually were notified that one of our two rooms was ready. Andrea took the kids up to the room and the three of them napped on the two twin beds, pushed together. Poor Paige was stuck in the middle on the gap, but everyone was able to sleep. Once I woke up, I got our second room key and then we started unpacking. We were unprepared for the fact that Iceland uses European charging standards. Thankfully the hotel let us borrow some electrical adapters, but they worked only for some of our things and we were not able to use either fan we’d packed, or Andrea’s hair straightener. I actually ruined both fans trying to get them to work. Thankfully the hotel had some fans for us to borrow, very necessary as there is no air conditioning in Iceland. We tended to leave our windows open all the time to let cool air in. It was chilly outside, but the indoors were always warm. Iceland produces most electricity through geothermal generation and a byproduct of the process is hot steam which is piped through the town to radiators in homes and buildings. 

After our naps we got some avocado toast and bread at a local coffee shop and then we wandered around Reykjavik and did a bit of shopping. I got a t-shirt and we found three t-shirts and a sweatshirt for Connor. We found a nice restaurant for dinner and the kids liked the Korean style wings so much that we got a second order. Although it was difficult with the time change, we tried to go to bed at a reasonable time so we would feel rested for the beginning of our adventure. 

Day 2: July 6th, we started off the day by greeting our Disney adventure guides Lauren from North Carolina, and Stefan (Stebbi) from Akureyri Iceland. In the afternoon we met up with all our fellow adventurers in the hotel lounge and we all introduced ourselves to each other. I’d hoped that Paige would step up and take the challenge, but she was feeling shy. Thankfully Connor jumped in confidently and he volunteered to go first and introduce our family and tell everyone what were excited for on the trip. 

After introductions, we boarded our bus and drove to the Blue Lagoon for a refreshing dip in the hot and mineral rich waters. We were surprised to learn that the lagoons are not actually natural and are the byproduct of Iceland’s geothermal electricity generation. Our passes gave us access to the lagoon, mud face masks, and a drink at the bar. The water was warm, and most areas were not as hot as a hot tub, but a few spots where fresh water was pumped in were nice and toasty. After we finished in the lagoon and washed up, we had one of our favorite meals at the lagoon’s restaurant. The chicken was tasty, but our favorite part of the meal was the fresh baked bread. Most of our meals in Iceland had fresh bread and it was extra tasty at the lagoon restaurant. 

Day 3: Thursday, July 7th, we got up early to start our day of sightseeing. Unfortunately, the weather was horrible. The wind was constant and cold, occasionally gusting so hard it would unbalance you. The rain wasn’t heavy, but fairly persistent, made worse when whipped by the wind. We first got off the bus at Parliament field and thankfully we insisted the kids get back on the bus to put on their rain pants along with their rain jackets. Andrea had read on one of her ABD Facebook groups that although rain pants were listed as optional, they were a good idea. We all had the Columbia brand pants and Andrea and I had our HH rain jackets, while Paige had a Columbia brand rain jacket and Connor had a O’Neil jacket. We were thinking Connor’s jacket was water proof, but it was barely rain resistant at best and did not do well that day. It was a pretty disappointing start to the trip, and our next stop at a waterfall was even worse. The wind was fierce and after getting a family picture, our family jumped back on the bus. I decided to walk out towards a path that lead down near the waterfall, but the wind and rain were just too much and I gave up. 

Our next stop was at a small family dairy farm where they make fresh ice cream. The ice cream was delicious and we listened to one of the Icelanders as he described their life on the farm and their history. We rode the bus to an active geothermal are where we saw the original geyser Geysir. The weather was especially harsh here and after watching the geyser erupt once, we sought the warmth of the nearby gift shop. Although we enjoyed our ice cream snack, we were starting to think the day was a bust. Thankfully our next stop for lunch was a turning point. 

After our bus scraped up a car in the parking lot, it dropped us off at an indoor tomato farm for lunch. We sampled some freshly grown little tomatoes and then listened to one of the ladies as she explained how the farm worked and about the bees that were buzzing all around us. We took a table among the tomato plants, then we were served tomato soup, ravioli with tomato sauce, and pizzas with mozzarella and sliced tomatoes. The best part was the bread. There was a table, piled high with an assortment of freshly baked bread, and it complimented our meal perfectly. For some, like Connor and Andrea, the bread was the meal. 

