Taking a road trip around Iceland has become a bit of a cliché. You pick up a vehicle in Keflavik right after landing, and hit Þjóðvegur 1, also known as Route 1 or the Ring Road. You stay in camping grounds along the way and make your own meals from outrageously expensive groceries purchased at the local Bónus. But is it really a vacation? When has eating hastily made sandwiches and sleeping on a mattress in the back of a car that barely passes for a campervan ever been considered a good use of your PTO? And is it really the best way to see Iceland? I think not.
Save your hard-earned money and your painfully amassed vacation days for the best trip to Iceland ever. One where you live on freshly baked chocolate croissants and cocktails instead of sliced white bread and skyr (an Icelandic dairy product that’s similar to yogurt). One where you’ll sleep on a cloud of crisp white sheets that’s straightened up twice a day by someone that’s not you. One where you explore the small towns of Iceland without having to exhaust yourself driving to get there. One where you see whales, dolphins, and puffins without risking getting into a car crash. A cruise circumnavigating Iceland with the all-inclusive Atlas Ocean Voyages can do just that, and much, much more.
Who is Atlas Ocean Voyages?
Atlas Ocean Voyages is a luxury and adventure-focused cruise line that launched in August 2021. They currently operate only two ships, World Navigator and World Traveller, both of which accommodate no more than 196 passengers and just as many crew. Three more ships are scheduled to join the fleet in the next few years.
Atlas Ocean Voyages travels to multiple destinations, including:
- The Mediterranean
- The Caribbean
- The Middle East
- South America
- Across the Atlantic
- Northern Europe
- Iceland and Greenland
- Patagonia and the Falklands
- The Arctic
The cruise line’s specialty, however, is to take passengers to lesser-known ports of call within those bigger destinations. Thanks to its small yacht-style ships, it can make its way to remote areas that other vessels can’t access. If you’re keen to take a comfortable vacation but still want to get off the tourist track, you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for with Atlas Ocean Voyages.
I traveled on the World Traveller (launched in November 2022) this past September as part of the nine-night Ring of Iceland sail, and I must say that, despite being a fairly new cruise line, everything at Atlas World Voyages runs like clockwork. There are no kinks to iron out, even on a ship that’s barely one year old. That may be why I encountered so many return passengers, most of whom had gone on an Antarctic cruise with Atlas World Voyages and decided to trust the cruise line with another bucket-list sail. It was my first time traveling with this cruise line, but the promise of luxury, adventure, and remote destinations were beyond fulfilled, enticing me to book with them again as quickly as possible.
What’s a yacht-style cruise like?
Yacht-style cruising is about traveling on small ships with fewer than 500 passengers. The reduced size of the ship (in this case 413 feet long and 33 feet wide) allows for access to remote and lesser-known ports of call where no other cruise ship can go. More often than not, you’ll dock in small towns you’ve never heard of and where there are no other international visitors, only locals going about their day. We stopped in villages of a few hundred people (Patreksfjörður, Vopnafjörður, Djúpivogur) where there were no exciting shops or fine restaurants but where the hiking trails were excellent, the wildlife was abundant, and the local pools were incredibly scenic, warm, and inviting.
But yacht-style cruising also means that when you’re on board, you have a lot of space for yourself. If you don’t want to run into or interact with other passengers, you don’t have to. During our sail in September, the ship carried only 96 passengers, making for a very tranquil trip. During the entire voyage, my partner and I never had to share the pool or the sauna, and we found ourselves very much alone on the running deck and the secluded small deck at the bow of the ship where heated benches allow you to watch for whales in extreme comfort. Meal times in the dining room (the Lisboa Restaurant) were intimate affairs, too, with neighbors far enough away that you could forget they were even there.
Atlas Ocean Voyages cruises are all-inclusive. What does that mean?
Atlas Ocean Voyages claims it’s an all-inclusive cruise line, and it certainly sticks to its word. There’s no such thing as a drinks package, so you can guzzle all the cappuccinos, cokes, fancy wines, and daiquiris your heart desires without ever having to pay more. The same goes for the food — there are no specialty restaurants for which you need to fork out extra dollars. The extensive menu in the dining room changes every day, and you can have as much as you’d like.
But there’s more than just a cornucopia of free food and drinks to enjoy. Gratuities are included in the price of your trip, so there’s no need for you to worry about that final bill. And while excursions are extra, there are some fun outings that you can take part in for free. Indeed, when the weather permits it, the experts on the expedition team take passengers on Zodiac jaunts to look for wildlife, unique rock formations, or local flora. There’s no need to book those — they just happen when possible and are free of charge.
