The important thing to say about this holiday is that if you are expecting 5 star accommodation, luxury service and sumptuous relaxation.....then go somewhere else. Likewise if you expect to be pampered and mollycoddled and can't take responsibility for yourself, then do your fellow travellers a favour and stay at home - this is not a trip for those that feel that moaning is a way of life!
First thing first then.....what to take with you. Depending on the temperature, you should make sure you have appropriate clothing. During our trip it was warmer than expected (0 to -10 deg c) so we didn't need everything we took with us, but i would recommend you research the use of base and outer layers and trust in the fact you get what you pay for (or you may regret buying those cheap "thick socks" from Primark!) A snood is a good investment, as is a decent wind proof hat, and gloves to go inside thermal mittens.
Everyone is provided with a good thermal suit and boots to keep for the week, so you won't need to buy expensive ski or trekking gear, snow boots or even salapetts. Just make sure you have plenty of thin layers, some comfortable trousers and something sturdy on your feet to travel in.
The hotel is extremely warm, too hot in fact, especially in the restaurant, so make sure you bring a couple of tshirts and light trousers to wear in the evening.
It may be an offensive thought to some, but you do find you wear the same clothes a lot, so no need to pack a different outfit for every day!
Other things to bring will be a travel kettle, tea/coffee, sachets of milk, snacks and nibbles, lots of reading material and your iPads loaded with tv downloads and films.
There is wifi in the common areas so internet and email is available for your own devices, but you can't really stream anything. There is no tv or other entertainment, and given that there can be a lot of downtime, especially if you are staying for a week, if you don't find lots of dozing a pleasant pastime, then you will need something else to do. There are a lot of chances to go for a good walk, but not a lot to see or do when you get there!
We like the odd little tipple so we took a bottle of whiskey in our suitcase.....a good move as the drinks in the hotel are expensive (equivalent of about £24 for a bottle of wine and £5 for a small beer).
The hotel doesn't have a shop but there is a local store about 25 mins walk over the bridge into Finland.
Accommodation is basic....some rooms are quite a lot bigger than others and there are a mixture of room layouts. We were at the back of the building which offer good views for the northern lights (should they appear) but it was very small with little storage. The WC and shower were compact and generally you need to be good friends with your room mate if you are sharing a room! The rooms at the front are bigger and better laid out.
Whilst we were led to believe the place had been refurbished, it didn't show and whilst functional, the rooms do need some attention. We had no service for the week apart from a quick bin empty and a change of loo roll. This is not, as I said before, luxury accommodation.
That said, the food is pretty good. On arrival days there is a buffet dinner, other days you choose a plated meal from a menu at breakfast time for the evening ahead. Generally it's a choice between meat/chicken, fish and a veggie option, and on at least 5 of our 7 nights it was delicious. If you are a meat eater and are lucky enough to get offered the option of Hungarian goulash then don't waste your time deciding between that and the other choices.....it is fantastic!!!
Breakfast is a buffet too, a basic mixture of cereal, continental and bacon/egg/sausage. Again, it's very nice food and if you are half board, there's plenty there to fill up and see yourself through to evening dinner. All meals have water, tea and coffee available.
Now, the excursions. There is lots to do, especially if you are there for just a few days.....as we were there for the week our trips were nicely spread out, hence the downtime, but those on 3 or 4 days did "cram" a little on occasion. This is not a cheap holiday and if you think about it too hard, you may feel most of the trips are overly expensive and indeed not really worth the money, HOWEVER, if you are relaxed and pragmatic, you'll realise the activities are almost a "once in a lifetime" opportunity and so you accept the cost and just enjoy yourself!
Snow shoe walking.....not terribly exciting, but a novel experience and not as easy you might think!
Husky sleighs.....great fun and if you are a dog lover it's even better. It's surprisingly easy to drive a sledge but you have to take care on the corners or you'll turn it over - an entirely painless event and one that will just make you laugh!
Reindeer farm.....a very surreal experience and an extremely pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. You have nice gentle ride in a sleigh being pulled by a reindeer and then you get to "drive" one on a special circuit. More great fun.
I should point out as a strong supporter of animal welfare that on the both these activities I was very pleased to see that the animals were very well looked after and the staff give them absolute priority in terms of care and safety.
Knife factory....you have a tour of the famous Karesuando factory where they hand make quality knives for export all over the world. Slightly informative and interesting although you do wonder how this is on a par to other activities!
Snowmobiles....brilliant!! Have faith and confidence that you have to try quite hard to fall off and you will then enjoy them that much more. The faster you go, the bigger the rush!
Ice palace and Sami museum....a bit of a journey to get there, but very interesting. One of the more gentle activities and a nice way to pass the day.
A night in an igloo....you should try it, just to say you've done it.
Forest trek....a gentle end to the holiday.
And finally the big one.....the northern lights. Unfortunately it's completely luck of draw the draw as to whether you get to see any at all, let alone something spectacular. We spent a lot of time in the late evenings stood and sat on the frozen lake at the back of the hotel looking for the lights.
We were lucky enough to see a certain amount on our first night and much more four days later, but even when there is a good meteorological light forecast, you are still reliant on weather conditions.....some nights there was a "good chance" of seeing the lights but sadly there was also a lot of cloud cover so we didn't see anything at all.
Handy tip......the lights are more "visible" on camera than to the naked eye, so practice your basic photography before you go. Phone cameras won't pick up anything unless it's perfect conditions but basic digital cameras will give quite good results even when you can't see much yourself. Learn how to set the exposure to maximum (15 or even 20 seconds) and adjust the ISO to 800 or 1600. Sounds complicated to the uninitiated, but it's easy with quick reference to your camera instruction manual and it'll make all the difference. We were lucky enough to hear this advice and got some nice pics with our £70 "point and shoot" model...others in our group brought some expensive cameras but didn't know how to use them, and sadly got nothing.
In summary then.......
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Don't expect too much and you'll enjoy your time in Lapland. Relax, take it for what it is and you'll get the most from it. The outdoor staff were really friendly, knowledgeable and certainly made the activities more enjoyable. I do have a couple of things to moan about, not least of which is that Transun should treat their staff with a little more respect and give them more support - I recognised a mile off that the company are cost, not value, driven which can and sometimes does impact on the quality of the guests' holiday. I was also less than impressed with the behaviour and attitude to the guests (ie their clients, those whom provide salaries and profits) of some of the staff from Transun's head office who were in the resort on a short visit.
Finally, on your trip home.......if you intend to buy food and drink at Kiruna Airport you will be fleeced and pillaged in a dazzling display of daylight robbery. It's not particularly cheap in the first place, but if you then pay in Euro's instead of Swedish Krona, they will charge an astronomical exchange rate. We had 2 burgers, 2 bottles of water, a coffee, a beer and a small pot of Pringles, which came to 329SEK. This should have been about 37 euros (c£30). They charged us 51 Euros (c£41). My advice is go hungry, but at least you won't feel like your wallet has been stolen.
A great holiday, do it!!!
- Also Known As:
- Arctic Star Hotel Karesuando, Sweden - Vasterbotten County