a VirtualTourist member from London
I'm going to be in Svalbard just after Easter, which I gather is peak tourist season up there. Flights and hotel are booked :)
However...will I need to book tours (such as a snowmobile trip to Barentsburg) in advance, or will I be able to sort all this out on arrival? I've had conflicting advice here.
Also - can anyone recommend any tour companies? Seems to be a huge amount to choose from.
If flights and hotels are already booked, I'd definitely book your excursions beforehand. There's only one game in town as far as booking tours. They're all done through the same agent. If you plan to do multiple excursions, make sure to find availablitlity of them ALL before booking any! Otherwise, timings may not work out - you may end up missing something because it's full on a particular day. (This happened to us and the agency would not adjust/change our days.) Use the site that John provided for all your info/bookings. Have a great time!
Booking excursions are best done now on the internet or by phone - do not wait! The time you are opting for is the top season and there will be competition for the various activities. On top of that, you do not want to waste your short and expensive time in Longyearbyen standing in a queue? Around Easter, Svalbard is more or less icebound and no cruise ships are present - that's only during the summer season. On my Svalbard pages I have given tips on how to book, what to do and my recommendations. It all depends on your key interests. There is a main Svalbard travel web portal run by Svalbard Reiseliv/Tourism, the official, semi-government, tourism authority and booking engine. They merely book you on to the activity of an agency that may do lots of different things or just a single thing (like dog sledding). In addition, nearly all agencies also have their own web pages and most of them accept direct booking. Cost wise I have not seen a difference. There are some agencies not collaborating with Svalbard Tourism, I think at least some of them are foreign based and do not want to bother with the marketing advantages and the fee of Svalbard Tourism.
Look thorugh the VT web pages, and the Svalbard Tourism pages and set up a day plan for yourself, determine what you can/will do on your own,find out what you want to do in terms of organised activities, matching with you wallet, and plug it all into your plan. If there is a choise of agents for the chosen activity, study it closer or just ignore it. I do not think it makes a big difference.
Quick recommendations (see also my web pages): Things to do on your own: The Snow Bar behind Funken, The Svalbard Museum inside the university centre building, the galleries up at Nybyen, Huset for food and music, walk and see the old mining facilities, shopping and eating, Cognachemsen at the Basecamp hotel for a night cap, the whisky bar, hot tub and the bus bar at the Polarriggen. Certainly do these organised activities: Glacier cave visit, a visit to Mine no 7, if not /, try No 3, travel the road by sightseeingtaxi or your own rental car or snowmobile. If you have not tried dog sledding, do that. If not on a tight budget, do snowmobile tours to Barentsburg, in the Longyearbyen surroundings, to Tempelfjorden or to the East Coast.