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      03.01.2013 11:41
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      Despite the disadvantages, for me this is the best holiday I've ever had so it still gets 5 stars!

      This may be quite a long review as I'm going to cover many aspects of our holiday from start to finish. This may be boring for some to read but we found information on holidays to Lapland pretty scarce (even from our tour operator Thomsons) and we had absolutely no idea what to expect therefore I'm hoping this review may be of use to some.

      Arriving in Lapland
      After a 4.30 start and just short of a 3 hour flight on Boxing Day, we were tired and ready for making our way to our first ever 'cold' holiday. Not knowing what to expect, we were apprehensive about taking a 4 and 6 year old to such a cold destination for a week, but knew the magic of taking the children to Lapland at Christmas time would far outweigh any nerves and coldness we may encounter! Arriving at Kittilla airport we were instantly hit by the cold and found the dryness in the air was difficult on our throats. We hurried into the airport to collect our luggage and became very stressed after a 45 minute wait. Lots of people from our Manchester flight were getting slightly annoyed especially after a flight from Paris arrived 20 minutes after us but got their luggage before us. The airport did have a sense of disorganisation about it but a group of musicians playing christmas music in the centre lifted our spirits slightly. When we did get our luggage we expected to board a coach transfer however we were then directed to a large outside building where we were told to collect our outdoor clothes. We had heard that we would be given some ski clothes but as the information about what and when hadn't been given to us by Thomsons we decided we would be safer to buy our own and steadily over the last year since booking, we have been picking up bits and pieces in the sales. We did decide to collect some clothing for the children for a 'just in case' moment but skipped on the snow boots and hats, etc. On offer were snow boots, overalls which are given by measurements, hats and ski gloves. All were given in bin liners and many people were struggling to get on the buses as they were so full!

      Accommodation
      Arriving on the coach the arrival to Levi was only around 15 minutes and we were advised by our rep who was randomly dressed as an elf (as they all are all the time!) that we couldn't check in to our accommodation (levi log cabins) until 4pm. This got our backs up a little as at this point it was around 1pm but we were told that we would head straight to the welcome meeting at the Crazy and White Reindeer hotel where they would explain what we should expect during our weeks stay in Levi. After sitting through a rather over the top welcome meeting with full on power point presentation with music and lights I was quite annoyed as it was after all Boxing Day, we'd been up since stupid o'clock and hadn't even been offered a drink. We were offered to do they're 'amazing excursions' but this was the one thing we had read up on where other visitors had said to avoid the tour operators excursions which were stupidly priced, and to head straight to the Tourism Office which was easy to find in the centre of Levi where we could expect to pay around 30% less than the Thomsons prices of excursions. After our welcome meeting we hopped back on to the coach and were told we would be dropped off at the cabins which were 3km outside of Levi centre. This was quite disappointing to realise we were so far outside of the centre. Not far in usual weather but when it's -30 outside and there's at least a foot of snow it seemed daunting at first. We were dropped off one family at a time at our cabins and each family had to be shown how to work the heating etc and after the day we had had we just knew we would be the very last family (which we were). Arriving at our cabin our low spirits were instantly lifted when we walked into the most beautiful cabin I've ever seen. I nearly burst into tears I was so happy. The heating was on (underfloor) and the fridge stocked with breakfast and drinks such as bacon, bread, butter, fresh orange, milk and coffee. We dashed around the cabin in complete glee and couldn't believe the beautiful accommodation we would be staying in for a week. With open plan dining and kitchen area and a small corner sofa, there was a double bedroom downstairs, a shower room with washing machine and dryer, a sauna, and a downstairs loo. Upstairs was a mezzanine with a single bed, toilet and sink, plus another large bedroom with a double bed and a single bed. We had read that although the capacity was 7 that this was rather ambitious but as we holidayed with my parents there were 4 adults and 2 children and there was more than enough room. The stores directly outside the cabins each stocked plenty of firewood (probably enough for the whole winter!), 2 sledges and snow ploughs to make paths etc. The cabins themselves were well stocked with candles, loo rolls, wash powder, washing up liquid etc, plus plenty of cooking utensils, certainly more than the basics we expected. The beds were comfortable but pillows were a bit limited. We had a shock at bedtime on the first evening when we pulled back the bed covers and realised the beds weren't made but just had a cover over the top. We didn't appreciate making 4 beds late at night but hey ho! The heating was easy to work and warms quickly and the open fire is a real treat after a cold day out.

