on November 7, 2008
Ecotourism is a booming business and in Churchill, Manitoba it is the polar bears that bring tourists in from around the world for approximately six weeks every fall. After learning about tour packages to Churchill, I started my research nearly a year out before my adventure. There are several tour companies who package four to six day adventures in Churchill so it is important that you figure out what you really want to do during your time there and find the operator who packages the best to see and do, at the most affordable price. Prices do range significantly, as do the quality of the tour leaders/guides and the activities added above the main attraction . . . viewing polar bears from a tundra buggy vehicle. From all I was able to read and learn, my choice was easy . . . Churchill Nature Tours!!There are two buggy operators in Churchill . . . Great White Bear Tours and The Tundra Buggy. All of the tour operators utilize one of these two companies. Some also supplement the tundra buggy experience with converted bus expeditions on the second day. I was glad we had two full days in a tundra buggy type vehicle especially given the blizzard conditions we had on the second tour day.Churchill Nature Tours utilizes Great White Bear Tours which is a smaller, yet very reputable company. There are a lot of reasons to be happy that they do too:1. The buggies are newer and are very comfortable with motor coach style comfy seats.2. Flushable toilet rather than the nasty "honey pots" used by the other company.3. Smaller groups (ours was just 21 people) making it possible for everyone to have a great view and access to primo photography positions. A full buggy could have had 40+ on board.In addition to the two days of polar bear viewing, Churchill Nature Tours does an outstanding job of putting together a lot of other great things for visitors to do. Top on that list would be the one hour helitour provided by Hudson Bay Helicopters. See separate journal/review on that experience. It was nice to have that scheduled for our first day in town, as it whetted my appetite and excitement for what would happen in the coming days.Our tour guide was a ruggedly handsome man named Steve. A Canadian who has been doing nature tours in and around Manitoba for nearly 20 years, it was clear that he had a connection with our group and an attention to our every need to make our vacation a real "once in a lifetime" experience. By all accounts, he succeeded.Part of Steve's role with us was not only providing us with the educational aspects for fully appreciate Churchill, her people and wildlife, but also to be our chauffer getting us around in a Thompson school bus. While it may be easy to take this service for granted, especially in a town that is less than ten blocks by five blocks big . . . trust me when I say there was not a single person in our group disappointed when we didn't have to walk the four blocks to Gypsy's for breakfast or dinner on the icy snow covered road . . . or in the 50+ mph wind driven snow blizzard. Additionally, unlike other tour operators, Churchill Nature Tours provided for every one of our meals from our arrival in Winnipeg on our first night . . . to our breakfast in Winnipeg before our flights home to points elsewhere in Canada, England and the USA.Included in our tour package were the direct flights between Winnipeg to Churchill via Calm Air Airlines. The flights were a little more than two hours and included a light snack meal (breakfast up to Churchill and lunch on the return to Winnipeg). As airlines go, I really liked the comfort on their aircraft (Embraer 175 up and an ATR 42 back) and their staff (both flight attendants were very nice).Also included in the six day/five night all inclusive vacation were accommodations in Winnipeg (first and last night) at the Hilton Suites and three nights in Churchill at the Aurora Inn. Both were comfortable and spacious. Pricing for their tour packages are based on double occupancy, with a $550 supplement for those traveling alone and not interested in being doubled up. For me, saving the $550 made doubling up worthwhile to me. My roommate was an engaging woman named Marian from British Columbia who was a spry and young 83 year old.Other activities that we were able to take in during our time in Churchill included visits to the Eskimo Museum, the interpretive exhibits in the train station, a drive by tour along the Hudson Bay to include a stop at the most dangerous spot in town, and a stop at the post office to have our passports stamped with the "Churchill - Polar Bear Capital of the World" postmark.A special bonus for us was two evening programs that took place after supper. On our first evening in town, we were treated to an overview of a year in Churchill as shared through a local photographer's slide show. He work featured nature and wildlife as well as the people of Churchill and Northern Manitoba. Seeing life in Churchill through Mike's camera lens was a highlight for this wannabee National Geographic photographer.The second evening was an especially fun time with Inuit locals Mary and Peter. Yes, that is their real name, as this area had a presence and strong influence from the Catholic Church in the mid 1900's. Dressed in traditional Inuit attire, Mary and Peter invited us into their caribou skin tent. We learned about their people and culture, and were treated to a drum dance and song. Mary also shared with us several tools used even today by the Inuit including knives and harpoons for hunting and household items like sewing needles and candles. It was an enchanted evening that really added to my Churchill experience.In addition to this journal, please take a look at the companion journal "Exploring Churchill with Churchill Nature Tours" for additional reviews on my experiences and activities during my four days in the Polar Bear Capital of the World!!There are many options and choices when considering a Churchill Polar Bear Adventure vacation. Now that I have had the pleasure of touring with Churchill Nature Tours, I'm certain that I was with the best!For more information on polar bear tour options and pricing check them out at: http://www.churchillnaturetours.com/ .11/13/08 UPDATE: They have updated their web site to include the schedule and pricing for the 2009 polar bear tours. Dates are ALREADY filling up!! Do not delay if you are interested in having this once in a lifetime experience in 2009 with Churchill Nature Tours: http://www.churchillnaturetours.com/tours/bears.html .
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009