Guest blog by Leena Thakker, the Musical Minis Buckinghamshire, South Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire franchisee.
As a child I had always wanted to go to Lapland but it remained a pipe dream. But then becoming a parent, that burning desire grew stronger and stronger and I was determined to make that pipe dream a reality.
After a fabulous summer holiday in Cape Verde in 2016, I announced to my husband that I really wanted us to take the girls on a surprise trip to Lapland over Christmas. Having had our usual one holiday per year, my husband said that it would be unaffordable for us to have a second big holiday in the same year.
So as a person who likes a challenge (and never listens to anyone – a law unto myself as my husband always says!) I decided to put as much money as I could from my earnings as a Musical Minis Franchisee for Oxfordshire and more recently for Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, to get to that enchanting, magical country for Christmas 2016.
I finally convinced my husband in November that I had saved enough money to do this once in a lifetime trip and so mid-November, having finally convinced him our search began. We had left it a bit late to book which meant we did not have that many choices of hotels but in some respects it made it easier. In fact, I had read that all hotels and cabins are much and much the same in Finland whether you go for a 3 star or a 5 star - the main difference is of course the price!
We spoke to friends who had been to Lapland with regards to accommodation. I really wanted the idyllic setting in the middle of the forest in a log cabin with a real fire. Friends, who had previously visited Lapland, recommended that a hotel was a better and more practical choice. We would then be in the one place without having to take off and put layers on every mealtime. So we thankfully did find a really lovely hotel and even had the luxury of a sauna in our room. Then the decision of half board or full board? We had read a lot of reviews and decided to book half board as we thought during the day we would be out on excursions. This was definitely a good choice as a lot of people had paid more for full board but never had lunch at the hotel. In fact, a lot of excursions included lunch.
So then having read reviews on Tripadvisor we booked our 4 day stay over Christmas in a 4 star hotel through Thomson. The accommodation was pretty basic at the Forest Heights but comfortable and as we had no intentions of spending too much time at the hotel, the facilities were sufficient to meet our needs.
So on the 21st December we left for Birmingham airport, our girls totally unaware that we were going to Lapland the following day. We booked in at the Ibis hotel as we could leave our car there at no extra cost which was fantastic. Totally oblivious and thinking we were off to Switzerland where my husband works, we arrived at the airport for the ‘night before check-in’ and that is when we broke it to the girls that, as they had been so good for the year, they had a special invitation from Santa to visit him in his hometown and we would be boarding the Santa flight at 5.30am the next day to set off on a magical adventure! As you can imagine the girls were ecstatic and with all the excitement we hardly got any sleep before the alarm went off at 3.00am! The Ibis even served breakfast at such an ungodly hour so a quick bite to eat and we left for the airport. The magical journey really started on the plane with Christmas carols and a big bump as Rudolph and the other reindeer landed on the plane! The atmosphere was really jovial with so many children from babies and toddlers through to teenagers all in Christmas jumpers and hats ready for a truly white, enchanting Christmas.
The journey took just under 3 hours and went quickly. When we arrived at Rovaniemi we were greeted by cheeky elves and big mascots, who were jumping on and off the luggage conveyor belt.
We then had a short ride on a coach to our hotel. We decided to pick a hotel in Rovaniemi as most of the excursions took place there and that is where Santa Village and Santa Park was so we did not want to spend vast amounts of time traveling to the different places. But before we arrived at the hotel we had to make a trip to a big warehouse where we would receive all our snow kit. Each coach had a dedicated elf and ours was called Jolly Holly and she was absolutely amazing. She explained that the warehouse is like a human conveyor belt and we walk around and the people working there can work out our size by just looking at us. And so we walked around with a big plastic bag and each worker dropped a snowsuit, gloves, thick socks, scarves and snow boots so that we could kit ourselves out for the freezing weather conditions. It was so well organised and their guesstimates were so correct! And this was all included in the price!
Upon arrival at the hotel there was quite a bit of waiting around which was frustrating as we wanted to get to our rooms and just get outside! Finally we were able to get into all our snow gear and explore the area. We had a meeting with our Thomson rep who explained the itinerary for the next 4 days and it was up to us if we wanted to book more excursions, as we would have a taster of the some of the excursions.
The most striking thing we noticed was the few hours of daylight! It was so strange as the sun would not rise before 11.30am and would set by 2.00pm so by about 3pm it would be pitch black!
The following day our excursions started very early. So with a warm hearty breakfast we went to a farm where we had taster sessions of husky rides, reindeer rides and snow mobiles. And when I say tasters they literally were a few minutes of each. Of course all tour operators want people to spend more money and book the full excursions. One tip, book the excursions early as we found out a lot of people had already booked theirs back home and so when we had our meeting with the Tour Rep a lot of places had already gone – something we were unaware of. So we actually booked on the first day even before we had our tasters as we just didn’t want to miss out.
Our next few days we had excursions booked from day to evening. We did an elf adventure in the evening where we met Mrs Claus and the children could have some time to create Christmas key rings, we went snow tubing, quad biking and much more! Warm berry juice and gingerbread biscuits were in abundance on every excursion we went on. Christmas Eve we went on a 3 hour snow mobile through the forest in snowy conditions – it was stunning.
We spent some time in Santa’s village and Santa Park where we attended and graduated from Elf school, saw an Elf Show, visited the ice kingdom and saw Santa’s mammoth post office with all the letters from children around the world!
And then the main day arrived – Christmas day!
After the girls opened their presents we spent some time sledging in the morning and taking photographs of the unspoilt scenery, followed by going to a reindeer and husky dogs farm where we had a couple of hours on each rides through the forest and the snow. The scenery was breathtaking – a truly winter wonderland!
In the evening we were taken to a remote log cabin in the middle of yet another forest where Father Christmas lives, where we had a lovely Gala dinner with Turkey and all the trimmings – so lovely to be served and not have to make it myself or clear up the mess afterwards!
And if that was not enough, just before the big firework display to welcome Father Christmas arriving on his sleigh, we saw the wonderful Northern Lights! And they truly were magical. We were really fortunate as we had already seen them a couple of nights before but the ones on Christmas day were really powerful with beautiful colours of pinks and greens! A lot of the locals said they had not seen such vibrant colours for 5-6 years so we were very fortunate to have experienced them.
And whilst admiring the Northern Lights and the firework display, we then saw Santa arriving with his elf and Rudolph through the snow! A private meeting for each family with Santa absolutely made the whole trip so wonderful and believable whatever age!
I would so highly recommend this once in a lifetime adventure. As exhausting as those 4 days were, we will cherish the memories of this amazing trip forever! Christmas 2016 was an unbelievable and unforgettable experience for us and our girls! And I now have to start saving again before the next big adventure!