      There are plenty of accommodation options in Levi and choices range from hotels to log cabins. There are around 350 cabins in Levi and I think they are such a great option. The Sokos is the other main hotel that Thomsons offer but upon speaking to other people on holiday staying there, they found that the food was average, but the lack of self catering meant that they were forced to eat out which of course ups the expense. Also the lack of a skiwear dryer (imagine a tall fridge with racks inside to hang sellopettes) meant they found drying clothes after a trip out very difficult.

      Extras
      If you book through Thomsons for a week expect some free excursions thrown in. We paid about £4500 for 7 nights but this included flights for 4 adults and 2 children. I originally only planned to holiday for 4 days but the price to holiday for 7 days wasn't that much more so made sense to be away for New Years Eve as an added bonus. I would thoroughly recommend (if budget allows) that you stay for a week as you simply cannot fit everything in. We were busy every single day yet we still didn't have chance to go on a husky ride. Within our price we received a taster skidoo (snowmobile) session which was an absolute nightmare and one of the worst experiences of my life. The previous evening we had paid (through the Tourist Office) around 350 euros for 3 adults to go on a 3 hour (30km) trek through the forests with a warm berry drink and a warm up round an open fire in a teepee which was amazing (but beyond cold at around -30). When we arrived at the pick up point the next morning for our free taster session with the tour operator, we were expecting only a short trip around the local area on the skidoo with the children being pulled by sleighs. We knew from the previous night that we would be expected to change from our own clothes to some overalls to reduce the smell of diesel absorbing our clothes and of course to keep us warm. Met by an overwhelmingly cocky guide who told me my gloves were stupid (I was wearing inner gloves as well as ski gloves which he advised me was purely for fashion reasons.... I'll let you be the judge when they were worn inside my own gloves) he straight away had my back up, before he started to mock the Germans which no one found funny. Given the fact that we had woken to clear skies we were told this actually made the temperature colder and on that particular morning it was still around -30 at 9.30am. I half expected to arrive at the taster session and be told that the children were too young but they advised that as long as an adult was in the sleigh with them (grandma) that it was suitable for young children. They were covered by reindeer skins and had 4 layers on plus their overalls, full helmets and ski goggles so I was happy they would be as warm as possible. I decided to split the driving of the skidoo with my step dad and as we were a two person ride we were split from my mum who was at the front of the trek. The ride was beautiful lasting about an hour which was pretty impressive given it was free and the amount we had spent for the ride the previous evening. We crossed two frozen lakes and reached speeds of around 50km per hour across the most amazing scenery the likes of which I have never seen. This was all fine and dandy despite my eye lashes being frozen and feeling the coldest I have ever felt in my life. What happened next though was one of the worst moments I've ever faced as a mum and I will never forget it. When we arrived back at the tour operators I expected my eldest child to be pretty impressed. Like me she's a bit of a daredevil and I expected her to be cold but impressed with what had just happened. When I reached her and my other daughter they were wailing like I've never seen before. They were more than crying and it upset me immediately. My mum told me they had been like that from the moment they set off and she had tried several times to attract the attention of one of the three guides or the rep from Thomsons. When she finally did the main guide shouted 'screaming kids, we better get back'. At no point was she offered assistance and as all the riders were wearing blue coveralls, helmets and balaclavas she had no idea which out of the 40 riders we were. We had hand warmers with us and so I snapped them immediately but they offered no comfort to the girls. In the room where we removed overalls, not one rep or guide came to us to offer help and I was absolutely enraged. We trusted the reps completely and were actually told the ride only lasted 10 minutes. Had I known or been told the girls were too young I would have been happy to not take part. There should explicitly be some kind of warning given that this was not suitable for children but the Thomsons reps offered no such advise. When we got back on the coach, a couple of people stopped and said that they're teenage children had cried too as it was just too cold. If you do go on this holiday with Thomsons, please please consider what happened to us before taking children on this 'family friendly' excursion.