With our bellies full, we were in no shape to walk, so that task fell to our noble steeds the Icelandic horses. Our party was split in to two groups and we were fitted with rain gear and helmets, then we were herded unceremoniously onto the horses and into a fenced area. We’d expected a bit more organization or direction, but once everyone was on a horse, a guide led the way and we were encouraged to form a straight line to follow. Connor ended up at the front, Andrea near the middle, Paige towards the back, and I was in the very back of the line. After we were underway I asked a nice guide near me if I could be together with Paige and I was given the go ahead to squeeze in ahead of her, so at least a couple of us were together and I could keep an eye on my girl. The horses were chill, the weather was cool and dry, and the scenery was beautiful. After our ride we asked one of the guides to arrange us for a family photo together, but with our bulky rain gear, we looked a bit silly so not sure I’ll post it. While the other half of our group departed on the horses, we warmed up with some hot chocolate and tea, then departed for the hotel where the adults enjoyed a buffet for dinner while the kids went to the hotel’s cinema to watch Big Hero 6, and eat burgers. 

Day 4: Friday, July 8th, we started the day at Seljalandsfoss where we hiked to, and then behind, one of the tallest waterfalls we’ve ever seen. While the weather was thankfully pleasant, our rain gear again came in clutch again as the waterfall generated quite a spray. Connor wore an extra Columbia rain jacket that Andrea had thankfully packed and it was much better for him and he stayed dry. We had lamb soup for lunch, then we got geared up for our glacier hike. We were split in to multiple groups and we were guided by an Englishman named Simon. He took us on a scenic route down near the lagoon and as we neared the glacier ice he helped us put on our crampons before we started our ascent. Andrea and I have seen glaciers before at a distance, but never up close, and we certainly have never been on one. For some reason I didn’t expect it to be that interesting, but I was wrong. The shapes in the ice, ash, and flowing water were otherworldly and it was quite an experience walking on the glacier. Our guide would stop occasionally to hack with a big double sided pickaxe so we’d have better places to put our feet. He also used a big metal T shaped tool to check some crevices to make sure there weren’t voids beneath the loosely packed material that might give way if we stepped on it. We all had our own hand axes too, but we mostly held them like walking sticks and only hacked the ice with them for fun. 

When we got to the highest point of our hike, we did push-ups using the big pickaxe to drink from a small flowing stream of freshly melted glacial water. Connor did a few extra and Paige did a bunch of push-ups until she was exhausted. Our descent was not too difficult, although an older member of our group fell when her crampons snagged a dangling shoelace. Luckily she only had a few scrapes and was able to continue with us to the bottom. For dinner we all tried the much hyped mushroom soup. Andrea does like mushrooms on pizza and enjoys them with some foods, and she thought the soup was decent. Everyone else gave it a try, and we weren’t fans. Thankfully there were other things to eat for dinner, and of course bread. 

Day 5: Saturday, July 9th, we got to sleep in and then started the day with a short flight to Akureyri. After lunch we met a few gentlemen that were running their family’s fish processing operation. We were welcomed to try a local delicacy, fermented shark. Paige and Connor both gave it a try and earned their Rotten Shark club cards. As expected, nobody liked the taste of it. We all participated in a boot tossing game, then the grandpa of the family described and demonstrated how they cut up fish. 

