Monday, August 3, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 10 - Isafjordur, Iceland

Legacy of the Gulf stream

All of northwestern Europe, as well as Iceland and the Faroes, is habitable because the Gulf Stream brings (relatively) warm water across the pond from North America.

What they don't tell you is that this warm water evaporates, making for a cloudy climate. Sort of like Seattle, or Cleveland in the winter.

Today being no exception, we are approaching Isafjordur in a bit of a gloom. Low overcast, and spitting rain. But, it's looking brighter in the east!

Approach to Isafjordur, on the Northwest Coast of Iceland


A Gloomy Approach to a Green Land Named Iceland

Kathy looked out the window and said "looks like a raincoat kind of a day". It's 8am, the port is open, and nobody seems to be getting off. There are, however, several tour busses lined up outside the gate, so we assume there are organized tours scheduled.


A Rainy Day in Isafjordur

We had planned to debark and walk about the town but... It looks like about a quarter mile into town and Keith's back aches, it's raining, and neither of us strongly feels the need of retail therapy, so we may just relax away another day. How long can this relaxing thing keep going on before it gets old? We don't know, but tomorrow starts a flurry of paid shore tours, so it looks like we'll never have the chance to see how long our systems could tolerate this relaxation.


Isafjordur is at the End of a Spur off the Iceland Ring Road

Isafjordur is the Light at the End of This Tunnel


A Beautiful Small Icelandic Boat


Today’s Crew Activities Include Lifeboat Drill

BTW, Kathy wants all to know that she won $50 at blackjack yesterday. What she doesn't wish publicized is the $120 she lost on prior days, because that would cause her to seem the looser, on average. Sigh...

As the haze closes in on Isafjordur, this may be a good time to talk a bit more about shipboard life.

Dining opportunities every day include:

-the Lido cafeteria-style restaurant (daily breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night "snack") – the place with no trays:


The Lido Cafeteria

-the Rotterdam formal dining room (daily breakfast, lunch, dinner):


The Rotterdam Dining Room

-the terrace grill (daily burgers & dogs by the pool):


The Lido Terrace Grill

-the lido poolside buffet (ethnic specialties by the pool – Dutch one day, Indonesian another day, Indian yet another day, etc.):


Lido Poolside Buffet

-and finally, the Pinnacle Grill (“gourmet” meals at an extra charge, $10pp lunch, $20pp dinner):


Pinnacle Grill

Keith resents being asked to pay for things he thinks should be included in the base fare; Kathy counters "that’s the system; deal with it, and smile!"

We have a person in the family who manages a chain of movie theaters. He tells us they are content to just cover operating cost with admissions. They make their profit from the concessions.

We think it's even more so in the cruise business. In fact, as prices plummeted last winter, we wouldn't be surprised to learn that HAL actually lost money on this trip. They fill their boats, at any cost, because their profit is from the extras.

Evidence of cost control is everywhere. There seem to be fewer Indonesian boys scurrying around being obsequious, especially in the Lido Café where we need them most, since they removed the trays. The default portions are smaller, in the dining room and in the cafeteria. We don't know what's going on with the deck crew, and in the engine room. Duh...

While everything you need (room, food, entertainment, and navigation services) is included in the base fare, there are numerous extras available for a "nominal" extra charge. One of these services is laundry. Fortunately, HAL provides Laundromats on most of their ships. We do hear that they have stopped installing them on the largest of their new ships. I guess they really want us to pay those high laundry service fees.


The Ubiquitous Laundromat

Beverages are another prime example. Complimentary coffee and tea are available 24/7 in the Lido. Pop and alcoholic beverages are an extra charge. $2.50 for a can of pop, $6.50 + 15% service charge for a mixed drink (Kathy has one a day, two on port days when drinks are 2 for one during happy hour). Interestingly, the 2 for 1 drinks are substantially smaller; imagine that!

Gambling is another "extra" income source, although the dealers are complaining that all the old farts on this cruise go to bed early and don't gamble the night away like the younger crowds on the Caribbean cruises. Keith was appalled to learn that you can gamble on credit aboard the HAL ships. Up to one thousand dollars per day can be charged to the room account in the casino. Before boarding, every passenger must register a credit card with the ship. All gambling charges are backstopped by this credit card. I don’t know what happens if the traveler exceeds his or her credit card limit.

Other extras include internet ($), telephone ($$$), spa, onboard shopping, etc., etc., etc. All transactions aboard are cashless, with the room key being the magic “charge” card.

Another extra is tips. Tips used to be discretionary, but in the day of the cheap cruiser (not me, of course), tips have become mandatory. A mandatory gratuity is charged to the room account every day, at the rate of $11 per person per day. For this 35 day cruise our charge for tips will be $770. And Kathy thinks I should be tipping cash on top of this. What’s wrong with this picture?

To give HAL the benefit of the doubt, they claim that 100% of the tips are distributed to the service crew. That's another reason to fill the boats at an cost; to pay the help.

I mentioned the older demographic of our 1173 fellow passengers. We are guessing the average age to be 70. There are very few children aboard, certainly less than a dozen. This is radically different from our prior Alaska cruise, where many passengers were in their younger years. There were a lot of hard bodies on the Alaska cruise. There are a lot of canes and walkers, plus a few wheelchairs, some motorized, on this cruise.

Overheard in the Crows Nest - ice permitting, we will be going back through Prince Christian Sound on our return trip. Keith is excited! I hope we have sunny weather next passage, but I'm not sanguine. As the Captain says, this is the North Atlantic, not the South Pacific.

Morning was whiled away in the Crow's Nest, the Explorer's Lounge, and the computer lab. Lunch in the Lido was followed by more of the above for Keith, and a movie for Kathy. Keith is still fiddling with his ice pilot notes from yesterday. We met in the Crow's Nest at 4 to watch our departure from Isafjordur, then supper in the Lido at 6. After supper Kathy played Blackjack, and Keith did the hot tub again. Boy, does that feel good on an achy back. There is no lasting benefit, but it feels so good while I'm in the tub.


Relaxing in the Crow’s Nest


We Say Goodby to Isafjordur

Tomorrow our destination is deep inside a narrow fjord, which we enter at 4am. Keith is going to try to be up for it. With all the hours they have stolen from us it's going to be difficult, but he is going to try.

In the meantime, it's blowing 20 off the port bow, so we're doing something of a corkscrew motion. We hope it helps us sleep.

The Lido Pool Sloshes in a Corkscrew Sea

Stay tuned...

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