Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Canada (
-   -   Anyone else excited about the polar bears? (

klam_chowder Oct 15th, 2008 10:45 AM

Anyone else excited about the polar bears?
We're heading off on one of the earlier Churchill tours, next week actually, and was a bit worried as the Polar Bear Cam was up by late Oct last year but isn't likely to be up until Nov 10 this year.

I had to contact a lodge and also asked how the season was and the reply was, "There has been very successful bears sightings so far."

So I am relieved and very excited about this trip!


SallyCanuck Oct 15th, 2008 11:28 AM

Lucky you - did you see the program when Rick Mercer visited Churchill?

kodi Oct 15th, 2008 12:36 PM

Klam, how wonderful for you. I'd love to be going to see the bears.

What site is the webcam?

Have a great time.

klam_chowder Oct 15th, 2008 05:03 PM

SallyC...I saw the one from 2005 or 06. I've not caught his show this season...are you referring to a new one?

I get a good LOL from watching RM - I'm impressed at how willing he is to put himself out there without worrying about 'looking good'.

Thx a mint for the reminder - I'll have to dvr his shows again.

Hi kodi...yeah, it's been on my dream list for quite a few years now. Last year Macy's had flannel polar bear tops & bottom pj sets and I even picked one up for the lodge...LOL!

The polar bear cam is put on/out by Natl Geographic & Polar Bear Int'l. Until it starts up for this season, the site has highlights from last year:


kodi Oct 15th, 2008 05:56 PM

Thanks Klam, I'll be sure to watch it.
The pj's sound cute. Nice and cozy. YOu will fit right in at the lodge! It's certainly on my dream list too, but I'm not sure if I'll ever get there.
I'll be thinking of you. Have fun.

SallyCanuck Oct 16th, 2008 05:23 AM

klam - yes, I meant the one from previous seasons - he can be very funny and that was a good program.

tinydancer Oct 25th, 2008 09:51 AM

We're flying to Churchill this Friday (31st) and keep checking the weather. It doesn't seem to be very cold and not cold enough to freeze the bay and make polar bears happy. Does anyone have any comments? We're also excited about going, but wonder if the bears will make themselves available. Does anyone have an idea of how cold it has to be before the bears congregate at Churchill? Also, we're booked to do a dog sled ride, and it looks like there might not be much snow. Comments?

klam_chowder Oct 27th, 2008 09:18 AM

I just returned and it is 5C warmer than usual for both hi's and lows. The bears have been fasting for a while so to conserve energy they sleep quite a bit. Also, the warmer weather overheats them so they tend to be less active.

We saw 9 distinct bears on one day and 7 on the other. We went back at different parts of the day to see if specific bears were still there and what they were up to, so we had a few more sightings than bears. While there were fewer bears than we expected, what impressed me was the "quality" of the sightings. We were lucky to see a spooked bear run, one walking thru water (a rarity since they usually walk around ponds to conserve energy), lots of them snoozing, a few peek-a-boo bears who just lifted their heads to see what was going on before resuming their nap behind a ridge of seaweed or dwarf willows. The most amazing sight was of a mother bear and cub and the cub nursing. Our guide said it was a rare sight and he'd had stretches of 4 years without seeing any nursing bears. Of course the bears that jumped up on the Tundra Buggys caused the most gasps and squeals and a lot of camera clicking.

There were other sights as well: shy Arctic hares, an Arctic fox wandering around the Lodge, flocks of pecking ptarmigan, a few snowy owls, northern lights on one night, but the polar bears were definitely the main attraction.

The area that is covered is actually surprisingly small. Tundra Buggy has been doing this for a while and have a good system worked out. This is the first year that they have been able to fly 737 from WPG to Churchill. There were a few tours heading out that morning and at least 85 people. Here's a tip...Churchill does not have the facilities to deplane a 737 so the passengers deplane from the back! The Nolinair charter provided a boxed cold breakfast on our flight to Churchill and on the return, a boxed cold dinner. Both were far better than any hot food offering (not counting the likes of Singapore Air, etc. of course).

The school bus ride into Churchill is only 5 minutes, and the rest of the day we had was more than enough to wander thru Parks Canada's excellent displays including some videos, check out every gift shop in town, get our passport stamped with a polar bear chop at the Post Office, view the carvings and artifacts in the Eskimo Museum, and have a very leisurely lunch.

Gypsy's is the place to be and hence is very noisy. When we were leaving a tour bus arrived and 40 people were queuing up to place their order at the counter. In such cases, I'd definitely just go elsewhere. The food was very good tho, and what great bakery selections, esp. for such a small place. We had too much time before the bus ride to the lodge so we stopped in the Churchill Motel for tea and a snack. It was nice and quiet, very reasonably priced and service was friendly. Their breakfast menu looked good too!

