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Sweden/Holland 2003: [Sweden] [Ice Hotel: Visit] [Ice Hotel: Suites] [Ice Hotel: Miscellaneous] [Holland]

Wednesday, December 31, 2003: We departed Umeå and flew to Kiruna via Stockholm.
We arrived at Kiruna at 12:30 PM on New Year's Eve. We had made reservations over a year earlier to stay at the Ice Hotel, and were very excited that the big day had finally arrived. We had decided to splurge on the deluxe suite, but the only hint the brochure gave about the difference between regular and deluxe suites was "This is something extra in terms of decoration and service."

Kiruna is above the Arctic Circle in the north of Sweden, and the brightest light in the noon sky was the moon. We were there during the few weeks when the sun does not appear above the horizon at all.

Jill clowned around with a new friend as we waited for our luggage to be unloaded.

Our first Ice Hotel surprise was to find that we had our own personal guide to pick us up in a van and show us around the hotel. Other guests arriving on the same flight who had booked a transfer to the hotel boarded a large bus. Our guide, Regina, was wonderful to us throughout our stay.

First, we went to the reception building. After Regina checked us in (no waiting in line!), we went to the luggage building to store our luggage, which we reached by walking through this arch, and past a small sculpture garden. (It was cold and we didn't photograph every single thing, unfortunately.)

The lockers were almost invisible behind this large photographic mural. There were three rows of lockers in two sizes. Our locker was one of the large ones in the middle row. Our third suitcase wouldn't fit, so we stored it in a separate luggage room where luggage is also stowed after checking out of the Ice Hotel and before checking into a cabin or other warm accommodation.

Next, we headed across the street for lunch at the Ice Hotel's primary restaurant. Lunch was a large buffet with seafood, salads, breads, meats, and very tasty elk (moose) stew. Although it was still early afternoon, it looked like dusk out. After lunch, Regina took us to the Equipment Center to put on warm boots, winter coveralls, gloves, and hats.

Next, Regina arranged to have us meet the artist/sculptor who designed and built our suite (on the right in photo). Most other rooms in the hotel had been completed for use by mid-December, but the three deluxe suites were not completed until the first bookings on New Year's Eve, so we were the first ones to sleep in it. Our daughter Jill sipped Orange Fanta while the rest of us celebrated the inauguration of the room with a glass of champagne. We were also joined by Arne Bergh, the art director, for a few moments.

The artist (Dave Ruane from Ireland, who, like Arne, was featured on the 2004 Discovery Channel and the 2008 Science Channel programs on the Ice Hotel) was very kind and explained the different techniques he used to create the suite. One end contained a table, couch, and chair based on the modern chairs in the reception building (designed by the late Danish designer Arne Jacobsen and produced by the Danish furniture company Fritz Hansen). The triangle-textured ceiling was arched, and the back wall contained a thin arched window made of ice blocks, so that the room was lit in natural light during the day. Candles in the corners provided us with nightlights for sleeping later on.

The other end of the suite was raised several feet, with a step made of clear ice sides and packed with snow. This end featured a stunning large ice room divider, extremely smooth walls, and a bed sunk into the floor and set at an angle. Lights surrounding the bed lit up the ceiling, while small blue spotlights lit up the room divider and steps. The effect was amazing.

Unlike the beds in the regular rooms and suites, the bed consisted of a full box spring and thick mattress, topped with a mattress pad and reindeer skins. Light switches were located next to the bed and next to the door. Not shown: ice shelves in the wall decorated as a minibar.

Door? Yes, doors were installed on the three deluxe suites only, and could be locked. Here is Tom locking the reindeer-skin-covered door of our beloved suite 206. Because these rooms have doors and locks, they are not accessible to any other day or overnight hotel guests (but we did take a sneak peak into one of the other two deluxe suites on our tour). All other rooms have fabric curtains instead of doors.

Next, Regina took us on a personal tour of the hotel, pointing out the main areas of interest. Other overnight guests are given a group tour at scheduled times. See the Suites page for more photos of the individual rooms, and the Miscellaneous page for more photos of the hotel and surrounding buildings. Here is the gorgeous main hall.


After our tour, Regina gave us a few more goodies, including free drink tickets and a hardbound Ice Hotel book. Then we explored the hotel on our own and took a zillion photos.

