Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Lapland is the Trip of a Lifetime ~ Here's How to Do It on a Budget!


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I’m so excited to even be writing this post as I’ve always wanted to take my kids to the North Pole but with 5 little ones it’s always been way out of budget; until now that is! Since I’ve upped my game in travel bargain hunting, I thought I’d go all out and price the ultimate trip. So, is it possible to visit Lapland on a budget? YES it is. I’ve been scouting around online for a while now looking for prices.

The best price I can find with a travel agent is €578pp for a DAY trip to Lapland, leaving Dublin at 7 am returning at 9 pm. Total cost for my family of 2 adults and 5 children would be €4,046. If I booked it all myself I got it down to €1,308 for 4 nights for the 7 of us including a trip to Helsinki to visit the Christmas Markets.

Then I decided ah sure if we were going to go that far we might as well get in another city and extend our trip. I priced flights with bags, taxes, charges, transfers including a return trip on an overnight train, 5 nights in Airbnb’s, tickets to Santa Park to see Santa and a day trip across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia.

I was astounded to see it worked out at just €1,826 for 7 of us, over 50% saving on the price of a day trip with a tour operator. I’ve researched as much as I could with the dates 12th December to 19th December 2016 as an example and listed it all here to save you countless hours of work. The icing on the cake for me is a chance to see the Northern Lights.

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What airport do I fly to from Dublin to Lapland?

Unfortunately it’s not that easy when you’re booking a DIY trip to Lapland If you book with an agent flights are chartered, it’s a direct flight to Rovaniemi (Lapland). I used Skyscanner and found Norwegian Air flies from Dublin to Helsinki, Finland with a flight time of 3 hours 10 minutes. Flights cost €118pp with 10kg hand luggage free. Check-in bags cost €24 per 20kg bag return. There’s also a 1.9% credit card fee on bookings.

How do I get from Helsinki to Rovaniemi?

Take the overnight train run by VR but it really should be called the Lapland Express! It took me a couple of days and a couple of phone calls to them to sort out the best rate. There are two options for the overnight train you can book a 2 berth cabin or seats that recline in a train carriage. We would be travelling with 5 children and children over 4 years old need their own seat so it actually works out cheaper for us to book a cabin.

Do not book any tickets online for children aged 10 & under. Book the adults into the cabin and then call them on 00358 203 32033, they’ve very helpful English speaking staff. Children aged 6-10 years old need a ticket to travel and will be added to your booking free of charge. If you book online you pay full price for them. Each adult ticket can avail of 1 free child ticket. Children under 6 years old do not require a ticket to travel in a cabin and you don’t need to notify them beforehand.

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As there would be 7 of us I’d need to book at least 3 beds or 6 seats as 2 year old would be on our knee. This is where the calls came in as I was trying to get the best deal; the prices quoted on the phone were astronomical at €376 one way. With a little further research I found we could book 2 adults into one cabin and avail of 2 free children and then book 1 adult into a 2 person cabin with 1 child free. The other bed in this cabin will possibly be purchased buy another passenger. Notice I booked one of the children as an adult? I did that because we could then get another child free with that ticket.

The online rate is €118pp return this price includes a breakfast of porridge. If you sign up to their free Venturi programme you receive a €20 discount on this rate bringing it down to just €98pp return. You can’t book 3 beds on a single booking; it must be done on separate bookings. So the train for 7 of us return costs €294. Yes it would be a squash in the cabin but it adds to the adventure!

The Santa Claus Express Night Train

The journey takes 12 hours 36 minutes to Rovaniemi and 13 hours 14 minutes on the return leg. It’s a family friendly train with facilities such as a children’s carriage that’s a playground for them to run around and use up some of the excited energy. Bags can be checked in at a cost of €10 per bag return. You can also upgrade to a cabin with a toilet and shower for €20 per adult return.

Of course you could just fly from Helsinki to Rovaniemi but they are very expensive flights, they worked out at over €1,000 for us. I think the overnight train would be a great part of the polar experience.

Check Lapland AirBnBs HERE

Where to stay in Rovaniemi?

If you’ve a large family like we do then Airbnb should be your best friend. I found a great apartment located less than 2km from the city centre for just €183 for 2 nights for the 7 of us including all service fees and charges.

