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Tour Newsletter Dated April 21, 2014

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Dear Vacations To Go Customer,

Alan Fox checks in from Longyearbyen this week, on his way to the North Pole. The second of three trip reports is below and there is a link to a slideshow at the end of his report.

If you missed his first report about conditions at the North Pole and the floating base camp, Barneo, you can read it by clicking here.

Getting to the North Pole

Houston--London--Oslo--Longyearbyen--Barneo (camp on polar ice cap)--North Pole

When I booked my trip to the North Pole, I must admit I looked at the tiny town of Longyearbyen, on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, as merely a required stopover en route to the main attraction.

I knew that adventure travelers and nature lovers visit the island from June to September to look for polar bears and whales and to climb the snowcapped mountains and kayak the deep-blue fjords. Vacations To Go offers Arctic cruises and tours with the island as the main attraction.

But at this time of year, so far above the Arctic Circle, I expected to find the world's northernmost town would be a frozen outpost hunkered down against the cold. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Not that it isn't cold -- temperatures have ranged from 20 to -11 F during our visit -- it just doesn't seem to matter to anyone. The wide, pedestrian street of shops, restaurants and bars is open for business, and the best restaurants are booked to capacity every night. Tourists bound for cross-country skiing, camping and snowmobiling vacations fill the few arriving flights each day.

We landed two days ago in a snowstorm, swooping down on the runway with steep mountains on one side and a fjord on the other. We were met by Rick Sweitzer of Polar Explorers and taken to the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, a comfortable property with an excellent restaurant and a lively bar scene.

We explored the village on foot, finding colorfully painted homes and businesses a pleasing contrast to the white roads, sky, mountains and countryside.

Of course, there are a few aspects of Longyearbyen that remind you you're not in Kansas anymore.

There are majestic mountains in every direction. The locals mostly use snowmobiles instead of cars for transportation. The sun is up 22 hours a day (at this time of year) with two hours of twilight. Restaurants offer whale, seal, reindeer, ptarmigan and cod tongue along with more common options. And residents are required by law to carry a rifle whenever they leave town, for their own protection from polar bears. Residents pack rifles on their snowmobiles, carry them down the streets and even into restaurants and bars.

Our first night in town, we were upside-down from the time change and had no problem closing down the Radisson bar at 2am. The storm had cleared out and the sun had just set but there was plenty of light outside. We decided to climb one of the nearby mountains, known to locals as the mountain of Mine 2b, which we completed (sort of) at 5am, an hour after sunrise.

That climb delayed our acclimation to the local time zone a bit but bonded us to the place in a way a good night's sleep could not have.

After a few hours of sleep, we headed into the wilderness on a guided snowmobile tour that took us to spectacular mountain vistas and past reindeer digging in the snow for a bit of grass or moss.

Tonight, we received a briefing on conditions at Barneo, the floating ice camp 50 miles from the North Pole, our next stop. Barneo exists for less than three weeks every April, just after the sun rises at the pole and before the polar ice cap splinters into pieces, as it does by the end of the month.

There is a new crack in the ice between the tents and the runway, but there is no plan to relocate the camp unless it gets bigger.

Cracks have destroyed the ice runway numerous times in prior years and once forced the emergency relocation of the camp. The weather has turned considerably colder at the pole, and the forecast for our arrival is -50 F. Hopefully the colder weather will delay the breakup of the ice floe.

Tomorrow we will board a Ukrainian-made Antonov 74, piloted by a Russian crew, for the flight to Barneo. One year the plane shattered the ice runway as it touched down, but the pilots managed to take off again and return to Spitsbergen instead of sinking into the Arctic Ocean. I'm sure the adrenaline will be flowing when we hit that sheet of ice about 5-6 feet thick.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be there and back in time to report on my trip to the pole in next week's newsletter. Of course, on this trip, plans are only as stable as the ice.

To see photos or a slideshow of Spitsbergen, click here.

To see Spitsbergen's position relative to the North Pole on a map, or to look for cruises that visit Spitsbergen, click here.

To see tours that visit Spitsbergen in the summer, click here.

Here are this week's Top 20 Tours. All prices are per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability.

1) Best of Germany & Austria, 14 days with Trafalgar. Begins in Frankfurt and ends in Vienna with stops in Berlin, Munich and Innsbruck. Save $400 per couple off the air-inclusive price. Starting at $3,399. Departures from May 10 through October 18, 2014.

2) The Classic Summer Voyage South, 6 days with Hurtigruten. Begins in Kirkenes and ends in Bergen with stops in Tromso, Trondheim and Kristiansund. Save up to 40%. Prices shown reflect discount. Starting at $1,417. Departures from June 5 through August 26, 2014.

3) Israel Explorer, 7 days with SITA Tours. Begins and ends in Tel Aviv with visits to Nazareth, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea and with accommodations at Dan Hotels. Starting at $1,505. Departures from May 8 through December 25, 2014.

