Iceland Day 4: Golden Circle Tour

This is a continuation of the Iceland trip report, you can read more here:
Center Hotel Plaza Review
Iceland Day 1: 871 Settlement Exhibition and Northern Lights Tour
Iceland Day 2: South Shore Tour
Iceland Day 3: Reykjavik and that time I kind of saw the Northern Lights

We woke up early the next morning to head out on our Golden Circle tour. I had booked this one through a different tour company – IGTours. The thought was if one company was bad we’d at least get another shot. I’m normally not a huge organized tour fan but I live in Florida and while I spent a winter in Indiana once I had no desire to attempt to drive in snow in Iceland. So we went the organized tour route. What was funny was that our tour guide from the South Shore tour worked for both companies! She strolled in to our hotel lobby to pick us up and we laughed. We were actually really glad though, it turned out to be a great tour! She tried really hard to come up with different stories and history information for us since she didn’t want to repeat what we had already heard on the first tour. We learned a lot and had a blast. And got to know a little more than the standard tour guide type information.

Our first stop on the Golden Circle tour was to check out some Icelandic horses. This was just a quick stop on the side of the road. They were very friendly and came right up to the fence allowing for some petting and better pictures. The horses were beautiful and we learned that Iceland has very strict laws against importing/exporting horses and therefore few horse diseases.

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

Our next stop was at Gulfoss – a giant waterfall. It was beautiful, and partly frozen. We were also partly frozen as the wind gusts were incredible that day. But we stuck it out as long as we could and walked around to explore.

Gulfoss

Gulfoss

Gulfoss was very pretty, even during the winter. Read More…

Reykjavik Day 3, Exploring town and that time I kind of saw the Northern Lights

This is a continuation of the Iceland trip report, you can read more here:
Center Hotel Plaza Review
Iceland Day 1: 871 Settlement Exhibition and Northern Lights Tour
Iceland Day 2: South Shore Tour

On our third day in Iceland we decided to explore Reykjavik on our own. We had a makeup Northern Lights tour that evening since we didn’t see them on our first night, but nothing planned for the day.

We stopped by the tourist center and bought a bus pass. If you remember my trips to Paris and Japan last year, I have a tendency to choose the wrong buses and/or wrong directions. I am therefore a huge fan of unlimited bus passes!

My friend also wanted to check out Hallgrímskirkja. I wasn’t that excited about it but was along for the ride. Turns out it was great!

DSC06264

Hallgrímskirkja

There was an observation deck with great views! Make sure you keep an open mind when you travel – my friend wasn’t crazy about the South Shore tour and I wasn’t crazy about some of the sites she wanted to see, but we were both very glad we went after all.

View from Hallgrímskirkja

View from Hallgrímskirkja

After Hallgrímskirkja, we wandered the area nearby before stopping in a cafe for a warm drink and snack. The cafe seemed fairly touristy, but we enjoyed it anyways.

Read More…

Iceland Day 2: South Shore Tour – Reynisfjara Basalt Columns, Solheimajökull Glacier, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls

This is a continuation of the Iceland trip report, you can read more here:
Center Hotel Plaza Review
Iceland Day 1: 871 Settlement Exhibition and Northern Lights Tour

After a short night sleep following our Northern Lights failed tour the night before, we were picked up early at our hotel for our South Coast tour by mini bus by island guide tours. This tour was not included in our package trip, but I had read about Iceland’s South Shore and was dying to go. My friend wasn’t as excited about going to a black sand beach in January in Iceland as I was – but went with me because she’s a good friend. Luckily it was a right decision, and the tour was amazing.

We started out with a long drive watching the sunrise.

Sunrise as we left Reykjavik

Sunrise as we left Reykjavik

Towards the beginning of the tour we dropped off a couple people who were going on the glacier walking tour. When we stopped, I got out of the bus for a minute to take pictures. The wind was so incredibly strong I almost fell over. But the scenery in Iceland is incredible.

Scenery where the wind almost knocked me over!

Scenery where the wind almost knocked me over!