Our next activity was whale watching and we all put on our sailing suits which kept us warm and also acted as our flotation devices in case we fell overboard. We snapped a few family photos in the harbor and then boarded our vessel. It was fairly large and while Paige took a position at the front of the boat near some of the kids, the rest of us went upstairs to get a clear 360 degree view. We spotted one whale fairly quickly, but it stayed submerged for many minutes at a time and we eventually made our way towards a few other whale watching boats we saw in the distance and sure enough we found more entertaining whales. Most of the time they tended to be fairly far from us, but a few times they surfaced near enough that I could probably have hit them with a football pretty easily, but they were lucky that I wasn’t so equipped. During a lull in the whale sightings we warmed up with hot chocolate and it was especially yummy as the captain’s wife made some cinnamon cookies that were divine when dipped in the hot chocolate. As we were wrapping up our excursion, the captain stopped the boat near the dock and gave everyone an opportunity to try some cod fishing. They had multiple poles along the port side of the boat and we were instructed to drop the weighted lures to the bottom and then wiggle and bounce them around to entice the fish. Andrea and the kids were near the front of the boat with one pole and Paige caught a fish fairly quickly. Andrea may have gotten a couple nibbles, and Connor almost definitely hooked one, but it got away. I used a pole near the aft of the boat and when I got some action I was surprised to find two fish on my line. I didn’t realize it, but there were two lures on the line and I had a fish on each one. 

Day 6: Sunday, July 10th, we started the day with a tour of the Grenjaðarstaður Turf Houses. The adults started together with Stebbi while Lauren played some games with the kids and then she took them on a tour. Although Connor’s getting older, we sent him along with the kid’s group. I was worried he’d be offended, but surprisingly he said that it was his favorite part of the trip. He said the kids were silly and their questions during the tour were entertaining. We rode the bus to Húsavík where we had lunch on our own and then we went to the whale museum, which had lots of bones including a complete blue whale skeleton. When we got back to Akureyri the kids wanted to go back to the hotel while Andrea and I did some shopping. Unfortunately a lot of the stores closed early as it was Sunday. We were in our own for dinner and grabbed some things from a bakery for the kids and I had some shawarma. 

Day 7: Monday, July 11th, we started at the Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs Bird Museum where we saw an example of every bird from Iceland stuffed for our viewing pleasure. For lunch we ate at Café Vogafjós which started as a side business on a family farm and had evolved in to quite the swanky operation. Connor enjoyed a variety of foods on the trip and his lamb chops for lunch looked amazing. He snarfed them down and then finished Paige’s as well. Andrea and I both had burgers. For dessert, we all enjoyed ice cream made fresh at the farm, which had geyser bread in it, giving it a rich consistency. Once we finished dessert, some of us went to the barn to pet the cows. Paige and I both enjoyed giving the cows scritches, Connor enjoyed patting them a little while mostly keeping a bit of distance, Andrea came in to the barn briefly but got grossed out immediately and dipped. The cows were cute and really enjoyed the attention. There were even some baby cows that were in a stall together, eager for love. That said, the cows were definitely gross, especially coming from a family that bathes their dog multiple times per week. The cows were all straining to push their heads through the metal bars for attention and Connor and I watched in horrified amazement as one cow urinated all over another cow which happened to be laying against the bars. We washed our hands very well afterwards. 

In the afternoon we went to the Dimmuborgir Lava Labyrinth and walked among some huge rocky formations left behind after a volcanic eruption a few thousand years before. On the way back to town we stopped in an active geothermal area to eat some geyser rye bread which had been baked in the ground. The recommended way to eat the bread was with equal parts butter and bread, and in that ratio it was quite good. The bread was moist, thick, and had an unpleasant sour/bitter taste at first before the butter mixed with it. We all liked it and went back for seconds. We stopped at some mud pots nearby which reeked of sulphur, then the bus returned to Akureyri for dinner. After dinner, the kids rode the bus to the hotel while Andrea and I did a little shopping. Most of the stores had closed while we were at dinner, but a few remained open and Andrea bought Paige a chubby stuffed Puffin, which she named Stebbi after our Icelandic tour guide. 

