This is going to be a bit of a long (Lapland) holiday type blog, so wrap up warm, grab yourself some hot berry juice and get comfortable by the fire!
We’d wanted to book a trip to Lapland in 2016, but having left things until October couldn’t find anything suitable so resolved to book something earlier in 2017. One of the problems booking a trip to Lapland is getting the right balance of a remote, snowy location with enough to keep a small child entertained. It has to be one of the most challenging holidays I’ve ever tried to book. For a few days away it probably costs the same as a couple of weeks away over the summer holidays, and it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” trips that you need to get right first time. There’s plenty of choice regarding the companies offering Lapland holidays, from the specialist operators who just do Lapland and Winter Sports trips to the bigger holiday companies of which Lapland trips probably represent a tiny part of their annual turnover. After lots and lots of research, we’d narrowed it down to 2-3 companies and then it was just a case of trying to find the right dates, airport and location. Easier said than done, and it still took about another 1-2 months before we finally settled on a Thompson (or TUI by the time we travelled) trip to Rovaniemi from Glasgow staying at Santas Igloos Arctic Circle leaving on the 20th December and getting back on the 24th, just in time for Christmas!
The flight from Glasgow to Rovaniemi is around 3 hours, depending on headwind, so we weren’t expecting any problems. The flight out was a little late departing, but the time was made up, and we landed pretty much on time. For such a short flight, it made a nice change to have an in-flight meal included which wasn’t a bad attempt at breakfast. Not that much worse than the one I’d had in Wetherspoons at the Airport! All the children were given packs containing lots of entertainment and information about the destination, and the crew provided some entertainment and got everyone singing Christmas songs as were neared the end of the flight. Overall, quite an enjoyable flight and even with a discharged iPad, my daughter was relatively happy! Rovaniemi Airport is pretty small, but getting through customs was very quick. It seemed to take some time for the bags to make it from plane to carousel, although I think a few flights had arrived at the same time and we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes before wandering outside and finding the Snowy Sam transfer bus. It turned out that we’d spend quite a bit of time on the Snowy Sam transfer bus over the next few days, although Snowy Sam (one of Santa’s Elves) kept us well entertained. The transfer covered three hotels, with most people staying in the centre of Rovaniemi at the Santa’s Hotel Santa Claus. A smaller group were staying at the Christmas Cottages with just our family staying at the Santas Igloos. This was the main reason we spend so much time on the bus, as generally, we were the first to be collected and the last to be dropped off, but more about that later. On route to the hotels, we stopped at a small warehouse where everyone was kitted out with Winter clothing. These were perfectly fine, and at no time did I ever feel cold. If anything, they kept you too warm, but that was probably more about my choice of layers!
The hotel is situated pretty close to the Santa Claus Village but far enough away that you still feel in a pretty remote and snowy location. It took about 10-15 minutes to walk down to the edge of the village, which we sometimes did. Arriving at the hotel on the bus was through a very tight wooden igloo gate, where you get to see the individual igloos neatly spaced out. I think there were about 30-40, some before you reach the main building and some further beyond. Our igloo was down at the bottom of the site (763) but only a short walk from the main building, which housed the reception and restaurant. We’d read some reviews on Tripadvisor about the restaurant not being open, but it was when we arrived, and we ate breakfast there every morning. We also had a very nice evening meal there on our first night, although the menu is quite limited and not particularly child-friendly. The food we had was very nice, but it’s also quite expensive with a set 3-course meal costing ~€70 and the child version (which was just slightly smaller portions) costing ~€30. The main meals were around €30-40, so for 3 of us, it would have been quite expensive to eat there every night. That, along with the fact my daughter ate very little of her meal meant that we didn’t eat their again during the trip, other than for the included breakfast. Breakfast was a typical European buffet but done pretty well with a decent selection of hot and cold food. Lots of juice, pastries and cakes and an excellent coffee machine, which is pretty much all I needed to start the day! Outside the main building is a selection of sledges that can be used for transferring luggage and people down to the igloos. We had one parked outside our igloo pretty much the whole time we were on the site! Everything is very new, clean and works perfectly. If I had one criticism, it would be how much space you have inside the igloos. We probably had less space than most given that a fold-up bed had been provided for my daughter, but