Day 2 and 3 of our icy adventure saw us return from the overnight husky ride to the ICEHOTEL. When booking you’re advised to sleep in a “cold” room on either your first or last night of the trip. We opted for our final night so that we’d be acclimatised and more settled. We were also well advised that if your budget stretches far enough then it’s worth retaining your “warm” room for that night – more on the big benefits of that later – but one small advantage is that you don’t have to check-out and leave your luggage all day in storage. Without the need to worry about packing, and with the impending thought of a potentially uncomfortable night sleeping on ice, we decided to enjoy a day at leisure; we slept in late, feasted at the breakfast buffet and in the quiet gap just after breakfast before the day tours arrived (but after most guests had gone on their excursions) we took the opportunity of visiting the “cold” rooms enclosure at its quietest.
We’d heard on the grapevine that if you get in early enough, ask reception nicely, and if it’s available, you can request a specific room. And the reason you might want to do this? Well the ICEHOTEL “cold” rooms are like a pop-up art gallery. Certain rooms are “Art” or “Deluxe Suites” with each one being unique, designed and carved by different international artists every year. There are normal “cold” rooms for the more budget conscious, but these are rather plain with a generic design repeated in each room. Personally, if you’re paying the money to venture this far afield then it’s worth the extra price to sleep in a piece of art.
Upon entering the ice enclosure we were blown away by the sheer size and scale of it. A long-arched corridor with ice pillars and the famous ice chandelier greets you. The -5 degrees temperature inside is all but forgotten as the imagination takes over. At the far end of the corridor there is an ice chapel, complete with an iced alter and pews covered in reindeer hide. Not sure if it was a mix of the silence, the natural and artificial light, or the awe of the structure, but it was bordering on heavenly. As we went from room to room viewing each artist’s icy interpretation we were utterly taken aback by its beauty and design detail. One minute we were in a feline inspired room with a large open jaw above the bed, the next an ethereal padded dome, then an underwater themed room complete with mermaids and gigantic jellyfish, or a house of cards. All carved out of ice.
Late 2016 also saw the introduction of ICEHOTEL 365, a permanent enclosure that hosts a number of Art and Deluxe Suites, an ice bar and ice gallery. The building’s exterior is covered by snow during the winter and grass is grown over it in the summer so that it blends with the natural surroundings. They have designed the inside to be a consistent -5 degree temperature to offer the full ice experience to customers all year-round. The Suites here are the grandest and most expensive, and come with warm en-suite bathrooms and shower (the rest of the “cold” rooms share a communal changing area). It’s the first time the hotel has had such grand rooms and they were beyond spectacular – there was an icy Victorian apartment complete with an ice fireplace, a sitting room and a book walled library…a bar themed room with drunken snowman passed out around the floor and walls, and a raised maelstrom with nightmare-ish swirls and a bed hovering well above the ground. They were so amazing we almost upgraded (almost because somewhere the spending has to stop!).
After much deliberation and revisiting room after room we decided that the Casablanca themed room was the one we wanted – an icy Moorish palace with carved windows, a small sitting area (ice armchairs) and a swooping cusped arch entrance that ironically tied into the birthday party theme back in London.
We trotted off to put in our room request (they promised to try and give us Casablanca), disrobed from our snowsuit and warmed up with a hot lingonberry juice before heading off to the comfortable hotel lounge to enjoy a toasted panini for lunch with a glass of wine whilst chatting nervously about what we could expect that night.
If you’re sleeping on ice the hotel provide a daily briefing in the late afternoon, where you’ll find an array of tourists huddling in anticipation of what the night may have in store. The ICEHOTEL’s staff do their very best to take you through the process step-by-step and to answer everyone’s questions; they promised that once we’d sprinted from the dressing rooms to our “cold” room, through the -12 Finnish night, hopping on the reindeer skin bed would feel toasty. We weren’t convinced but we took their word for it and scurried back to our room to make our final preparations.