4) Heart of Wales and England, 8 days with CIE Tours. Begins and ends in London with visits to Stonehenge, Brecon Beacons National Park and Stratford-upon-Avon. Save $150 per couple. Starting at $1,648. Departures from May 31 through October 25, 2014.

5) Greek Island Hopper, 10 days with Globus. Begins and ends in Athens with visits to the Acropolis, Mykonos and Santorini. Receive $200 per couple in air credit. Starting at $1,809. Departures from June 13 through September 26, 2014.

6) The Scots Irish Tour, 11 days with CIE Tours. Begins in Edinburgh and ends in Shannon with visits to the Isle of Skye, the Giant's Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. Save $250 per couple. Starting at $1,938. Departures from May 20 through October 19, 2014.

7) Panama: The Canal and Beyond, 8 days with Trafalgar. Begins and ends in Panama City with visits to Gamboa Rainforest, Boquete and Playa Bonita. Save up to 5%. Starting at $1,950. Departures from July 11, 2014 through March 13, 2015.

8) 6 Day Touch of Japan Escapade Experience, 6 days with Pacific Delight Tours. Begins in Tokyo and ends in Kyoto with visits to Mount Fuji, Owakudani Boiling Valley and Nijo Castle. Save $500 per couple. Starting at $2,149. Departures from June 4 through November 5, 2014.

9) In Pursuit of Pandas, 9 days with Wendy Wu Tours. Begins in Beijing and ends in Chengdu with visits to the Great Wall of China, the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian and Leshan. Save $300 per couple off the air-inclusive price or save $150 per couple off the land price. Starting at $2,240. Departures from May 10 through November 15, 2014.

10) Highlights of Peru, 8 days with Trafalgar. Begins and ends in Lima with visits to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco. Save up to 5%. Starting at $2,383. Departures from July 19, 2014 through April 18, 2015.

11) Madrid to Marrakech, 15 days with Intrepid Travel. Begins in Madrid and ends in Marrakech with visits to Salamanca, Lisbon and the Algarve. Save 10%. Starting at $2,615. Departures from May 17, 2014 through November 14, 2015.

12) Good Old Summertime, 9 days with American Queen Steamboat Company. Begins in Memphis and ends in Cincinnati with stops in New Madrid, Paducah and Louisville. Companion cruises for free, plus receive free shore excursions. Starting at $3,049. Departs June 13, 2014.

13) Castles & Manors, 9 days with Brendan. Begins and ends in Dublin with visits to the Ring of Kerry, Inishbofin Island and Donegal. Save $400 per couple off the air-inclusive price. Starting at $3,075. Departures from June 5 through October 2, 2014.

14) Enticing Douro, 8 days with AmaWaterways. Begins and ends in Porto with stops in Barca d'Alva, Salamanca and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo. Save $500 per couple. Starting at $3,199. Departures from June 17 through August 19, 2014.

15) Golden Circle via Whistler, 11 days with Rocky Mountaineer. Begins and ends in Vancouver with visits to Jasper National Park, Lake Louise and Banff National Park. Receive one free hotel night in Vancouver. Starting at $3,743. Departures from May 17 through September 20, 2014.

16) Columbia & Snake Rivers, 8 days with American Queen Steamboat Company. Travels between Clarkston and Portland with visits to Sacajawea State Park, The Dalles and Astoria. Companion cruises for free, plus receive free shore excursions. Starting at $3,795. Departs June 8, 15, 22 & 29, 2014.

17) 14 Day North Classic, 14 days with Perillo Tours. Begins in Rome and ends in Milan with visits to Pompeii, Florence and Venice. Travelers ages 12 and under save $1,500 to $2,100 per person. Starting at $3,890. Departures from June 13 through November 9, 2014.

18) Imperial Jewels of China, 13 days with Viking River Cruises. Travels between Beijing and Shanghai with visits to the Great Wall of China, the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian and the Three Gorges. Companion cruises and flies for free. Starting at $5,249. Departures from March 8 through November 1, 2015.

19) Splendors of Northern Italy, Venice, Florence & Rome, 13 days with Uniworld. Begins in Venice and ends in Rome with stops in Padua, Bologna and Verona. Save $3,000 to $4,000 per couple off the air-inclusive price. Starting at $6,199. Departures from May 11 through November 2, 2014.

20) Tanzania: A Grand Family Safari, 11 days with Tauck. Begins and ends in Arusha with visits to Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Travelers ages 11 and under save $500 per person. Starting at $6,640. Departures from June 14 through December 20, 2015.

Customers in the US and Canada can call us toll-free at 800-680-2858. For a list of our other toll-free numbers worldwide, click here.

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Please email me your comments, suggestions and questions at alanfox@tourvacationstogo.com and I will respond the same day.

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Alan Fox
Chairman & CEO
Vacations To Go

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