Our first tour stop was the Reynisfjara black sand beach, with amazing basalt columns. Part of the reason I was interested in Iceland in the first place was due to the amazing geographical features. It did not disappoint.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Basalt Columns

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Basalt Columns

The beach was incredible. And I’ve always wanted to see a black sand beach. It was cold, windy and sprinkling but we toughed it out for some pictures.

Me on the Basalt Columns for Scale

Me on the Basalt Columns for Scale

When we got back on the bus my friend said she initally didn’t understand why I wanted to go to a beach in cold weather – but that she was really glad we did. Our next stop was the town of Vik for lunch in a small cafe, the Strondin Bistro. Lunch was fine, but nothing to write home about. Unlike our next stop – the Solheimajökull glacier!

Town of Vik - lunch stop

Town of Vik – lunch stop

It was breathtaking. And freezing.

Glacier

Solheimajökull Glacier

We were all shivering and soaked from rain, but it was totally worth it.

Solheimajökull Glacier

Solheimajökull Glacier

It was also somewhat amusing in that we watched a guy fall in up to his thighs. He was fine, just cold. Apparently his daughter had requested he bring back ice from Iceland. So he was trying to fill a water bottle with water.

Solheimajökull Glacier

Solheimajökull Glacier

After the glacier, we headed to Skogafoss waterfall. It was impressive, but a fairly quick stop.

Skogafoss Waterfall

Skogafoss Waterfall

The final stop of the day was the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Also neat, and we made it there right as the sun began to set.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

We then headed back on a fairly lengthy bus ride to Reykjavik. We had originally planned to go on a repeat Northern Lights tour that night, but it was cancelled due to the rain. I was disappointed, but cold enough from our day outside I was okay with not spending hours out in the snow again! We would try again the next day.

Our guide’s name was Sola, and she was incredibly knowledgeable about Iceland and was a great tour guide. I highly recommend this tour if you get the chance! Also, if you go make sure you have good shoes – there was a lot of ice to maneuver around!

 

 

 

First Day in Reykjavik, 871 Settlement Exhibition and Northern Lights Tour

This is a continuation of the Iceland trip report, you can read more below:
Center Hotel Plaza Review

After breakfast in the hotel, we decided to walk around Reykjavik for a bit. A few doors down from the hotel, we found The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavik 871. If I recall correctly, admission was about $12.

Reykjavik 871

Reykjavik 871

The exhibit contains excavated ruins from a hall with a wall dated before 871 AD. The exhibit also has displays attempting to demonstrate what life was like for the first settlers of Reykjavik.

Reykjavik 871 Remains

Reykjavik 871 Remains

We spent about an hour walking around and examining everything on display. It was interesting. They had neat displays such as how to write your name in runes.

Reykjavik 871 - Runes Writing

Reykjavik 871 – Write Your Name in Runes

Shortly after emerging from the exhibition, it began snowing. Probably seems somewhat insignificant for Iceland, but for my friend from Florida who was traveling with me – it was the first time she had ever seen snow!

A snowy Rekyjavik

Snow in Rekyjavik

After wandering around for a bit we decided to grab lunch. We found a fish and chips place and went in. The food was great! However, it was also expensive. We learned very quickly that it wasn’t just the Icelandic Fish and Chips prices – food in Iceland is expensive most places!

At this point jet lag kicked in and since we had a Northern Lights tour starting at 10pm, we decided to give in and take a nap. We woke up just in time to wander down to the harbor to meet up with our tour. Our package trip included a Northern Lights by boat tour. Unfortunately, the seas were too rough to go by boat – so we went by bus.  The bus drove for a good 40 minutes into what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We got out and waited outside looking for any sign of the Northern Lights. I got a good chance to play with my camera and figure out how I might try to capture images if we did see them!

Northern Lights Tour Location

Northern Lights Tour Location

The tour operator provided jumpsuits for anyone who wanted. My friend and I grabbed them but didn’t wind up putting them on.

