Spotlight on Find Your Winter Playground

Winter is coming. But it isn’t time to hunker down; it’s time to get out and explore. From mountain tops to cozy villages, there’s a winter destination just for you. 

How To Make the Most of Your First Trip to Iceland

No matter what time of year you’re looking to vacation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a destination as adventure packed as Iceland. But, despite its surge in popularity over recent years, the tiny island nation is once again taking the forefront of travelers’ minds.

These days, the land of fire and ice is drawing attention because it’s an ideal destination for social distancing. For starters, Iceland’s population is a mere 360,000. Couple that with the country’s proactive pandemic planning and testing, and you have what may arguably be the perfect getaway.

But, if you’ve never been to Iceland, don’t fret. To make the most of your first trip, here are three things to consider:


Choose whether you’ll visit Iceland during summer or winter.

Deciding when to visit Iceland can be difficult because it’s one of few destinations that offers a variety of incredible experiences year-round, most of which are only offered during their respective season. Ultimately, choosing what time of year to visit will depend on a few different variables:

  • Are you comfortable driving in winter conditions? The best way to explore Iceland is on a road trip with you as the driver. It offers you the chance to take your time and sightsee as much as you’d like. Although driving in Iceland is easy (if you’re from North America, you’ll be driving on the same side of the road and the same side of the car), weather conditions can change in the blink of an eye, especially during winter. If you aren’t comfortable driving on snow/ice, consider visiting Iceland during the warmer months.
  • Would you rather have more daylight hours? During the winter, Iceland has approximately four-nine hours of daylight. While the winter months provide exceptional opportunities, such as potentially viewing the Northern Lights, if you’d rather have more time to explore during the day, you may want to visit during the summer (when Iceland has approximately 20-22 hours of daylight).
  • What are your preferred activities? Seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed; however, as mentioned above, if seeing the aurora borealis is on your bucket list, you’ll need to visit during the months of September-March. Additionally, anything ice-related, such as glacier hiking, will only be offered in the winter months. On the contrary, if activities such as campervanning, whale watching, or viewing the Midnight Sun are on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit during the summer months.

Decide how long you’ll visit.

The duration of your vacation may not be flexible, and that’s okay (there’s plenty to do in Iceland no matter how long you’re there). But if flexibility is an option, consider the following when choosing the length of your trip:

  • Seeing Iceland requires a lot of driving on winding roads with unpredictable weather and no passing lanes. This means getting from point A to point B can take more time than you expect. Also keep in mind the limited daylight hours if you’re traveling during winter months. Typically speaking, the more time you have in Iceland, the better.
  • How much do you want to see, and what do you want to see? If your main goal is to see the Golden Circle and/or the South Coast, anywhere from five-seven days is doable. But if your must-see places or must-do activities take you anywhere else, you’ll want to consider spending more time on the island (who could complain?).

Enjoy all Iceland has to offer (even if it’s touristy).

Simply put — Iceland’s hotspots are worth it. Would you visit New York City for the first time without catching a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building? No. Would you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Probably not. So, when visiting Iceland, don’t miss out on the Blue Lagoon. However, the perk to visiting Iceland’s most popular attraction is that, contrary to many other famous attractions around the world, the Blue Lagoon is clean, relaxing, and utterly magical. As for Iceland’s other hotspots (the Golden Circle, Seljalandsfoss, Jokulsarlon Lagoon, etc.) — they’re worth it, too! So, make sure to visit as many places as you can. Additionally, don’t miss out on the following:

As if Iceland could get any better, a bonus is that it’s the perfect stopover between North America’s northeast coast and Europe. So, even if you simply extend a Europe trip by just two or three days, visiting Iceland is always worth it.

Are you ready for the road trip of a lifetime? Iceland awaits you.

Find Your Winter Playground with G Adventures

We caught up with Dave Llewellyn, Trade Marketing Specialist at G Adventures, to find out what G Adventures is all about and which of their itineraries are perfect for winter adventurers.

Q: Tell us a bit about G Adventures and the products and services you offer.