The same goes for visits to the bridge. No need to book or pay for a special tour (which is usually the case with other cruise lines) to say hello to the captain and even sit in his chair. You can pop in when the sign on the door says you’re allowed to and have a chat with the big boss.
And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll also get some very nice treats along the way. At the start of our trip, to our surprise and joy, every passenger was given branded water bottles, backpacks, and Arctic parkas. And if you need a pair of binoculars or walking sticks, the crew is more than happy to lend them to you — for the low, low price of nothing.
But most importantly, every passenger benefits from emergency medical evacuation and repatriation insurance. (Note that on certain sailings, Atlas Ocean Voyages goes as far as covering the price of a private jet service, a pre-cruise hotel, and entry to national parks.)
What makes Atlas Ocean Voyages different from other cruise lines?
The check-in and check-out process
On cruises, embarkation and disembarkation can be stressful and messy situations, with hordes of people crowding around with their paperwork, luggage everywhere, and sometimes very long waits. That’s not the case with Atlas Ocean Voyages.
My partner and I were the first passengers on the ship and were checked in in the super comfortable Atlas Lounge with cocktails and canapés in hand. In just five minutes, we were done and directed to our cabin, which was ready for us. On disembarkation day, while we arrived at 8 AM in Reykjavik, we were allowed to leave our luggage on board until 1 PM and come in and out of the ship as we pleased. Our room was out of bounds, of course, but we were allowed to relax in the common areas and enjoy the onboard cafe (Paula’s Pantry) with its specialty hot beverages, treats, sandwiches, and fruit juices until it was time to get to the airport. That’s unheard of in the cruise world.
Despite being an upscale cruise line, Atlas Ocean Voyages is far from being stuffy and pretentious. Yes, the crew is here to pamper you and fulfill your every need, and the decor is worthy of a five-star hotel, but the atmosphere is very casual. That’s because this is a cruise line that caters to outdoorsy travelers who don’t care much about dressing up and making a fuss about anything. There’s no dress code on board.
For the same reason, the spa, the sauna, the pool, and the hot tub are not the ridiculously lavish kind, but they are luxurious in subtle ways. The facilities are small but very well equipped and impeccably kept with perfectly folded fluffy towels and not a speck of dust to be spotted. The staff is always on hand to help you if needed, and the outdoor pool’s salt water is wonderfully warm.
Unlike other cruise lines, Atlas Ocean Voyages does not brag about its food offering, but it certainly should. My partner and I agree that this was the best food we had on a cruise (and we’ve tasted a few, including one that claims to have the best food at sea.) All three meals on board were served in the dining room, with breakfast and lunch featuring the most bountiful buffet I’ve ever seen, and dinner being a la carte. The dinner menu has a different theme every night, so there’s no repeat dishes.
As a vegetarian who likes to dabble in veganism, I was very pleased to see that Atlas Ocean Voyages has a different plant-based menu every single night, and a whole vegan section in the buffet. The cooking team even goes as far as making vegan croissants. And I can attest that they were just as rich and flaky as the non-vegan ones.
Beyond the delicious offerings from the dining room, passengers on board World Traveller are also able to enjoy daily afternoon tea in the Dome Observation Lounge, as well as self-serve ice cream from the ice cream stand on the pool deck, and pastries from Paula’s Pantry, the onboard cafe.
Why cruise around Iceland with Atlas Ocean Voyages?
Iceland is beautiful, but it’s also a very expensive vacation destination. If you’re thinking about going for the aforementioned Ring Road road trip, make sure you crunch the numbers first. Renting a car, paying for gas, booking campsites and hotels, groceries shopping, restaurant meals, and activities — they will all cost you a pretty penny. While cruising around Iceland isn’t cheap either, the Atlas Ocean Voyages’ all-inclusive price makes it much more palatable. And if you keep your eyes peeled for deals on the cruise line’s website, you’re likely to find something that will work for your budget, especially last-minute offers. Atlas Ocean Voyages has several scheduled sailings that’ll take you around Iceland in 2024.
You’ll get to see and do more
Driving around Iceland, or getting on day trips from Reykjavik, isn’t the ideal way to see the country. You’ll miss so much by being behind the wheel or in a bus. From the deck of a ship, with flora and fauna experts at hand, and by spending entire days in remote small towns, you’ll get to see so much more. Without the burden of having to do anything, whether that’s cooking or driving, my partner and I managed to hike 10 miles in every small town we stopped at. We got to cross the Arctic Circle, see the northern lights, observe more whales, seals, and Arctic birds than we ever thought possible, and we were never too tired to do it all over again the next day.