The influencer break that we won through Santa’s Lapland was a 3 Day Aurora break which involved a 2 night stay at Santa’s Star Arctic Hotel. This is a new package for 2018. You can find out more about the hotel including its facilities and accommodation in my review post – Santa’s Star Arctic Hotel in Saariselka | Review Santa’s Lapland. Below I will cover every aspect of our holiday including what we did and what was included from start to finish. Plus more importantly what we thought of each activity.
We had a busy run up to our holiday – constantly checking the weather. Would you believe that this year it has been unseasonably warm in Lapland and come the end of November they still hadn’t seen any/much snow. Luckily by the time we arrived on the 4th of December, there had been a decent covering of snow. But still, no way near the amounts they would normally have. This didn’t affect any of our activities, it was, however, a lot icier than normal and we had to be extra careful walking around.
Our package would have cost us around £2,700. This included the return flights, 4* accommodation for 2 nights in a cabin, all meals once in Lapland and all the activities listed below. Plus the hire of their ski gear, return transfers from the airport, transport while you are there and plenty of Christmas sing-a-longs for good measure. It’s not cheap but there are cheaper options available. We did love our hotel though and I’d recommend staying there.
Day 1 Started with – The Flight to Ivalo Airport in Finland
A flight with Santa’s Lapland is a scheduled flight. The flight is included in the package and we flew with Thomas Cook. Everyone else on the flight was also going to Lapland to meet Santa. They fly from a number of UK airports and on a good selection of dates from late November and then throughout December. Our flight from Leeds Bradford airport took 3 hours to Ivalo airport in Finland. We set off just after 8am and with the time difference of plus 2 hours we arrived a little after 1pm local time. Everything, once you land, is arranged for you, transport, rooms and all the included activities. All you need to do is turn up when you are supposed to.
There was no hot food on our flight only hot and cold drinks plus cold snacks such as crisps, chocolate and cheese and biscuits. The prices were reasonable. I’d recommend taking a mini picnic if you are on a lunchtime flight.
The most magical thing about the flight was the kids seeing all the snow and ice from the aeroplane. There were plenty of excited gasps of amazement and chatting about what they could see below.
One thing that will be incredibly different when you land is the light, or lack of light. The sky gets light around 10am and then starts to darken again by 2pm, with pitch black happening around 4pm. There’s so little lighting in Saariselka that the sky really is incredibly dark. Perfect for star spotting or Arura light spotting should the sky be clear.
Arrival at Ivalo Airport
The airport is small and we experienced waiting around for various reasons because of this. We weren’t allowed to leave our plane for around 30 minutes because another plane was boarding and we couldn’t be out on the tarmac at the same time as them. This was a little frustrating with a plane full of excited and impatient kids. Luckily once off the plane passport control was quick and efficient and we were soon walking through to collect our bags. There we were met by a few of Santa’s cheeky elves. They all engaged with the children as much as possible and every child seemed to be getting some special attention. For our son, they all made a massive fuss of his E.T. soft toy which he thought was wonderful. The elves all talk in funny voices and play silly games which makes them especially magical for the kids.
After we had fun with the elves we announced ourselves to one of Santa’s Lapland reps and they then directed us to our coach for our holiday. We were on Antlers which was very apt as on our way to the coach we met a reindeer outside, needless to say with Antlers!
On our Way to Saariselka – Arrival at Saariselka
Once on the coach, each family was handed an indemnity waiver. Which basically you had to sign if you wanted to join in with any of the activities during your stay. So basically sign it or go home. You must have your own insurance in place before you leave and this should include as many winter activities as possible. This clears Santa’s Lapland of any responsibility for you during your stay.
We were also handed song sheets and our tour guide had us singing a few Christmas songs plus we had a couple of new songs to learn which were so catchy. You won’t be forgetting them in a hurry. This helped to quickly pass the 25 minutes journey from the airport to Saariselka.
It is such a remarkably different country to ours. The houses were few and far between and what houses we did see were more like cabins or large static caravans. The most consistent feature in Lapland was the trees. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many evergreen trees before. There’s nothing prettier than the sight of snow sitting on these trees. Keep your eye out for elves on your journey. Quite possibly the worse job in the world? A small group of elves are out at a junction to wave at the arrivals and the departures of the coaches. Fabulous for the kids, but I felt sorry for the poor elves. Another thing quite different to us is how they just get on with driving on snowy/icy roads. I spotted a few cars stuck in the snow, but I bet it’s not the first time they’ve been stuck.