There was no snow covering at all, and the day before we arrived it had rained quite a bit as the streets of Churchill were muddy and puddle-y. We didn't book a dog sled ride as we weren't sure what the snow would be like. I've read that they do dog sledding even in the summer months so I don't think you will have to worry - it should go ahead but with different equipment. There is a husky pup outside one of the shops. He was out of his doghouse when I saw him so I approached him very cautiously. He was a friendly guy and had fun swatting his paw at me and as I squatted down to pet him he was happy to climb up onto my thigh and while he is not a cuddly-type of pup, he is definitely VERY cute!

If we had thought about it some more, we would have hired a cab - there's quite a few around - and taken a tour of some of the local "landmarks" like the crashed plane, the polar bear jail, etc. There was a flyer on many of the store doors offering a taxi tour highlights. One couple heard there was a bear on the outskirts and paid a cab $60 to drive out and find it. They said the bear was only about 40 ft from the road!

Are you staying at the Tundra Buggy Lodge? I can see the advantage of staying there during this time when there are fewer bears around. The drive from town to the Tundra Buggy launch site is 30 minutes and then it's another 90 minutes to the Lodge. We did see a sleeping bear when we were almost at the Lodge and another bear was within viewing distance of the Lodge. It was fun to watch him even sleep while we had breakfast and dinner. The obvious advantage of the Lodge is that we didn't have to spend 2 hours "commuting" each way, each day.

We left the Lodge at 8 am each day and watched the sunrise on our way driving out. We'd return to the Lodge from 4:30 to 6 pm. Some of the guests were surprised to find out they were staying bunkbeds. The bunks were very clean, and each one had its own light, small mirror and electrical socket. Before you fly to Churchill, guests are given luggage tags and TBL takes your luggage from Winnipeg right to the Lodge. Your bunks are pre-assigned and your luggage is left under the bunks. Be sure you have everything you need for the day in your carry on (camera, batteries, extra layers, etc.). It was warm enough that we didn't have all of our layers on and we were quite comfortable. I'm glad I heeded the advice of the Lounge Fodorites and didn't buy a parka. However, the Sorels I bought for this trip were great. Make sure you have a hood on your jacket as when the wind blows it really gets to your head, even a toque itself doesn't seem enough to keep the wind off.

Our tour was sold out so there were quite a few in cramped spaces. About 19 bunks are in each "cabin" and there are 2 sleeping cabins, a lounge car which doubles for the evening slide show presentation and even had an Internet-connected Mac for checking e-mail and guests could burning that day's pics, a dining room car and a utility car (for staff use - kitchen, etc.)

There was a bit of queuing for washrooms but nothing more than a few minutes for the washrooms at least (2 washrooms and 1 shower per cabin); some other guests whose bunks backed onto the hot water tank were less than enthused with the person who decided to shower at 4 am. However, it was very manageable. Dispenser-style body gel and shampoo are available in the shower and handsoap in the washrooms. So bring your own face soap and hair dryer. Also I really appreciated their enviro-consciousness as they had a hand towel in the bathrooms (I carried my handkerchief as group towels gross me out). They have earplugs available at night - I can only say just be sure to use them!

There were guests from all over: various parts of the UK, across the US and Canada, Taiwan, a German travel agent had a group of tourists with her, Austria, Switzerland. As with any group there were those who were considerate and those who were less used to sharing. The guide did a good job of announcing at the beginning that we would need to share the space and to move back to allow others to get their photo opp of wherever the bears were. We were very conscious of sharing but others (always the same few) would ask to get in our seat even before we had a gotten a picture off and remain there until we felt we had to ask to get some pictures too. I'd say half the group had pretty serious cameras and I could hear them chatting with lens envy...LOL! Overall, everyone got lots of good pics and I can't imagine anyone not having the opp to get some really good shots.

Food-wise, the breakfasts were great: the hot food (scrambled eggs, bacon and toast on one day, and croissant sandwiches the next) were served cafeteria style (without the partition) and the cold food was self-serve. Lots of selection: whole fruit, fruit salad, yogurt, various cereals including a wonderful homemade granola, instant oatmeal. All kinds of soda, bottled water, coffee, and hot water for hot chocolate, tea, apple cider were always available in the dining car/lounge whenever we were at the Lodge.

