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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
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
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
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
, 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
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
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
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,
To see Spitsbergen's position relative to the North Pole on a map, or to
look for cruises that visit Spitsbergen,
To see tours that visit Spitsbergen in the summer,
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
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
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,
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,
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%.
$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
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
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
Starting at $3,795. Departs June 8, 15, 22 & 29,
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
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.
$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.
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