Lapland: 'The most wonderful time of her life' in Santa's hometown
A pre-Christmas trip to Lapland is "the stuff of hashtag-making memories," says Liadan Hynes.
In the run up to our trip to Lapland, I became convinced that the key to getting through the whole thing with a modicum of sanity was sugar management.
This was not to say that we were not hugely excited; of course we were.
This was the stuff of hashtag making memories. But the delicate maintenance of optimum toddler energy levels was, I rather obsessively maintained, key to the difference between a 36-hour trip which would define the perfect Christmas experience, or a horrible series of meltdowns culminating in parent v child screamathons.
My thinking went something like this: escalate too soon with the dosage, and our two tiny companions, then aged between three-and-a-half and four, would enjoy a brief high before collapsing in a mess. Too late with the administering of sugary treats, and they would flag, and we would be faced with interminable whinging about being tired and wanting to be carried.
My plan was to start them on the soft stuff - homemade banana muffins in this case - before gradually escalating to a more hard-core actual chocolate bar. If things seemed really dire, I had some sugared jellies stashed away.
All such careful planning was scuppered the moment we arrived at Dublin Airport, where we were greeted by our two hugely friendly and unflagging-of-energy guides - elves, naturally - who handed the smallies a Selection Box each.
In the face of such commitment to celebration, I instantly abandoned all careful planning and handed myself and my daughter over to the capable hands of our elfin leaders.
Flying with a small child is not one of my favourite things to do, but as an old hand, I now accept it for the minute-by-minute, edge-of-your-seat battle to entertain herself that it invariably is.
Children seem to lose all capacity to self-entertain on entering an aeroplane, turning to you instead for an endless stream of snacks, toys, books and devices, each of which will occupy them for a grand total of two minutes before they are back, wanting more.
On this flight, our guides took over, and my friend and I sat back and watched as they decorated the entire plane, sang carols, led a karaoke sing-off in which our two, the youngest members of the party, gamely commandeered the microphone and belted out a few lines of a carol, and generally got in the spirit of things. There were no half measures here.
The airport had announced our destination as the North Pole, while the Finnish airport has signage announcing you are now at the home of Santa. This was full method - we were on our way to the real thing. It would be a hard heart that did not get swept up in the excitement of the thing.
It was getting dark when we arrived, around 3pm local time. We were immediately shepherded to coaches waiting outside, which took us, through idyllically snowy scenery dotted with wooden cabins and fairy lights, to a huge warehouse where we were fully kitted out in snow gear.
For those who are warned of a terrible cold unlike any you have ever known by various naysayers in advance of taking this trip, ignore them. It's a dry cold - completely different to what we occasionally experience here.
We were comfortable taking our gloves off, and throwing snowballs at each other with bare hands, at one point, and the layers provided - snow suit, snow boots, mittens, hat, along with maybe one layer of your own underneath of thermal or leggings and a thin cotton top - will more than suffice. Panicked shopping trips for all sorts of technical underlayers are unnecessary.
All activities take place on one site, another short drive away. Joulukka Forest of Dreams is an incredibly picturesque woodland theme park, a sort of lo-fi Nordic version of Disneyland.
Having arrived by coach, we were led down a candlelit path to a log cabin where we feasted on curry and rice, chips and chicken nuggets, hot chocolate and biscuits. I need not have worried about maintaining sugar levels - our hosts were keenly aware of regularly offering refreshments, treats and snacks should energy levels ever threaten to flag.
First up after dinner was a fireside storytelling session in a tepee; Finnish legends by campfire.
Next up was a brief biscuit decorating session in another hut; our two mainlined neon-coloured sprinkles, which set them up nicely in terms of energy for the next, all outdoors portion of the trip.
As the mother of an Elsa aficionado, this next section was always going to be our high point. Barrelling through the snow-covered forest in a husky-drawn sleigh while my daughter and her little friend enacted scenes from Frozen at the top of their voices, and shouted "go Sven, go", at the huskies, is one of my all-time favourite holiday-with-children memories.
A slightly slower sleigh ride was provided later by a reindeer, you are given the reins yourself, so it is just you and your child sedately making your way though the dark forest, again lit by candlelight, Herself repeatedly whispering 'Is it really Rudolph?' Pretty magical.
Everything was contained in a few fields with a casual atmosphere that felt authentic, slightly like a rustic country festival. Berry juice by the open fire here, an icy hill to slide down there. A field of rather homemade looking snowmobiles fashioned from what looked like shopping trolleys, wooden school chairs, and skis.
Back at our nearby hotel, dinner was an easy child-friendly buffet style mixture of pasta, meatballs, seafood, rice and chips and nuggets for the kids, ice cream for dessert.
As the mother of a bad sleeper, bedtime in a room involving four people and unfamiliar hotel surroundings had been a niggling worry, but after a reading of The Night Before Christmas the two junior members of the group and I were out like a light.
Our room had a small sauna leading off the bathroom, had I not fallen asleep with the children, we had planned on moving there for a postprandial once they were down. Hugely preferable to the usual hoteling-with-children options of whispering at each other in the dark or sitting outside in the corridor.
The next day's itinerary was a visit to The. Actual. Santa. Unusually for this sort of trip, collection was not at the crack of dawn, allowing for a slow, relaxed breakfast and snowball fight before we boarded our bus. Santa's village was a short drive away, a large settlement with more log cabins, lots of restaurants, shops, and of course, the home of the big man himself.
The queue was not excessive, and before we knew it, we were in with Himself. Silenced by the sight of Santa in the flesh, our little ones posed silently for pictures, mumbling out their names, glancing up in awe at the perfectly rendered large, glossy haired Santa Claus.
The whole thing was relaxed, but organised, a bit like our trip overall. Afterwards, we lunched in another log cabin, the children played with their new husky teddies courtesy of Santa Claus, we enjoyed the firelight and the snowy views.
It felt like we had been away for days, so much had been packed into our one night trip.
Pre-trip, some mealy-mouthed acquaintances had speculated as to whether our offspring were too young for such a trip. Jealous, obviously. In fact, while they may not remember a thing, at the time, they were the perfect age. Three-year-olds, after all, are genuinely obsessed with Santa Claus, while both my friend and I admitted to reading the Christmas stash of books through the year.
This trip of night-time sleigh rides, candlelit forests, reindeers and huskies, brought the books alive for the children, and confirmed their belief that Christmas is indeed the most magical time of the year.
TAKE TWO: Top attractions
Holidaying with kids
I won’t lie — we were nervous as to how they would stand up to the onslaught of excitement and the packed schedule. But in fact it was an delight to watch them on this holiday-of-small-children’s dreams.
Not a fan of funfair rides? The main attractions here are the real live creatures; the reindeers and the huskies. For lack of stomach churning tempo, these beat anything Disneyland might come up with.
Liadan travelled to Lapland with Sunway on a one-night Santa's Sleepover trip. It offers one, two, three and four-night trips to Lapland with direct flights from Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock and Kerry. Prices start from €979 per adult and €819 per child.
New for 2018 is the Luxury Lapland package for adults only, with prices starting from €2,399pp.
Packages include direct flights, 20kg baggage, accommodation on a half-board basis, Arctic clothing and a full Lapland activity programme. Payment plan available.
Visit sunway.ie/lapland or call 01-2311800.
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