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Over the past two years, Iceland has seen a massive explosion in tourism. The small country has a population of only about 335,000, but it has had to adapt quickly with the influx of tourists — there were up to 1.6 million foreign visitors in 2016.
Since my visit to the Land of Fire and Ice two years ago, I had been dying to get back, and thanks to WOW Air’s $99 fares to Reykjavik, getting to Iceland was cheaper and easier than ever. With WOW’s recent Miami expansion, I was able to grab a $200 round-trip fare, this time with the intention of avoiding the ever-expanding crowds. I was eager to check the ION Adventure Hotel off my personal hotel bucket list.
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When I booked, there were, with the ION Adventure a Category 6 property requiring between 20,000 and 25,000 Starpoints per night. With nightly rates starting at 38,800 Icelandic krona ($392), I was determined to put my travel-hacking skills to the test.
My initial search on the SPG website showed a nightly rate of 49,800 ISK ($504). Although that was out of my budget, I was determined to stay in this hotel by hook or by crook. I dug deeper.
A quick search on Google showed that Booking.com was offering the same room on the same dates for 34,116 ISK ($345). But rather than make the reservation through Booking.com at the lower price, I decided to leverage.
After scanning travel forums online, I was a little nervous about whether SPG would actually honor the lower rate I had found on Booking.com. I triple-checked theand, now reassured that my claim would be honored, went ahead and booked directly through StarwoodHotels.com.
In order to take advantage of the guarantee, I had to submit a claim online detailing the lower rate, which could only be done after making a booking directly with SPG. The terms and conditions were extensive, but the key points were that the competing rate had to be for the same room type, on the same dates and available to the general public (i.e., no AAA discounts, corporate codes or last-minute auction sites).
I checked my email the following day. Imagine my delight when I read the message from SPG, which bore the happy news that not only had the competing rate been matched, but they were beating it by an additional 20 percent. My reservation, which started at a rate of 49,800 ISK ($504), ultimately ended up costing only 28,053.33 ISK ($284). For a bit of effort and a fair amount of tenacity, I was able to snag the room at a 44-percent discount!
The 49.7 miles from Keflavik International Airport (KEF) to the ION Adventure seemed short on paper, but the drive took us approximately 90 minutes. Iceland being what it is, travel time could vary greatly depending on road and weather conditions.
The last stretch was dirt road — hardly the most luxurious of voyages I’ve undertaken. In fact, the hotel specifically recommends using a 4×4 during the winter. (Regular cars could probably make the trip in the summer.) Take my advice: Plan ahead and find yourself a car to drive to the hotel. A taxi from Keflavik would have set us back 36,000 ISK ($364) each way — even more than my hotel room!
Play it safe when you drive, as Icelandic roads can be treacherous even without snow. It’s an adventure, to say the least, but although it’s perhaps the most cost-effective way to experience the harsh beauty of this otherworldly terrain, it’s not the easiest.
Though technically located in Selfoss, a bustling town much larger than most communities along the Golden Circle, the ION was a 45-minute drive from the town center.
Lobby and Check-in
With only 44 rooms, the ION Adventure Hotel looked tiny from a distance. The property had a modern, rectangular design, with the bulk of the structure built into the side of the mountain to make full use of the stunning landscape.
As we pulled into the driveway, I noticed only four non-hotel vehicles, along with an electric-vehicle charging station for travelers looking to avoid Iceland’s astronomical gas prices.
The lobby was small and sparsely decorated in what could only be called an homage to Icelandic culture, evidenced by the stone front desk, sheepskin rugs and gift shop stocked with handcrafted woolens to keep you toasty in the middle of an intense Icelandic winter.
The staff had anticipated my arrival, and I was greeted warmly at the front desk. After handing over my passport and SPG American Express credit card, they gave me my room keys along with two glasses of sparkling wine, one for myself and one for my traveling companion.
There was no mention of my SPG status, and little explanation of the hotel; I had to ask before the staff told me when the spa, bar and restaurant were open. I was pleased to hear that unlike the majority of establishments in Iceland, which close around 6pm, the bar was open until midnight.
I was taken aback that we weren’t escorted to our room, but considering the size of the hotel, maybe a chaperone would have been overkill.