Once at Saariselka we were all ushered off the bus and over to the Lapland Safaris clothes hire shop. This is where you are given your all in one suits etc. that you will want to wear to keep as warm and dry as possible. You don’t get to try them on there, instead, they assess your size and hand you what they think will fit. Trust them! We were all fine with what we were given.
Clothes etc. supplied by Santas Lapland / Lapland Safaris
You then try the outfits on over at your hotel. They loan you an all in one snow suit, mine had 4 large handy pockets that I soon started carrying everything around in as it was a lot easier than going around with a bag. There were also big thick socks, waterproof mittens and large snow boots. What they don’t loan you is a hat, although the ski suits do have a hood. We were asked to take along spare gloves for our son but he never needed them as the outfits and gloves supplied were great for keeping wet snow out.
The main advice for clothing under your snowsuits is to wear more thinner layers than say one thick jumper. This is all to do with the circulation of warm air via loose clothing and thinner layers will help with this. It was around -1oC to -8oC during the day and around -7oC to -10oC at night. We didn’t wear more than two slightly thick layers and we never needed the thermals that I had bought in especially. That isn’t to say that you won’t need them, especially if it drops lower than -10oC which it easily can do. The activity site was rumoured to be colder but we found it warmer than outside at our hotel.
I would recommend something to put over the lower half of your face. I used my snood like scarf as it was quite breathable but your face could get incredibly cold without something to cover mouths. We were fine in woollen and fleecy hats and we rarely wore our thick provided woollen socks. I wasn’t especially keen on their gloves so I wore my own.
Wilderness Dinner – 1st night activities
Once we had arrived at our cabin we had just 20 minutes until the holiday briefing. To be honest we weren’t told much more than what we already knew. All we really needed to know was that we really need to keep checking the notice board for departure times. We were wrongly told departure times on a couple of occasions so my best advice is to go with what the notice board says. We then had just half an hour to unpack, freshen up and layer up ready for the evening’s activities.
After wrapping up we headed back up the hill ready for a 20 minute drive out to the location for our Wilderness dinner. This is the same area that virtually all of our other activities took place at. The meeting place for each of our trips was always up at the coach and never down by the reception area.
Once we arrived at the activity site we took a pretty candlelit walk through the woods to a large wooden cabin. Inside there was a large wood fire and benches with tables around the room for families to sit and eat. We were sharing our table with another family. The food was a set menu of carrot soup, salmon with mash and vegetables and a fruit compote. None of us at the table ate or liked salmon so after not much persuasion the serving staff very helpfully gave us chicken nuggets instead of the fish. The kids had fries and chicken nuggets. They included water and cranberry juice with the meal but any other drinks were extra. We paid 36 euros for a bottle of white wine.
Just before dessert the kids all went outside with the staff from Santa’s Lapland. I snuck out halfway through to find out what they were up to. They were all out singing songs with them and doing actions to keep them warm. My son loved it, especially as it had started to snow.
Once we had eaten we were all let loose in the snow. They had a number of activities to try out. You could watch a 10 minute film on the Northern lights inside Santa’s Igloo.
They also had a small toboggan slope, kick sleds, a teepee with ice sculptures and reindeer crazy golf…..yes they even had crazy golf. Because there had been so little snow the ground was incredibly hard and icy. There were adults and kids falling down all around. Luckily no one was hurt but it even took down my husband who struggled to get up again. Our son adored the kick sleds as he discovered it was pretty similar to riding his scooter.
We hadn’t realised that we were now able to go on any coach back to the hotel so we had ended up hanging around when we could have headed back to the hotel. By the time we got back and into bed it was almost 10pm local time (8pm for us). We were all shattered so we got what I guess was for us an early night. It had been a long and very busy day. That night my son went to bed in some extra special new Santa pyjamas because the next day we were going to go on a search for Santa.
