WOW Iceland !
The two major new experiences on this trip were traveling on WOW Air and visiting the country of Iceland. A number of people have asked about WOW Air, and we have heard many friends and people we met during our trip say: “I have always wanted to go to Iceland”. Therefore, we would like to share our opinions on these two topics.
WOW Air: This new airline started in 2012. WOW has one of the newest airplane fleets in the world. They own about 30 Airbus A321s and A320s. They currently fly to about 34 destinations from their home airport of Keflavík International Airport (KEF) – commonly referred to the Reykyavik airport. Their flight system structure makes a lot of sense. Concurrently, they have a combination of about 12 aircraft take off from cities in the USA. Another 12, or so, aircraft takeoff from cities throughout Europe. All heading to KEF. Once at KEF all the passengers deplane; walk around the terminal for a few minutes or a couple hours and board another plane to head to their final destinations.
WOW Air is a heavily discounted air carrier. You can fly as low as $99 per leg from the USA to a European city. The seats are small. But, they have larger and larger seats that you can pay more money to occupy. You can pay an extra fee to check a bag. You can pay an extra fee for food, drink, a pillow and even a blanket.
We paid for all the options. Our total cost was comparable to a coach ticket on Delta or United.
One big benefit is that you can book a layover in Iceland for a few days or weeks with no extra charge.
Our WOW experience was excellent. The departure for our Iceland to England flight was delayed about 30 minutes. The arriving plane from Cincinnati was late leaving the USA. The ground crew did a very fast change over and our pilot pulled into London only 10 minutes behind schedule.
Normally, when you fly from the US to Europe you can take a non-stop flight from a major US airport to a major European airport. That’s nice. But, most of us want to fly into a smaller city in Europe. So, two flights to Europe is pretty much the norm. The big problem is coming home. If you are flying from Paris to Detroit, you can pay a premium to fly non-stop, but you can save a bundle by flying through a major US port city.
For example: Fly United (an international flight) – Paris to Newark – and then a domestic flight – Newark to Detroit. The trouble is your time lost in Newark. You have to go through Passport Control; get your bags and go through US Customs. Then you have to check your bags for the domestic flight and make your way from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal. This layover can last 5, 6 or more hours and puts miles on your feet.
If you fly WOW then you can fly Paris to KEF to DTW. At KEF you stay in the KEF International terminal and your next gate may be only one or two gates away.
Bottom line: We enjoyed our experience on WOW. Both on the planes and on the ground. We would fly them again.
Iceland: Our decision to take advantage of a layover was easy to make. We selected arriving on Monday and departing Thursday. (Note: WOW does not fly everyday to/from each airport). Ignoring the half-day arriving and the half-day departing this gave us two full days in Iceland. Perhaps not long enough.
We studied all that can be done in the city of Reyjavik and in the country outside the city. We decided to rest on Monday afternoon; Tuesday would let us explore the city and Wednesday rent a car for a countryside drive.
The airport is a very long distance from the center of Reyjavik. Most travel websites recommend taking the bus from the airport to your hotel – they claim it is a money saver. Well, you need to weigh your time versus your money.
To get on the bus we had to walk from the terminal to the bus parking lot – IN THE RAIN. Then wait and wait and wait for the bus to fill up. The bus takes you to a large bus terminal on the outside of the central city. Once there I had to climb into the belly of the bus to retrieve our bags. Then find which of the six or eight vans went to the stop near our hotel. Then more walking and trying to find the hotel.
The taxi stand is just outside the terminal – under cover. It takes you to the door of your hotel. And just like cabbies everywhere, they love to talk and tell you about their city. So, choose wisely: your time or your money. We chose the taxi to go back to the airport.
You have multiple choices to visit in the countryside: geysers, waterfalls, lakes, hot springs, photo ops and many other natural sights to view. We elected our own rental car. It offers flexibility, convenience and freedom, but getting lost and not sure where you are going are the drawbacks. Don’t forget reading the darn street signs and names!
Tourist buses that hold 50 people or smaller vans with 6-10 people are your options. They offer guided tours, fixed routes, but the constant waiting to “get on the bus and get off the bus”. Plus they are very costly per person.
If we were to visit Iceland again, I would use a totally different approach. I would rent a car at the airport and find a hotel closer to the airport for the first half-day “in country”. I would drive into Reykjavik for one of the days for walking around. And I would spend two days (or more) driving around the countryside (and bring my own GPS). Plus I would look for hotels out in the countryside.
Iceland is very, very expensive. Hotels on the outskirts of the city center must be less expensive than city center.
Visiting all the natural sights involves a lot of hiking from the parking areas. It is a little easier for 20 – 30 year-olds rather than 60-70 year-olds. Keep that in mind.
Someone asked us about the Blue Lagoon. Lots of people go there. They spend a lot of money to swim in the hot discharged water from a power plant. The water and surroundings made to look natural. The power plant hidden from sight. It did not really appeal to us.
US Customs: An hour before landing in Detroit, a flight attendant announced that they would be passing out Customs forms, but she stated that US citizens did not have to fill them out. This was not what we had done on all our previous trips home. When she walked by with the forms, I asked her why we did not get one. She said that they had “received an email”. ??? I asked her for a form anyway. After reading it, the form seemed to be the same Customs form I have filled out many times before. So, I filled in all the blanks.
But, in Detroit, it was never needed. US Customs has changed their process. (Apparently an email that I did not receive.) They do not care how much booze, cigarettes or other purchased items you bring back into the US. Just as long as you do not bring in fresh food or plants.
That was a BIG surprise. So, now I wish we had spent more money on souvenirs and booze! If you plan to leave the country and you want to come home with expensive gifts or booze or wine, double check the new rules before you leave.
Secondly, there were no “fast lanes” for Global Entry. Not sure that plan is worth paying for anymore.
Conclusion: If you are considering to fly WOW or visit Iceland, we would be happy to discuss any and all of these items with you in more detail.
David & Nina