Every once and awhile you have the desire to stay at a hotel with a succeeding reputation. The world famous ICEHOTEL in northern Sweden is just one of those places, a hotel composed almost entirely of ice. It's worth the jaunt too, to the Lapland Wilderness north of the Arctic Circle. From the moment we arrived by snowmobile, the encounters were otherworldly. At the original Ice Bar, the Champagne arrived on ice, literally. The suite I stayed in, Beam Me Up!, was a forest of icy evergreens, flying saucers and light beams — perfect for a professional space geek.
Staying at the ICEHOTEL is meant to be a one-night adventure, for many reasons. The ice suites are a museum during the day, so after checking in, you are given a small closet next to the sauna, showers and dressing room to store your belongings in while you wander the grounds in amazement. If you are looking to lay your head down and take a rest, you can't. There is virtually nothing in your room: a bed made from a slab of ice covered in a reindeer hide, a light source and a door made of hanging fabric.
There is electricity but there are no outlets. The alarm clock sounding at 7:00 a.m. sharp is a handsome young scout serving steaming hot lingonberry juice who softly calls "good morning" through the curtain. There is also no plumbing in this house of ice. Dream walking into the icy night to use the bathroom became a Twin Peaks moment where either a villain might pop out of the vapor or golden lollipops could sprout from the ground. That's right; a midnight trip to the bathroom became my own personal David Lynch movie.
The ICEHOTEL is deconstructed and reconstructed every year with ice harvested from the Torne River that takes a 350-mile journey through the municipality of Kiruna. As a tribute to the beloved Torne River, the hotel is working to make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "She is warmed by the midnight sun during the summer and rests under the spellbinding northern lights during the winter," they say.
The ice is harvested a year in advance because it takes more than one winter snowfall to construct the hotel. Different artists are commissioned annually to design and build the suites. So every year, you will arrive at a different ICEHOTEL — the scenery changes and the concept is revived.
Ice rooms without art are available so that you can still get the experience for a little less money. If sleeping on ice is a little too frigid for you, there are warm accommodations as well. But, we went for the amazing world of ice, to sleep in an environment that we never will again get to experience, unless we're visiting another one of the world's very few ice hotels.
So, like you, we like logistics. How does this actually work? Here are some realities so that you know what you are in for.
Staying warm: You are already dressed in your best winter wear because north Sweden is freezing during the months that the ICEHOTEL is open (February through May). So by the time you wrap up your evening at dinner, cocktail hour at the Ice Bar or return from wandering around, you can check in and get a one- or two-person sleeping bag and extra wear as needed. It's counter intuitive, but the more you wear, the colder you get. So one layer of thermal, socks and a hat, and you are good to go. When you are not in your room, dress is Arctic-chic(?).
Sleep quality: I can't speak for others, but I had the most restful sleep. Moreso than in any warm bed I had encountered in months.
Food: No need to eat campfire food, there is a beautiful restaurant onsite, the ICEHOTEL Restaurant. Dinner, brunch, whichever meal you choose, it's outstanding.
Gifts: To pick up souvenirs (we like to call them 'souvies') there is a small store just five minutes down the road for items such as crafts, knives, hides, etc.
Photos: Every turn offers a new and interesting angle to capture, and every tick of the clock offers a new light to capture it in. The color quality is beautiful, your photos will need very little retouching.
Safety: There is a smoke detector in the room. But not an exit strategy if the igloo sets ablaze.
Everywhere you go there is something to do. Want to get hitched in a short ceremony in a special place? Go to the Ice Church. Want to learn how to wield your own ice sculptures? This is the place. Classes are available onsite. Want to go dogsledding? The Fjellborg camp is just a 5-minute snowmobile ride across the lake from ICEHOTEL.
The concept is bananas — a gimmick really — but the experience is totally unique, bizarre and extremely rare. No matter how corporate the ICEHOTEL becomes, it will always be exciting simply because few places in this world are equipped to facilitate guests in this type of environment.