Vantage celebrates its 40th anniversary this year!
Step back in time to Kilkenny, where medieval history lives on through jaw-dropping architecture and museums. For the duration of your stay, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the chambers and parklands of Lyrath Estate Hotel, your luxurious accommodation on the outskirts of the city. Plus, enjoy a private train tour from Black Abbey to Kilkenny Castle and learn about Kilkenny’s evolution from merchant town to brewing centre to craft capital. Don’t miss this perfect way to top off your discoveries in Northern Europe!
Fly to Dublin
Your journey begins! Today, board an overnight flight from your home city to Dublin, Ireland. Or, depart earlier for your pre-trip extension to Kilkenny, Ireland!
Arrive in Dublin, Ireland
If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, upon arrival in Iceland, a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your centrally located hotel. Settle in and then join your fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner.
Explore Ireland’s energetic capital
This morning, set off to discover Ireland’s energetic capital. You’ll see Dublin’s main sights, including the prestigious Trinity College, where Ireland’s most precious medieval artifact, the Book of Kells, lives. One of many Irish treasures, this illuminated manuscript of the four gospels dates back to around 800 AD. The college also hosts the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the Brian Boru harp, a national symbol of Ireland featured on the Guinness label. Then, Marvel at the lush greenery of the city’s beloved Phoenix Park — home to 1,750 acres of woodlands, lakes, historic buildings, and its own herd of wild fallow deer. Your tour will conclude at Dublin Castle, where you’ll enjoy a brief tour of the inside.
Lunch is on your own this afternoon, and you’ll have time at leisure to pursue your interests in Dublin. Perhaps you’ll visit the Guinness storehouse and browse the souvenirs there, or ask your Program Manager to help you find the best fish and chips.
Take your pick of tours in Dublin and embark the Ocean Explorer
Enjoy the morning at leisure. Perhaps you’ll explore one of the many outstanding museums such as the National Gallery of Ireland or the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
This afternoon, choose from two very different but equally enticing experiences: take a whiskey tour of Dublin, or embark on a Howth Cliff walk. The former will bring you to the most important sites of Dublin’s 200-year-old whiskey tradition, providing you with ample opportunities to sample Ireland’s famous whiskey. The latter will take you out of the city to the coastal town of Howth, where you’ll embark on a cliffside nature walk with incredible views of the sea.
Later this afternoon, you’ll embark the Ocean Explorer — welcome aboard! Thanks to the small size of your ship, in many ports we’ll be able to dock right onshore, giving you easy access to your destination. However, please note that other ports may require anchoring offshore and tendering inland, which will require a certain level of agility. Get settled in, familiarize yourself with the amenities, and enjoy your first dinner onboard as the ship departs.
Belfast, Antrim, and the Giant’s Causeway
Locals will tell you that the Giant’s Causeway was formed when the giant Finn McCool tossed massive boulders in the water in order to battle another giant across the way in Scotland. Scientists will tell you that this amazing natural phenomenon (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was created when basaltic lava from an ancient eruption solidified into thousands of hexagonal columns. Your eyes will tell you that you are witnessing something quite otherworldly. Also breathtaking is the power and beauty of the Antrim coast, which you’ll travel along, too. Afterward, enjoy a delightful lunch in a local restaurant before continuing on to Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital.
The city that launched the Titanic is often remembered today for the Troubles — but as you’ll discover on a panoramic tour, with those days well behind it, Belfast bubbles with activity, centered on a revitalized Victoria Square.
You’ll return to your ship late in the afternoon and enjoy a performance of traditional Irish music onboard tonight before dinner.
Explore Tobermory and tour Duart Castle
This morning you’ll anchor at Tobermory, an idyllic port whose waterfront is lined with multicolored houses, cozy pubs, crafts shops and inviting restaurants. You'll have some time at leisure to explore, perhaps visiting the An Tobar Arts Centre or the Mull Aquarium.
This afternoon, you’ll depart for a half-day tour of Duart Castle, or the ancient seat of the Scottish Clan McLean for the last 700 years. En route, you’ll take in the natural beauty of the Isle of Mull during a panoramic drive while listening to an informative lecture about the cultural Heritage of this region. When you arrive at the castle, you may notice its huge curtain walls and fortified keep. Enjoy a self-guided audio tour.
