Review of 3 day Santa trip in Saariselka, Lapland
Posted By Julie Smith on 19 December 2014
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It has to be said that I approached the idea of a trip to Lapland with a certain amount of trepidation. How would I endure a 3 hour ‘fun’ flight, would the visit to Santa be horribly tacky, would the whole experience leave me cold… and not just because of the low temperatures!
I’m sure many parents have similar concerns, but all my doubts were quashed and the short trip exceeded all expectations! I can honestly say I would love to do it all over again!!
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Let’s start from the beginning….
I flew from Gatwick - all the special Lapland charter flights seat mapping is done in advance to ensure that families are seated together, without having to pay any extra cost for the privilege which was a bonus.
Entering the plane the cabin crew were smiling and seemed genuinely happy to be on board – I later found out that they have to apply to work on the Lapland routes, which accounted for their enthusiasm!! Once we were air bound the crew handed out colouring for the children, which the captain would later judge. I’d been dreading the idea of three and a half hours of carol singing and frivolity but I can gladly report that this was not the case! Apart from about 15 minutes where we played a few games and sang some carols, the flight was as per, with the normal buy on board services available.
Given that we all knew we were flying to Lapland the first glimpses of snow had everyone oohing and aahing in delight! Ivalo airport is currently quite tiny (undergoing an extension for 2015), but the service was efficient and hassle free. In the luggage hall we were astounded to see elves coming round on the conveyor belt with the suitcases. The elves in Lapland can be quite naughty which kept adults and children entertained!
We got straight onto our coaches for the 20 minute drive to Saariselka. The Santa’s Lapland rep was warm and approachable, managing to coax a few carols from the passengers. We passed occasional groups of waving elves on the way to resort which all the children really enjoyed. The scenery is beautiful, and occasional glimpses of wild reindeer meant that everyone was happy.
On arrival in resort the coach takes you directly to the kit shop, where you are given arctic suits, socks, boots and mittens – do wear these rather than your own as some people on our trip found out they were far warmer than ski wear. It was then back onto the coach to be dropped at the door of your hotel within a matter of minutes.
Once you’ve deposited your cases in the room, there is a welcome meeting held by the hotel reps. Children are taken away to play games, so that the basic itinerary of the trip can be explained without the children overhearing. What I was most impressed with is that the staff deliberately avoided talking about visiting Father Christmas, but talked instead of a ‘magical sleigh ride.’ This is an indication of how well thought out the whole thing is.
On our first evening we’d chosen to go on the optional Northern Lights Adventure. We set off at about 4.30 in the pitch black, to be kitted with balaclava’s and helmets, ready for our skidoo ride!! What an experience – it felt like being in the set of a Bond movie as we set off into the darkness, only the headlights from the skidoo to light our path. It was exciting and exhilarating (a word I’m going to use a lot!) whizzing through the snow as we headed out of resort and into the wilderness. The area is starkly beautiful, other worldly, and I kept waiting for Mr Tumnus to step out from behind a tree!! We stopped in a glen with a warming open fire, and had delicious cups of hot berry juice and ginger biscuits. Unfortunately, the northern lights weren’t visible as the snow clouds had gathered, but nonetheless the trip was an un-missable experience. Do bear in mind that children share a sled pulled by one of the tour leaders and, although they’re wrapped in reindeer skins, the cold soon permeates when they are not moving so do make sure you use lots and lots of layers.
Back to base we had a simple buffet supper, it’s not an extensive choice but was more than adequate. After supper it was an early night for us, but the hotel bars were open, and there are a couple of privately owned bars in Saariselka which you could go to, or you could take the children to the free floodlit toboggan run which looked great fun.
We started day 2 with a leisurely breakfast before being met at 9 am to get on our coach to the Arctic Circle Centre where all of the days events would take place. Another jolly coach ride later, only 25 minutes, we arrived. Each party was encouraged to leave one adult on the coach, so that the day could be explained away from the ears of children. The only activity which you’re given a precise time for is the husky ride, all other elements of the day are at leisure. Staff made a point of explaining how the ‘magical sleigh ride’ would work, when to hand over santa letters and how to ensure that there weren’t queues by taking advantage of some of the free activities – ice fishing, ice hockey, mini skidoos, toboggans and of course the reindeer sleigh ride to the igloos. There was a warming room with hot berry juice and biscuits, and various tepees with open fires, and in one instance delicious pancakes (complimentary - useful for those needing a sugar boost). For those needing a different sort of pick me up there is an ice bar, where you can get the odd tipple or a hot chocolate (extra charge).
The day was one of superlatives – the visit to Father Christmas – magical, special, individual family visits which felt authentic and unhurried – each child given a present, as well as having their own chat with the man himself. The husky rides – exciting, exhilarating, and weirdly liberating! The video I took during that is one I will play again and again, for the sheer feel good factor!! The sleigh ride behind the reindeer was always a lovely thing to do, very serene after the excitement of the huskies, but nonetheless beautiful.
Lunch is included in the day, but do bear in mind that it will be something simple and filling such as spaghetti bolognaise. There will be a veggie option, but there aren’t any other choices. If you have very fussy eaters, then make a point of grabbing some snacks in the supermarket in Saariselka before you go.
Coaches start returning to the hotel from about 2pm, but you can stay as late as 5pm. The magical sleigh ride, husky and reindeer rides can only be done once but the other activities are free to do as many times as you like.
We headed back to resort and decided to have a look around. There are about half a dozen souvenir shops – all fairly reasonable considering, a supermarket and a couple of independent bars/ restaurants. The combination of excitement and aching muscles meant that we were quite happy to have a doze before the Gala dinner, but there was tobogganing and the swimming pool inside the Hotel Holiday Club ( charge for non guests) for those that still had the energy! There are also numerous optional adventures which you can fit in before the Gala Dinner if you wish.
Dinner for us was held in the Hotel Tunturi, just a few minutes walk ( no more than 4-5) from the Hotel Holiday Club where we were staying. The restaurant had a lovely relaxed atmosphere, it was large but still felt cozy. The food was buffet style again, but much more abundant, with a good choice of starters and puds. The main meal was quite simple, but there was also a children’s station with pizza, chips, nuggets etc..
Reps encouraged the children to go and play games by the stage, which meant that all the adults looked very relaxed. Happy children equals happy parents! Certificates are handed out for all guests, with awards for crossing the Arctic Circle and participating in the husky and reindeer rides. After dinner we walked down to the toboggan run and watched the children zooming down the hill, squealing with excitement.
There is time on the last morning for another activity if you get up early, or perhaps a swim but we were quite happy having a final mooch round the souvenir shops, and just taking in the natural beauty of the landscape.
When the cabin crew said that the flight home would only take off when we all shouted ‘ I believe…’ part of me really did!!
The trip was truly magical - there is a real benefit to going over three days as opposed to trying to cram in everything in a day, which I hadn’t really appreciated before. There were lots of relaxed, happy families on the flight home, who’d experienced something unforgettable together, with memories to last a lifetime.
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