The Ocean Majesty clientele is mostly retired English folk and they enjoy a comfortable and simple product. They are looked after very well by the Page and Moy team on board, who run the entertainment and the shore excursion side. The ship is owned by Majestic Cruises of Athens, Greece and the catering is done by a franchise called Ligabuye. The ship itself is slowly fading and will have to be replaced by something better in the near future. As far as I understand, Page and Moy is looking into that.
The strength of Page and Moy lays in its shore excursions. The guests are really onboard to see things and to be culturally enriched by the experience. So in each port, nearly the whole ship is on tour. Apart from a local tour guide, each bus has also a Page and Moy team member on the tour, and that is where I get my chance to do all the excursions. The idea is that you make sure the tour is carried out as specified, that you help the ladies off and on the bus, that you do not loose anybody and that you write a report at the end of each tour with notes for improvement etc. I try not to tell people what I do for a living, I am just Lesleyâ€™s husband, and as most British people are not that inquisitive I normally manage to stay incognito for most of the cruise.
Today I did the full day tour, which they call the Golden Circle. It lasts for 8 hours and gives a great overview of the spectacular nature of Iceland. It starts with a stop at Thingvellir National Park, made up of Volcanic Rock formations and the Law Speakers rock. It is an impressive area of great natural beauty and was added to the UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage List in 2004. This is where the first Icelandic parliament met in 980. Great Britain prides itself to be the Mother of all democracies, having had a parliament since the 12th. Century, but here we have the grand mother of all parliaments as the Icelanders preceded them by almost 200 years. There is a 45 minute walk through the park, and I always bring up the rear, to make sure that nobody ends up with another group or gets lost somewhere, or stuck in a toilet. Toilet stops are very important on tours like this, and we have a list with our paperwork with where the toilet stops are and how much time they are apart.
Next stop after an hour of driving through volcanic scenery, was a geyser area, with several geysers, of which one, called the Strokkur, erupts every 3 to 8 minutes, so you can catch it on camera. It is easy walkable and if staying upwind you do not smell the suphur. Here lunch is served, which comprises out of cauliflower soup, salmon and potatoes, similar to what an Icelander will eat. From there it goes to the Gulfoss or Golden Waterfall. It looks a little bit like a miniature Niagara Falls. Very impressive with a massive amount of water dropping into a narrow gulley from about 300 feet in two stages. You can walk all they way up to the waterfall but then a rain coat is of the essence. From there it is a 20 minute ride to the Kerid Crater. This is a dormant volcano crater, 30 meters deep, with a crystal clear lake of another 30 meters depth in the centre. It gives a very good inside into how a volcano is laid out.
All the time while driving, you see signs of thermic activity, especially where the Icelanders have tapped into the earths crust to get hot water out. All the houses and other buildings on the island are heated by hot volcanic water and also electricity is generated with volcanic steam as its source. The only form of pollution they have on the island is caused by transport. Cars, trucks air planes and ships. For the cars there is a trial program going on to see if they can run them on hydrogen fuel. If that proves feasible, then also cars and trucks will not cause any pollution anymore.
Next was a stop at a garden centre which had an extensive souvenir shop and toilets. This garden centre was built right on top of a thin lava crust and that causes small thermal springs to pop up all over the place without warning. Due to the volcanic activity Iceland has minor earthquakes everyday and if the ground shifts, hot sufpheric water might suddenly pop out of a crack in the lava. This time they had a little spring right out side the main entrance but everybody expected it to disappear again, next time the earth shakes.
Final stop was at the Pearl Vantage point in Reykjavik. This is a glass dome built on water tanks. As the whole town is heated with water from volcanic activity, they have large tanks (same as the round oil storage tanks that you see at refineries) on the top of hill sides around the city. As Rekjavik has 200000 inhabitants, which is 66% of the Icelandic population, there are quite a few of these tanks. The tanks act as reservoirs, but also to keep sufficient water pressure in the pipe lines. Now some smart person has come up with the idea to put a glass dome on the top, with a lookout gallery and a revolving restaurant. Quite a expensive restaurant as well. It is a great way to see what the city looks like. On the main floor there was a shoe sale going on so I knew where I could find Lesley, who had arrived ahead of me on another bus. I must complement our passengers, they all ignored the shoes and focused totally on they scenery at hand.
According to the tour guide, if you want to see Iceland completely, you have to do a 7 to 10 day bus tour. We only had one day to see the most of it. But the country is impressive. That the sun shone all day, did not make things worse either of course.
In general Iceland is very bare. It used to be covered for about 70% with forest, but through the ages it all disappeared, used for housing and fuel. As part of the Kyoto agreement, the government is planning to recover at least 7% of the island with trees again and has already made a start with restoring what was left of the Icelandic Forest. The most recent joke about that one is: What do you do when you get lost in the Forest of Iceland. ??? Answer: you get up from you knees and look aroundâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.
On departure, there was passenger boatdrill in the form of mustering in the lounge. My job; helping the old ladies put on their lifejackets. After that, I could finally retire to the bar, where they have one thing, which I sadly miss at HAL, and that is draft beer. A pint of good English ale, is perfect to wet ones appetite before going to dinner.
Tomorrow will be a sea day, while we head West towards Greenland.