At G Adventures, we’re all about small groups and intimate experiences. For 30 years, we’ve been bringing like-minded travelers from around the world on our trips, and they consistently tell their friends about us and come back for more. Why? Flexible itineraries, freedom to explore, smaller groups, safety and peace of mind, and local guides who show you your destination in a way you’d miss if traveling any other way. Similarly to how “Adventure Travel” means something different to everyone (i.e. trying a new food for one person, or skydiving for another), “Adventure Travel” also comes in different forms depending on where in the world you are and what experiences exist. With that said, there are a few pillars we base our tours off:

  • Locally based tour leaders (CEOS) - We call our tour leaders “CEOs” and they are locally based, meaning they know the area you’re exploring like the back of their well-traveled hand.
  • Culturally immersive local experiences - We believe you should travel like you live in the destination you’re visiting. We aim for connections, charm and local flair. Why? Because you get the authentic experience of the country, and your money stays where it should: supporting the local economy, and the places and people that make your trip so special. You can read more about how we creative positive impacts here.

As mentioned, Adventure Travel can mean many different things, and we have a wide selection of tours to match that, from bucket list hikes to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail, to sailing trips in sunny destinations like Thailand and Greece, to tours that cater to history buffs who want to see things a little differently in Italy, to Local Living tours that allow you to unpack once and really get to know one destination well.

Q: Which types of travelers does G Adventures cater to?

G Adventures caters to travelers that want something a little different; travellers with open minds who are looking to enjoy authentic experiences that make our world so beautiful. We’re looking for travelers who appreciate the beauty of the big attractions like Petra in Jordan, or Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but that also want to get off the beaten path and experience something different at the same time. Lastly, we want to build a community of travelers that wants to be part of something bigger when they see the world, learning about local cultures, creating a positive impact, and sharing themselves with the communities we visit.

Q: What are the most popular winter destinations you offer tours to?

While we have plenty of tours that take place in the winter months based on seasonality, the most popular “winter adventure” destinations we have would be Iceland and Norway.

Q: Is there a specific itinerary you would recommend for winter adventures?

I would say our short and sweet five-day Iceland Northern Lights and Golden Circle itinerary would definitely be top of the list. Everyone always talks about how “otherworldly” Iceland feels, and that feeling is heightened in the winter when the Northern Lights are present, the air is cool and crisp, and you can participate in amazing experiences like glacier hiking, exploring lava caves, and hanging out in hot springs. This trip is also part of our Travel with Confidence PLUS Collection which means it uses exclusively private transportation, has a maximum group size of 12 people, and gives travelers more personal space, among other things, to ensure our tours are safely operated.

Q: For wildlife buffs who want an unforgettable winter experience, is there another itinerary you’d recommend?

For those who are looking for incredible winter wildlife experiences and want to tick something amazing off their bucket list, I would definitely recommend planning ahead and looking at our 2021 Expedition Cruising itineraries. With a small ship of approximately 130 people, there’s no better way to get up close to some of the amazing wildlife Antarctica and the Arctic have to offer. Whether you’re going to Antarctica for leopard seals, penguins and orcas, or to the Norwegian Arctic for polar bears, arctic birds, and walruses, the opportunities are endless and will surely stay with you forever!

Q: What are some of the things G Adventures is doing to ensure travelers are safe on tour?

Even before we heard the words “social distancing,” we’ve been doing small group tours of 10-to-12-ish people staying in small, carefully selected hotels for a more intimate experience with the destinations we visit. So, keeping groups sizes small is nothing new to us. On top of that, we are highly encouraging travelers to “Book Their Bubble” with G Adventures by booking a trip exclusively with their family and friends in a private group.

For more information, contact your Ensemble travel advisor.

Image Credit: G Adventures

6 North American Destinations for a Winter Vacation

Winter is coming, and it’s time to embrace it. Cold weather doesn’t have to mean hibernation, so check out these winter wonderlands in your own backyard. Whether you’re seeking adventure on the slopes or relaxation while cozying up by a fireplace, there’s a destination just for you.

