Tour begins: 12:00 PM, Reykjavik. A transfer is included upon arrival at Reykjavik's Keflavik International Airport to the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica or the Grand Hotel Reykjavik where a day room has been reserved for those guests with early flight arrivals into Reykjavik today (on day 1). Our welcome reception and luncheon will be memorable as you meet, mingle and dine at Kolabrautin Ristorante, on the fourth floor of Reykjavik's stunning waterfront Harpa Concert Hall. Following lunch, visit Old Town and the National Museum chronicling the history and heritage of Iceland. Then board Le Champlain in Hafnarjördur to begin your Iceland cruise; enjoy dinner onboard this evening.
Grundarfjordur & fishing villages
Today on your Iceland cruise, you'll encounter daily life in fishing villages hugging the craggy coast, traditions and legends that are so much a part of Icelandic culture, pristine wilderness and natural wonders. Dock in Grundarfjordur, one of the first urban areas in Iceland and a French settlement in the 1800s, for a choice of morning excursions. One begins with a scenic drive along the coast en route to Djúpalónssandur; when you see the eerie rocks rising from the ocean here, you'll understand why local folks suspect that they belong to elves. These strange formations have become the basis for many of Iceland's time-honored sagas; learn more about the traditional stories that tell tales of the country's early settlers, trials and tribulations during your visit, including how these rocks were used in strength competitions between local fishermen. A walking tour in and around the fishing hamlet of Arnarstapi reveals both village life and the abundant bird life that thrives in the area. And discover a black-lava landscape at Budir, as well as one of the very few yellow-sand beaches in Iceland. Alternatively, you can choose to embark on a Lava & Viking Adventure that explores both the rugged nature of the area and the literature it has inspired, visiting sites that have been immortalized in Icelandic sagas - including a walk up the slope of Mt. Helgafell for spectacular views. Return to the ship for lunch, followed by some free time to explore Grundafjordur as you please, before Le Champlain sets sail for Grimsey late afternoon. Please join us onboard this evening for the ship's welcome dinner.
Life on Grímsey & the Arctic Circle
Remote and weather-beaten, the tiny island of Grímsey - just 2½ miles by 1¼ miles - is the northernmost inhabited part of Iceland. Cliffs cover most of the island, providing ideal breeding sites for huge colonies of seabirds. The island's scant population of hardy residents, said to consistently number about 100, make their living from the bounty of the sea and limited farming. Step ashore for a walking tour to see arctic terns, the longest-distance migrating birds on Earth, and whimsical puffins, with penguin-like markings and beaks that bloom with color in the spring. During your visit, you'll be able to walk across the Arctic Circle, the imaginary line which marks the southern limit of the Arctic Region. North of here, periods of continuous daylight or night last up to six months at the North Pole.
Akureyri to the Godafoss
Cruise to the beautiful city of Akureyri on Iceland's northern coast, the second-largest city in the nation. Set amidst magnificent mountains, Akureyri is known as the "capital of North Iceland" and noted for its lively cultural life. First settled by Norse Vikings in the 9th century, the city was home to a Norwegian-British fighter squadron during World War II and today boasts the northernmost 18-hole golf course in the world. Your choices of activities today include: mineral bathing at the Myvatn Nature Baths in the geologically intriguing area around Lake Myvatn; visiting the historic fishing village of Siglufjordur and its significant ties to Iceland's 19th-century economy, with journeys "back in time" at the Folk Music Center and the Herring Era Museum; or leisurely exploration of Akureyri and environs - including a visit to the spectacular Godafoss waterfall to discover why it's locally known as "the falls of the gods", and hear about the Kristni Saga recounting the arrival of Christianity in Iceland and the banishment of the old pagan gods in 1000 AD. After reboarding Le Champlain in Akureyi, enjoy dinner onboard as you continue cruising to Isafjordur.
Isafjordur, Vigur & island life
The allure of the Westfjords that you'll explore on your Iceland cruise today includes spectacular scenery, history and encounters with the daily lifestyles of the people who live here. Dock at the fishing town of Isafjordur, which despite its isolation from the rest of Iceland is known for its rather urban atmosphere, flourishing cultural life and rich heritage of music and art. It also boasts some of the oldest houses in Iceland, dating from the 18th century. Your choices today include: a drive through Isafjordur for a look at the region's life and culture, including stops at the quaint church of the village of Bolungarvik, a restored Osvor fisherman's hut showcasing what life was like here for Icelandic fishermen before the 20th century, and the Maritime Museum; a visit to the Arctic Fox Center in Sudavik, focusing on the biology and natural history of Iceland's only native mammal; or a short ferry trip to Vigur Island, inhabited only by three generations of the same family whose home it has been since 1884... and what seems like millions of birds, especially the Arctic Tern. See Iceland's only windmill and enjoy traditional Icelandic cakes served by the family in the restored Viktoria House, built in 1862. Return to the ship this afternoon and sail on to the Vesterman Islands.
