Iceland Family Vacation Day 1: The Waiting Game

After a couple years of reduced travel (and a brief period of time where we traveled in an RV) we asked our kids what destinations were highest on their lists.  Our teenage daughter’s answer has been the same for a while.  Iceland was a place she dreamed about, and we set out to make it happen this summer.  We had 9 days to enjoy the country and we used up pretty much every minute doing so.  You can see previous stories I’ve written about our Iceland adventures:

Spoiler alert, our first full day in Iceland wasn’t the most exciting.  I’ll be breaking down our stay at the Rekjavik Konsulat, a Curio Collection hotel by Hilton in a separate story.  It was a delightful property and one of the high points of our day.  Other than that, our travel to Iceland and our first day there involved a lot of waiting.

We had used a Delta Vacations voucher for our flights but that only covered JFK to KEF.  Keflavik is the international airport in Iceland, RKV is the domestic airport in downtown Rekyjavik.  We still needed to get from our home in the suburbs of DC to JFK.  Originally our plan was to drive but as we got closer to the trip I broke down and redeemed SkyMiles to fly IAD-JFK.  If all went as planned it would give me more time to work while we traveled instead of a long drive.

The weather cooperated with us and we managed to get to JFK without incident.  Thus begun the first of a number of long waits on the first day of our vacation.  We headed over to the Delta Sky Club in Terminal 4 near gate B31 and begun our first wait.  The summer travel season has been in full swing for at least a couple of months now it seems.  In many airports there are lines to access the Delta Sky Club.  These lines can easily stretch 30 minutes or longer.  This is likely a byproduct of so many folks holding one of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express cards.  I grabbed the card during the pandemic mostly to help me get Diamond status and work on lifetime Delta status.  But, many folks hold the cards because of a generous sign-up bonus and the fact that you get SkyClub access.

We did end up waiting about 30 minutes to enter the club.  Once it was our turn to enter we approached the counter.  I had some one-time club vouchers that I figured would do the trick for accessing the club.  The agent helping us asked me for my Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card (that’s how I gain access to Delta SkyClubs).  He typed for a while without saying much.  Typically the SkyMiles Reserve Card only grants access for the primary cardholder to the club.  My wife doesn’t have an additional card on that account because it’s a card I use for work.  The card does grant a couple of one-time access passes and allows you to pay $39 for a guest to access the club with you. That’s what I figured would happen.  Instead the agent let all four of us in the club with no fee.  We’ll call that a win!

One interesting feature of this particular club is a pretty decent sized outdoor patio.  After a long day of travel, being able to sit outdoors is a nice change.  While there’s some background noise it was a relaxing place to hang out for a bit.  The buffet in the club was reasonable but the highlight was being able to buy a bottle of one of our favorite sparkling wines, J Cuvee 20.  I give Delta a lot of credit for turning the club experience into something much more positive than stale cookies and warm carafes of juice.

Delta Premium Economy From JFK To Reykjavik (KEF)

The flight to Reykjavik is a short one, making it a rough flight no matter where you’re seated. Flights to Reykjavik are essentially all redeyes from the United States and the short duration means that you’re landing early in the morning in Iceland far from fully rested.

I didn’t know what to think of Comfort+ on an old Delta wide body.  These older planes haven’t been outfitted with a true premium economy product.  Still, it was probably a bit better than I was expecting.  On United’s older fleet, premium economy seats (dubbed Economy Plus) are really just a few extra inches of legroom.  We were pleasantly (if mildly) surprised that the Comfort+ seats on our 767-300 were articulating seats.  If that term sounds foreign to you, the seat has a sort of rolling recline, almost like a rocking chair.  It’s not significant, but as the base of the seat shifts forward it tilts your body back just a bit.  This can help with the “head nods” of a standard coach airline seat where your head falls forward if you nod off. With only just over five hours of flight time our sleep would be fleeting. But, that extra bit of comfort, along with the pillows and blankets Delta provided, did make a noticeable difference.

Our cost to upgrade to Comfort+ was very minimal, thus I felt great about the value we received.  You’d need to judge for yourself if the cost was worth it, as the price to upgrade (in money or miles) can add up quickly, especially for a family. If sleep is your goal, know that the crew did perform a drink and meal service.  Bring your eye mask and ear plugs.  The Comfort+ cabin features a 2-3-2 layout.  Be sure to opt for one of the 2-seat sides so nobody gets stuck with a middle seat.

