There is Lapland and then there is Lapland. You get the bright shiny twinkling Lapland with Santa's village and karaoke, and you get the remote, snowy wonderland 250km above the Arctic Circle. To be honest I would have liked to go to either of them - but the latter fitted our available dates, budget and I liked the idea of a truly authentic experience.
Our kids were age 8, 7 and 3 at the time of the trip. We wanted to take our eldest Lily Rose before she got too old and wise for this magic trip - to meet the real Santa! At the same time, we had wanted to wait for our 3-year-old to be out of a buggy.
When you do a daytrip to Lapland, you prepare yourself for two things: cold weather (lots of thermal layers and fleece) and a very long day! We set off in the dark, around 5am, checked in at Gatwick where we met an Elf, and after a breakfast flew just after 7am. It’s very surreal because you watch the sunrise out of the aeroplane window and then around three hours later when you're almost in Lapland, you start to see the sun set again, due to the very short days in the north pole.
The excitement was reaching deafening heights on the plane as we could see a blanket of snow with pretty pine trees sticking up like decorations on a Christmas cake. The sunset turns everything pastel coloured and it’s as if you are flying into actual heaven.
When we landed we were told it was minus 25 outside. I had been checking the forecast all week and seen minus 8, minus 9 but not minus 25! We didn't make a big deal out of it, as we didn't want to worry the kids, but when we stepped out onto a snowy runway and our nostril hairs immediately froze I knew it was going to be a day of endurance as well as magic.
The coach journey was amazing, through forests and winding roads with deep snow. They took us to a cabin to be fitted with thermal suits and boots. Once properly dressed we continued to our magical setting for the afternoon, just on the Finnish side of the border between Finland and Sweden. It was part forest, and part frozen lake, with ice sculptures, ice bar, and fairy lights.
We did sledging and went on a slow little reindeer ride, which was lovely as it got dark. It really was pretty there. There was a small log cabin you could go into for a hot drink and to thaw out your fingers and toes. Once warm we would go back out and look at the ice sculptures, and eventually it was our turn for the snow activities. This consisted of a super-fast husky ride on the back of a sleigh which all five of us could fit on. I have to say the cold hurt by this time, but it was such a thrill and a once in a lifetime experience to be taken around a frozen lake by these amazing dogs. You could also snowmobile, but our kids needed some warmth, so we hung out in a tipi next to an open fire.
Finally, it was our turn to meet the big man. We wrapped up under blankets on the back of a sleigh. A man who was the closest thing I've ever seen to an Eskimo drove us by snowmobile to another clearing in the forest. This really was twinkly and special. As we warmed up by another fire, Snowflake the elf checked our children for frostbite. We were really hoping that this long freezing day would be worth it for the moments with Santa Claus.
He did not disappoint! He was impeccably dressed. His cabin was really special, and the fire was roaring. He knew our kids’ names and ages, and he had lists all over the wall sent in from children. (This confirmed to Lily that he was definitely real). We were not rushed, he gave us a good 10 minutes of his time, making sure all three of our children had their special moment to ask for that one thing they really wanted. After a high five he told them he must get going - he had presents to deliver across the world, and off we went with three very happy children.
After a final stint in the log cabin, to defrost, we were all ready to come home (in a nice way) and it felt like a massive box had been ticked. As a little girl I would have loved to go to Lapland to meet Santa - and I think I enjoyed it as much (maybe more) than them! On Christmas morning we just could not believe that we had been in Lapland only 12 hours before - and yet he'd been and delivered presents! What a guy.
As a Travel Counsellor though, I have to tell you the truth. If you are going to go on a daytrip, you have to go with the best, most expensive option, to ensure that you will have the comfort, level of food, drinks and extra touches to ensure that you will all enjoy and not endure your daytrip. I can give you comparison quotes and advise you on the differences. If possible, try to go for at least two nights. I know its double or sometimes triple the cost, but to be able to spread out your activities, do them in daylight, and have a warm space to retreat to, would be amazing. Not to mention an increased chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis! (Northern Lights)
All in all, definitely a Christmas we will never forget - and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone - Just once! Don't forget that a trip to Lapland does not have to be based around Santa. For non-believers or adult only groups, we can arrange skiing, ice fishing, snow trekking, and even staying in a glass igloo.