Booking through Secret Escapes, a company that states on the internet on their „about us“ website:
Welcome to the worst-kept secret in luxury travel. At Secret Escapes, we negotiate exclusive rates for luxury hand-picked hotels and holidays in the UK and abroad, at up to 70% off the price you’d pay by booking anywhere else. How have we done it? Well, even the most luxurious hotels out there don’t like having empty rooms… For access to our members-only rates, all you have to do is sign up to Secret Escapes with your email address and nothing else. It doesn’t cost a penny, and never will. In return, we’ll give you access to rates for hotels and holidays you won’t be able to find anywhere else – that’s a guarantee.
Whether or not this was a luxury travel, you have to read this …
In August 2016 we’ve booked through Secret Escapes a short-trip to Iceland „Wonders of Nature“ that was supposed to be a bargain of 27% compared to the standard pricing. When we’ve read the special offer – 27% off the original price –, we did expect to get something valuable. So we’ve booked it immediately through Secret Escapes and received the confirmation one day later on August 17, 2016 for our three nights trip to Iceland from December 8 until 11, 2016, assuming that it will be an exclusive offer for us members as stated on their „about us“ website.
Iceland – Wonders of Nature
Return flight from DUS to Keflavik (KEF), Iceland and DUS
3 nights in a standard-room at the CenterHotel Plaza, Reykjavík
incl. Rail&Fly tickets (return) between DB main-stations and airports (2. class, incl. ICE use)
incl. 20% discount in the Restaurants Isafold, SKY and Jörgensen
incl. Northern Lights Wake-up-Service
incl. Northern Lights Tour
incl. Grand Reykjavik Tour
incl. Golden Circle Tour
incl. Transfers between airport and hotel
Travel agency: Maris Reisen GmbH & Co. KG
This offer comes with a reduction of up to 27%, calculated on the actual prices of the travel agency.
The first disappointment was that Maris Reisen (travel agency and tour operator) showed on the confirmation that there was no prior online check-in possible. So I called the customer support of the travel agency and I was told, that this is because of the group fare which doesn’t allow a separate and early online check-in. I was also told, that there won’t be a travel agent available while we are on Iceland.
Because of the fact that we are frequent individualistic travellers, we thought that we can cope with it: Asking at the check-in counter to upgrade to a wide XXL seat, etc. – because I am 6’3“ tall.
The day of travel (December 8, 2016) we started our journey in Cologne at 5:30 with a taxi transfer to the main-station to use the included Deutsche Bahn train voucher. Arring at Cologne main-station at 5:50 we heard that the train – to arrive in-time at the airport DUS – was rerouted and wouldn’t service Dusseldorf HBF or even DUS because of a major interlocking system failure.
We had to rush to another platform to reach the next scheduled train to DUS that was scheduled for 6:31 hours . At 6:25 o’clock the station announcement cancelled that train as well because of the same technical problem.
Our chances to reach DUS in-time melted away. Therefore we decided to book a DriveNow car which made it possible to reach DUS at 7:30 o’clock. I immediately wrote an email to Maris Reisen (customer service operation hours started at 9:00 am) to let them know that we couldn’t use the voucher and had to take a rental instead. They replied within an hour telling me that they will cover our expenses for this rental as soon as they do hold my bank account details and the total costs of it in their hands. I grabbed several screenshots to confirm all necessary details and forwarded it to the customer support employee directly though my smartphone off the airport terminal while waiting for the flight to KEF.
Checking in for the flight with AirBerlin I was told that I can’t upgrade because of the fare chosen for this trip by Maris Reisen. I was placed in row 28D – very tight seating with no leg-room at all for my body-size.
Arriving at the CenterHotel Plaza in Reykjavik at 13:45 local time, after loading and unloading our luggage twice caused by the size of the transfer bus, the room was not ready for check-in. We were forced to wait for an hour until 15:00 hours before entering the room #110.
While waiting for the keys to our room we realised a display at the front-desk showing that the Northern Lights tour (scheduled for 20.30 hours that night) was cancelled. Before doing anything else we contacted Reykjavik Excursions and rebooked the tour for the next night, asking whether or not it will take place. They wouldn’t promise that it will take place but they would keep us updated during the day.