Santa Claus Village

Where can we see Santa in Lapland?

There are two separate Santa experiences located quite close to each other in Rovaniemi/Lapland. They are both 8km from the city centre on the number 8 bus but about 2km apart connected via road train. A lot of people confuse the two or think they’re the same place so it can be hard to differentiate between them when researching online.

Santa’s Village: Has no entrance fee but you must pay for all the activities you choose such as Husky sled rides and Reindeer sleigh rides. There are a few options of length of ride starting at 400m in a sleigh €14 for children €18 for adults. I read a review that mentioned they got these activities 2 for €20 which seems a great deal if it’s available. Once qualified you can purchase a Reindeer driving licence for just €3, they are valid for 5 years!

Visits to Santa in his office free of charge but a photo will set you back about €40. You can also take your own photos. From all the reviews & tips I’ve read the common reasons to visit Santa Village are a giant 150ft Christmas tree, great photo ops including crossing the Arctic Circle and buying a certificate to state you were there. Market stalls and a large buffet lunch priced at €15 per adult and €9 per child.

I have to tell you that while looking at countless photos online some of the photos of Santa are the Santa from Portable North Pole, can you imagine your children’s faces going to visit THE
 Santa that’s been sending them video messages for years?!!

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Santa Park: Winter season tickets can be purchased when you get there costing €33 per adult €27.50 per child while under 3’s are admitted free. Tickets are valid for 2 consecutive days. Santa Park is entirely underground in the magical setting of caves where you have a unique opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle 50m below ground level. Once inside activities such as Elf School, Angry Birds play area, Santa’s Office, Mrs Gingerbread’s Bakery where kids can decorate their own gingerbread, Magic Sleigh Ride, Elf Workshop and a visit to the Elves Post Office are all included in the admission fee. 

Heavy winter capes are provided for the Ice sculpture gallery and they also provide winter snow suits free of charge to go outside for more activities such as skidoo rides, reindeer sleigh rides and Husky sled rides. It sounds amazing!

Helsinki AirBnB

Where to stay in Helsinki with kids?

As above Airbnb should be your friend, I found a fabulous apartment a short 15 minute train ride to the centre of Helsinki complete with its own pool and sauna for €172 for 3 nights for the 7 of us.

Are there Christmas Markets in Helsinki?

Helsinki the capital of Finland is dubbed the Christmas City. St Thomas Christmas Market is located in the heart of the city. Over 150 stalls sell Finnish crafts, food, drink and Christmas Decorations. Ice Park where you can go ice skating is in railway station square. The shop windows will be decorated for the festive season and while not guaranteed I’m sure there’ll be a sprinkling of snow to add to the amazing Christmas atmosphere in Helsinki.

Groupon

How can I do a day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki?

There are 3 ferry companies that cross between Helsinki and Tallinn with a journey time of 2 ½ hours. The exact price varies depending on the time you wish to sail for instance if we wanted just 4 hours in Tallinn we could get the Viking Line ferry for just €56 return for the 7 of us but I’d prefer longer. I chose Tallink Silja Ferry Company for 7 ½ hours ashore in Tallinn do you’d have enough time to explore their Christmas Markets and the city itself, this option costs €117 return for 2 adults, 4 children and 1 infant.

Lidl Winter 2015

What about winter clothing?

While you can rent ski/snow gear I’d prefer to bring our own as it’d give us the freedom to come and go as we please. I’ll be keeping my eye out for the ski specials in Lidl in the coming weeks so I can kit out the children.

That’s how you can book a DIY trip to Lapland on a budget with kids. Oh and another thing I BOOKED it!! If you’re thinking of booking for this year get your skates on before it books out. If you want to go next year keep an eye out for my full in-depth posts with everything we’ve learned while there, I’ll publish it in January. Or you can keep an eye on my Snapchat (stonetravel) Twitter @stonetravel4 Facebook page Stone Travel and see what it’s like while we’re there. Now I’m off to lose 6 stone so I can fit into some ski gear!

Have you been to the North Pole? Are there any hints or tips you’d like to share, I’d be most grateful!

P.S. If any of you know my children please don’t tell them we’re going I want to surprise them!


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