Anna Among the Polar Bears

Anna Brill had the incredible good luck to win a trip to see polar bears with Natural Habitat Adventures.

Anna Matt Churchill Nat Hab Polar Bears
My fiancé Matt and I on the Tundra

Note: as the author of this blog, I will be writing this post in first person. – Anna

Where I Went

I started with 2 nights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, during which I participated in the Extra Day in Winnipeg program. Natural Habitat Adventures then flew us on a charter flight to Churchill, Manitoba, a small town of about 800 people right on Hudson Bay, where we spent 4 nights. After an amazing experience in Churchill, we flew back down to Winnipeg, where we spent our final night.

The Experience

I participated in their Classic 7-Day Polar Bear Adventure. There are so many exceptional components to this expedition, starting with the guides. The guides are trained by World Wildlife Fund, and they all worked as guides for other reputable companies before finding Nat Hab. Our guide, Kurt, was a naturalist from Wyoming, with the Tetons and Yellowstone in his backyard. His field guide on Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks is the best selling field guide to the region; it’s a great understatement to claim that our guide was a passionate and experienced naturalist.

Our bus driver, Claude, who drove us around Churchill area, and our rover driver, Val, who drove us around the tundra, were both Churchill natives who could spot notable wildlife off in the distance. Once, Claude saw a polar bear out of his left-hand window at least 200 yards away – while driving! He stopped so we could take pictures, and even lent us his binoculars.

Kurt Claude Nat Hab Polar bears
Kurt, our guide, and Claude, our driver

Another exceptional aspect of the trip was, of course, the nature viewing. In Churchill, Natural Habitat Adventures has crafted itineraries and forged partnerships with amazing restaurants, good accommodations, and most importantly, a company that builds rovers for viewing polar bears. The rovers are like a school bus combined with a tank, with an observation deck on the back. The wheels of the rover are 6 feet in diameter, which serves multiple purposes: passengers are sufficiently elevated above polar bears, and the vehicle can navigate the rocky paths and icy rivers of the tundra. There are 32 seats on the rover, which are configured like a school bus. Nat Hab accepts a maximum of 16 guests on their trips so that every passenger gets a window seat.

The observation deck is the only way to view wildlife in the open air while on the tundra, because it is never safe to leave the vehicle when polar bears are in the area. The deck also allows for polar bears to meander under it, and polar bears are still very much visible while underneath the deck.

[Coming soon: a video of a polar bear under our observation deck!]

Kurt, Val, and Claude were all quite adept at spotting wildlife, and they always made sure everyone in the group could get at least a glimpse when they did. Val was extremely conscientious about not disrupting polar bears while she navigated the tundra, meaning she would not just drive up to a polar bear. While she and Kurt wanted to make sure we could see polar bears up close, we also wanted to respect the fact that we were guests in the bears’ habitat. They instructed us to remain quiet and not attempt to entice the bear in any way to approach our vehicle. Occasionally, a more curious bear would approach us, and those moments of interaction were absolutely the highlight of the trip.

While roaming the tundra, we would stop to view bears, but we also stopped for other forms of wildlife: snow bunting, ptarmigan, snowy owls, ermine, and an arctic hare all made notable appearances, and we stopped to observe (and photograph) them for as long as we were able. If it looked like the animal we were observing was going to be around for awhile, Kurt and Val would set up scopes or lend us binoculars so that we could see them in as much detail as possible. One day during lunch on the rover, two snowy owls sat in the sight of our scopes for well over an hour. We could see them turning their heads and opening their beaks to communicate. In addition to educating us on these animals’ appearances, behavior, and survival status, Kurt was constantly giving us photography tips.

polar bears Nat Hab
Polar bear, as seen from our rover vehicle

The accommodation in Winnipeg is the elegant, historic Fort Garry Hotel. The rooms, food, location, and service are lovely. In Churchill, also known as Polar Bear Country, the accommodations are certainly less luxurious, but they suited our needs perfectly. We stayed in the Churchill Hotel, which had just been renovated. The rooms were a nice size and they were clean, there were stations in the rooms and around the hotel for making tea/coffee/hot chocolate, and breakfast was delicious.

The food throughout the trip was also exceptional, but I’ll go more into that in the next section.

Potential Travelers to the Arctic: Points to Consider

Physical Guidelines

Almost anyone can do this trip: I’m 26 and was the youngest person on the trip, and the eldest person on the trip was a 91-year-old man who walked with a cane. Since we spent a great deal of the days in our rover on the tundra, there were very few physical demands. We were given some free time, with the option to be active, but the trip overall was quite sedentary. In terms of the cold, Natural Habitat provides boots and parkas for the duration of the trip, and they are of very high quality.

