Our fifth port of call, Isafjordur (or Ísafjörður in the local alphabet) is a small town of a little over 3000 inhabitants in north-western Iceland. The weather, that had not been too warm before, was even worse now with temperatures barely above freezing. Unsurprisingly considering the size of the town we had to tender ashore, which was an adventure in itself as the sea was not exactly calm. The disembarkation process via tender was surprisingly smooth, considering the ship was full and therefore there were probably closer to 3000 passengers onboard.
We had scouted the internet beforehand on what to do in each different port of call and in Isafjordur the only thing really to do seemed climbing the mountain that rose right next to the village. As a guide from a local trekking website claimed the climb was relatively easy for a person of normal health, we got on our way onwards and upwards. Either we choose the wrong route or the terrain had changed since the guide was written as the climb turned out to be not that easy. Eventually we were forced to turn back not too far from the top when the slope, largely covered in loose rocks, turned too steep to safely climb. Still, the view was definitely worth the climb.
After sampling a local delicacy, resembling a large cinnamon roll covered in chocolate but tasting quite different from what you’d expect, we headed back to the ship. Fortunately for the fact we were wet and cold after our climbing expedition, on this day there was a 50% discount on all spa product, including access to the thermal suite. So there we went. Originating as I am from the country that invented the sauna (or at least we claim we did) I would have plenty to say about the arrangements of the thermal suite, but I’ll spare you of most of them.
On the door to the thermal suite there was a note, in a multitude of languages, stating it was absolutely forbidden to be naked inside the thermal suite. On entering the sauna however, I was faced with a room full of naked Germans. Since in Finland it’s absolutely forbidden not to be naked in a sauna I followed suit. This did result in something of a problem as all the doors within the thermal suite were glass doors and therefore it was impossible to avoid seeing persons of the opposite gender naked. This did not seem to bother the Germans and it certainly didn’t bother us, but the unfortunate Italian who was in the sauna at the same time seemed rather embarrassed. The women’s sauna, I’m told, had a temperature of only 65 degrees C (149 F), while the men’s sauna had a more suitable 80 C (176 F) though due to the dry air and no chance of pouring water on the stones it felt cooler (for me anyway).
After the detour to the sauna we were again off to the disco to look at the view while departing and then the to the buffet. Afterwards we went to see the night’s show, an (US) American themed production described by the cruise director as ”a typically American night”. If a series of snapshots from US history in song and dance form counts as ”typically American” then yes, it was that. While the show was good, I walked out of the theatre thinking it had been a bit tactless putting such a clearly nation-specific show during one of our nights in Iceland. The same criticism applies to the previous night’s Italian theme (which we admittedly mostly missed). It would have perhaps been better to hold such themes during days at sea and select something more neutral for our days in Iceland. Or better yet, have a show with some kind of link to Iceland or Scandinavia in general during our stay in Iceland.
May 30 – Reykjavik
For the first time since departing Kiel, we could enjoy sunshine in Reykjavik. Which didn’t mean it was warm. After the small Akureyri and Isafjordur, Reykjavik was something of a shock in the sense that it was a large city with high-rise buildings filling the whole horizon. Not exactly the cute small houses we were expecting based on what is normally shown of the city. On closer inspection the city turned out to be fairly modest, but at least by Icelandic standards this was a Big City.
Following a visit to a museum built around an excavated Viking longhouse from c. 871 we made our way to one of the city’s more unusual sights: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a hot dog stand selected as the best in Europe by The Guardian. I’m not sure if they were the best in Europe, but the local pylsus were certainly very good. As the POESIA had moored away from the city harbour, after eating our hot dogs we promenaded back to the ship, visiting various small local shops along the way.
Once onboard, we followed the established pattern from the previous nights of watching the departure from the disco followed by a buffet dinner. As a note bout the public rooms it ought to be mentioned that in all the lounges, including the disco, there are sofas in front of the windows with their back facing outside. Therefore finding a comfortable spot from which to watch the scenery can be difficult, as you’ll either have to sit sideways and crane your neck to see outside, or choose a seat further away and have a sofa blocking a part of your view. Furthermore the observation lounge/disco faces aft and the only forward-facing public room is the gym.
This nights’ show was, perhaps a bit unusually, themed on classical music (all of it, of course, by Italian composers). Performing were Trio Stravinsky, two violins and a piano, who normally played at the atrium during the evenings, supplemented by some backing tapes and three vocalists.
May 31 – at sea
After the sunny day in Reykjavik things were back to normal with choppy seas and dark skies. In the end we spent most of the day sleeping in our cabin, a combination effect of seasickness pills and the horde of activity of the two previous days.
The evening was another formal night and, despite the fact there were two more full days of the cruise left, a farewell night. This time we didn’t miss the captain’s cocktail. I later discovered that Giacomo Romano, who was the captain of the POESIA on this cruise, had also been the captain of the MSC OPERA when MaritimeMatters’ Peter Knego visited that ship in 2006.
June 1 – at sea
We were supposed to call at Lerwick on the Shetland Islands on this day, but due to continuing stormy weather tendering would have been impossible and resulted in the ship continuing straight towards Kiel instead.
One restaurant that I have neglected to mention thus far is the Kaito Sushi Bar on deck 7, due to the simple reason that we did not sample it. I’m not a friend of sushi, but I do think the idea of a genuine sushi bar on a cruise ship is excellent. However, the restaurant was empty night after night. On this day there was even a chance of dining there free of charge, as two randomly selected tables would get a free dinner between 8 and 9 PM. Despite this, when we passed the bar after 8 PM the place was, again, empty. And the free of charge dinner didn’t tempt us either, as we had just dined at the buffet. As we passed the restaurant I head one of the staff tell a higher-ranking crew member ”no-one, just like last night”. At least on this cruise the sushi bar probably was a complete waste of money for MSC.
June 2 – at sea
Instead of taking our breakfast again at Villa Pompeiana, we opted for testing the cabin breakfast. This turned out to be a very good idea as we had forgotten to set an alarm and as such would have missed the breakfast service in the restaurants anyway. As the weather was nice for once, we spent much of the day on outer deck taking the sun and sampling the ice cream stand that had been tempting me the whole trip. The ice creams and sorbets turned out to be both tasty and cheap.
The indulgence of ice cream had to be followed by our last visit to the gym… though we were both forced to take it easy, after all the walking around (and walking stairs up and down on the ship) of the previous days our legs had had quite enough exercise already. After packing we headed for one last dinner at Il Palladio and were, for once, pleasantly surprised. Though in part this might have been because we now knew to avoid the most problematic dishes.
After savouring our last chance of listening to trios Stravinsky and Jazz, and (non-alcoholic) drinks celebrating our last night onboard, we retired for the night.
June 3 – Kiel
Disembarkation process was, again, surprisingly painless. In port we were greeted by a familiar sight as the AIDACARA was again in port, and while waiting to get ashore (we were amongst the last groups to disembark) two more ships familiar from two weeks ago passed us, namely the STENA SCANDINAVICA and COLOR MAGIC. Much, much later that same evening we eventually made it back home to delightfully warm Finland after what had been, despite my occasional complaints, a very enjoyable cruise.
As a final note, if you have ever considered taking a cruise to Iceland and the associated other North Atlantic islands, do it. Most of the ports of call are small enough to be seen in a day and you’ll get to see them in comfort. If you have considered taking an MSC cruise, do it. But to get the best MSC experience, do it on the Mediterranean and choose a different line for Iceland.
Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.