A DIY guide to a family holiday in Lapland - for much less

A DIY guide to a family holiday in Lapland – for much less

As a family, we save all year round for our summer vacation. And we were lucky enough during Covid to continue to refuel our little box as the lockdown process began in the other. There were no departures, no vacations to take.

Thus, we found ourselves facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A little nest egg towards a family holiday in Lapland.

I was fortunate enough to visit in 2015, on a press trip with my daughters ages ten and four.

I traveled with Sunway and witnessed an amazing 24 hours that I will never forget.

The party started at 4am for check-in, with goodie bags for each child. Flight attendants danced with zogabongs congas down the aisle mid-flight, and the pilot announced on the intercom that we should watch out for Santa as we approached Lapland because he had on good authority that the man in red was testing a sleigh.

And when did we get off in Rovaniemi? A party entertainer was on hand to keep the kids smiling while we were on our bus ride to a resort to ride sleighs, snow angels, gingerbread cookies, and of course, to meet Santa himself. The next day, Santa’s Village, home to the official post office, is visited.

I was determined that my other two children would experience this night of magic, promising to ditch our two-week vacation and furiously save for 24 hours in Lapland.

My husband, though, didn’t share my reasoning. He couldn’t understand spending more than 6,000 euros in one night on a tour. And for a family the size of us, with four kids, that would be the price.

If we’re going to go, and if we’re going to spend those unexpected savings (and more), it’s got to be for more than 24 hours.

And so we found ourselves booking a week in Lapland, catching Ryanair’s newly launched direct flights from Dublin to Lapland, and landing again in Rovaniemi, Finland, just as we did in 2015.

It will be a chance to meet Santa, as well as to try skiing for the first time as a family.

With return flights for the six of us coming in at €1,400, the cost would be much less, with seven nights instead of one.

So how does a DIY Lapland excursion compare to an all-inclusive Sunway excursion?

There are pros and cons. Firstly, traveling from Cork, there were no direct flights. A 6.25am flight from Dublin meant a midnight commute from home, with diesel and parking costs, and a grueling 4am check-in. In fairness to Ryanair, they made the effort. the departure board reads “North Pole”; The kids (and mom) screamed with excitement.

This is where the excitement over the duration of the three-hour ride ended. There were no zogabongs and dancing on the board. While Aer Lingus crew told me seven years ago they were all crying out to be on Lapland charter flights, some Ryanair crew members were less than enthusiastic. It was business as usual.

Ryanair flies to the North Pole from Dublin.

Regardless, every seat booked, all with families – Ryanair looks set to win with this new route.

After a quiet ride, as we emerged from the clouds onto the ground, I heard a very familiar voice. It was the same amount of breathing audible as seven years ago, when the children saw the snow-covered trees for the first time. It’s a winter wonderland from the air.

When Sunway had a bus, complete with Elf, and ready to meet you on arrival, we had to head over and find our car rental (prices comparable to home, although our family of six meant we had to pay extra for a seven-seater ).

We have fond memories of our first day in Lapland with Sunway.

Driven to cozy cabins in the woods, we tried reindeer sleigh rides, made gingerbread cookies with Mrs. Claus, and drove snowmobiles. There was time to play in the snow, with a warm meal before we headed back to the hotel.

Back at our base, dinner is over, and the party entertainer is back to play games with the kids.

Everything was organized, nothing to plan. Today was our day of stress free fun. Even snowsuits were provided to keep us comfortable in sub-zero temperatures.

Vicky's Snowcapped Vacation Cabin.
Vicky’s Snowcapped Vacation Cabin.

The next morning, we were taken to Santa Village to see the Arctic Post Office and pick up souvenirs, before returning to the airport for our flight home.

This time, it was a different introduction to Lapland.

A picture on my phone helped us locate this little haven in the snow where we spent that beautiful day with Sunway. We found it on Google Maps, and phoned what was, in fact, a reindeer farm. Activities are only hosted at Sunway, so it wasn’t an option for us.

We were saddened by the loss.

Instead, we drove straight to Santa’s Village. Ten minutes from the airport, it is home to Santa’s main office, the Arctic Circle Post Office. You can see Santa here, but we focused on ice skating and reindeer sleigh rides.

Queues were short, half an hour max, although it’s fair to say there was no wait at all on our day with Sunway.