The Tour Provided Jumpsuits

The Tour Provided Jumpsuits

We waited in the snow for a long time trying to see any glimpse of the Northern Lights. We did not succeed. Luckily, the tour came with a guarantee. If you paid for the boat tour and didn’t go by boat, you could try again the next night. If you paid for the bus tour and didn’t see anything, you could also try again. So we decided we would try again the following night and hope for better luck. We returned to the hotel exhausted, but had to get up early for our South Shore tour the next day.

The Iceland Report Begins! Center Hotel Plaza Review

Last October I saw someone tweet about a great deal on a package trip to Iceland. I found a friend crazy enough to go with me and booked it! It was an incredibly reasonable trip including airfare, hotel, breakfast and tours. My friend and I wanted to attempt to see the Northern Lights, so we decided to go at the end of January/early February. Crazy? Maybe.  But wait to make your decision after you read the trip report.

We arrived in Iceland very early in the morning local time. We were somewhat exhausted from our overnight flight with minimal sleep, but had to get to the hotel. Keflavik Airport was a nice first impression of Iceland. Clean with lots of shops and restaurants. We stopped quickly to withdraw cash. I used the airport ATM and pulled out a little from my Bluebird account for a $2 fee. Not bad! We found out almost everywhere we went accepted credit cards, so the cash wasn’t really necessary. But better safe than sorry.

We added on transportation from Keflavik into Reykjavik  using the fly bus when we booked our trip. It took about 45 minutes. I was excited to find the bus had wifi, it made the trip go very quickly even though it was too dark to see anything outside the windows. We arrived into downtown Reykjavik around 7am. Our hotel, the Center Hotel Plaza, very understandably did not have a room ready yet. They gave us the option to check in early for 40 euro. Since it included the chance to grab breakfast that morning and relax in the hotel for a bit we went for it!

The room was basic but perfect for our trip. We had two twin beds.

Center Plaza Hotel Room

Center Plaza Hotel Room

The rest of the room contained a desk, chair and tv.

Center Plaza Hotel Room

Center Plaza Hotel Room

Our only complaint was that it had the style of shower where it seems entirely impossible to shower without getting water everywhere in the bathroom. Maybe Americans are just messy shower takers? I don’t get it.

Center Plaza Hotel Bathroom

Center Plaza Hotel Bathroom

The hotel’s location was great. Right near the harbor for our Northern Lights tour, but also right near many restaurants and stores for easy access – which is important when it is snowing and you’re from Florida!

Breakfast in the hotel was also great and included breads, fruits, eggs, sausage and some amazing cookies occasionally. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any pictures, as the breakfast area was often crowded. The other hotel guests seemed to come from all over, a high majority being European. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the hotel. The location was nice, the staff was friendly and helpful and many of our tours picked us up right at our hotel.

SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club Lounge Access

I’m running slightly behind here on trip reports, but wanted to mention this method for lounge access. Way back in October I saw some folks on twitter mention a great deal Icelandair was running on package trips to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. I know this blog is primarily aimed at using points towards travel, but this was too good of a deal to pass up! For less than $800 per person we got a four night trip to Iceland including transfers from the airport, four nights hotel with breakfast, a Northern Lights and Blue Lagoon tour.

The flight left from JFK, and we had to find our own transportation there. I wound up buying a reasonable JetBlue flight. It was the first time I had flown JetBlue in a long time – if not ever, but it was great! I was debating between JetBlue or Delta hoping for an upgrade as a Silver Medallion (it’s happened before). When I looked up JetBlue legroom – it was almost as much as Delta’s first class! So I went for the JetBlue option and enjoyed the flight and the fact every seat had tvs.

The JetBlue flight I found landed pretty early in NYC before our flight out that night. I was debating about going into the city, but it snowed a lot that week so I quickly changed my mind. I know, I know – headed to Iceland and trying to avoid snow is dumb. But I’m from Florida and was concerned about possibly missing the flight to Iceland. I had seen a write-up on Flyertalk about a lounge access reimbursement program called SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club. You pay a membership fee for a year, and then once a month are eligible for reimbursements in the form of a mail-in rebate.