Lunch was eaten on board the Buggy: make your own sandwiches and a hot homemade soup (tomato with roasted garlic and butternut squash), with cookies and hot drinks to follow. If you get hungry mid-day, be sure to bring a bit of snack food for yourself. The morning coffee break was half a donut and a granola bar. I was starving by lunch on the first day (however, I get really hungry when I'm fighting off a cold so that might have been the case - but then again, I don't usually eat a lot of food). Again, I was happy to see that they used re-usable plates, mugs and cutlery rather than disposable. Mugs were even "recycled" from the coffee break to lunch as we labelled our mug at the morning break.

When we got back to the Lodge there were hot drinks, some boxed wine and appetizers before dinner. On the first day appetizers were Bits & Bites, trail mix, and salsa & chips. The second day was really stepped up with mini egg rolls, cheese & crackers and grapes. Dinner was a sit down, served meal (cafeteria-quality pasta & meatsauce; elk kabobs with mashed potatoes, and spinach, pear, craisin and pecan salad). Dessert and hot drinks followed. I had thought there would be very little fruits and veggies offered/available but I was pleasantly surprised at all the meals.

The meals are cooked at the Lodge by the staff, who were great. In total, there were four staff for our group: our driver/guide shared a lot of interesting info during our trip and the nightly slide presentations and the other 3 cooked and cleaned and all served meals. They did a great job. One staff did not seem very approachable (she scowled a lot of the time but was not rude in any way), another staff, Julie, was just as wonderful a person you could have on your team - always friendly, smiling, tried to learn everyone's names, etc. If you have food allergies/restrictions, do not worry they are very accommodating - almost too much so! I felt bad that Julie kept checking with me as I'd told her I can eat around my restrictions pretty easily (DH is always happy when I give him my scoop of ice cream...LOL!). The crew did a great job and while suggested gratuities are outlined in the pre-trip package, they are pretty relaxed about it and the only mention was on the last nite where the guide mentioned a box would be put on the lounge bar if we wanted to contribute, and that the tips were shared amongst the four staff. There were no signs on the buses or in the Lodge, etc. I appreciated that it wasn't an uncomfortable "gratuity grab" - I think we left more tip because we didn't feel we were forced to leave it. Frontiers North, the travel agency that books the TBL tours, also has great staff as shown in every interaction I had with them before the trip. While this trip is expensive, I never felt they were scrimping on us.

Staying at the airport Sheraton is almost a must for this trip for the ease of just walking down for the early morning (6:45 am) meeting. After we arrived in Winnipeg, we took the public transit bus from the airport ($2.50 one way) to downtown and checked it out for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel. We ate at the hotel Sports Bar so I could have a drink but found out all 3 restaurants share the same kitchen so you can order off any menu and get a drink in any of them. The food was pretty dry - both my turkey club and DH's hamburger. The evening before presentations are also done at the hotel. Depending on the view you want, even numbered rooms look out onto the airstrip, odd number rooms have the Winnipeg skyline. There is a DVD rental machine (free for guests) on the left hand side of the check in counter; after dinner we hung out in our room and watched a flick. We saved our morning newspaper from the Sheraton and offered it to a Churchill gift shop owner who was most appreciative.

So that's about it for the trip - truly an amazing experience. The polar bears were just magical and I'd have loved to take a 3 month cub home with me...LOL! It was easy spending hours just watching them. I hope this answered some of your questions, and since there wasn't a lot of info on these trips, I thought I'd write up a bit.


eenusa Nov 3rd, 2008 09:54 AM

Klam_chowder -- so happy I found your review before we left. We leave Nov 10 and join our Frontiers North group on the 12th. Staying at the Tundra Buggy Lodge as well. Will read your review to hubby tonight and may come back to ask you questions.

Any photos where we can see them?

eenusa Nov 3rd, 2008 03:42 PM

Klam_Chowder ... curious as to how many people were on your tundra buggy when you went out each day?

Jed Nov 10th, 2008 05:50 AM

Thanks for this interesting report. Brings back good memories. ((*))

klam_chowder Nov 25th, 2008 05:28 AM

eenusa & Jed, thx a mint for the replies...nice to know someone read what I took the time to write...LOL!

Jed, I remember your report being one of the few resources when I was planning this trip.

eenusa - I seemed to recall someone was leaving for Churchill soon after my return, hence my quick & dirty report; glad it might have been of some use to you.

Sorry for the delayed reply - I was out of country for 3 wks from from Oct 31 onwards and my adventures allowed me a break from my Fodor-addiction. I haven't looked into the best place to post photos on-line so nothing available yet. I read your trip report - wow, you saw a lot of bears!! Great to hear you had a fab trip too.


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:30 AM.