Iceland

July 2019

Iceland is absolutely beautiful and I cannot wait to return. It has so many things to see—from volcanoes to waterfalls. I found the natives of Iceland to be friendly and helpful. Iceland has an upbeat yet easy going vibe that I really like. Whether I was interacting with hotel staff or the cashier at the mall, the people just seemed content. I was there in July and while we expected it to get dark at 11:30, it never got dark. At 1:30 in the morning it still looked like 6:30pm. That fascinated me. For someone who works late into the night like me, that could be a serious problem if I lived in Iceland. I would never sleep. I hope to return in the next few months to experience the aurora borealis also known as the Northern Lights. I understand this is not guaranteed even during Northern Light season from late August to mid-April; the weather conditions have to be perfect. A combination of darkness, clear skies and northern light activity is needed. Being in Iceland from late September to late March maximizes one’s chances of seeing them.

I stayed at two hotels in Iceland-- Hotel Ódinsvé and Grand Hotel Reykjavík. I would stay at both again. Each offers something different. It would be hard to choose between the two.

Now, onto my tips and reviews…

If you are planning a trip to Iceland, here are my tips:

  1. Everything is expensive. So, don’t waste too much time shopping around. Expect to pay about $20-$25 USD for a burger, fish and chips, pizza and the like.
  2. Rent a car. Kevflavik Airport is approximately 45 minutes from Rekyjavik and the drive is easy depending on weather conditions. It is pretty much a straight shot. A taxi can be expensive. Uber and Lyft are not available in Iceland.
  3. When returning your car, buy gas at the station at the airport. It is the same price.
  4. If you go during the summer, remember to eat dinner. Since the sun didn’t really go down, we lost track of time and forgot to eat at “dinner time.” At 10pm, we found restaurants open but most were only serving alcohol.
  5. Use your credit card. US dollars and Euros are accepted. However, change will be given in Icelandic krona.

 

Hotel Ódinsvé

July 2019

LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION! This cute and quaint little boutique hotel is in the heart of Reykjavik. You can walk to everywhere from here. The waterfront is a mile or less away and Hallgrímskirkja Church is approximately 3 blocks away. Hallgrímskirkja Church is also a pick up point for one of the Golden Cirlce Tours which is very convenient.

There was a major road construction project going on while we stayed at the Hotel Ódinsvé. The hotel is so nice and the location is so perfect that we were not bothered at all by the construction. The room was absolutely lovely while the hallway was a bit dark and dated. But who cares? I was not staying in the hallway. This hotel still uses keys which is adorable. There is a restaurant at the hotel, but I did not eat there. It has good reviews but I was not tempted by anything on the menu.

 

Grand Hotel Reykjavík

July 2019

Luxurious and modern! This hotel is just like its name—GRAND. The lobby is beautifully decorated with multiple sitting areas and a bar. You can purchase a pastry and/or have a drink.

I was thoroughly impressed with the room. From the oversized bathroom with the heated floor and jacuzzi tub to the panoramic view, this room had it all!

The hotel has a spa, a restaurant and a gym. Unfortunately, I did not get to use the spa nor eat at the restaurant. The gym is a bit small, but you can get plenty of exercise walking around Reykjavik. The  hotel does not have a pool and recommends guests use the local community geothermal pool called Laugardalslaug. Interacting with native Icelanders at Laugardalslaug and getting a perspective on life in Iceland from someone who grew up there was great. However, Laugardalslaug itself was run down and disappointing. Taking pictures is strictly prohibited. So, none are included here. If you go to the Blue Lagoon, definitely do not go to  Laugardalslaug afterwards.

This hotel is not far from one of the malls in Reykjavik but I did not find the location great in terms of walking to attractions or just being out and enjoying the surrounding area. We had a car and used it while staying here. Nonetheless, the hotel is beautiful and I would stay here again. Absolutely LOVED this hotel.