Discover the Northern Lights and Your Star-Gazing Paradise

Hotel Rangá, Southern Iceland´s idyllic countryside retreat, is the ideal location for adventuring through the country´s myriad of natural wonders, from its highlands and hot springs to its waterfalls, black sand beaches and volcanoes. In addition to its prime position to catch the Northern Lights, an advanced, on-site observatory also makes this lux lodge one of the best places to stargaze on the island. The hotel offers cozy rooms, including continent-themed suites, gourmet dining at the acclaimed Rangá Restaurant and geothermally heated hot tubs for starlit soaking after a day spent exploring the iconic land of fire & ice. Family-owned and operated for two decades, Hotel Rangá is as one-of-a-kind as Iceland itself.

Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, have become Hotel Rangá´s trademark attraction. The hotel is in a geographical region that has very favorable conditions for viewing the Northern Lights. Hotel Rangá´s prime location in a rural area means that light pollution is not an issue during the winter months. By turning off all external lights, there are optimal conditions to view the dazzling night sky. Although there is never any guarantee of seeing this wonderful natural phenomenon, the hotel is one of the best places in Iceland to experience the Northern Lights. Diverse services are offered for those who want to gaze at the renowned Aurora. This includes a wake-up call so that guests do not to miss seeing the lights should they appear, cozy snow suits and blankets to help guests stay warm during the beautiful display and custom-made benches to rest upon while watching the lights. The best time for viewing the lights is from September through April. 



Stargazing

Discover the night sky like you have never seen it before. Imagine gazing into the shimmering night sky and sharing an intimate evening with the universe. The Hotel Rangá stargazing observatory is by far the most advanced in Iceland—it houses two high quality astronomical telescopes as well as a roll off roof. To stargaze we need clear skies with no chance of high clouds or rain, and the observatory is open when the forecast shows that the sky will remain clear for several hours. In addition, we also bring an expert local astronomer to guide our guests on a tour of the beautiful night sky. Tours are offered from September to April when the forecast shows clear skies. During summer months the observatory is open upon request.

To plan your trip to Iceland’s Hotel Rangá, contact your Ensemble travel advisor.

Image Credits: Hotel Rangá

International culinary delights

Tempting dishes from our featured destinations give you a taste of local culture. From succulent roasts to exotic spicy fare and some divine desserts, you’re sure to find plenty of delicious recipes to try at home.

New England Clam Chowder

Nothing pairs better with crisp fall days than a bowl of steaming New England clam chowder. Dating back to 1836 at the Union Oyster House in Boston, this famous chowder is pure comfort in a bowl.



Ingredients

  • 7 pounds clams, preferably cherrystone, soaked and scrubbed
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 ounces bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

Preparation

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine the clams and water and bring to a simmer. Cover and steam until the clams open, about 10 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a work surface and remove the meat from the open shells, discarding any shells that did not open. Coarsely chop the meat and reserve. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Add water if needed to make 6 cups of stock. Reserve.

Rinse and dry the stockpot and place over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer onto paper towels to drain.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the butter, thyme, bay leaf, onion and celery. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 more minutes. Slowly stir in the stock. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the clam meat and cream and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Stir in the sherry and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve in bowls topped with the bacon and chives.

Step aboard the world’s greatest ships

Each month we’re showcasing our cruise partners to bring you the latest on the cruise line and their ships. With different cruising styles and a variety of ships to choose from, you’ll find these profiles helpful for selecting the cruise that’s right for you.

The World's First Hybrid Electric-Powered Expedition Cruise Ships

As the world leader in expedition cruises, Hurtigruten has come a long way since first getting its start on the Norwegian coast 127 years ago.

With the launch of the world’s first custom-built hybrid electric-powered expedition ships, MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, Hurtigruten leads the way in innovative technology for green and clean exploration to some of the most remote and spectacular coastlines on Earth.

Each vessel is equipped with large battery packs, feature innovative green technology, and use electric propulsion to reduce fuel emissions by 20% —allowing guests to sail more quietly than ever before. These expedition ships are truly the first of their kind and take environmentally conscious expedition cruising to a new level.

All of this, and premium surroundings—the ships’ interiors tastefully incorporate natural Scandinavian materials, such as granite, oak, birch, and wool. They also come packed with amenities: an infinity pool, two hot tubs, three spectacular restaurants, all outside cabins—half of which have private balconies. The list truly goes on, as there is also an interactive Science Center, where guests and crew alike can meet to foster a deeper understanding of the areas Hurtigruten explores. The expedition team on board is comprised of experts in their field—ornithologists, biologists, geologists, historians, photographers, and more who love to share their knowledge with curious, like-minded travelers.