      The next free excursion we had thrown in to the holiday which I would absolutely recommend even if you don't travel with Thomsons and you have to pay to get in, is the Ice Village. This was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen that is man made and I just couldn't believe what I was seeing! Around a 40 minute drive from Levi is the Ice Village, a hotel complete with Chapel and Ice Bar. Arriving at the Ice Village you step outside and are greeted by around four of five six foot (ish) tall sculptures of bears and other animals which are jaw droppingly good. At first I wasn't too impressed with the outside as it was a permanent building which had been partly covered in snow. This wasn't what I had been expecting, but I soon realised this was the reception and the main restaurant, but the rest of the structure was made from snow and ice. We had lunch thrown in to the excursion and the food was delicious but not very warm. After we had full tummies we started to make our way around the village and were met by room after room of beds made from ice with lights inside and the most fabulous sculptures carved into the room walls. Each room had a different theme and I later discovered that this was because each room is designed and sculpted by various art students from around Finland, and so one room could be a sea monster or the next could be an angel with stars and moons inside. Another room saw the bed made to be shaped like a Viking ship! Each bed has what feels like a water bed covered in a thick plastic layer so should you decide that you want to stay in the hotel overnight (for the not exorbitant price of around 125 euros per person) you are safe in the knowledge that yes you may well be cold and have to sleep in your ski clothes but you will at least have a mattress! Walking around the village was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed making my way through the maze of the hotel with corridors leading off here there and everywhere, but it was difficult to keep track of where you had and hadn't been. The chapel was out of this world and for something a little different would certainly be a talking point when talking about where you got married. One of my favourite pictures of our holiday (and there were many) is our family all together at the alter. The ice bar didn't disappoint and despite being entitled to a free hot berry juice, a flavoured vodka from an ice shot glass just had to be done! Prices were lower than we expected for each shot at 7 euros each but we had read somewhere that it was double that and given that I had paid 8 euros in an Irish bar the previous evening for a Corona I didn't think that in somewhere so touristy that we were being ripped off.

      Another free excursion with Thomsons was the fantastic snowy fun day. I believe this was exclusive to Thomsons as there were lots of their signs around. About a ten minute drive from Levi took us to our snowy fun day which managed to capture lots of fun and exciting things to do in a short space of time, all included in your package, this included a short husky ride, snow shoeing and sledging, a short snowmobiling ride, cookie making, create your own ice sculptures and your very own trip into the forest to watch a lumberjack chop down a Christmas tree! Santa was also here and I nearly cried when I saw him. The best Santa I've ever seen and most definitely the 'real' one! He even made the adults sit on his knee!

      Other recommendations
      We aren't skiers at all and were quite daunted around the slopes and didn't really have a clue what we were doing. We looked so out of place I'm sure! I wont comment on the price of the slopes etc as i really don't know what I'm talking about and have nothing to compare it to, but the slopes did look amazing and there were around 4 slopes in Levi, with the main one being particularly large and having a snowboarding section too. We did however want to experience the slopes and were told to head up in one of the gondolas to the top of the slope where there was a bar and restaurant. Prices for the gondola were fairly steep at 8 euros per adult and 5 euros per child, given that the ride lasted around a minute each way this wasn't the cheapest but boy what a view! When we stepped out of the gondola we were nearly at the top of the slope and could see for miles and miles around. A baby slope for learners was situated here and you could stand on the edge for an amazing photo opportunity. The restaurant was sophisticated without feeling stuffy or unwelcoming and had views to die for. An enclosed play den for the girls meant they were happy and it felt completely safe to let them run off and play in the den, and food (a buffet style 3 course meal) was delicious and fairly priced at 16 euros per adult. If you are lucky enough like us, to be in Levi for New Years Eve then head over the ski slopes at midnight for the most spectacular fireworks over the slopes, all free to watch of course.

