“I’ll never forget this trip as long as I live,” said my little boy, giving me a hug.
It was a magical trip and one the children will look back on with fondness.
After weeks of reading up on the different companies that offer Santa trips, we chose Esprit. It had a good choice of trips, wasn’t the cheapest or most expensive but – most importantly – has a good reputation and offered a private meeting with You Know Who.
There are choices of day trips, two night stays and three night breaks. The thought of flying three and a half hours into the Arctic Circle, only to return after 48 hours was too much.
There would be an activity day, a 25 minute coach ride away from the resort, where we would enjoy a short husky ride, a reindeer sled ride, play ice hockey, toboggan, do a spot of ice fishing, watch a traditional Saami ceremony and drink enough warm berry juice to keep the cold at bay.
There was also a chance for the children to show off their artistic talents and do an ice sculpture and enjoy a spot of skidooing.
Of course, the extra day meant we had lots of free time. For us that meant tobogganing – seven hours. That’s a lot of trudging up Europe’s longest tobogganing run (1.2 km if you climb right to the top). But we did it because it was free.
We could not justify forking out for optional trips. A one-hour husky sled ride cost £89 per adult and £65 per child (aged 2-11), while one and half hours’ snowmobiling would have been an extra £370.
But tobogganing was such fun, I frankly didn’t care. Ploughing face first into a four foot deep snow pile because you can’t control the small plastic tray you sat in produced streams of raucous laughter.
The snowsuits, thermal socks, gloves, hats and boots handed out upon arrival kept us toasty warm and as they got rather damp from the snow ploughing, snow angels and snowball pelting it was great to have the drying cupboard in our hotel rooms.
The Hotel Riekonlinna stands at the end of the tiny town’s high street, close to the toboggan run. It is cosy and friendly with a bar that serves expensive drinks (a small local beer costs €5.30. Finland is notoriously pricey).
There is also a restaurant that serves a half-decent buffet breakfast – the usual array of breads, cereals and fruit, as well as a hot selection – but dinners didn’t hit the spot with many of the guests.
The choice was limited and strict vegetarians might get very hungry. And only one pudding.
The bedrooms, although in need of modernising, were spotless and very comfortable. A bit too comfy: who’d have thought I’d have had the window open all night in the Arctic Circle in December?
But the children didn’t care about any of this. Why would they? What they were interested in was seeing Santa.
As we travelled in a sled behind a snowmobile on our activity day through a forest to Santa’s house, there was evidence that elves were definitely up to no good. Abandoned gifts and a tipped up sleigh gave the clues, but soon we saw them outside a festive-looking wooden chalet.
After a minute of play – with them stealing our hats and having snow shoved in our faces – we were ushered in to a lovely, warm room, festooned with decorations and gifts. And there he was. Santa. And he had my children’s letters to him in HIS HANDS.
As he walked through the door, he exclaimed their names and they could barely speak. My son (8) was in total awe. How on Earth did Santa get our letters?
My daughter, who is ten, was rendered completely confused by the experience. As a Year 6 pupil, she is *on the cusp* with Santa. But there is no denying she loved the brief two-minute meeting with Santa – as well as the lovely gift of a reindeer in traditional Lappish costume.
So, was it worth it? It’s a heck of a lot of money for we grown-ups and I wouldn’t do it more than once. But it’s a lifetime of memories for youngsters – and that’s priceless.
Jayne Howarth and family paid for their three-night Esprit trip to Saariselka, flying from Manchester to Ivalo.
They stayed at the Premier Inn, Manchester Airport prior to the 6am flight to Ivalo.