The Blue Lagoon

July 2019

This geothermal pool is also a must see. It is beautiful, peaceful and a bit surreal. The water is wonderful! It is not cheap, but I enjoyed it enough to go again. It was approximately $100 for two hours. That includes your wristband, locker, conditioner for your hair, a towel, a face mask and a drink. The drink can be a smoothie, a slushy or a beer. Wine may be a possibility but I cannot remember. I had the smoothie. It was ok.

Full body soap showers are required. Thankfully, the Blue Lagoon offers private showers. Laugardalslaug the public geothermal pool primarily offers communal showers. There are “shower police” at both locations. The natives will also police tourists. At the Blue Lagoon, it is important to cover your hair with conditioner. If you don’t take your own, no worries. A very nice conditioner is provided. The silica in the water will not harm your hair, but it will make it very stiff.

There are hooks to hang your robe and a place to leave your flip flops just before you enter the water. It is very nice and organized. My flip flops and robe were right where I left them despite the number of guests. Other items can be left in your locker. The wristband has a chip the locks and unlocks your locker.

Once in the water you can visit two stations—one to choose your drink and the other to choose your face mask. Afterwards, just enjoy the water.

The Golden Circle

July 2019

We took The Golden Circle Tour with NiceTravel. What a lovely way to spend the day. The tour company has various pick up stops. They will tell you which is yours. Ours was Hallgrímskirkja Church which was a short walk from our hotel (Hotel Ódinsvé). Be sure to get on the right tour bus. Multiple tour companies use this as a pick up spot. Our guide said he has lived in Iceland for 16 years. He was knowledgeable, funny and upbeat. This made for a great day. Our stops included: Thingvellir National Park, two hot springs Geysir and Strokkur, the waterfull Gullfoss and a surprise side stop to see wild ponies. The bus was clean and comfortable. It also has free Wi-Fi.

We did not feel rushed at any of the locations and the day passed quickly. You can purchase snacks and coffee at the Thingvellir National Park. If you like tuna, I recommend the tuna fish sandwiches. I was told by a native that the tuna is imported. All I know is it was delicious! A formal stop for lunch occurred when we stopped to see the Geysir. There are two geysirs. The active one is a short walk past the first one that is smoking but not doing much else. A small group, including me, stood around with our cell phones ready when the real action was father down the path. That one spews high into the air and you immediately feel the warmth of the water when it erupts. Be prepared to get wet.

This is a very nice tour and you will see and learn a lot about Iceland.

 

Hallgrímskirkja Church

July 2019

Hallgrímskirkja Church is breathtaking. It is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country. You can go to the top, but I did not. You can only go up during certain hours which I managed to miss each day. The church and its huge organ is a must see. The pictures do not do the organ pipes justice. They are massive.

 

Dirty Burger & Ribs

July 2019

I almost missed out on this little gem. It looks like an abandoned shack and this location is next to a gas station. Again, because the sun doesn’t go down, we waited too late to eat. My companions and I wanted burgers and we needed to find a place that was open. We used Google and found Dirty Burger & Ribs. At first, we didn’t see it because of the gas station. We slowly circled the place. We decided it was not worth the risk and drove away. However, we were still hungry and options were limited. We went back to Google and read the reviews. The reviews were good. So, we returned. We were very nervous but entered anyway. I am so glad we did. The food was delicious! We had burgers, fries and ribs. All were great. Don’t judge a book by its cover…

 

Icelandic Street Food

July 2019

Welcome to Iceland! This was the first place I ate upon arriving in Iceland. I did not understand the deal, but I enjoyed the meal. There was a special that I did not understand even after having it explained twice. Regardless, the soup was delicious. I had seafood soup in a bread bowl. It was rich and flavorful. There are also delightful little desserts on the counter and on a platter by the entrance that are complimentary. Now, that is a welcome!