Hurtigruten has a great responsibility, which is incorporated into its mission to provide safe, unique, active, and sustainable travel experiences that create lifelong memories. To ensure the guests of tomorrow have the same travel experiences as the guests of today, they work hard to minimize the impact of their operations and promote sustainable innovation in the destinations they visit, by: supporting local communities; ensuring responsible consumption and production with the global partners they collaborate with; urgently combating climate change; and conserving the use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

In fact, Hurtigruten was the first major travel company to remove single-use plastic from all their ships, restaurants and hotels. These areas are where Hurtigruten believes it can have the most positive impact as a cruise-ship industry leader and on society as a whole, both now and in the future.

Between the diverse selection of exciting expeditions, purpose-built hybrid electric-powered expedition ships, and their continued passion and dedication toward sustainable travel, any expedition with Hurtigruten is a truly authentic, immersive, and educational experience.

Programs and Services

Hurtigruten provides authentic and immersive experiences for travelers seeking to connect with their inner explorer. As the largest cruise operator in polar waters, and with over 125 years of know-how, Hurtigruten offers expedition cruises to some of the world’s most pristine and remote destinations, including Antarctica, Arctic Canada and the Northwest Passage, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Svalbard, and more. Hurtigruten’s fleet consists of 16 expedition ships, custom-built for adventure travel. In 2019 and 2020, two new groundbreaking ships were launched: MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen are the most advanced and environmentally friendly expedition vessels at sea, as well as the world’s first hybrid electric–powered cruise ships. Hurtigruten is an industry leader in sustainability, with a deep commitment to improving the marine environments we call home. 

Destinations

Alaska, Antarctica, Arctic Traverse, British Isles, Caribbean and Central America, Europe, Greenland, Iceland, North America, Norway, Northwest Passage & Canada, South America, and Svalbard.


The Ship

Welcome to the future of sustainable expedition cruising. Hurtigruten has designed every element of its new hybrid electric-powered ships, MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, to enhance your voyage and create a warm and informal atmosphere. Join Hurtigruten in premium onboard surroundings as you explore some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Your Home Away from Home

Informal and Engaged

Life on board a Hurtigruten expedition cruise is famously relaxed. This atmosphere is reflected in the casual dress code, where there’s no need to change for dinner. The helpful and knowledgeable Expedition Teams love to share their experiences, and make it a point to be available throughout the journey to welcome your questions. You’ll discover that striking up conversations with your fellow explorers feels as natural as the landscapes around you. We find that Hurtigruten crew and guests all share a love of the natural world and a strong sense of community.

Stunning Views and Good Company

The Explorer lounge and bar with floor-to-ceiling windows and deep armchairs offers magnificent views of the scenery. This is also a social hub of the ship, where you can always find a stimulating chat to join. The Explorer lounge and bar serves a tempting range of snacks, pastries and refreshments throughout the day.

Choose Active or Relaxing Sea Days

Sea days are great for participating in lectures to learn about the area you’re exploring. Be edutained in the Science Center by taking part in projects, study samples taken on your journey, read about the destinations in the library or get guidance on photography from our professional photographer on board. But sea days are also about relaxation. Enjoy finding one of the many cozy nooks around the ship to relax, read or simply admire the spectacular landscapes. Their new ships have hot tubs, a pool, sauna, gym and a Wellness Center. Feel free to soak tired muscles, work out or take an invigorating stroll on deck and breathe in the fresh sea air.


Accommodations

All the suites and cabins feature fine Scandinavian materials and provide premium comfort for a great night’s sleep after a day of exploration. All cabins and suites are outside for excellent views.


Dining

A Hurtigruten cruise is a journey for all your senses. Their chefs create superb dining from sustainable local and regionally-sourced produce, adding a delicious dimension to your travel.

To tantalize your taste buds, the team of talented onboard chefs create sumptuous multi-course meals. Whether you choose to dine in the main onboard restaurant or upscale to the à la carte fine dining option, you’ll find the cuisine varied, inspired, and downright delicious.