With regards to dietary restrictions, I was extremely impressed with what Nat Hab and their selected restaurants could provide in such a remote arctic location. The food in general was incredible, and both the vegan on our trip and a gluten-intolerant person in another group told me they were accommodated with a great variety of food options. There were several meals that included avocado, the salads had many different ingredients and tasted fresh, the soups were delicious (from a vegan/gluten-free carrot and yam soup to a not-so-vegan chicken soup), and from seafood to bison burgers to curries, there was something delicious and filling for everyone at every meal. And this is in a town of 800 people where there are no roads leading to it, and a train that only delivers food and supplies once per week!

Budgeting Guidelines

For anyone hoping to see the Arctic one day, keep in mind that both the Arctic and Antarctica can be a higher-budget journey. These experiences through Nat Hab are wonderful because of the high caliber of the guides, the accommodations, and the level of service. The experience is all-inclusive and prepaid. From the time we touched down in Winnipeg until the moment we flew out of Winnipeg at the end of our trip, we paid nothing additional for food, accommodation, transfers, charter flights, or tours; the only additional costs to us were some alcohol and souvenirs (and sometimes, alcohol was complimentary with meals).

For the 7-day Classic Polar Bear Adventure, prices vary, but tend to be around $6,000 per person, plus whatever it costs to fly between your hometown and Winnipeg. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Natural Habitat Adventures goes above and beyond to make it count.

Polar bears Nat Hab
A curious polar bear peeks into a rover vehicle

When to Go

Natural Habitat Adventures only offers wildlife experiences during what is considered peak season for the experience. For this trip, the window is early October through November, when the Hudson Bay freezes and the bears leave.


Natural Habitat Adventures is a preferred supplier within the Signature Travel Network, of which Kahala Travel is a member. TravelDesign International is an independent affiliate of Kahala Travel and a member of Signature Travel Network.

To learn more about Natural Habitat Adventures, or to contact Anna with questions, please reach out to her at and/or by phone at 619-589-6700. All photos in this article were taken by Anna during her travels.




Med and Mex: Cindy on Azamara

In October 2015, Cindy Newman jumped at the chance to experience one of her favorite cruise lines, Azamara, in one of her favorite parts the world: the Mediterranean coasts of France, Italy, and Greece. In February 2017, she was offered another opportunity with Azamara; this time, in Mexico. Cindy reflects on the Azamara cruises below, both of which were on the Quest.

Provence Azamara Cruise Cindy
Provence, France while in port with Azamara

Where She Went

October 2015 (Mediterranean) Cindy spent 3 days in Nice, France, before embarking for 9 wonderful days on the ship. The ports included Nice, Eze, Provence, Florence, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Athens, and Santorini. She spent an additional night in Athens after the cruise so that she could experience the Grande Bretagne Hotel, a historic landmark.

February 2017 (Mexico) Cindy sailed roundtrip from San Diego, where she resides. She observed that the San Diego departure was a fabulous benefit for people from the West Coast. The ports she visited on this cruise included Topolobampo (Copper Canyon), Cabo, Mazatlan, and Loreto. This cruise lasted 12 days.

Loreto Mexico Azamara Cindy
Loreto, Mexico, while in port with Azamara

The Experience

In the Mediterranean, simply put, the highlight was eating everything. One of her favorite moments was trying Greek yogurt in Santorini. Taormina, Sicily was another favorite port of hers, where, as Cindy puts it, “One feels as if s/he is in the throes of The Godfather. I could see Al Pacino everywhere I looked.” And who could not love the food in Italy? She confirms that the gelato is not to be missed.

Santorini Greece Azamara Cruise Cindy
Exploring in Santorini, Greece


Nice France Azamara Cindy
Lovely pastries in Nice, France


Athens Grande Bretagne Greece Cindy Azamara
Dining at the Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece

Cindy had not visited Mexico in years, and found it interesting to see the development of Cabo San Lucas in particular. She describes Loreto as “charming,” and enjoyed a quesadilla there with a friend. When asked where she would recommend for a long weekend in Mexico, she said she would recommend Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, or Puerto Vallarta.

Loreto Mexico Cindy Cruise Azamara
Anyone for fishing in Loreto?

More on Azamara

Azamara is a boutique cruise line with under 700 passengers each voyage. Cindy appreciated the hands-on captain who made himself visible on and off the ship. She also described the staff as “friendly, willing to please, with no request being too much.”

One quality that sets Azamara apart is the amount of time in port: Azamara spends more time in port than any other ocean cruise line. Furthermore, once per itinerary, they arrange an “AzAmazing Evening”; an included onshore experience exclusively for Azamara passengers. The evening is a performance in a special venue, and the performance is tailored to the location for an authentic local experience. More on AzAmazing Evenings for 2017 here.

Cindy’s first AzAmazing Evening had an unexpected twist that further showcased Azamara’s exceptional staff: on the Mediterranean cruise, the weather did not permit them to be bused into Taormina for their AzAmazing evening, and so the captain arranged for the opera performers to be brought to the ship. They earned 2 standing ovations, and the Azamara passengers had a night unlike any other.