Snowboarding cost us 60€ for children, and a family reindeer sleigh ride, 100€. (Both would have been included with Sunway.) There’s also a fun webcam with live feed, so we were able to wave around the house, our low temperatures displayed on an Arctic Circle thermometer.

From there, we embarked on an ambitious two-hour trek through heavy snow to Roka, our base for the week on our first attempt as a family at skiing.

Lana, Robbie, Connor, Vicky, Natalie and Mia after a reindeer sleigh ride in Santa's Village in Lapland.
Lana, Robbie, Connor, Vicky, Natalie and Mia after a reindeer sleigh ride in Santa’s Village in Lapland.

Initially, we booked another family resort, Iso Syote, but low snow cover (global warming has a worrying effect) made us move to Ruka, where snow machines ensured we had enough ski coverage.

Not to worry, by the time we drove up, there was a thick blanket of snow.

The Little Cabin in the Woods (€1,400 for seven nights) was our base for the week. We spent the first day exploring this winter wonderland, with a little sled in tow. We picked the basics at the nearby K Market for breakfast and dinner to cook in our comfortable kitchen (prices are higher here for staples, as you’d expect in Finnish Lapland).

In a country as expensive as Finland, we chose to eat out one evening as a holiday treat, but our stove was lit at night for an open fire where we played cards and watched Christmas movies before bed. The outside fire was also perfect for s’mores night.

The main event is planned for Thursday morning: a visit to Santa’s Cottage, in Kuusamo, deep in the woods. Looking at a map, kids can see how close they are to the North Pole. This guy was the real deal.

We were picked up by a car, with reindeer to mark on the way and elves to greet us on arrival for our half day visit. There were sleighs to race over the frozen lake and hot dogs and hot drinks over an open fire. Then we heard the bells.

Santa was here. Children gathered at his feet near the Christmas tree. He showed them the maps, and told them where the toy factory was hidden.

And then, right there on his bench, we spot something that proves he’s the person he really was. And he wrote on his pillow, “Go, I’m going to eat omelets.” We were blown away. Santa just gave a flag wink.

Each child was given an elf hat, and told they had jobs to do. There was gingerbread to make, Christmas cards to draw and post to the grandparents back home, and Finnish Christmas carols to learn.

At the end of our four-hour stay, Santa summoned each child and gave them a cuddly reindeer to bring home as a souvenir of a magical morning.

Santa proved it
Santa proves he’s the “real” with a little jalegi and a big wink.

There in the hallway, when we left Santa’s house was the final seal of approval. Picture of Lionel Messi and his family visiting the same man in red.

Later that night, online radars told us the northern lights were active. Despite driving in the middle of the night into the dark countryside, sleeping children in the back, heavy cloud cover prevented any view. It was the only disappointment in our trip.

After that was skiing. We booked three days of lessons at Roca, where the patient Lucia taught us the basics as a family.

Skiing added to our budget: for six of us, three 90-minute lessons were €750, ski rental another €350, and our ski passes for three more days a further €500. If you’ve never tried skiing with kids before, this was a real find for us, and a way to really have fun as a family as we laughed our way through the falls, and subsequent successes, on the slopes.

With twice-weekly flights, shorter flights to Lapland with Ryanair are also an option, and you can base yourself in Rovaniemi, near Santa Village.

Ski or not, with freezing temperatures and a solid chance of snow, it’s best to bring waterproof ski pants because every kid is going to want to lay down and make that snow angel. Snowball fights will definitely be on the agenda, too, so no woolen gloves.

But the key in this climate is layering. You’ll continually transition from the freezing conditions outside to the warm, breezy havens inside.

Vacation’s over, I asked the best trip critics to make the call: Package or DIY?

The 17-year-old who struggled with both declared a draw.

For parents, it was definitely cheaper to go for the DIY option (significantly), even with the addition of skiing and an expensive Santa visit. But there was work involved and a lot of advance planning. (Another great option is to fly into Helsinki and catch the Santa Fe train to Rovaniemi.)

If you are someone who loves group trips and believes that holidays should be about ease and comfort, then Sunway is for you. If your flights have always been about adventure and a bit of the unknown, these Ryanair flights are just a click away.

Either way, it’s the vacation of a lifetime.

#DIY #guide #family #holiday #Lapland

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