Heimaey & the "Islands of the western men"
There are places on Earth that simply must be experienced and the geological children, Heimaey and Surtsey islands in the area of Iceland called Vestmannaeyjar (the Westmann Islands), are among them. Named "islands of the western men" for a group of rebellious slaves whose daring exploits are the stuff of Icelandic legend, this remote part of Iceland - far off the beaten track, with its scenic beauty, huge seabird colonies and intriguing human saga - has an aura of adventure and magic. In 1973, a volcanic eruption on Heimaey, the only populated island, destroyed the small town and changed the island's landscape forever. Come ashore on Heimaey for a day of exploration that includes a visit to Sprangan cliff, where young islanders are taught the sport of rope-swinging and cliff-side egg-collecting; a stop at Storhöfdi, home to the island's largest colony of puffins and an incredible vantage point for breathtaking views of the island and the massive glaciers of the mainland (weather permitting); and a walk up the youngest mountain in the world - which was born when Mt. Eldfell spewed lava over the island, creating the new "Pompeii" of the north. You won't have to look too hard to see puffins, arctic terns, and other birds that inhabit the cliffs and coves. Return to the ship as another day of discovery on your Iceland cruise ends.
Iceland's "Golden Circle" - Thingvellir, Gullfoss & Geysir
After Le Champlain arrives in Hafnarfjordur this morning, today's Iceland cruise adventures take in the "Big Three" - Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot spring area and Thingvellir National Park - as well as many of Iceland's most famous landmarks. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir is significant both for its dramatic scenery and as the ultimate symbol of Iceland's independence and national unity. The Althing (or Alping), the world's oldest legislative parliament, first convened in this natural amphitheater in 930 AD and was Iceland's legislature and highest court during the Old Commonwealth (930 - 1262/1264) era; discover the Law Speaker's rock, from which laws were spoken aloud and Christianity was adopted around 1000 AD, and the remains of ancient turf shelters that housed the delegates. At Gullfoss, the "Golden Waterfall," the river Hvita drops 96 feet in two falls creating Iceland's most famous and spectacular cascade. Geothermal activity surrounds you in the geyser area of Geysir, with its colorful mud formations rich in minerals and steaming vents. After lunch, a stop at a geothermal plant set on an active volcanic ridge reveals how the Earth's natural energy is being used to produce electric power and hot water. Return to the ship and enjoy a farewell dinner tonight, as your Iceland cruise draws to a close.
The Blue Lagoon & Reykjavik to journey home
Your Iceland cruise ends this morning in the town of Hafnarfjördur as you bid farewell to the captain and crew of Le Champlain. You can choose to join us for a pleasant drive from Hafnarfjördur, nestled atop a lava flow, and enchanting Kleifarvatn Lake to the geothermal fields of Krysuvik-Solfataras, the volcanic plateau of Reykjanes, then on to the world-famous Blue Lagoon - an aqua-blue pool of mineral-rich geothermal seawater with a temperature between 98 - 102 degrees F. The water is thought to have many medicinal benefits and you have the opportunity to soak in the warm Blue Lagoon surrounded by scenic beauty and crisp, clean air if you choose. Alternatively, you can choose to travel from Hafnarfjördur to downtown Reykjavik for a morning spent exploring the Icelandic capital on your own. This afternoon, our group reunites for a memorable farewell lunch in the lovely Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon, built into a cliff and featuring an entire wall of natural lava. After lunch, visit the Vikinggaheimar (Viking World) museum, which chronicles Iceland's Viking ties and houses a replica of the Viking ship Islendingur, a seaworthy vessel that sailed to North America in 2000. When you see it, you'll appreciate all the comforts that you enjoyed aboard ship all the more. Tour ends at 2:00 PM with a transfer from the museum to Reykjavik's Keflavik International Airport. Please allow 3 hours for airport check-in formalities. We wish you a safe and pleasant journey home.