We booked the trip to Santa's Secret Hideaway with Ingham, our tour operator before we left the UK. This holiday was to see Lapland, enjoy the winter activities on offer there, but also to bring our 6 year old to meet the "real" Santa in his hideaway in the middle of a forest above the Arctic Circle.
We got collected by coach from our hotel in Levi and were taken about 15 minutes drive into the countryside. It was 3:30pm when we were picked up, so it was dark.
When we arrived at the hideaway, we had to drive up a long track, at the end of which we were met by an elf, who walked us up a long candlelit path. It was nice with all the candles, but it was really dark, icy cold and quite a long walk for young children, with not much to see but flickering candles.
We came eventually to a log cabin in the forest and were all taken inside. There was a fire, flasks of coffee and hot berry juice and biscuits. The "elves" in the cabin led a singsong of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer then Santa came in briefly to say hello to the children. He was large, round and fairly jolly and the children were all wide eyed with awe.
When he left, the children were told they could draw and colour a picture, they had a few (very babish) wooden jigsaw puzzles and a small craft area where you could make your own Santa head from a piece of wood and some cotton wool.
While this was going on, the Inghams rep took each family in turn to see Santa in his log cabin. This felt a bit like a production line and the rep seemed intent on just getting the job done, rather than making it a memorable or nice experience.
Inside Santa's log cabin though, it was lovely. Beautifully decorated with a lovely Christmassy smell and Santa sitting in a huge rocking chair. Our son Reuben was dumbstruck and overwhelmed and could barely utter a world. Unfortunately, although Santa was very nice he was not overly chatty - possibly due to the language barrier - so most people were only with him for a couple of minutes. You could take as many photographs as you wanted though, and there was no professional snapper - so no pressure to buy anything.
After the Santa meeting, there were a few things to do outside the cabins. They had a reindeer which you could get close to, a skittles game, some snowshoes you could try out and a big fire where you could cook your own sausages.
There was no running water, so no toilets at the hideaway and, due to the extreme cold, you could only stay outside a maximum of 10 minutes. It was also extremely dark, with only the light from the fire, so hard to watch children and impossible to see anything much.
We were at the hideaway for 2.5 hours. Realistically one hour maximum would have been more than enough time there - the Santa visit was the highlight, but was very brief and after that everyone just crammed into the wooden cabin waiting for our coach to take us back to Levi.
We all trudged back down the long path to our coach - watched the next coach load of people arrive and we had to wait in the cold for them to disembark before we could get on. It all felt a little like a conveyor belt.
Overall our son loved meeting Santa, and the log cabin encounter with him was, although brief, very pleasant. Everything else felt like a filler though and for the cost - £40 each - it was disappointing and a big waste of time and money. We have had better Santa experiences in other places and would not recommend this to anyone.