We had told Regina how much we hoped to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). Debbie had only seen them twice in her life, and Tom and Jill had never seen them. After our tour, Regina found us to let us know that they were visible in the sky. Without a tripod, Debbie did her best to keep the camera still to photograph the lights.

Later, I found a small ice sculpture to lay the camera on so it would stay still while taking the photo. Here, the constellation Cassiopeia is visible behind the Northern Lights.

Prior to our arrival, we had not made reservations for dinner and the main restaurant was fully booked, so Regina had made dinner reservations for us at the other restaurant, the Old Homestead Restaurant, over 800 meters (1/2 mile) away.
Although the walk only took 15 minutes, it was -30°C (-22°F) outside and the cold was brutal! These two newer photos were found online because we were too cold to remember to take any photos of the exterior or interior.
Once we arrived, our table by the fireplace was cozy and the buffet dinner was delicious.

Our server was kind enough to take a photo of us after dinner.

The Northern Lights were out again for our walk back. We warmed up by the fire for a while in the main reception building, then went to the Absolut Ice Bar for some New Year's Eve beverages.

One of the bartenders offered to take a photo of us with our colorful drinks.

Our drinks were so pretty that we had to photograph them up close. Shown here on one of the ice tables, Jill's was a non-alcoholic juice drink (center), while Tom and Debbie drank some sort of Absolut Vodka concoctions.


Our mascot friend, Orchy, joined us for the first of many Icebar visits. Next, we got ready for bed and were bundled up in our sleeping bags before the stroke of midnight. We counted down to midnight together, then enjoyed hearing the fireworks outside that lit up our suite through the ventilation hole in the ceiling and the arched window at the end of the room.

Thursday, January 1, 2004: The next morning, it was still -30°C, and both Regina and the nice woman who woke us up with a glass of hot lingonberry juice warned us to be careful if we went on an outdoor tour. We remembered how cold we were when we were walking the night before, and knew that being immobile on a dogsled with wind in our faces for over an hour would be miserable, so we cancelled our dogsled tour. It was too late for a refund, but we figured that it was better to lose the money than end up with frostbitten faces. Here the dogs have returned from the morning tour.

Instead, we got up and had a buffet breakfast at the main restaurant, then we checked out of our suite, relaxed in the reception area, and shopped for souvenirs. We discovered that there had been a sign-up sheet the night before to request personalized certificates for surviving a night in the Ice Hotel. We hadn't seen the sign-up sheet, but no problem - they printed up a set for the three of us anyway. This notes that the outdoor temperature was -29 degrees Celcius (-20 degrees Fahrenheit).

Next, we walked around the area surrounding the hotel. During our walk, we took this photo of one of the Aurora House cabins. Coincidentally, it turned out to be the same one we stayed in later that day.

We checked into our Aurora House cabin and took a photo facing the opposite direction. Here is the view from our cabin of the frozen Torne River just after checking in. It was completely dark by 3:00 PM. The first row of the Aurora House cabins face the river, but most of the cabins face the first row of cabins or the Ice Hotel.

Here's a view of the moon in the late afternoon sky from the same window.

The Aurora House cabins are absolutely wonderful. They are warm, spacious, well-equipped, and reasonably priced. The cabins have an entryway, kitchen, dining area, bathroom, and two bedrooms.

Each bedroom has a large skylight for seeing the Northern Lights. Shown here is the ceiling of the double room; the other room contains a single bed. We did not see the Northern Lights that evening, but we had seen such a dazzling display the night before that we didn't mind. Thanks to the Internet, we had learned that Swedish television was broadcasting a performance of "Chess på Svenska," the Swedish version of "Chess," one of Debbie's favorite musicals. We had checked to make sure there were TVs in the cabins, and we enjoyed watching it. We brought a copy of the lyrics translated into English, so we were able to follow along fairly well.

Our flight out the next morning left before the restaurant opened for breakfast. However, breakfast is included with all overnight stays, so the night before we left, the staff brought us several bags of food for breakfast, including hot chocolate mix, eggs, bread, meat, cheese, fruit, juice, cereal, and yogurt. It was enough food for dinner that evening and breakfast early the next day.

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