What it’s like to take a guided family trip to Iceland with Disney

Some stories start at the end.

As a parent, you don’t set out to make your child cry. But as Betty Anne sobbed so hard she could barely breathe (for now going on two hours), I smiled in satisfaction. I admit, I’ve made every parenting mistake in the book (and written a few new chapters), but this time, I’d done something right.

Now, I’m no sociopath. Not any more than my daughter is hypersensitive; I think I’ve seen her cry three times in her nine years. This was different. This was the final hour of our family vacation in Iceland. Betty was crying because she didn’t want to leave. This was the first time my daughter understood the feeling of loving a place and its people so much that it becomes a part of you. It hurts, because your heart is now forever broken between multiple places, yet at the same time, your heart is now bigger. Stretched across the globe.

Betty Anne Markwardt on an Icelandic horse ride around the Golden Circle with Adventures by Disney. Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel

When we set off on our Adventures by Disney tour, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, until recently, I didn’t even know Disney did guided tours, beyond cruise ships and far beyond the Magic Kingdom walls. All I knew is Iceland’s otherworldly waterfalls and dramatic glaciers and elf folklore and “midnight sun” (where there is no real night) were No. 1 on my bucket list, and I wanted to share the experience with my family. I also had zero idea how to wrap my brain around planning the trip and seriously, no time or energy to do it right.

Adventures by Disney promised a finely tuned trip with activities appropriate for adults and kids; authentic culture; educational and entertaining experts as tour guides; and most importantly, no effort required by me. Remember when you were a kid and vacations just happened? You didn’t think about where to eat and the budget and navigation and scheduling and how to pick the right hotel. It just happened. Magically. That’s what Disney vowed: a different way to feel like a kid again. It’s always magic with Disney.

After river rafting down a glacier river in Iceland with Adventures by Disney. Courtesy photo

And oh, it was. When the wind and clouds rested for the entire week, offering some of the best weather of the year, we joked that our guides had pressed the magic Disney Button. When a humpback whale swam right up to our boat and offered the most dramatic, deep-sea tail dive down — come on. What were the chances? It was better than Mickey.

Iceland is just one of the nearly 40 destination tours that Adventures by Disney offers, in addition to the South African plains, Costa Rican rainforest and ruins of Pompeii. Most recently, there’s a trip to Japan and in 2020, an excursion to Egypt.

Behind the Seljalandsfoss (waterfall). Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel

The guided tours are booked in small groups (including optional adults-only vacations), and they take you to the hottest sites, as well as exclusive and off-the-beaten-path gems. The tour guides expertly blend entertainment with education and authenticity, so you leave feeling like you truly understand the culture. It’s deeper than just sightseeing. And by the end of the trip, the guides feel like part of your family.

As I watched Betty Anne cry on top of our packed luggage before we checked out of our hotel in Iceland, I got it — what the guides had called “the Disney difference.”

On the black sand beach in Vik, Iceland. Photo courtesy of Aimee Heckel

“I miss home,” she said. “But this feels like my home, too.”

As they say, home is where the heart is. That heart is the magic we’d sensed, wherever in the world it goes.