Cultural Cuisine

Exploration is about opening our minds to new customs, our eyes to new landscapes, and, yes, our mouths to new tastes. Hurtigruten’s chefs may utilize unique herbs and spices or adopt traditional cooking techniques from the area, all to add authentic, local gastronomy to the meals they prepare for you on board. You can also expect some favorite Norwegian recipes on the menu, handed down through generations and a fitting homage to their long sea-faring heritage.

Local Flavors

The chefs craft dishes that reflect the cuisine of the region you are sailing in, immersing you in the culture even more.

Plant-based

A range of tasty plant-based dishes are integrated as essential options into all of the menus.

Regional Suppliers

Sourcing food along the way helps to cut down the energy needed to transport ingredients and has the added benefit of supporting local small-scale suppliers.

Inspirational Lectures

The Expedition Team deliver themed lectures on how food and sustainability go hand in hand and often organize tasting sessions out on deck and during landings.

Tasty Excursions

Join excursions to nearby farms, fisheries, or vineyards, each offering a fascinating foray into the culinary customs of the region.

Choose from the following exciting options:

  • Aune – The main dining room: Aune draws its name from a family of ship chandlers in Tromsø, who supplied some of the great polar explorers as they headed into the wilderness.
  • Lindstrom – Fine dining: Adolf Lindstrøm served as Roald Amundsen’s chef on polar expeditions. In his honor, they’ve created a quality restaurant serving gourmet cuisine.
  • Fredheim – Casual dining: Fredheim is named after a famed trapper’s cabin in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, not far from the North Pole.
  • Explorer Lounge & Bar - Enjoy a snack or savor a drink after a long day of exploration. Enormous panorama windows surround three sides of the bar, giving you amazing views of the stunning nature.


Activities

An expedition with Hurtigruten is more than exciting. It is also an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the world through the included Explorer science activities:

  • A comprehensive and interesting lecture program. Interact with the Expedition Team in the advanced Science Center to enhance your expedition experience with first-hand knowledge. Get insights into the places you visit from guest lecturers and scientists.
    • Examples of Lecture Topics:
      • Oceanography and geology
      • Sea ice and glaciers
      • Exploration history and storytelling
      • Climate change
      • Sustainability
      • Wildlife
      • Earth science
      • Culture
      • Photography
  • Be part of Citizen Science Projects where you are offered the chance to contribute to science and understanding. Take part in research and activities performed for scientific organizations around the world.
  • Learn how to ensure your safety during landings and guarantee the smallest possible footprint in the pristine environments you visit.
  • Join in on briefings before each landing, making you aware of any potential risks and of protocols regarding local wildlife.
  • Learn how to make the most out of your camera equipment in photography workshops.


Services

A Hurtigruten expedition cruise features superb onboard facilities designed to help you stay active and rejuvenate for the next day’s adventures in the Wellness Center. Aboard their new hybrid powered ships, you can work out in the indoor gym and indulge in luxurious spa treatments as you explore.

Stay in Shape – Inside and Out

Training with Scenery

Tone up in the indoor gym, featuring rowing machines, fitness bikes, training stations, and free weights. Or enjoy the outdoor gym and the outdoor running track where you can work out in fresh air while watching beautiful scenery glide by. In warm waters, many of the voyages will offer daily yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes with a professional instructor on the outdoor decks, providing an opportunity for an inner journey as well.

A Well of Recreational Possibilities

Hurtigruten’s expedition cruises are dedicated to satisfying all your senses. In the Wellness Center, you will find highly trained therapists ready to welcome you to a wide variety of relaxing services and treatments, designed to help you recover, relax and rejuvenate.

Rejuvenate and Refresh

After an exciting day of exploration or during a peaceful day at sea, there’s nothing like indulging in a relaxing massage or treatment. Let the well-trained therapists welcome you to a luxurious and healthful experience, such as an aromatherapy body massage, a tension release treatment for your arms and feet, or the specially created Hurtigruten Signature treatment.

Sauna

The elegant onboard sauna features panoramic windows.

Indulge yourself in spectacular waters

Swim, soak, and truly relax among some of the most sublime scenery on Earth. Soak in the infinity pool or in one of two hot tubs, offering amazing views of glaciers, icebergs and wildlife.