Mazatlan Mexico Azamara Cruise Cindy Captain
Meeting Captain José in port in Mazatlan

Points to Consider: Budget/Value

Cindy recommends Azamara cruises for friends traveling together, couples, and families with adult children. Azamara has promotions that run throughout the year, and if you have an agent with firsthand knowledge, you could get a good fare and amenities. They are considered deluxe—the boutique premium line of Royal Caribbean—so not quite the luxury price point, but they are a high value. Wine, spirits, water, gratuities, and plenty of food are included, along with the AzAmazing Evening, and more time in port/more overnights than other cruise lines.

When to Go

The winter is the only time of year Cindy wouldn’t recommend visiting the Mediterranean. Most cruise lines do not operate in the Mediterranean during the winter, and some hotels in the region will close for the season. Cindy’s cruise with Azamara was in October, which she says was a lovely time of year to go.

Provence France Cindy Azamara Cruise
Provence, France in October
Monaco Azamara Cruise Cindy Port
Blue skies in Monaco in October

Azamara only goes to Mexico certain times of year (February), but in general, Cindy says January and February are best, before it starts getting hot.

Advantages of using a travel agent to book this trip, and how to book this experience

A travel agent has a way of monitoring when promotions are offered, and she knows the best locations on the ship. An agent with firsthand experience is a fantastic resource: she has industry knowledge and connections, and she can provide insights that one cannot simply Google.

To learn more about Azamara, book an Azamara cruise, or contact Cindy with questions, please reach out to her at and/or by phone at 619-742-0996. All photos in this article were taken by Cindy during her travels. Read our Travel Consultant Spotlight on Cindy for more information here. Find Cindy on Yelp here.


The Arctic: Kathy’s Quark Expedition

Kathy Lamb has been to 120 countries and counting (on all 7 continents), and Quark Expeditions was always on her wish list. When she saw the opportunity to spend 14 days in the Arctic with Quark, she immediately signed up.

Kathy Quark
Kathy smiling in her yellow Quark parka

Where She Went

She took a 12-day Quark cruise around Norway, starting in Tromsø and finishing in Longyearbyen, where she spent 2 nights. In Longyearbyen, the northernmost city in the world, she went dog-sledding. The destination is unique for its stark wilderness and nature, as well as its remoteness, which Kathy enjoyed: “It had the ‘out in the middle of nowhere’ feeling, hard to find in today’s crowded world.”

Quark Gorgeous "Landscape"
Smooth Sailing

The Experience

Kathy explains, “This experience was special because of the remoteness of the destination, the incredible wildlife, and the unspoiled nature. […] The wildlife was my favorite thing about the trip, as we saw walruses, 6 polar bears, lots of birds, foxes – two of which made a kill while we watched – and reindeer.” Kathy’s great love of animals is one of the many reasons she loves traveling throughout Africa as well.

Quark Walruses
Walruses on ice – photo by @gsurya Ganesh Suryanarayan


Quark Fox with Bird
An arctic fox makes a kill – photo by @gsurya Ganesh Suryanarayan

Quark Expeditions was an ideal company with whom to experience the Arctic. There were a myriad of experts on board, including a biologist and a geologist. Kathy and her fellow travelers enjoyed hikes and lectures with these specialists throughout the journey. In addition to being knowledgeable, the staff was very conscientious of everyone’s safety. Kathy elaborates, “Our personal needs and safety were well attended to by the wonderful staff on board. Riding in the Zodiacs [small speedboats for exploration] could be scary for some people, but the staff was careful to make sure everyone followed a procedure that kept the passengers safe.”

Kathy Quark Biologist
Kathy with the ship’s biologist

Potential Travelers to the Arctic: Points to Consider

Physical Guidelines

Kathy highly recommends kayaking, which is available regularly throughout the journey, as is hiking. She emphasizes that not everyone was able to participate in these more rigorous activities, and that the cruise was enjoyable for passengers of all capabilities. In terms of the climate, Quark prepared them well. Every passenger receives their very own parka, which they can keep at the end of their trip. Kathy says the parkas are of fabulous quality and were perfectly suited to their environment.

Kathy Quark Parka
Hiking and keeping warm

Budgeting Guidelines

For anyone hoping to see the Arctic one day, keep in mind that both the Arctic and Antarctica can be a higher-budget journey. Kathy spoke to some travelers who paid less for their Quark experience than they might normally have because Quark offers specials at certain times of the year. Quark Expeditions has single cabins on some of their ships, which is a great option for solo travelers.

When to Go

Kathy sailed on Quark’s first 2016 sailing, which was May 31-June 11. The summer is the only time during which one can travel on such an expedition: even in June, they still needed parkas!

