Travel to the North Pole

This 2009 image is from the North Pole Web Cam, part of the North Pole Environmental Observatory. (NOAA / February 17, 2009)

"I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the Sea of Swirly Twirly Gum Drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel."

—"Elf," 2003

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He didn't see the candy cane forest or the swirly twirly gum drops.

But Kevin DeVries of Grand Rapids, Mich., remembers well the groaning sound of the ice moving, the low flat landscape, and the magnificent desolation of the real North Pole.

"You are in a place out of time," says DeVries, 43, who skied to the pole in 2005. "It's just a slab of ice. There's nothing there except cold and snow."

When it comes to polar tourism, Antarctica is the darling. In 2010-2011, it had 19,445 tourists, about 300 of them reaching the pole itself, home of the busy Amundsen Scott South Pole research station, which houses 150 scientists and staff in season. In contrast, the lonely North Pole attracts fewer than 1,000 visitors a year, estimates Annie Aggens, director of Northwest Passage Polar Explorers based in Wilmette, Ill.

But did you know that you can take a boat to the North Pole? Or a plane? Or skis?

That's almost as good as a flying sled.

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"Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."

—"The Polar Express," 2004

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For most of us, the imaginary North Pole — the one with the candy canes and Santa's workshop — is all we need.

But for others, seeing the real North Pole is a once-in-a-lifetime genuine experience.

For several weeks in the summer — between June 25 and Aug. 23 — the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory will take visitors from Murmansk, Russia, to the pole in comparative luxury.

"You can combine these fantastic experiences with the comfort of your cabin, restaurants, bars, pool and even a sauna," advertises the Best Russian Tour company.

Several American firms such as Geographic Expeditions (www.geoex.com), Quark Expeditions (www.quarkexpeditions.com) and Polar Cruises (www.polarcruises.com) are selling this tour. It costs $22,790-$34,000 per person, which is probably why it's not packed like a Carnival cruise.

But a trip to the North Pole, wow. For the guy or gal who has everything, it would make a great gift.