Day 8: Our final day, Tuesday July 12th, we got up super early to start the journey from Akureyri to Reykjavik. We started the long drive South and stopped after an hour of driving for our big activity of the day. Disney hired Viking Rafting to take us whitewater rafting and they had quite the diverse group of guides from all over the world to take us down the glacial river. The water is naturally cold as it’s mostly glacial runoff, but the day was extra cold and the wind was gusting up to 40mph. We all put on watertight dry suits with rubber seals at the wrists and neck and then put on our safety gear and rode on a bus to the drop off point. When we arrived at the river we zipped up our dry suits, grabbed some paddles, then stood in the cold wind and listened to a safety speech. We broke in to groups and we were placed with a little girl and her parents. We got in our boat on land with our assigned captain and practiced our rowing techniques along with the commands we’d need to know. It was good practice, but I think the long wait, along with the safety talk and the cold gusting wind, was a bit too much for many. The little girl and mother in our group decided to ride the bus instead of the raft, and Andrea was tempted to join them. Fortunately Andrea was already in the boat and she stayed with us for our voyage. The water was moving swiftly, but the wind was fierce from the North, which meant that we often had to paddle hard to keep going in the right direction and to prevent us from spinning. The rapids were a bit rough, but the waves were not as high as we’ve experienced on other rivers. We had a few moments where we got splashed, and we were all pretty cold, even with all the paddling. 

About halfway through our voyage we pulled up on shore and everyone got our near a hot spring. We filled up mugs directly out of the stream and all enjoyed hot chocolate. Andrea said she could feel the warmth from the hot chocolate going down her throat and spreading out in her body. It was a welcome rest and we were able to warm up a little. The rest of the rafting consisted of lots of paddling as we had to fight the current and wind in multiple areas. Our river merged with another glacial river at one point, and while it wasn’t choppy or wavy, it was an area where rafts can get flipped. We rowed more on this trip than on any other rafting excursion we’d done before and by the end we were exhausted. We were glad to disembark, and were then faced with a steep ascent up a hill that had a false peak halfway up, which was a bit demoralizing, but we all made it. A few people said the hill was the hardest part.

After rafting, we continued our bus ride to Reykjavik, with a brief restroom stop at a wool factory where we purchased some hats and ear warmers, and also pet a few of the dogs that worked there. Once we arrived in town, we checked in at the hotel and then got ready for our farewell dinner. Andrea had a sore throat and decided to skip it, but the rest of us went. We enjoyed a slideshow with photos taken during our adventures that our guides put together while we ate. There were two guests, including me, that ended up with wet socks during rafting and we were inducted in to the “Wet Sock Club” and I was presented with a pair of Iceland socks. 

Day 9: Early in the morning on Wednesday, July 13th, we woke up and had to be down in the lobby by 6:10 to depart for the airport. We took a family picture with Lauren and Stebbi, and told them how much fun we’d had and that they were our favorite tour guide team. 

On the way to the airport our driver noticed that we were directly behind the president of Iceland and we were just feet away from him as he grabbed his bags from his car and entered the airport. Our flights home were smooth and the best part of the day is that we were able to take care of our Global Entry interview with Customs as we arrived in to Boston. We needed to go to an airport that offered interviews and unfortunately the closest airport to us that would work was Orlando, so it was awesome we got it done during our layover. 

Final thoughts: Such an amazing trip and after the last couple years of only domestic travels we are so thrilled that the vacation actually happened. There were times leading up to our departure when we heard of other tours being canceled due to COVID restrictions. With such a complex vacation, we were concerned that all the moving parts involved wouldn't work out and we'd miss a flight, lose some luggage, or would get hurt or sick or something. I am thankful that it all came together and we were able to experience such a novel and beautiful destination as a family. We learned a lot about Icelandic culture and it was our first time traveling to Europe together (I went when I was young with my father and grandparents). We were all discussing our ABD trips and agreed that Costa Rica was still our favorite, Iceland was second, Wyoming was third (mostly because Brook's Lake Lodge was so much fun), followed by the Arizona and Utah trip. Iceland was a nice mix of active experiences along with sightseeing and history. Compared to a cruise boat visit, I think the ABD experience embeds you so much more intimately in the location and culture and I can't imagine planning a vacation myself that could compare. 

Lauren and Stebbi were our favorite adventure guides, and we hope that some day we'll get to vacation with Lauren again somewhere. Stebbi is the local Iceland talent so it's doubtful we'll have him as a guide in the future unless we went to Iceland again. Both of our guides were friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and overall just seemed like wonderful and genuinely sweet people. Even when they were dealing with a broken down bus or horrible weather, they stayed positive and we knew they were doing everything they could to help us have an amazing vacation.

1 comment:

Richard said...

That looks like an awesome trip! Glad you could make it happen. Beautiful country.