once we’d got everything inside there was very little room for anything else. Even unpacking proved a challenge, and we ended up with lots of things left in our bags which had to be pushed underneath the fold-up bed as there was no other space for them. For that reason, the fold-up bed remained as a bed the whole time we were there. We did eventually get some semblance of order and made the most of the little space we had. The whole site is covered by WiFi, which worked fine for picking up e-mail or checking out a few websites, but not too well for any media consumption. The main selling point of the igloo is the heated glass roof which allows you to lie in bed and look up at the sky. A button by the door quickly clears away any snow or ice, and for at least one night of the trip, we had a spectacular view of the night sky. One thing you don’t realise until you get there is how little daylight they have in December. I was expecting it to get dark early, but it was dark until about 10:00 and then started getting dark again around 14:00, so not much daylight at all! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side and the first few days were very cloudy, so nothing to see through the glass roof. We were obviously hoping to see the Northern Lights on our trip. On the 2nd to last night we received an alert on the room Andriod Tablet (there were no phones in the igloos, but you could communicate with reception using the tablet, although response times were slow) saying there was a 50% chance. I’d been tracking things closely on my iPhone using the Aurora Fcst App, so already knew this but it was nice to know it worked. We were hoping it might be enough to wake us if there was a sighting, as by 01:00 I’d pretty much given up although the night sky was pretty spectacular with the clear sky. We thought there might be a 2nd chance on our last night, but it started snowing in the afternoon, and while the sky was still clearer than it had been at the start of the trip, the Northern Lights failed to appear. I can imagine when they do, the view through the glass roof would be spectacular! If we had been staying for more than four nights, I think the lack of space would have been a problem, but we made it work for the limited time we had. We didn’t spend a huge amount of their in the igloo, other than for sleeping and changing in and out of winter clothes. It also wasn’t that much more expensive than either of the other two hotels our transfer bus serviced (I think the adult prices were about 30% more but the child price was about 50% less) and it was a pretty unique place to stay. Our Elf, Snowy Sam summed it up well saying they looked a little like a small space colony on a snowy planet! During our stay, the majority of guests seemed to have travelled a little further than us. I think there was another European family, with everyone else having come from somewhere in Eastern Asia. I guess that’s just where they’re marketing things at the minute, but if you’re planning to visit Rovaniemi I’d certainly give them serious consideration.
So after a good flight and very nice accommodation, what did we do for four days?
Day 1 was the flight and check-in at the Hotel and by the time we’d unpacked and settled in it was time for some fun in the snow, then food followed by an early night! Finland is 2 hours ahead of the UK, so I thought we might struggle to get to sleep, but everyone was pretty tired, and we had an early start the following day. I think the fact that it was dark so early helped.
Day 2 we were woken by the 07:00 alarm, although we’d all had good nights sleep so after a quick shower was dressed and ready for breakfast. As I mentioned earlier, the Hotel breakfast was excellent, although today was a bit rushed as we were being picked up at 09:00. Onto the Snowy Sam bus to begin the short tour around the other two hotels, and a quick stop at the Winter clothes company for people to change anything that didn’t fit from the previous day’s collection. All ours were right, so it was then off to the Reindeer Farm for a morning of taster activities. This was a chance to try out the various activities that TUI then offer as a more extended excursion during the rest of the trip. We’d decided we’d do at least one, although at around £100 per person per tour we weren’t planning on any more. We got to try out Snowmobiles, go on a Husky sledge and a short Reindeer ride before it was time for lunch, which was pretty good – meatballs and mash felt a little like a trip to Ikea! There was also lots of opportunities to play in the snow, sledge and listen to some stories told by native Sami people. It was an enjoyable morning and gave us an idea of what else we might want to try. I’d expected there to be lots of TUI reps pushing you into their excursions, but there was none of that at all. Whether this was down to a lack of availability (some of the trips has already sold out, and others only had a standby list), I don’t know, but nobody even asked us if we wanted to book onto anything. We’d decided we liked the Husky ride the best, so planned to arrange this for one of the free days. The bus took us back to the Hotel around 14:00, and although it was almost dark, we decided to walk down to the Santa Village and get some food. Santa Village looks fantastic and is a cool place just to mooch around.