Day 2 – Search for Santa Day – Activities
Day 2 was incredibly busy, even more so than day 1. From going to breakfast at 8am we didn’t stop until 9pm that night. Because Finland is 2 hours ahead I wasn’t sure how my son would cope on 3 hours less sleep than normal. Let’s put it this way – he was very tired. Should we ever go again I would go for the 3 night 4 day break. The 3 day / 2 night is so full on and incredibly tiring. But we survived and we loved it for all of its different experiences and that’s the main thing.
Morning Snowmobile Ride
Our coach was the first to leave at 8:50am. We were told that we were heading down into Saariselka for a ride on a snowmobile. I must have been only half listening as I missed the bit about kids not being able to ride with their parents and that all the children had to sit on a sleigh together. Needless to say my uninformed son was not happy about this. After a lot of tears from him and persuasion from myself and the wonderful Snowflake Steph, we managed to persuade him to sit next to a lovely lady Paula (thank you Paula). Normally adults aren’t allowed to sit with the kids but this lady was looking after a disabled friend so there was a space next to her.
We were given balaclavas and helmets to wear and then needless to say I missed the 10 minute briefing. But after a bit of instruction from the other half I was just fine driving our snowmobile. It was a long ride back up to the hotel. Much longer than I was expecting. It was great fun and it was soon obvious why kids can’t ride with you. It just wouldn’t be safe for them. We weren’t allowed to ride faster than 20km but to be honest, that was fast enough for us. It was a great way to see the local area and I’d love to do it again when my son is old enough to join us. You can only drive if you hold a driving licence and you get the opportunity to swap drivers half way. This was both mine and my husband’s favourite activity.
Once we arrived back up at the hotel we took a table ready for lunch. This was included in our package and on first glance it looked quite basic but it was perfect and I went back for seconds and thirds. There was the most wonderful warming tomato soup plus bread, salad, potato salad, meats and cheeses. I made our son a ham sandwich which he gobbled up. After lunch, we had around 45 minutes before we were due back on the coach. We took the opportunity to find a toboggan and let our son ride down the slopes surrounding the hotel. He didn’t want to stop!.
Afternoon Search for Santa
Husky Sled Ride
After a tasty lunch, we were back on the coach and off on our afternoon activities which included the ‘search for Santa’. We arrived at the huskies around 2pm and we were told not to take any photos until we’d finished our ride with them. Sadly by the time we got back, it was too dark for any decent photos which was a shame as we could have easily taken photos in better light, which plenty of other people did. Our Husky ride was pretty extreme and scary at times. Because of the lack of snow, the route wasn’t their normal route and we were told it was a lot ‘tighter’ than normal. They weren’t kidding. What an experience!
When you first arrive the Huskies are barking like you wouldn’t believe. They are so excited. We had a quick lesson in how to drive the sleigh which left my other half a little panicked. The two wooden slats that the driver has to stand on at the back are very narrow and he was so scared he’d fall off leaving us with the Huskies still running.
There’s a number of sleighs set up with about 4 Huskies to a sleigh. Each family was assigned a sleigh. Jamie and I sat down together with my husband stood at the back. His only real control was a break that slowed the Huskies down, other than that it was up to the dogs. We were eventually given an extra husky who was huge and clearly in charge and I’m so thankful we were given him as he kept the other four in check as much as he could.
When we eventually set off the four female dogs at the front spent most of the time trying to go for a wee in the trees. This left us careering over tree stubs, boulders and narrowly glancing trees and large metal poles. It was an exhilarating experience but I think there should be a more experienced person on hand for those that have trouble with their dogs. The most entertaining part was watching the one man in charge unwrapping various dogs from around the trees as the females really had their own ideas and it wasn’t just ours.
The dogs were so incredibly friendly and we loved spending some time with them at the end. They were so much calmer which I guess was down to exhaustion. It was such a crazy experience and I’d love to go again but with either fewer obstacles or someone more experienced in charge than the other half. My husband has said that he will think of it as a fun memory once he stops feeling less scared. Most of the other people we spoke to didn’t find the experience quite so scary. Either we were unlucky or we are wimps.
