This is the first in a series outlining my family’s exploration of Iceland during the summer of 2019, pre-COVID. It was a mostly outdoor experience, exploring the wild and natural sights of a beautiful country during the height of summer. For the full journey, and notes on places to go and things to see, check out the other posts in this series.
- Part 1 – Grundarfjörður
- Part 2 – Snæfellsnes
- Part 3 – Golden Circle
- Part 4 – Roaming in Reykjavik
- Part 5 – Landmannalaugar
- Part 6 – Southern Coast
- Part 7 – Jökulsárlón
- Part 8 – Departure and Epilogue
We had intended to go to Iceland during the boys’ Spring Break from school. Early March in Iceland would involve long nights (though days are lengthening rapidly, we would be there before the equinox), harsh weather. Temperatures along the coast aren’t horrible, typically above freezing, which is warmer than I would have expected for a place just south of the Arctic Circle – Reykjavik is just above 64 deg North. However, it is rainy, snowy in the interior, and potentially extremely windy.
We wanted to do wintry things: snow machines on glaciers, exploring ice caves, viewing the northern lights. One of the things NOT on our list of “fun” was having to drive ourselves long distances on sketchy roads in high winds in a rental car, whether or not it had 4WD. As a result, our trip relied heavily upon some chartered support.
We had everything settled back in early 2019, nothing could possibly go wrong. And then, WOW airlines went out of business two weeks after we finalized our plan.
We shifted gears, and found replacement flights on Iceland Air. A bit more expensive, but we had a lot tied up in this trip already, and it was easier to do this than to blow up the entire plan. It was all fine… until we literally arrived at Newark airport (about a 3.5 hour drive) late one evening to learn that our flight, scheduled to depart two hours later, had JUST been canceled due to 65-knot winds at the Keflavik Airport. Planes were stuck THERE, and routes to and from both the US and Europe had ground to a halt. Iceland Air put us up overnight outside Newark, and we started to shuffle plans. We had, essentially, a 24-hour buffer – our plan had us flying overnight, and a day to acclimate before setting off into the interior. But some of the excursion operators needed advance notice – and we couldn’t reach anything other than automated systems.
Iceland Air didn’t want to hear from us – they had lots of travelers in the same boat, and were shuffling as fast as they could. “Sit tight,” they told us. “Be patient, and we’ll let you know.” Well, we knew how to read weather forecasts too, and if wind was the problem, it wasn’t getting any better any time soon. Next morning, things hadn’t improved. One of our charters basically said “tough luck”, kept our money, AND neglected to tell their subcontractors we weren’t going to make it – that company was calling us 24 hours later wondering where we were. That little lack of communication, combined with the loss of our money, came as just a bit of insult to injury… but I digress.
Iceland Air tried, they kept kicking the can down the road, hoping for better conditions. We finally told them, “Getting there isn’t worth it any more, if we are to make our return flight.” We requested credit, the opportunity to reschedule, and in the end I think they were glad to remove us from their “to-do” list.
Hotels were similar – we couldn’t cancel, but we could delay.
We were two strikes in – a completely defunct airline, and a busted Spring Break plan. And we’d lost a lot of money to boot. BUT, we had the opportunity to move everything to the summer, and take a bit more personal control over our own itinerary, our pace, and our flexibility. It wouldn’t be for naught, and we were determined to make this work. We spent Spring Break driving around New England and meeting family for a few days in New York City – all the while, we were online and on the phone scheduling a NEW Iceland trip.
In the end, we traded glaciers and ice caves for boats and icebergs, we traded closed roads for open backcountry, and we traded northern lights for midnight sun and one of the best trips we’ve ever taken as a family.
Stay tuned, and I’ll share our experience, our lessons learned from a trip spent in an accessible, tourist-friendly country whose major attractions are its outdoor natural wonders.
More to come – next time, we arrive at Grundarfjörður, on the western Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Get Out There