Finland's Santapark: Ho-ho-home of holiday spirit

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ROVANIEMI, Finland -- Clients in search of Santa Claus will find a large dose of him on the Arctic Circle here. A new Christmas theme park, built inside a mountain, will open in Finnish Lapland on Nov. 28.

Dubbed Santapark, the attraction will draw on the crowds of Christmas seekers who head for the nearby Santa's Workshop Village, an array of shops and North Pole village scenes. (Santa lives in Lapland, according to legend. Of course, which Lapland the white-bearded one resides in -- Finnish or Swedish -- has been the subject of much international debate.)

santaSantapark visitors depart from Santa's Workshop Village by sleigh -- drawn by reindeer or dogs -- or snowmobile. On warmer days, they hop a shuttle bus. On the way, they can stop at a new 74-acre reindeer park, home to 50 reindeer.

Eventually, the road between the two parks will yield even more Christmas attractions, according to Santapark marketing manager Tiina Viman. The theme park is about a mile from the airport in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland.

Santapark begins with a 660-foot-long tunnel entranceway that takes visitors into a mountain cavern. Inside, they will find a village replete with Santa's Workshop, a Christmas Carousel and rides -- all covered by one daily admission cost (see below).

A Magic Sleigh ride whisks guests through the changing seasons of the Lapland landscape, from fall colors to dark winter days and sunny summer nights. In the theater, a multivision show transports viewers into the Santa story, with snowy villages, the Northern Lights and Santa flying through the night in his reindeer-drawn sleigh. Other amusements include a mini-roller-coaster called the Reindeer Ride, a monorail that laps around the central dome, puppet shows, games and food.

There doesn't figure to be any reason for visitors to worry about crowds of cotton-candy-carrying kids: Santapark can handle up to 1,000 visitors at a time, and the park expects to draw 150,000 visitors per year, Viman said. Finnish Lapland draws about 40,000 people at Christmastime, but they rarely stay overnight. With the addition of Santapark, officials hope that trend will change. Last year, U.S. visitors accounted for 3,315 hotel nights in the area; this year's count is 2,700 so far, Viman said.

Santapark will be open approximately 260 days a year -- every day in winter and on weekends in low season (late March, April, September and November). Admission costs about $18 for adults and $13 for children aged 4 to 11. (Children under 4 are admitted free.) Santapark's shareholders have agreed to donate 15% of the company's profits to various children's welfare programs.

Santapark, Phone: (011) 358-16 333-0000, Fax: (011) 358-16 333-0020, Web: www.santapark.com

Norvista to spotlight theme park

NEW YORK -- Santapark is a highlight of Norvista's Christmas in Lapland tour. The four-night, family-oriented tour, Dec. 22 to 27, also features a snowmobile excursion to fetch Christmas trees, a tobogganing competition and a gingerbread-cookie baking session.

The tour is priced at $1,989 per person for adults; $689 for children under age 4; $1,399 for children 4 to 11, and $1,519 for kids age 12 to 14. The cost includes air from New York, accommodations, transfers, saunas and most meals.

Norvista, Phone: (800) 677-6454 or (212) 818-1198, Fax: (212) 818-0585

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