After, enjoy a dolphin and whale watching experience with guidance from members of a local marine life trust.
The magical Isle of Skye, the “cloud island”
This morning, you’ll depart for the Isle of Skye. In a country of scenic superlatives, this Scottish isle will stand out in your memories as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Embark on a sightseeing tour by motor coach that reveals medieval castles and villages, and vistas of the mist-enshrouded Cuillin Hills; crystal-clear lochs; and fairy pools fed by tiny cascades and streams. Then, return to the ship for lunch onboard.
If Brigadoon really exists, you might just find it today as the Ocean Explorer takes you for a scenic sail around Skye, the Summer Isles, or the Shiant Isles archipelagos. This is when you’ll be grateful for the nimbleness of your expedition vessel, as we hug the rugged coastline and discover waterfalls that plummet off high cliff-tops right into the sea and romantic moors that sweep to the rocky shore. Watch out for shorebirds and local marine life, and keep your camera at the ready! Later this afternoon, gather in the lounge for an insightful onboard lecture.
Isle of Lewis and the mystical Callanish Stones
Enchanting thatched-roof cottages await you today when you arrive at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, first settled as a trade port by the Vikings. Your group will visit the prehistoric Callanish Stones — a hilltop, cross-shaped arrangement of standing stones with a circular ring and central monolith. Dating back some 5,000 years to Neolithic times, they are even older than Stonehenge and have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next, visit the nine thatched-roof cottages of Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Here, at the Carloway Mills, you’ll see a demonstration of the region’s most time-honored craft — tweed-weaving. Lunch is back on board, and you'll enjoy an afternoon at leisure, with another eye-opening lecture planned. Before dinner, be entertained by a troupe of Scottish dancers!
Explore Stromness and unravel the mysteries of Skara Brae
Named for the strong tides that rip past the Point of Ness, it’s no surprise that Stromness was once a vital whaling port — in fact, it was used by the British for shipping in times of war in lieu of the English Channel. You’ll cruise into its port this morning.
Then, embark on a tour to Skara Brae, a 3,000-year-old village of stone dwellings that was discovered in 1850 when a coastal storm stripped away the earthen covering. The site is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps the most recognizable landmarks here is the Ring of Brodar, a mysterious Neolithic stone henge that forms an almost perfect circle, and the only henge of its kind in Britain. You’ll witness this marvel as well as the standing stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, the sites of various inscriptions left behind by the 12th century Vikings, on your morning tour.
The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure in Stromness. Perhaps you’ll peruse the varied collections housed at the Stromness museum, or utilize the onboard bicycles provided to take a ride through town. Later, enjoy an onboard cooking lesson where you’ll learn to prepare a local specialty.
Delve into the World War II heritage of Kirkwall in the Orkneys
Rise and shine in beautiful Kirkwall, the capital of Scotland’s northern Orkney Islands. Kirkwall was mentioned in a Norse saga from 1046, but the islands were inhabited long before that, as is evident in the island’s various Neolithic sites.
Your touring today reveals what is one of the best-preserved ancient Norse towns in Scotland. Kirkwall sits on a calm harbor and is laced with mysterious wynds (lanes) that lead to the main edifice, the imposing St. Magnus Cathedral. It is named for a local noble son who refused to participate in the Viking’s violent raids, and was martyred for it. St. Magnus stands in sharp contrast to the charmingly quaint Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm. This fanciful white stucco church was built during WWII by Italian POWs, who wanted a place to worship. They had been sent to the Orkneys to help construct the causeways (called the Churchill Barriers) that served as defensive links between the islands. Today, they are still vital roads. You’ll see both of these landmarks during your tour.
After lunch on board, enjoy leisure time on the ship or continue to explore Kirkwall at your leisure. Perhaps tour one of the local gin or whisky distilleries, or visit the town’s many craft galleries and boutiques to find a handmade souvenir. Later this afternoon, head to the lounge for an interesting lecture.