Kathy Quark Sled Dog
Getting nuzzled by a sled dog in Longyearbyen
Quark whale bones
Whale bones

Quark Expeditions is a preferred supplier within the Signature Travel Network, of which Kahala Travel is a member. TravelDesign International is an independent affiliate of Kahala Travel and a member of Signature Travel Network.

To learn more about Quark Expeditions, or to contact Kathy with questions, please reach out to her at and/or by phone at 619-463-8408. Unless otherwise specified, all photos in this article were taken by Kathy during her travels. Read our Travel Consultant Spotlight on Kathy for more information here.


Leslie on African Travel

Traveling in Africa and going on safari has always been at the top of Leslie Wahlgren’s bucket list. Now that she’s spent two weeks in three African countries? It’s still at the top of her bucket list. “It’s never the same experience,” she explains.

Where She Went

Botswana: 7 days. Go for “diversity, game viewing, incredible ecosystems from desert to delta, life-changing experience, vast wilderness, openness, isolation, great people.”

Leslie Kalahari Desert
Kalahari Desert, Botswana
Leslie Kings Pool Camp
In Botswana looking across the river at Namibia – at King’s Pool Camp

South Africa: 4 days (Cape Town) “Sophisticated, chic, modern, great wineries, shopping, history.”

Leslie Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
Leslie Top of Cape Point
Top of Cape Point

Zambia: 1 day (Victoria Falls) “It wasn’t high on my radar, but when I went, it was fullest the falls have been. It’s humbling to be there and experience the roar of the falls.” Go to see the rhinos; it’s also a great way to see river wildlife.

Leslie Rhino Zambia
Southern White Rhino – walking among the giants. Zambia
Leslie Victoria Falls
Aerial view, taken while flying over Victoria Falls – her group got special permission to fly over.

Leslie’s Guides

The guides with whom Leslie went on safari were employees of African Travel. She describes African Travel as a “fantastic company” that has been in the business for 20+ years. They use unique, boutique-sized camps, from moderate budget to luxury. The guides are “awesome, passionate people” who challenge and educate themselves by rotating between different camps. Leslie says, “They know the ins and outs; they can tell you what to take and what not to take; they make transitions easy; they greet and guide you; and they are held accountable, which is incredibly important.”

The Experience

Africa is a personal experience that affects people in different ways. Leslie has traveled a lot – these countries were #32-35 for her – but this is the first time she’s felt like she was home, an indescribable feeling. Leslie says, “It’s spiritual: you reconnect with loved ones, disconnect from the outside world, and family members can really interact with one another. It brings back connection, a basic human need.”

Leslie went “on safari” – as is the norm, she had two game-viewing experiences every day. A typical day:

Wake up 5:00am

Breakfast 5:30am

Game drive 6:00am

Return to camp 12:00pm for lunch

Siesta for 4ish hours (until 4:30pm)

High tea, game drive 5:00pm

“Sundowner” in the bush for about 45 minutes

Back to camp for dinner 8:30pm

Bed by 10:30-11:00pm

Potential Travelers to Africa: Points to Consider

Physical Guidelines

Leslie explains that travelers to Africa need to be mobile, and it’s best for people who are able-bodied, but it depends on the country. South Africa allows more for physical challenges, and Leslie saw someone in Botswana in a wheelchair. When you’re on safari, there are no paved roads. You’re getting in and out of jeeps, and in the jeep, you’re constantly getting jostled – the “African massage.” There’s lots of sitting.

Budgeting Guidelines

There are a lot of factors here: “You can do Africa on a budget or luxury, but it depends on what time of year you want to go, for how long, which countries you visit, and what you want to see. You could get away with $6000-$8000 per person for land only (not including air), and you can bring down costs by traveling with a group.” Leslie would recommend 8 days as a minimum amount of time. Location has a significant effect on budget: Botswana is more isolated, which makes it more expensive.

One thing Leslie really treasured in her experience was the feeling isolation in Botswana, particularly on game drives. She experienced what’s called a “private concession”: fewer people, vastness, no other cars around on game drives, and they could follow a leopard for the better part of a day. In contrast, in a national park (Kruger, for example), there are good camps and game viewing, but it’s on the beaten path; there are other vehicles in the immediate area and it’s more crowded, which can affect not just the presence of wildlife, but the whole experience.

Leslie Leopard Botswana
Taken in Okavango Delta – Botswana – mama leopard hunting for herself and her cub – followed her around for about 4.5 hours

When to go

“Low season” is not so named because of weather, but because of the volume of tourists. Leslie traveled in low season.  Fewer tourists are optimal for game-viewing; the weather was, in her words, “fantastic.”

So will she be returning to Africa? Absolutely: “It’s not goodbye—it’s just ‘See you soon.’”

To learn more about African Travel, or to contact Leslie with questions, please reach out to her at All photos in this article were taken by Leslie during her travels.