Day 3 was a free day for everyone on a 4-night trip. Anyone on a 3-night trip would be straight into Day 4, so we were glad we’d gone for the extra day as it gave us more time to do things are a more leisurely pace. We knew that Day 4 included a trip to Santa Village, but given we’d been down the night before we decided we’d head back down again in the morning and then could skip this on Day 4, leaving more time to spend at Santa World. We managed to send our postcards and letters from Santas Post Office and also organised a Husky Ride at Bearhill Husky which was somewhere between the taster session the previous day and the excursions offered by TUI. It was great fun, but after 20-25 minutes on the coldest day of the trip, we’d all had enough and weren’t sure we’d have enjoyed much more! We then found the bus station and decided to head to Rovaniemi Centre to get some dinner and for a look around. It’s not very big, so a couple of hours wandering around it was time to get some dinner. Snowy Sam had mentioned an excellent Mexican restaurant, which we’d Googled and it looked nice so that’s where we headed. Amarillo was quite big, although wasn’t particularly busy at 16:00 in the afternoon. Although it took a little while for us to be seated and our orders were taken, the food and drinks then arrived quickly and were pretty good. We had Nachos to start which were good, although the Chicken Wings I ordered didn’t come. This wasn’t a bad thing, as the rest of the food we ordered was plentiful, and I might not have finished it had ten wings arrived! My partner had the Fajitas, and I had a sampler platter, with my Daughter having the Kids Meat Balls. I had a beer and my partner wine, and it was all delicious. It wasn’t bad value either coming in at less than €90. We then headed back through Rovaniemi and got the bus back to Santa Village and walked back to the Hotel. I tried to stay up as we’d had a 50% warning on seeing the Northern Lights, but by 01:00 I could stay away no longer as we had a big day to come…
Day 4 was the big day, with a visit to Santa World in the morning, Santa Village in the afternoon, and then the gala dinner and a visit from the Big Man himself. Given that we’d walked down to the Santa Village a few times over the previous days, we’d let our Elf know that we’d be staying at Santa World and would make our way back to the hotel in time to be picked up at 18:30. There was something a little magical about Santa World, although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what! On some reviews, it’s described as a Santa theme park, and to be honest, I think that’s overselling things a little. It’s not very big, has one ride (which probably wouldn’t pass the Disney seal of approval) and we could have possibly done all the things we wanted in the morning had we tried. Having a little more time meant we didn’t have to rush or queue for anything though and gave my daughter more time to play in the Angry Birds area, although what this has to do with Santa I still don’t know. My daughter loved it though, and although she didn’t get to help to make presents with the Elves (which I may have suggested she would at Elf School) she enjoyed the 5-6 hours we spent there. Buses from Rovanemei to the Santa Village don’t all stop at Santa World so our original plan was scrapped and we ordered a taxi back instead. It wasn’t much more than the bus ~€12 and meant we had a few hours to kill before the gala dinner. It gave us an opportunity to try and get my daughter to have a short nap, otherwise, we weren’t all the hopeful she’d make it through the evening. Usually in these situations, when she needs to have a nap, she doesn’t, but on this occasion, she managed a good 90 minutes which undoubtedly was the reason she made it through until we arrived back about 22:45! The gala dinner itself was fun, and while the food was nothing to write home about, the entertainment (helped a little by a bottle of wine) was good, and we were sat with some fun people who also had a daughter about my daughter’s age. Meeting the Big Man was a little rushed, but it was fine. A long and tiring day, but a high end to the trip.
Day 5 and it was already time to go home 🙁
Until last year, I can’t remember the last time I’d booked a package holiday. Holidays were always something that took lots of thought and planning, and while a travel agent might have been able to help, they probably couldn’t do it any cheaper, so I sorted things myself. Even the first few holidays after my daughter arrived were put together ourselves, although as they were a little more usual, I did speak to a couple of travel agents about them. Last year we went for a week in Fuerteventura which we booked as a package through Thomsons (now TUI), and it was excellent, so even though this was a different type of holiday, I wasn’t too worried about it being a package deal with TUI.
The trips itself was fantastic and there probably isn’t much I’d really change about it. Four nights was perfect, and the accommodation something special we’ll never forget. A slightly bigger room would have been nice, and seeing the Northern Lights would have put the cherry on top, but it was a great trip at just the right time given my daughter’s age. We never felt like TUI were trying to sell us anything, which is always a worry with package trips I remember from old. To be fair, we were never even asked if we wanted to book a trip! It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that we’ll always remember, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking to do the same.
If you’ve made it this far, well done! This blog served some side purposes, along with giving me the opportunity to look back. If you find it and get here, I hope it offered some useful insights, and if you end up in Lapland you have just as good a time…