Have your choice of tours in the Shetland Islands: Explore Scalloway & Lerwick, or follow in the footsteps of the Vikings
Floating between the Atlantic and the North Sea, the Shetlands are as far north as you can go and still be in Scotland. But at the same time, centuries of Norse rule make these spectacular green jewels a unique cultural hybrid. If you are on deck, perhaps a flock of northern fulmars or gannets will herald our arrival as our ship makes its way towards Mainland, the largest of the archipelago’s 16 inhabited islands. Your ship will drop anchor in Scalloway, and from here you will have two choices for exploration: An exploration of Scalloway and Lerwick, or a tour that brings you to important Viking sites.
Your first tour choice introduces Shetland’s past and present capitals on a Scalloway & Lerwick tour. The name Scalloway derives from an Old Norse phrase that means "bay with the large huts" and in this case, the huts were the ancient shelters built here for delegates to Tingwall, the parliament for Orkney and Shetland. In 1608, those huts were overshadowed by Scalloway Castle, the ruins of which still stand. You’ll visit the site, and also peek into the Scalloway Museum that chronicles important events, most notably the WWII era when Scalloway was the "depot" of the Shetland Bus. This clandestine operation ferried Norwegian refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation to safety in the Shetlands, and returned the boats to Norway with arms and munitions for the Resistance. You’ll also visit Clickimin Broch, a defensive Bronze Age round tower. Before returning to ship, enjoy a guided walk around Lerwick and stop at a local farm that breeds the island’s iconic, stout Shetland ponies.
Your second and more active tour choice invites you to explore "In Viking Footsteps." You’ll start with a motorcoach ride across the stunning countryside to Old Scatness on the southern tip of the island. It was here in the 1970s that an airport expansion project revealed the heretofore unknown presence of an ancient mound that was inhabited for nearly 2,000 years since the Iron Age. It includes a broch (round tower) and a village that was occupied by Iron Age, Pictish, and Viking people. Many of the Pictish houses were reused by the Vikings, who left many soapstone artifacts behind. From here you’ll head to Sumburgh and visit Jarlshof, which was occupied from about 2500 BC to AD 1500. It features rectangular Viking longhouses, and a 16th-century, fortified manor house.
Back on board, enjoy some leisure time to enjoy the ship's amenities. If conditions permit, perhaps this evening one of our expedition team members will host a stargazing session.
Explore Europe’s best kept secret: the Faroe Islands
If you’re an early riser, hit the deck as we approach the Faroe Islands, and perhaps you’ll spot some wildlife. The 18 Faroe Islands form an autonomous region within the Kingdom of Denmark. The islands’ main industry is fishing and the 50,000 or so inhabitants enjoy a high standard of living. Your ship will dock on the island of Streymoy, in Tórshavn. Tórshavn was founded in the 10th century, and many historians believe it to be the oldest (albeit smallest) capital in Europe. The name means “Thor’s Harbor” and it’s fitting that the town be associated with the god of thunder, since the Faroes can be quite storm-tossed.
Your tour showcases the main attractions of Tórshavn, plus some of the surroundings. In Tinganes, the narrow neck of land that divides Tórshavn’s two harbors, you’ll see a cluster of modest, red wooden houses that was one of the oldest parliamentary gatherings in the world. Vikings would convene here for regular “Thing” meetings to resolve conflicts and establish laws. Contrast this with the contemporary Løgting or “Law Assembly” that serves as the Faroese Parliament. The office of the prime minister is also located here. At the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, you’ll see various displays celebrating the islands’ natural and cultural heritage. One of the most important is the Kikjubøstólarnirlso which are pew ends from the ancient St. Olav’s church. Dating from the 12th century, these national treasures feature elaborate carvings depicting the apostles and other biblical lore.
For the rest of the day, you may choose to relax or embark on an independent exploration. Later, enjoy a little pre-dinner entertainment as a local Faroese folk troupe comes aboard to serenade you.