Room #110 was very basic, located on the ground floor and facing the back-courtyard with
two stories above – no sunshine or even bright daylight, but „wonderful ladders“ on display (s. picture on the right). The room itself offered no comfort: The wardrobe was a simple IKEA-like rack, the blanket not made for winter in Iceland, and the room was not properly cleaned up. The cleaning we could clear ourselves, but to upgrade our room to another one with more comfort and matching the pictures of the Secret Escapes offer was impossible. The hotel was fully booked and our booked rate was the cheapest you can get – thanks to Maris Reisen. Reminding myself that the „about us“ website of Secret Escapes is telling their members „…we negotiate exclusive rates for luxury hand-picked hotels and holidays …“ I was even more disappointed.
Trying to refresh after the trip I entered the shower cabin which was a tiny box and for a man of my size (6’3“) really not suitable. The shower head was dirty and disgusting to look at. While taking the shower the hot water smelled sulphurous like rotten eggs and hardly touched my body because of the shower heads condition.
Returning from dinner we were told that the Northern light tour will take place on Friday at 20:30 hours.
On Friday at 12:30 o’clock the Grand City Tour was scheduled. The same procedure like on the transfer from KEF to the hotel, we had to change from the pick-up bus to the tour coach bus. The English of the tour-guide was poor and her German even worse. When a tour operator offers something in a specific language than it should be acceptable for native speakers. During the tour we heard about places where you can buy cars, concrete is produced, how many different hospitals are available, expensive places and houses but nothing really valuable for someone who is interested in the history of a town and its inhabitants. This tour was not worth the money we’ve paid for.
We also had always had to wait outside the hotel for the tours or pick-up services because the drivers wouldn’t stick their heads inside the hotel to call for the trips. Not missing any booked event/trip we had to wait in the cold.
The rescheduled Northern Lights tour took place on Friday night. The pick-up followed the well know procedures and we were so excited about what we would be going to see. Arriving at the area for picture shootings of the Northern Lights in Hvalfjarðarsveit, West-Island we could see for a second something green but weren’t aware that it had been the Lights! Adjusting my camera and placing it facing north I shot some test exposures. And believe it or not: The camera grabbed the light spectrum of the collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere that enter the earth’s atmosphere. It was amazing and breathtaking to look at. I think that I finally shot over a hundred photos.
On Saturday the Golden Circle Tour was our target and we have been excited – not knowing what to come. But the result was overwhelmingly alright. The pick-up from the hotel brought us again to the bus terminal where we had to board the coach bus for the tour. Today we had a German speaking guide who also spoke excellent English.
First stop was a tomato farm where the farmer explained to our group how they grow the tomatoes during the dark period of fall and winter. They use special lighting with the best light spectrum for the plants and bumblebees that they get shipped from the Netherlands to pollinate the tomato blossoms.
After this demonstration the next stop was at the Geysers (64°18’37.4″N 20°18’07.7″W). The tour guide gave us several safety advices and instructions and we got the opportunity to watch them for over 60 minutes. It was amazing to see the boiling hot water of the geysers. Eruptions can hurl boiling water up to 30 meters in the air.
From here we rushed to the Gullfoss falls. To see them, you need to walk for a while and follow the crowd. It’s an experience you will not forget. The air is carrying tiny water particles which makes breathing easy. I thought that this was the perfect air for someone who copes with asthma. Here the time was a little bit limited and we had to rush down to see the fall and back to the coach to make it in time for the next destination: The National Park Þingvellir (Thingvellir). This location represents the area where the Eurasian and North-American plates break apart and the land between subsides.
After several breath-taking moments we had to enter the bus again and start our way back to Reykjavik where we arrived after eight exciting hours.
The stars on the Google map are indicating all the visited sites and places during our stay on Iceland.
Sunday morning during check-out we heard that the pick-up for the KEF shuttle will be at 9 o’clock instead of 9:30 hours as scheduled in our bookings. Again changing from a pick-up bus to a coach bus. The driver of the airport shuttle was wearing sunglasses at night, didn’t use the wipers while driving at 90 km/h during the heavy rain. This was shocking and I reported it already to Reykjavik Excursions as unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour. Their respond was that the driver was wearing glasses that actually make the surroundings brighter. But see by yourself my conversation with them on my Twitter account.
The check-in with AirBerlin for the KEF to DUS flight showed again that we were unable to upgrade the seats because of the chosen fare by Maris Reisen. Arriving in DUS we realised that one piece of luggage, the black suitcase, was damaged. I reported it to the luggage damage report handling company AHS DUS who finally send me a damage report file on December 12, 2016.
Because of all the trouble during our trip to Iceland we than decided not to use the train voucher and book a rental car again for our final trip to our home in Cologne.
As a resume of our trip I have to say: The travel conditions could have been much better but the Wonders of Nature have been perfect and showed what we have been awaiting for a long time.