 

Three Dolphins Villa Turks and Caicos

May 2017

A dear friend turned 50 in December. She invited a combination of family and friends to celebrate with her for a week in Turks and Caicos. What a friend! In all 24 people stayed at this breathtaking villa. One would expect to feel crowded or to have a lack of privacy. That was not the case at all! This villa is so spacious that at times, one had to go looking for others. There is a Main House, a Pool House, a Gate House and a Guest House. In total, there are 12 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and 6 kitchens. The property is so big that after a week, I still did not see all it has to offer. I did get to see one of the two rooms that have outdoor showers. Wow! There is a gorgeous pool that overlooks the ocean. Across from the pool and down a few steps is a hot tub. Next to the pool is an outdoor covered grill. I must say the pictures I saw prior to arriving did not do this place justice. For those who enjoy water sports such as I do, there are kayaks and paddle boards. If you just want to float on the waves or in the pool, there are rafts. Multiple umbrellas and lounge chairs are set up for one to spend the day lying and staring at the ocean. This can be done from one of the stone paved bump outs overlooking the beach or at beach level on the stone paved riser that lines the base of the property. The views from either venue leave you speechless.

We had the good fortune or being cared for by Chef Maya, JoJo and Leia. We were totally pampered and spoiled. It was as if our every wish was their command.  My friend mentioned to Maya in passing that she and her husband were contemplating renewing their vows for their 15th wedding anniversary. Two days later Maya, JoJo, Leia and some of Maya's friends arranged a ceremony that looked as if months of planning had went into it. They literally built an altar overlooking the beach. The wind that day made this no easy feat. Maya's friends handmade  center pieces, bouquets, corsages and other decorations with flowers. We were stunned! As if enough had not been done, the whole event was recorded by drone. The final cut of the video and the pictures were top notch! Absolutely professional.

If you are looking for a beautiful place to rejuvenate, a place to host a wedding or to just get away, I cannot recommend this place enough. Be sure to hire Maya and Jojo to make the experience complete.

 

Crust Bakery and Cafe

Leeward Highway, Graceway Plaza, Turks and Caicos

My friend and I stopped at this lovely little place on our way to the airport. The young lady working behind the counter was so warm and personable. I wish I could remember her name. She spoke English and Spanish and is from Honduras. She was delightful! My friend ordered the roast beef sandwich. I ordered the Caesar salad with shrimp. I was totally impressed and cannot wait to return to Turks and Caicos to eat here again. The salad was quite tasty, but my friend's roast beef sandwich was awesome! The bread was freshly made. It was crusty on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. The meat did not taste like deli meat or a regular cold cut. I am not a fan of deli meat. The roast beef on this sandwich was delectable!

The Regent Grand

Turks and Caicos

September 2016

The Regent Grand in Turks and Caicos is paradise—a true heaven on earth. From the moment you arrive, you are pampered. I was greeted by name when I entered the open-air lobby. While registering, my companion and I were given cold towels to cool down and a delicious fruity drink from the bar. Once registered, we were given a tour of the breathtakingly beautiful hotel. This included a view of the white sand beach and turquoise blue water. The room was gorgeous. It includes a small kitchenette with a coffee maker, blender, toaster oven, refrigerator, silver ware, plates, cups, glasses, etc. There are barstools for eating at the bar in the room. The room also has a flat screen tv and loveseat. A small table would have been nice. The bathroom is a nice size and has a shower enclosed with glass. Whenever you are at the pool or on the beach, the hotel staff brings you bottled water and checks to see if you need anything. You can order food at the pool or on the beach. I had the bbq wings which were delicious! The drinks were delightful as well. There are comfortable lounge chairs on the beach and at the pool. Umbrellas are also provided. The hotel staff is always smiling and happy to do anything to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The rooms are unique in that this is not a traditional hotel with rooms lining either side of a hallway. There appeared to be possibly 4 rooms on our floor. We never saw or heard another guest. It is setup more like a luxury apartment building with an apartment building feel.