Enjoy a day at Sea on the Ocean Explorer
Today is your day to fully relax on board your 5-star ship. Throughout the day, your light expedition team will be conducting different presentations on topics relevant to your destinations, and you'll also have a moment to take advantage of your ship’s other amenities to refresh and restore yourself, perhaps visiting the sauna or enjoying a soothing massage in the spa. You'll make our way towards Iceland and catch your first glimpse at this incredible country on Heimaey Island.
Onboard Enhancement: Customize your journey when you add an optional onboard experience. Enhance your time on board with one of our Vantage-exclusive activities, including wine and whiskey tastings, a multicourse Chef’s Table Dinner, or an exclusive wine-pairing dinner. Learn more
Discover the Westman from Heimaey Island, Iceland
The Vestmannaeyjar, or Westman archipelago, is a collection of 15 volcanic islands and about 30 rock pinnacles and skerries off Iceland’s southern coast. Most of the islands have sheer cliffs overlooking the sea, which are fertile habitats for all of Iceland’s seabird species including guillemot, gannet, kittiwake, Iceland gulls, and the iconic puffin (which is the symbol of the Vestmannaeyjar). It is also a good place to spot whales, including orca or killer whales.
Today, we will pull into Heimaey, the largest of the Westman islands, and enjoy a full day of discovery.
Bear in mind as you travel by coach across the lava fields of Heimaey that this wonderland is still being formed by volcanic action. You’ll see some of nature’s handiwork in the Herjólfsdalur valley, whose name means “Valley of Magic” — a moniker that is attested to by the amphitheater-like slopes, rocky cliffs and massive seascapes. Continuing on to the scenic western part of the island, keep your eyes wide open in case we spot some of the remaining puffins, more than 8 million of which seasonally come to roost here each summer.
Why is Heimaey known as the “Pompeii of the North”? You’ll find out at the Volcanic Center and Eldheimar Museum, which chronicles the effects of the 1973 Eldfell volcano whose massive lava flow destroyed half the town. The museum is built around the remains of one of the homes. You’ll also learn about the recent arrival of Surtsey Island, which emerged from the ocean during a volcanic eruption in 1963, and continued to form for four years thereafter.
Disembark the Ocean Explorer and discover Iceland’s capital city
This morning, bid farewell to the Ocean Explorer and look forward to a half-day Reykjavík city tour, kicking off after breakfast. Highlights include a visit to the Perlan viewpoint, an interactive natural history museum housed inside an immense glass dome that sits atop six hot water tanks, each carrying 4 million liters of geothermal hot water. Other highlights include the Hallgrímskirkja Church — Iceland’s tallest church — and the Reykjavík city center.
You’ll have the afternoon to utilize the free shuttle bus into town for shopping, dining, and more. Perhaps you'll opt to take a relaxing soak in the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River or Sky Lagoon, Iceland's newest geothermal lagoon and spa. Dinner is on your own.
Get a true taste of Iceland, from Bloody Marys to hot springs
Venture out along the Golden Circle to discover some of Iceland’s most unforgettable natural attractions today. First, we’ll pay a visit to a tomato farm and greenhouse where you’ll see how Iceland’s geothermal activity helps produce some of the juiciest and most flavorful tomatoes in the world. Taste for yourself when you’re poured a fresh Bloody Mary — but this is no Sunday standard. This version has been called the “best Bloody Mary in the world” by The Guardian! After lunch on your own, our explorations continue in UNESCO-listed Thingvellir National Park, which is renowned for its extraordinary landscapes and boasts a rich history that stretches back to the first settlers in Iceland. We’ll also stop to admire the spectacular Gullfoss Waterfall and the hot springs of the Geysir geothermal field during our Golden Circle discoveries.
Tonight, enjoy a Farewell Dinner and Reception at a local restaurant.
Depart Reykjavík and fly back to the U.S
We bid you farewell as you depart back home on an overnight flight to the U.S. Or, join in an extension of your adventure with an additional two nights in Reykjavík.
Please note: Ocean-cruising is not the same experience as river cruising; as such, you may experience fluctuating tides and weather patterns that may involve some rocking of your vessel. Itineraries will include all activities as planned except in extreme cases that can’t be controlled by your shipboard crew. Day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert.