Lapland is where Santa Claus lives in his downtime and the city of Rovaniemi Finland is its capital. It has been on our wish list for years and with James nearing that age I knew this might be our last chance to see the magic of the North Pole through the eyes of this child.
The Christmas experience began as we checked in to our 'North Pole Air' flight as we were helped by Santas elves and once aboard our chartered flight everyone got right into the spirit of the trip as we sang Christmas songs and played Rudolf ball games despite the ungodly hour of our 5am start.
The three hour flight quite literally flew and before we knew it we were descending on the North Pole, ready to make the best childhood memories. I was awestruck as we flew into the quaint Finnish town, with a population of 35,000 not including all of the reindeer and elves. The airline Captain pointed out to our amusement that the lights dazzling from the town below are in fact designed in the shape of a reindeer’s head.
The exhilaration was palpable and James noted that the clouds too looked like snow. This was childish enthusiasm dialed all the way to 11 and I saw tears in one mother’s eyes as her children literally jumped for joy.
As we collected our luggage we were greeted by our very own Elf guide, called Snowballs. He would remain our loyal comrade for the entirety of the trip. We were driven swiftly to the outfitters shop where we collected snow boots, thermal suits, gloves and socks. My advice? Leave your vanity at the door, you’ll feel like a Michelin man in the suit so learn to embrace it. Snowballs warned us that temperatures can reach as low as minus twenty degrees so the padding will come as a relief later.
Our wooden cabin was situated just outside Rovaniemi was quaint and really warm, equipped with a kitchenette and our very own sauna. Slap bang in the middle of the snowy Pirit Holiday Village, the scene was set for many a snowball fight.
Our excitement only increased as it was dark by the time we arrived for our snowmobile ride through the glistening forest which felt like, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe's Narnia. In winter its dark most of the time, with only about three to four hours of sunlight per day.
Our guides instructed us on how to manoeuvre our snowmobiles in the snow. Balaclavas and helmets’ adorned we looked like some kind of F1 team. Feeling like 007 we had to resist the urge to open the throttle to escape the agents from SPECTARE as we sped through the forest.
Exhausted from our 5am start we headed back to our cabin to shower before hitting a buffet meal back at the main hotel. The Finnish love their salmon which is quite a speciality in the Arctic so oak salmon features heavily on the menu as well as chicken nuggets and chips for the kids.
The next morning and after a few snowball fights, a briskly enjoyed a buffet breakfast over at the hotel. On board our bus Snowballs relayed tales of how on a clear night one can see the Northern Lights with the naked eye.
Our first port of call was a visit to the husky farm, the most memorable experience for all of us. The sound of the huskies barking in unison was music to our ears as we made our way to the little hut where our guide treated us to traditional berry juice and a chat about the various breeds of dogs. We learnt that Siberian husky dogs are the engine for the sleigh rides whilst the Alaskan huskies are like greyhounds, fast operators. They’re working dogs and run up to 100 kilometres a day. The husky ride itself was short but an absolute adrenaline rush. Two strong males at the rear, two trainee dogs in the middle and two female dogs at the front to steer us on our merry way. Go the girls! James was smitten by the huskies puppies and I fully expected to find one tucked under his jacket as we left.
Next up was a memorable but much slower reindeer ride. Their antlers would take your eye out so we were warned not to pat them. They were fascinating and looked prehistoric. James was a boit put off by his birds eyes view of the Reindeers bum as we made our way along the tracks and through the forest.
Next on the agenda was our visit to Joulukka, the elf school hidden deep in the forest, a treasure trove for all things mystical. We were greeted by a team of elves, who fed us and then it was off to learn how to become an elf. The subjects which ensured the kids’ rite of passage to becoming an elf included kindness, peeking, tip toe walking, animal prints and ginger bread decoration. After passing with flying colours the highlight of Lapland was still to come for little James, meeting the real Santa at his command centre.
It felt like being in Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory as Elf no 1 took James through the goodometre, after which Elf no 2 escorted us deep within the cavern to send James’ letter to Santa followed by a one to one meeting with the big man himself. All three of us were star struck but the look on James face is what memories are made of. Simply dumbfounded. Winter activities including tobogganing were laid on throughout the trip just in case meeting Santa wasn’t exciting enough.
That evening after a gorgeous sauna and a bit of R and R we headed to a gala festive evening and Elf show with Santa even making an appearance. Before bidding Lapland farewell on day three we packed onto the coach headed for the Santa Claus Village, a picturesque complex of log cabin shops and Santa’s official post office. Sending postcards with Santa’s official stamp is a thrill and in case you were in the mood for a feed one cabin simply read, salmon and coffee served here. Forget ho ho think go go. Visiting Santa’s hometown is like a high octane speed train ride, made of the stuff of dreams. Three days and two nights of fun all wrapped up in a big fat Santa suit, you will simply lap it up.
The Sleighbell Spectacular Two night trip costs approx €1199 per adult and €999 per child. This price is fully inclusive of all meals, thermal clothing and all activities, husky and reindeer ride, visit to santa and certificates. www.sunway.ie