Seasoned Santa visitor Claire Spreadbury shares her insider tips for a festive Finnish getaway.
Anyone who has children dreams of taking them to see the big man at Christmas.
We might have some pretty amazing grottoes and experiences over here, but nothing beats seeing Santa in his homeland.
It is, without doubt, the most magical trip every family wants to make – but it’s not always an easy one. Here, we reveal the secrets you really should know before heading to the snowy lands to hunt down Father Christmas…
Spend as much as you can possibly afford on your trip
Taking the family to Lapland is one of the most expensive getaways you’re likely to take. But people do. And it’s not just those who have cash to splash – people save up for years to scrape the money together and you’ll discover a real mix of people of there – from your so-called ‘average’ families, to Christmas-crazy couples, and lots of grannies and grandpas making memories with their grandchildren.
There are cheaper (yet still expensive) and more luxe options available, and I would advise families to spend as much as they can. The uber-special extras can make an enormous difference to your trip of a lifetime. And even the basics can be game-changing. A more luxury holiday operator might transport all of your kit and cases to your room, whereas a standard one may expect you to drag your suitcases across snow and ice in order to check in.
Prepare yourself for an action-packed schedule
It’s likely you’ll need to wake the kids up in the middle of the night to get to the airport in time for your flight. It’s certain they’ll be absolutely shattered when you arrive, and possibly really hungry because there hasn’t been a chance to eat for ages. You might find a window to grab some food after being kitted out in suits and boots, but then find the evening dinner is only two hours later.
Small tired folk can be pretty challenging, especially after throwing themselves down toboggan runs, attempting to learn how to use a kick-sled and building at least three snowmen. Lower your expectations of this being a perfectly perfect trip. It will be fraught at times, but still amazing. Don’t ruin it by letting yourself get uptight.
Everyone loves the huskies
Having a husky ride is most people’s favourite part of the trip. If you’re not a dog fan (like me), you might find them loud, yappy and a bit scary, but there’s no denying the beauty in those piercing ice-blue eyes, and the ride itself is so much fun.
On my trip, we’re up and out to the husky farm – a big, snow-covered fir tree expanse – super early. The dogs are leaping and barking and sniffing everyone out from the safety of their lock-ups. After saying hello to the fierce fluffballs, we head into the nearby lodge and warm our insides by slurping warm berry juice next to the roaring fire, before being called for our rides.
My body feels like it’s completing some sort of lower-body workout. My glutes have gone from feeling tight to being completely numb, and my inner thighs pang like I’ve been on the abductor machine. If it wasn’t for my ice-cold toes and the fact I have two children sat in between my legs, I’d have sworn I’d been to the gym. But this is the sort of workout you only get in Lapland.
Icy snowflakes land on my face and the wooden sleigh creaks and waggles as it’s dragged along behind six fluffy little husky bums. Any pain I feel as we slide over rocks, skid passed trees and even take flight as we hurtle over a bump melts away as I hear the sound of my two daughters, six-year-old Poppy and nine-year-old Rosie, explode in to a chorus of cackles.
Slicing through the icy tracks, we get thrown to the left, bumped to the right and it’s everything Lapland dreams are made of.
Skidoos can be exciting but scary
I’ve had a couple of experiences with skidoos, and neither of them have been great. I should put my hands up here to explain I’m not a confident driver, so ploughing though snow on a machine that’s fairly fast and dangerous doesn’t appeal to me as much as it might my husband.
The first time I drove one, I got stuck. Twice. And that last encounter left myself and my then-six-year-old-daughter Rosie at a 45-degree angle fearing for our lives, before she stormed off refusing to get on a skidoo with me ever again. I completely understood, and never wanted to get on one again either.
This time, after getting kitted out with balaclavas and helmets, we’re given some short instructions about how to drive a skidoo and some long explanations about how we’ll have to stump up the best part of a grand if we crash the vehicle. The track might not be too snowy, but we head out for a decent distance and encounter other vehicles, hills, slopes and dark skies.
Anyone not put off by the crash fee or course seems to have a whale of a time, but myself and several other parents decide to join the little ones in the skidoo-pulled sleigh, which is super fun when we zip through a tunnel at a decent speed.
It’s easy to forget the real reason you’re here
You came to see Santa. But since arriving, you’ve been so busy admiring reindeer, throwing yourself around on the ice, doing activities and making memories, it’s easy to forget about him.
When the time comes though, there’s nothing quite like the anticipation that fills your heart, and the nervously excited glances in every child’s eyes.
We’re busying ourselves trying out tandem skiing, kick-sleds and mini skidoos kids can drive in a small circles, harnessed to a tree, while gobbling gingerbread biscuits dunked into hot juice when our names are called. We climb into a proper wooden sleigh, pulled by a slow and beautiful reindeer.
We’re gently pulled towards a little wooden hut, climb out and are greeted by elves. Their strangely infectious, high-pitched little language has the girls in stitches, before Poppy looks and listens hard to work out what they’re saying. In the end, she shakes her head, flummoxed, and concludes they’re “very, very weird”.
As we make our way round to the big wooden door, Rosie and Poppy are invited to knock as hard as they can on it. Eventually, an elf creaks it open and we venture inside. There’s a roaring fire and colourful Christmas decorations inside a snug little sanctuary. Father Christmas sits, belly undulating, in his chair, clutching two letters written to him – one from Rosie and one from Poppy. The girls become remarkably quiet and self-conscious as they take a seat next to him, and he asks them to read their letters aloud.
After a short chat and some family snaps, Santa hands over two wrapped up parcels containing soft, snuggly reindeer toys, and we say thank you before heading out into the snow.
The girls smile silently, beaming at each other in disbelief.
How to plan your trip
Santa’s Lapland (santaslapland.com; 01483 938 483) offers three or four-day breaks to Saariselka in northern Finland, departing from 19 UK regional airports, from Friday, November 29 – Tuesday, December 24, 2019.
The Santa’s Aurora programme includes a pre-departure personal letter to Santa Claus, return flights and transfers, accommodation on half board, thermal clothing, winter activities and a private family meeting with Santa. A three-day break, departing from London Gatwick on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, costs from £4,756 per family (based on two adults and two children sharing) staying in the four-star Star Arctic Hotel.
Words by Claire Spreadbury, PA