Activities while waiting to find Santa
After the exhilarating husky sleigh ride, we set off for a walk through the forest following candles by the path. We were shown some ‘nature’ toilets half way along and then eventually we arrived at the activity site. This is where you wait your turn to meet Santa. During your wait, there were much-needed refreshments which included warm berry juice, warmed by the fire, plus biscuits. While we were waiting the snow finally came down in big proper snowflakes which everyone loved to see.
Our son took up the opportunity to ride his favourite kick-sleds as much as possible. We couldn’t persuade him to do anything else. Other activities included a mini skidoo which the kids could drive around in circles around a tree (attached by a safety rope), mini snow hockey and a couple of tandem ski’s.
Our Search For Santa
After a long wait, we were the second to last to be called forward to go and meet Santa. We handed over our ‘special ticket’ and took a ride through the darkened forest sat in a wooden sleigh which was pulled by one of Santa’s reindeer. Our son loved that one of Santa’s very own reindeer was taking us for a ride.
When we arrived two of Santa’s elves were waiting for us. They were incredible, lots of fun and really captivating. I could tell that my son was really taken with them. We sat around a fire singing songs and then it was time for one of the elves to go hide while we all hid our eyes and counted. The remaining elf then led us to a cabin and encouraged Jamie to go inside. When we arrived inside low and behold there was Santa. Santa showed Jamie his letter to him and asked him to read it to him. Which he did and he has mentioned it so much since how happy he was that Santa had his letter. Santa then gave him a wrapped gift to take away and we all posed for photos. It was a lovely meet and memories I will cherish forever.
We then went on a trailer on the back of a snowmobile back to the activities. As we were almost the last it was then time to head back to the coach. Jamie opened his gift which was a lovely soft toy reindeer who has now joined his other friends nightly in bed. I would imagine that as a 5 year old these memories will stay with him forever. Meeting Santa in Lapland was so magical. I doubt it will ever be beaten.
Once we arrived back it was around 6:10pm and we had around 50 minutes until the second sitting for dinner. By 6:45pm we couldn’t wait any longer so with tummies rumbling we headed on up for dinner. We were able to get a table just fine and we were soon sat down with some food. The dinner that evening was one of our highlights. The selection and quality of food was exceptional. We had a wide variety of starters to choose from such as olives, meats, coleslaw, salad and more. The mains were hot and plentiful. Our clear favourites being the slow cooked pork in the most fabulous sauce and the cauliflower cheese pasta. I also loved the ratatouille, roast potatoes and sweet potato fries. There was also fish in a sauce and mini hot dogs and chicken nuggets with chips for the kids – or they were welcome to be more adventurous.
Day 3 – Hotel time and airport back home
On our final day we managed a bit of a lie in and then headed for breakfast around 8:30am. It was a very busy morning as there were 4 flights leaving on coaches from around 10am until 12pm. Our coach was the last to leave at 12pm but we were informed that we wouldn’t have time for any extra activities other than taking the courtesy bus down to Saariselka and back up. The final bus back up was only half an hour after check out time of 10am so we didn’t have time for that either due to our lie in. There is a cafe with a gift shop on the top of the hill by the ski slope so I took Jamie up there to choose a little gift and to pass some time. Plus there’d been some more snow overnight so it was fun to go out walking in it.
A lot of families were spending the time tobogganing but the big run was closed. Our coach left on time for the airport. Because the airport is quite small we weren’t allowed off the bus for an hour as there wasn’t room for us inside the airport. This was frustrating and the staff did try to keep us cheery with jokes and songs. We appreciated being kept on a warm coach rather than being stood out in the cold snow but all the same, it was a shame that the holiday ended with such a wait. Once inside the terminal check-in and security all went smoothly and we had a good flight back home.
For even more insights into our holiday with Santa’s Lapland why not watch our family vlog of our time away – including all the activities we took part in, meeting Santa and more
Thank you again to Santa’s Lapland for making my son’s dreams and wishes come true. These memories will stay with us forever and thank you again to everyone who voted for my son’s cupcakes and for the special people who helped me. You know who you are. We’ve had a difficult couple of years and the past few months have been especially difficult. This was such a blessing for us.
BOOK NOW for a Santa’s Aurora Holiday for 2019 and to view prices and availability. If we were to return we would go in mid-December to assure plenty of snow and we would book for 3 nights.
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