Polar Bear Migration Tour – Part 3 On to Winnipeg

Still high from the Tundra Buggy Polar Bear sightings, we packed our suitcases to return to the RVs for this final post of the Polar Bear Migration Tour. If you missed the prior posts, see Part 2 The Bears in Churchill and Part 1 Getting to Churchill.

Train from Churchill to Thompson

A train trip back to Thompson wrapped up our visit to Churchill the 2nd week of October. The train had only recently begun operating after repair of a bridge which had washed out in a flood. It knocked out the least expensive supply routes to Churchill along with the tourist travel, leaving this small town accessible only by plane.

Dinner Snafu

We arrived at the train station expecting dinner on board for our evening departure but that is not what the train itinerary included. Unfortunately, the train staff were announcing the problem on loudspeaker in the station causing a little ruckus among our group.

Our tour leader convinced the train manager to find a solution. The train manager and chef walked to the only grocery in town and started throwing food in a cart. They didn’t have much selection at the small and expensive grocery.

Without any departure delays, we did get dinner that night on the train. It was a pretty late dinner but delicious. The chef created a proscuitto brie sandwich with salads with surprisingly beautiful presentation! No worries.

Sleeping Quarters

The train staff assigned sleeping quarters which caused some confusion at first. We lucked out with a cabin for two which was a step up from the single hallway berths that many others were assigned.

Trains are cool and we were intrigued to see how everything converted from day to night travel. Our cabin seats folded down making room for bunk beds to be pulled out of the wall and ceiling. Access to a roomy club car and glass-ceiling observation car allowed us to spread out after a good night’s rest.

A Feast in Thompson

Upon arrival in Thompson, the campground owner had cabs waiting to whisk us back to the campground. It seemed odd that there would be so many cabs in such a small town. Apparently, Uber and Lyft haven’t taken over this small-town market yet.

We were welcomed back to a beautiful event center next door to our campsites with a nice home-cooked dinner hosted by the campground owner and Mayor of Thompson. We were presented with commemorative pins from the city of Thompson signed, “Mayor Colleen”. The pins depict the North star, Aurora Borealis, the mining industry and an outline of the forest “North of 55” (parallel).

Snow Days

Ready to leave Thompson MB early in the morning in mid October, our departure was thwarted by a winter snow storm that was hovering over Winnipeg and moving North. The storm closed down our only route South – Highway 6.

We hunkered down for two extra nights at McCreedy Campground after refreshing the RV water, diesel and propane which had been at work keeping the RVs warm while we were away. Tour hosts arranged for access to the event center to hang out during our extended stay. Games, a photo slide show and plenty of food and drink made being snowed in quite pleasant!

Departure Planning

Many of the group were concerned about the possibility of bad driving weather and delays once we left our safe and warm campground at Thompson. The remote road has virtually no shoulder and very few pullouts so we hoped the roads would be clear.

To catch up the itinerary, a stop enroute was cut out making a ten-hour driving day. Some RVs were small with limited fuel capacity requiring fuel stops which lengthen the driving day even further. The delays pushed our departure into the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday which could impact fuel station hours.

Several drivers in our tour group had never driven in these conditions with potential snow, long driving days and possibility of driving after dark. So it was understandable that tensions were high.

Complications

Complications with a driver that required hospitalization upset our normal departure parade leaving Thompson. Normally, the Wagonmaster leaves first and sets up arrival at the next destination, followed by the rest of the RVs. Finally, the Tailgunner is the sweeper to ensure everyone makes it to the next destination.

We lucked out again with clear roads all the way to Winnipeg, 500 miles to the South!

We were still concerned about our colleague. However,  by the time we arrived in Winnipeg, he had been released from the hospital with medication to treat pneumonia. Luckily they had RV Travel insurance as part of their FMCA membership. Not only did it include bringing a family member into Thompson, it included flying all of them and their dogs home to Nevada. They even brought in a driver to get the RV home from Thompson.

Winnipeg

City Tour

Our tour stops in Winnipeg were shortened because of our late arrival. However, a drive around the city by tour bus helped us get a feel for the seventh largest city in Canada. Evidence of the heavy snow was still everywhere even flooding some fields, creeks and ponds.

A sample of the city’s many gorgeous buildings and architecture could be seen from the bus. A stop at the legislature building with it’s grand bronze bison statues accenting a grand stairway and many arches and moldings adding artistic touches. We enjoyed a somewhat rushed visit to the Manitoba Museum with excellent displays including Hudson Bay Company history, natural history and indigenous artifacts.

Traffic between downtown Winnipeg and the campground was really heavy with no alternate routes around the congested roads in the city.

A beautiful farewell dinner in a french bistro set in a train car was a fitting send off for this adventure.

Farewell Winnipeg

There is so much to see in here, it will be on the list for another visit when we have more time to enjoy the architecture, the vibe and the culture of the city. Maybe we will visit again when there is no threat of snow!

Mom and Dad flew out of Winnipeg to return home and gear up for their next adventure cruising the South Pacific. The traffic snarl delayed the ride to the airport by an hour beyond what Google Maps told us but they made their flight.

We reset the RV back to two-person mode, moved back into the master bedroom, and prepared to head South out of the cold weather.

Recommendations

I really enjoyed this trip and spending time with my parents and our friends, the Patricks doing what I absolutely love: seeing and photographing animals!

Mom and Dad are easy to travel with and I’m so glad they came along. They even survived the man-eating air mattress.

Top Ten Reasons why the Fantasy RV Tours was a great way to see Polar Bears:

  1. The itinerary sequence was good. With many one-night stays on either end of the days in Churchill and Thompson, nicely offset the close quarters in the RV.
  2. Communication was good. A mile-by-mile driving guide highlighted fuel stops and areas of interest along the way. Driver’s meetings before each departure provided good overviews. Radios used during departure and arrival kept things organized.
  3. Flexibility between destinations. Travel between destinations was pleasant, not like the freight train of coaches that I had imagined. Instead we were free to spread out from the other tour group RVs or travel together with friends as we wanted.
  4. The food was good.
  5. Inclusions. Many meals and tours were included. These opportunities to mingle with other guests were fun and made it easier than preparing all of the meals ourselves.
  6. People. All the people are well-traveled-adventurous spirits with really interesting backgrounds. It was nice to get to know them.
  7. Special Touches. Fantasy RV Tours and leaders arranged many special touches. For example: they arranged for special opening of the Peace Gardens after they had closed for the season.
  8. Logistics. Besides handling the initial bookings and tour logistics, all adjustments for delayed snow schedules or complications were handled for us.
  9. Pets are allowed! Many RVers have pets that travel with them. Instead of having to board them  during this trip, the campground hosts took care of the pets during the four days that we were away in Churchill.
  10. Cost Comparison. This trip is much less expensive than similar tours that fly guests from Winnipeg to Churchill.

We are looking forward to our next Fantasy RV Tour next June to the Maritime Provinces and Gaspe Peninsula but there are plenty of adventures before then! 

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