Delta Comfort+ 767-300 To Iceland

Arriving In Iceland, Let The Waiting Begin

The international airport that serves Reykjavik is actually located in Keflavik, about 30 minutes from downtown.  It’s modern and easy to navigate.  Our walk to customs to claim our bags was quick and uneventful.  Things hit a bit of a snag after that.  Our kids were groggy but they bounced back from the walk and the excitement of a new destination.  We don’t normally check bags but 10 days in a colder climate complicated matters.  While we wore a jacket and our hiking boots on the plane we still couldn’t manage to pack everything in our carry-ons.  We only had one checked bag, but it cost us dearly.  Bags kept coming out in fits and starts.  We would occasionally see a priority tag on a bag for Delta Diamond customers but not our bag.  What was once a crowded baggage claim area had now thinned out.  A few other flights had landed around the same time as ours and we seemed to be one of the last few waiting for a bag.  We had almost given up hope 90 minutes later when our bag finally arrived.  At this point, the kids were less animated but they handled the delay well. We walked slowly through the final customs check and out into the arrivals area to pick up our rental car.

There are certain moments during travel where I ignore my instincts.  The majority of the time I regret doing so.  While we were waiting for our bag and people kept streaming out of the baggage claim area I kept thinking I should ask my wife to go wait in the rental car line……just in case.  But, international travel can have bumps along the way and I decided to keep us all together.  Besides, I was renting with Hertz and had some degree of confidence the counter would be well-staffed, and maybe I’d even get lucky with a priority line for President’s Circle members.  Alas, I was wrong on both accounts.

While a number of other rental counters had priority lanes for their elite members, Hertz did not.  To add to the frustration, the line was at least 20 people deep and moving at a glacial pace.  After timing the first couple of people who finished their transaction when we hopped in line, I guessed our wait would easily be over an hour.  My wife went and got the kids some snacks and drinks and a couple cups of coffee for her and I.  She did a great job keeping them occupied but we were still close to two hours in line waiting for a rental car.  While we landed early (before 9am) we wouldn’t leave the airport until almost noon.

The Final Two Pennies

Our first day on the road was a long one.  Leaving the airport we still had to conquer one of the most difficult parts of almost any European trip. Could we stay up all day and get to bed at a reasonable time?  That part is so critical to adjusting on the fly to time zone changes, but it’s especially difficult when sleep is so lacking from the night before.  We needed to kill a bit of time before we’d be able to check-in to our hotel, so we did something pretty “on brand” for me to start our time in Iceland.  More on that the next time I get time to write.

Side note: There are a million reasons why things have been quiet on the blog.  We had additional family trips planned that made it difficult to write (Nova Scotia with little connectivity, Disney World) plus 20 days of quarantine as COVID rolled through our family and crushed our Disney trip.  I’m planning to get caught up on all of that as life allows me to do so.  Stick with me, I’m determined to get back on a regular writing rotation.

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  1. no problem getting to our hotel in Reykjavik, but leaving Iceland was a nightmare of lonnnng lines. Food was very expensive, so we filled up on the hotel complimentary breakfast and skipped lunch. The Blue Lagoon was the very best fun, and the museums were interesting. Saw the northern lights from the middle of the shopping area in Reykjavik after two very long bus rides out into no-man’s land with no views at all! Ice cave was worth the trip. Take time to watch the movie in the whaling museum.

  2. you can see the northern lights from other far north places, even Alaska (but you’re not old enough to go there yet!)

    1. Hah! I have been to Alaska, though not to see the Northern Lights. I’ll notch them sometime soon, have thought about something like Norway for Northern Lights, depending on my schedule.

      1. I said you were too young for Alaska, because on the two cruises I took 10 and 15 years ago, I think I was the youngest onboard both times, at 60 and 65! I like your website very much, as I’m a traveler always planning for the next adventure. (on my 4th passport)

  3. Where do I go to read up on how you booked all your hotels in Iceland with points? It is mentioned in another post but I can’t find details… I’m planning a family trip for myself and two teens in July 2023. Thanks!

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