The room measured 215 square feet, and the double bed could be broken down into two single beds. On each side of the bed was a small, Nordic minimalist nightstand, one with an alarm clock and the other a third-generation iPad mini.
The room’s floor-to-ceiling window made the room seem a little less claustrophobic, and allowed guests to enjoy the view of the (then) lush landscape and nearby geothermal power plant. Word of warning, however: The view into the room from the swimming pool was just as clear!
The ION prided itself on using local materials everywhere: fur rugs, wool blankets and a lamp made of feathers from a bird I couldn’t identify were only a few of the animal-based decorative elements scattered prettily throughout the property.
The floor-to-ceiling mural of an Icelandic horse was dramatic touch, though it was repeated throughout the hotel numerous times. It would have been nice to see more variety in the artwork.
I was surprised to not find even a simple brochure explaining the basic services offered by the hotel. The only reading material was The Design Hotels Book, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a hotel fanatic, but would leave most guests unimpressed.
I thought for certain that the hotel information had to be on the room’s iPad mini, perhaps in keeping with an eco-friendly philosophy. To my disappointment and surprise, there was nothing. The only thing stored on the iPad was about two months of internet search history. If you are staying at this hotel, make sure you clear any saved passwords — the in-room devices are certainly not wiped after each stay.
With no in-room dining menu, I ventured toward the mini bar in search of a quick snack prior to heading to the spa. I found a disappointingly small assortment of beverages with no prices.
For a property that calls itself a luxury hotel, the non-functional entrancelight by the room door was a surprise. Furthermore, the in-room thermostat was broken.
The bathroom was even more cramped than the inside of the room, with barely enough space for a small vanity and shower with a glass door. Fitting more than two people in the bathroom at once was completely out of the question.
The bathroom featured Soley Organics bathing products, which came in overly large pump bottles on top of a stone block in the shower. There wasn’t room for much else.
Because the glass shower divider was so narrow, it was incredibly difficult not to spill water all over the floor, even when I was bathing very cautiously.
Food and Beverage
The Northern Lights Bar above the pool was one of only two on-site dining options. We had to plan our meals carefully, as there was nothing else around for miles, and most Icelandic establishments close around 6pm.
During the first night, I asked for a late-night snack from the Northern Lights Bar, as the main restaurant was already closed. The bartender explained that nothing was available but that I was free to enjoy the mixed nuts on the tables by the bar. Then he offered me a single lemon. I couldn’t tell if he were joking or making a genuine attempt at being helpful.
While dining choices at the ION were limited, there was a full breakfast buffet available at the Silfra for $29. It was not included as a platinum amenity.
That proved steep for such a limited spread, though it did seem reasonable when compared to similar establishments in wallet-busting Iceland.
Theat Silfra was sparse, and never changed, with main courses starting at 4,990 ISK ($56).
The Lava Spa, which contained a geothermal pool, was undoubtedly the key feature of the ION Adventure. Situated beneath the Northern Lights Bar, the shallow pool allowed us to bask in the waters’ natural warmth while taking in the breathtaking sights.
The Lava Spa was open to all guests of the hotel for free, regardless of whether they bought spa treatments. Someone at the front desk told me day passes for non-guests were available for $50, information that would have been more useful had it been readily available online.
Immediately after entering the spa, I noticed a small relaxation area. The centerpiece was a small table atop a fur rug. I sipped a cup of tea while taking in the view.
At a depth of two feet, the pool was extremely shallow, but perfect for a semi-reclined position while basking in the heat.
The white vapor from the power plant was a striking contrast against the green landscape.
Iceland in May is still spring, and foliage during my visit was still in the process of growing. I could only imagine how beautiful the view would have been during the summer, with everything in blossom.
The conference room was well-stocked, included seating space for large groups, lots of natural light, a projection screen and a curved 4K TV.
From a design standpoint, the ION Adventure Hotel is absolutely stunning. That said, you should expect that minimalism also applied to service and amenities. This property is perfect for low-maintenance travelers looking to unwind and take in the beautiful Icelandic panoramas, so if you enjoy isolation, quiet, and hands-off service, this is the hotel for you. On the other hand, the isolated nature of the property makes seeing local attractions and dining particularly inconvenient.