Getting the flavor of...
An annual polar bear gathering
Minutes after my tour group’s bush plane landed in Kaktovik, Alaska, “we were mere feet from one of the biggest, fiercest animals in the world,” said Rachel Walker in The Washington Post. Every September, polar bears swarm this remote fishing outpost to await the formation of sea ice that they’ll ride out the winter on, and to feast on bowhead whale blubber discarded by Inupiat villagers. Because the bears depend on sea ice to hunt seals, global warming has caused a population decline. Hoping to see them in the wild before it’s too late, I joined a one-day, $1,800 expedition (via northernalaska.com), and I wasn’t disappointed. Among that first group we spotted on a beach, “some loafed in the fresh air, others gnawed on large blocks of blubber,” and they were “as oblivious to us as cows grazing in a field.” Even with bloody muzzles, the hulking predators looked “sweet and cuddly.” And once the cubs showed up? “My group was smitten.”
Snowmobiling central Washington
I’ve always been skittish about riding snowmobiles, said Tan Vinh in The Seattle Times. All of my friends who’ve tried, “and I mean every single one of them,” have taken a bad spill. Last winter, a snowmobile club called the Cascade Drift Skippers helped me understand the appeal: Amazing views and more untracked snow than you get at any ski area. We met at Crystal Springs Sno-Park, 51 miles of groomed trails in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, and we set off “like a bunch of excited kids on Christmas morning.” Within minutes, one rider hit a stump and his 500-pound sled rolled over him. Just as quickly, his friends helped him up, and after some teasing, he roared off again. Quickly, I got used to squatting and shifting my weight to control my Ski-doo. As we ripped up a trail flanked by giant firs, I could see Mount Rainier to the south, and to the east Kachess Lake, “which looked a few shades brighter than the sky.”
Last-minute travel deals
Christmas in Budapest
Chocolate-covered strawberries and wine await guests Budapest’s Aria Hotel, where third nights are free through December. The package starts at $476 and includes two-forone spa treatments, breakfast, and afternoon wine and cheese.
Cruising the Seine
Through Dec. 31, Uniworld is offering discounts on many of its 2017 river cruises. Its 10-day Impressions of the Seine trip, which sails the Alabaster Coast before returning to Paris, starts at $3,080 per person, double occupancy, a savings of $1,319.
Netherlands, by bike and boat
Bike and sail across Holland this May and save $500. VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations is offering a seven-day package starting at $2,745 per person, double occupancy. Offer includes bike rentals. Book by Dec. 15. Use code VBT1505.