Dinner was a somewhat sullen affair; we booked the 8.00pm sitting – not wanting to eat too early or too late – and we were careful to monitor our liquid intake (fearful of having to make an emergency bathroom dash in the cold and dark!). We had a nightcap in the hotel lounge and around 10.30pm started to get ready for our icy bed. This is another point in the evening when we appreciated the value of keeping our warm room; the basic “cold” rooms provide access to a communal changing area and bathroom; the Art Suites give you a private, lockable cubicle within the changing area and, as mentioned, the Deluxe Suites come with their own bathroom, but regardless to which room you’re in your luggage is essentially stored for you and access therefore not immediately easy. Yes, we paid a little more, but we had the luxury of full access to our room so that we could stay warm and comfortable until the last minute; only slipping our snowsuit over our thermal underwear for a dash to the changing area before finally disrobing; wrapping ourselves in a sleeping bag for warmth and then the icy sprint into the ice hotel. Brrrr…it was chilly but exhilarating and moments later we were wrapped in an arctic sleeping bag, on a pile of reindeer skins, upon a bed of ice. It was slightly eerie but magical with everything bathed in a crisp white/blue light. We giggled a bit, wriggled around getting comfortable in our individual sleeping bags (you can ask for one that sleeps two), we failed to Facebook live, giggled some more, said our goodnights and then turned off the lights.
And that’s when we really noticed the quiet. The ice has such an insulating effect that you can’t hear anything, especially considering that the room’s don’t have doors (just a curtain). As our eyes accustomed to the dark we lay in silence wondering quite how easily sleep would come. And that’s when Ell realised he had one pair of socks too many on; Drew wasn’t entirely happy in his hat; and where was the bag of “essentials” that had wriggled its way into the end of the bag? So we turned the lights on, giggled a bit more, got comfortable and then turned them off again. We hoped the next thing we’d know would be the cheery wake-up call of Frida with her warming lingonberry juice but alas it wasn’t quite that smooth. We both tossed and turned getting used to the dark, the cold and being wrapped in a warm sleeping bag. Ell found it too hot; then too cold. Drew found it too restrictive. We both nodded off and then woke up and then nodded off again. Around 2am Drew realised that he needed the bathroom and was feeling suffocated by the sleeping bag and gave up. And this is the third and most important reason for keeping your warm room; Drew carefully tiptoed past the various sleeping bodies dotted around the communal changing area who had also given up the ice sleep, he tried hard not to smirk but once he was back in his room on a real mattress, snug and warm he couldn’t help but smile – this justified the extra cost.
Meanwhile; back in Casablanca Ell continued to sleep in fits and bursts eventually awaking around 6.30am. Ell wanted to stay for Frida’s warming lingonberry juice but with a bursting bladder he couldn’t stay there any longer so with a final smile that he’d done it; he hopped into his snow boots (now icy and cold) and ran back to the nearest bathrooms; ironically timed such that he almost knocked over Frida in his haste. Ell wants to tell you he woke up fresh and revitalised, that sleeping in -5 was invigorating and a reboot for a city-fatigued body, but he just can’t. He slept okay; a bit like a business class flight – you sleep but you never sleep “like a baby” – but it was a once in a lifetime experience and another tick on the bucket list to add to crossing Europe aboard the Orient-Express or sleeping in a cave hotel at Matera, Italy. If you have the opportunity, do it. It’s beautiful and it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.
Elldrew’s final thoughts: Between the briefing, conversations around the lounge and our own experience we also gleaned a few tips that we weren’t aware of before we went, so we thought we’d share these here for any fellow readers travelling to the ICEHOTEL in the future.
- If you can stretch the budget keep a “warm” room the night you sleep “cold” as it’s well worth it to be able to go back to the room at any stage, but especially in the morning to refresh and get ready for breakfast (remember you will have either not checked-in, or you will have checked-out of the main hotel so you will only have access to the communal bathrooms/showers and day facilities before a rather strict 3pm check-in for the “warm” rooms).
- Listen to the staff; they know what they’re talking about – one set of thermal underwear, one hat, one pair of socks is ample. Honestly. We were sweating in our arctic sleeping bag and had to remove some extra layers to get a comfortable temperature.
- The battery on your phone/camera WILL drain quickly at -5 degrees, but keeping it close to your body and in your sleeping bag will preserve battery life.
- Anything outside of your sleeping bag/body warmth will likely freeze so take a small bag (we used a material shoe bag) that you can keep necessities in and put it in with you in the bottom of your sleeping bag. Ours held tissues, our phones, glasses case, a small bottle of water and our hotel room key.
Some images have been taken from the ICEHOTEL website