This is a question I wish I had queried more prior to our visit this weekend!
We booked to go to Lapland for a Winter Wonderland day trip, it wasn't a review or press trip and we paid for the trip with hard earned money and after many friends asking if I would recommend it, I wanted to give a balanced and honest opinion of the trip. We chose to travel with Transun as they are specialist in these experience trips and we were excited by the sales blurb on the website ..
"Imagine spending the day in Santa's kingdom - flying from an airport near you - and still being home in time for supper. For our Walking in a Winter Wonderland day break, we take you to a magical location in the far north of Finnish Lapland, close to a vast snow-covered wilderness and a million miles from other overcrowded and over commercialised Lapland destinations. Here you will experience a magical and unforgettable search for Santa's secret hideaway and each family will have an opportunity to make a private visit to talk with him in his cabin. Plus, a chance to sample reindeer rides, snowmobiles and husky dog sleds"
So what did we think?
The day didn't start well with the computers not working properly at Birmingham Airport and some families being seated far away from each other on the plane. Not an ideal start for a family adventure! The flight was turbulent, but you can't control the weather, so we just sat back and relaxed.
We arrived in Finland and it was COLD. I know that sounds a ridiculous thing to say but you don't realise quite how cold minus 16 is until you are standing around in it but we had taken our own snow suits, although they were provided by the operator for those that hadn''t got their own. The journey from the airport to our magical destination took a 50 minute coach journey through the picturesque snow covered woodland and we had great fun trying to spot elves and reindeer in the woods, so the time flew by.
Despite only being lunchtime, the sun was setting and our guide told us that they only had 3 hours of sunlight that day but the reflective light from the snow kept it lighter for just a bit longer.
Our itinerary for the day consisted of:
- Snowmobile trip
- Husky Sled Journey
- Reindeer sleigh ride
- Search for Santa
- Private family meeting with Santa
- Gift for children
- Two course lunch
- Snow activities: tobogganing, snowballing and snowman-making
So once we were suited and booted the girls couldn't wait to get into the snow. We were left to our own devices after our very basic one course meal but the girls soon spyed a real reindeer and the eldest couldn't wait to have a sleigh ride. (The little one was a bit intimiated so she opted out).
We were left for two hours to our own devices, sledging, on the snowmobiles, building snowmen and riding the sleigh but the snow was coming down thick and fast and we were starting to get cold. (it was minus 16 degrees after all).
We took a little look at the gift shop to warm up a bit although it ended up being more than a little treacherous due to a shiny floor (not ideal for people wearing snow boots) and bought a couple of souveniers because obviously the girls need more cuddly toys!!
Eventually it was time to go and search for Santa and we walked down to the frozen lake (much less scary than it sounds). The eldest took a husky dog ride that she loved so much, she did it twice but by this point in the day it was so dark that the little one was becoming very tired and a bit scared. We were then told there was a bit of a delay with the sledges to take us to Santa but we could all get round the fire to keep warm but unfortunately a fire big enough for 5 or 6 people is not ideal when you have 20 or so cold children.
After an hour standing around on the frozen lake, we finally met the "real" Santa and he was everything you could wish for. He was engaging with the children and had some great banter with "Snowflake" the Elf. Both girls received skipping ropes from Santa, with hand carved handles that really could have been made by the elves.
We eventually got back to the airport amid a snowstorm but were pleasantly surprised to board the plane, everyone assuming that you must get used to flying in this weather when you charter a flight to Lapland, unfortunately we may have boarded the plane on time but we sat on the runway for a further 2 hours. The cabin crew tried to be helpful but soon ran out of drinks and snacks, which was not helpful on a plane full of tired, hungry and thirsty children. The pilot turned the engines off so for a while we sat in the dark with no air con on and in no time the plane became very hot and stuffy with upset children. The cheers and clapping when we finally took off an hour and a half later was a relief to know we were safely on our way home.
We paid £1200.00 for the day. Together with the itinerary above the price included the return flights with hot meals on board, all taxes and government air passenger duty, thermal suits and boots. (which we didn't use but useful option if you wanted minimal luggage). There are some people that think that is a ludicrous price for a day trip but when over half of British parents lie to their children to keep the spirit of Father Christmas alive, we saw this as an opportunity to keep the magic alive, especially for my eldest.
The downsides of the trip in my mind were:
- A large part of the day felt disorganised.
- The facilities did not cater to young children.
- Leaving small children on an ice lake for an hour is not acceptable in my opinion
- The airline were not sufficiently prepared for the conditions
I said at the start of this blog post that I wanted to give an honest and balanced view point and feel it is important that I stress that there were some amazing parts of the trip.
- We got to ride on a real reindeer sleigh
- We played in knee high snow
- We got to have a husky ride
- We survived minus 16 degrees
- I saw the magic of Christmas through my daughters eyes.
In answer to my opening question, is the Winter Wonderland experience in Lapland suitable for young children? In my opinion no, the location we went to certainly wasn't and I would say that it is most suited to 6-10 year olds.
In hindsight, the magic of Christmas can't always be found with a bearded man in a log cabin and as corny as it may sound I firmly believe that it is found in a child's heart and eyes and I should never have gone in search of it anywhere else!