The island itself is beautiful and worth exploring. However, if you just want to get away and relaxing is your goal, then this is the place. We did not take any tours or sign up for any activities. We realize that we may have missed out, but the beach was so peaceful and rejuvenating. Restaurants and shops were in walking distance. There is really no reason to leave the The Regent Grand. We did rent a car. This is a good idea if you are comfortable driving on the left side of the road. Thankfully, my companion was. It was completely reasonably priced. If my memory serves me well, the daily rental rate was the same as what we paid for a one-way trip from the airport to the resort. In fact, I think it was cheaper.

We noticed we were not the only guests who went grocery shopping. Everything on the island is pricey. We tried IGA, Graceway and Smart. The prices are pretty much the same at each. So do not waste time looking for the “local” more reasonably priced store. Know in advance that alcohol is terribly expensive. Upon arrival, you will find 2 bottles of water in your room but they will not be restocked. So you need to purchase your own at the store.
For some guests, breakfast is included at the Vix which is on the property. At breakfast, you will be given juice and coffee as part of the meal. However, bottled water is $5. Breakfast also comes with a basket of pastries. They are yummy. If you eat all of them, you will have no room for breakfast. So, choose carefully. We also had dinner at the Vix—delicious!

I cannot say enough good things about The Regent Grand and its staff.

AVIS

Turks and Caicos

There are 3 Avis locations in Turks and Caicos. I have rented from the Providenciales International Airport and Grace Bay locations. While I did not find the agents at either particularly warm or friendly, I did find them efficient. The cars at both were nice and clean. The airport location has a shuttle to and from the airport which is convenient for picking up and dropping off your rental.
For a party of two, I recommend the economy size car. The backseat and trunk can accommodate your luggage. If there are 3 or more in your party, I recommend the compact size for comfortable travel. If 3 or more have luggage you will need a larger vehicle than the compact. The red car comfortably seated 4 passengers but could not accommodate luggage.  The gray car with the gentleman had a very small backseat with no legroom. The interior pictures are from his rental.

Hotel Riu Palace, Costa Rica

September 2016

Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful! The people are so friendly and so proud of their culture. I loved my time there and hope to return one day. The Hotel Riu is very nice and has beautiful views from the rooms. The pools are awesome. One has a swim up bar with wonderful bartenders. I have stayed in a number of All-Inclusive resorts and have found the food to taste the same whether it was supposed to be Italian, Latin, Japanese or a steak house. That was not the case here. The food in all of the restaurants was delicious. Be sure to have the sangria from the steak house. It is quite a treat! The buffet is also very good with a number of international options. The outdoor barbecue that is served at the pool is AWESOME! Be sure to have it at least once.

The beach was not very pretty so I quickly returned to the pool area. The room itself was nice but I have stayed in better. It is clean and neat. It has some self-serve alcohol and soft drinks that are free. The shower and tub were very modern.

I was hesitant to do one of the all day tour packages, but am so glad I did. Shop all the vendors for the best price. Costco actually had a package that you could purchase on site. I cannot remember the exact price but it was close to $85 or $90. I could not believe everything that was included in that price. I don't know how they made any money from it. We went horseback riding, hiking, zip lining, down a waterslide, took a mud bath and got in natural hot spring pools. In addition, we had lunch. All included! Now that is a deal. Beware that one activity leads to the next. Horseback riding leads to the hike, the hike leads to the waterfall. The hike continues to the mud bath which leads to the hot springs. Then, you are driven to lunch. From there, you will do the zip lining and waterslide. You don't have to do all of the activities but you are there until everyone else does.

While one manager poorly handled a serious concern my sister and I had with a noxious smell in our room, we did not let him ruin our fabulous time there. Everyone else was absolutely wonderful--hotel staff, tour guides, natives, etc. I highly recommend Costa Rica as a destination and the Hotel Riu as a nice, inexpensive, all-inclusive place to stay. Enjoy!

*Pictures are from the hotel and an all day excursion