      Shopping and restaurants
      There are plenty of tourist shops to chose from and we were lucky that the Christmas market (around 10 little huts) were open when we visited and I picked up a beautiful quite large ornament and some nicnacs for the children. Prices are quite high so shop around as a lot of the shops sell the same things. There is a sports shop, plenty of skiwear shops and a few clothes shops scattered around. We didn't eat out that much despite having the best intentions of doing so, as the majority of our excursions were morning ones and with being a bus ride out of Levi it was quite awkward with young children to be in and out all the timeWe found that the local supermarket was well stocked and we were happy to cook and stay in talking (and drinking wine!). One thing to mention if you are wine drinkers is that they don't sell it in the supermarket and only stock cider, so you need to head over to the Alco store a few minutes walk from the centre. There are plenty of restaurants to chose from and the choice is quite good, with a steak house (well known for its reindeer steaks), Italian, burger place, Tex Mex as well as a few others. The Italian restaurant was delicious but the al a carte menu was extremely expensive with a steak costing 30 euros. The cloakroom charge was a little cheeky at 4 euros which was added to the bill even when we Told e waitress we wouldn't be using the cloakroom to hang our coats. Deserts were also on the pricey side at 12 euros each. There are two nightclubs and plenty of bars. We made our way to the Irish Bar one evening after our evening skidoo ride and it was busy with a nice atmosphere but 3 drinks set us back 24 euros so it wasn't a 'getting drunk' place! There is a bowling alley, swimming pool, spa and cinema so plenty to do should you find yourself wanting to have an indoors day. All in all it's pretty fair to say that eating and drinking out is pricey so if you wish to keep costs down, I would thoroughly recommend the cabin option over a Hotel. The coffee shop sells the most amazing buns and even has a Wii to keep the children entertained for half an hour but the coffee is quite watery and isn't the greatest we've tasted.

      Weather
      Travelling in late December I really didn't know what to expect. I had read that the temperature could be anywhere between -30 and -50 in Lapland yet I didn't know what this would feel like. On arriving on our first day it was a pretty nippy -20, yet the next day was a relatively warm -14. The next day was pretty similar and we were acclimatising pretty well by this point. The next day however was a complete shock to the system and driving passed the local temperature guide at the bottom of the ski slopes we couldn't believe it was -28. Later that evening was when we went out on the skidoos in search of the Northern Lights (which we unfortunately didn't see) and the temperature was even colder at just over -30. At -30 you are open to Frost Nip which can be really painful and particularly affect your nose so definitely bring a gaiter. I often found the inside of my nose freezing and it is the most bizarre feeling, I also suffered from nosebleeds and had 3 or 4 throughout my holiday which is probably the amount I had previously had in the last ten years! Two days later however and it was only -4 all day but the snow blizzard we had for four hours made it seem much much colder. It seems that in Lapland there are no consistencies in the weather! With the sun rising at around 11am and dusk falling at around 2.30, don't expect much daylight. Levi is so well lit especially around the ski slopes that it doesn't feel too dark but it does mess with your body clock and regularly saw me wanting to eat my tea at about 3pm and yawning by 5! They say to dress warm and of course you're not going to come with a jumper and pair of jeans and expect that's going to protect you but really do layer up, especially children. For myself I found that a full base layer, ski socks, a fleece or zipped hiking top plus your outer clothes was enough for me. I couldn't have underestimated the importance of a gaiter as well as a ski hat, but stay away from cotton as this absorbs your sweat and will actually make you cold. The children are a completely different story though and my girls wore 3 base layers plus joggers and a jumper and then they had either sellopettes and a ski jacket or the all in one overalls supplied by Thomsons at the airport. Buy plenty of hand warmers and use them! Bizarrely the traffic doesn't ever seem to be affected by the sheer amount of snow. Snow ploughs are out first thing on a morning and even did our drive at the Cabins. The snow bizarrely never turns to slush and the roads stay the whitest white despite cars driving on them.

      I can't comment on the summer months as we obviously holidayed in December but in the summer we were told that it never gets dark and the temperature can reach 30 degrees, so the total opposite of the winter months!

      I'm sure there is more that I could have included in this review but I'm conscious of how long it already is so I've tried to give an honest account of our holiday and experiences and hopefully along the way they may be of come use to people. I understand that a lot of this review is Thomsons 'heavy', however as I explained the information is so scarce that I felt it necessary to include all of this information. Thanks for sticking with it!!

      All in all an absolutely amazing holiday filled with so many magical memories that I will treasure forever. A lack of organisation was felt in places but this didn't take away from just how amazing this place is. We always said this was a once in a lifetime holiday but we will absolutely return in the future.

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