My existing lounge access options weren’t going to work for the Terminal I needed for Icelandair, but there was a United lounge. The Lounge was listed on the SkyGuide site as being eligible: http://www.skyguideclub.com. Based on the info I found on flyer talk there was a $20 discounted membership option for the Executive Club. I called and joined a few days before my trip.

When I got to JFK, I went into the United Club and paid the $50 one day fee. I spent several hours in the lounge relaxing before my flight. Nothing fancy – and definitely not worth $50. But I’m okay with $20 for free snacks and drinks and a quieter resting place. Especially if that $20 gets you twelve visits per year. My membership also came with a free laptop bag that was mailed to me.

After the trip I mailed in my receipt following the procedure on the SkyGuide site. I received a check back within the allotted time frame! It was very straight forward and I had no issues with it. I believe the maximum reimbursement is $50 per visit, so some clubs may not be fully covered. If you’re looking for occasional lounge access it may be worth a try!

Our Park Hyatt Tokyo Stay

This is a continuation of the Japan Trip Report. You can read more here:
Booking Lufthansa First Class Using United Miles
Lufthansa First Class Denver to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Osaka
Japan Day 1: Nijo Castle and Kinkaku-ji
Westin Osaka Review

Japan Day 2 (Part 1) – Fushimi Inari and Nara
Japan Day 2 (Part 2) – Bullet Train/Nabana no Sato Illumination
Conrad Tokyo Review
Tokyo Day 1 – Tokyo Free Guide, Geisha Show and Meiji Shrine
Tokyo Day 2 – Imperial Palace Bike Ride, Yoyogi Park, Harajuku, Cat Cafe!
Tokyo Day 3 – Odaiba, Toyota Mega Web Showroom and Akihabara
Tokyo Day 4 – Day Trip to Hakone and Lake Ashinoko
Tokyo Day 5 – Ueno Zoo and  Akihabara
Tokyo Day 6 – Tsukiji Fish Market and Alice’s Fantasy Dining

We had spent a majority of our time in Tokyo at the Conrad Tokyo – and ABSOLUTELY loved it. We were sad to leave, but excited to check out the Park Hyatt Tokyo. A few months before our trip American Airlines cancelled our flight home! We had to rebook on the following day. We were forced to spend an extra night in Tokyo. Worst problem ever, right? Right around this time I kept seeing reviews of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, and it seemed like everyone loved it. I realized I almost had enough Ultimate Rewards (22,000 Ultimate Rewards transferred to Hyatt – now 30,000 with the recent Hyatt category changes) to book our last night there.

I applied for Hyatt’s Diamond Challenge shortly before our trip – which gave me temporary Diamond status at Hyatt based on my Hilton Gold status. You can read more about applying for the Diamond Challenge here. With Hyatt Diamond status I had fairly high expectations for the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

We arrived and were warmly greeted and asked to wait a minute before being checked-in. They sat us down in the check-in area, and checked us in there. Based on other reviews I had read, I’d heard of Diamond members receiving an in-room check-in. That was not the case for us. We did however receive a two category upgrade to a Park View King room that was a corner room with a view of Mt. Fuji (as requested by email prior to the stay). We were escorted up to our room and shown around. Our luggage was brought up shortly after.

Park View King

Park View King

Our only complaint about the amazing room is that we heard a loud guy in the corner room next to ours for a decent portion of the night. It was surprising coming off of the tranquility of the Conrad Tokyo. Still a great room overall. As a Diamond member, we were given a bottle of wine to enjoy during our stay.

Diamond Welcome Amenity Park Hyatt Tokyo

Diamond Welcome Amenity Park Hyatt Tokyo

There was also a box of snacks from the bakery as well as flowers. We were celebrating our anniversary.

Snacks and flowers.

Snacks and flowers

If you notice the keys on the table, those were the actual room keys. The Park Hyatt Tokyo has actual keys on a Tiffany’s key rings. They were a nice touch. The Park Hyatt Tokyo did a great job in helping us celebrate our anniversary. They greeted us and told us happy anniversary immediately, and told us we would get a picture taken in the library entrance that would be provided to us upon check out.

Read More…

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