By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
How can you get the warm and fuzzies when you’re in sub-freezing temperatures? If you’ve attended the Christmas on the Potomac ICE! show, you know that it’s worth braving some cold — and I do mean very, very cold! — temperatures to delight in the frozen artistry it presents. Add to that the delight of your kids as they glide down ice slides, and fun photo opps with beloved characters, and you get that warm feeling all over… even in nine degrees Farenheit! The ICE! exhibit is going now through December 30, 2019, at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center at National Harbor.
This annual event features other family-friendly activities, a circus show, dining and lodging specials, and other attractions. My family was invited to experience ICE! and this year there are some neat new activities. Below we provide details along with tips to make the most of your visit.
Whoville on Ice
The theme for the ICE! display changes yearly, and 2019 features Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Gaylord National each year brings in 35 artisans from Harbin, China, to create the sculptures by hand. It takes them 6,000 ice blocks and about 30 days to construct these one-of-a-kind colorful art pieces.
The Grinch theme includes characters from the 1957 classic story such as The Grinch, his dog Max, Cindy Lou Who, and other residents of Whoville. Scenes include The Grinch sneaking throught a chimney, The Grinch driving a sleigh, the Whoville residents holding hands and singing, and of course everyone enjoying a Christmas meal, “roast beast” and all.
Cool — and cold — features
ICE! is mostly an art exhibit to enjoy as you walk around and take in the details. But as always, the attraction features the very-cool ice slides. This is a two-story high slide constructed out of ice, with four lanes (two on either side of the center of the grand room) that adults or kids can use. Kids who are under 4 years old or under 40 inches tall are only allowed on the designated children’s slide.
Even if you don’t go down the slides, be prepared to be cold. To preserve the ice sculptures for weeks, ICE! is always a very cold 9°F. Gaylord National provides all guests a long, hooded blue parka that will keep you warm no matter what you’re wearing.
Still, your hands and feet can get cold, so you should wear winter boots or at least good closed shoes with heavy socks, and you definitely want to wear gloves. The path through the exhibits is wide enough and flat, and it’s wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.
As you reach the last of the exhibits (how long it takes depends on your tolerance for the very cold temperature), The Grinch part ends, but there’s another room. Each year, ICE! dedicates its final exhibit room to a gorgeous, giant nativity. This is, of course, also carved from ice.
This crystal-clear nativity scene features the holy family, shepherds and animals, and, across from all of them, a large and impressive angel. Soft lights twinkle all around as a night sky, adding to the beautiful feel.
Standard tickets for ICE! at Christmas on the Potomac are $39 for guests ages 12 and up, and $32 for children 4-11. You can save $3 per ticket any day with the promo code “Influencer19.” On Value Days (usually weekdays) admission is $33 for guests ages 12 and up and $25 for children 4-11 (children 3 and under are always free).
Beyond the ice
In addition to ICE! (or in lieu of it, if the low temparture is too much for you), Christmas On The Potomac has other attractions (for an additional fee).
New in 2019: Reindeer Rush Ice Tubing – If you love the idea of snow tubing but don’t want to drive two hours to the mountains or have to don winter gear, this may be a good option for you. Reindeer Rush is a two-story, four-lane tubing “hill” that is indoors but outside of the ICE! exhibit, in the Christmas Village. You grab an inner tube, go up the steps, and then, with the help of staff members, push off the top for a fun and fast ride.
This was great fun for us and I even went more times than my son did! Be advised, though, it’s not cheap. At $20.99 per person regardless of age (height restrictions apply though), the cost will add up quickly for a family. On the plus side, the pass is good for unlimited tubing on the day that you buy it. I went five times and would have gone again had my family not been ready to leave.
New in 2019: Workshop Wednesdays – On select dates in December, guests can enjoy craft sessions to make a take-home item for themselves or to give as a gift. When we visited, we got to make a Grinch-y green slime and a “wintermint” sugar body scrub.
These items were quick to make, and the resort provided all materials. There were even gift tags available for you to personalize the items for gift-giving.
New in 2019: Winter Square Ice Skating – ICE! has had an ice-skating rink in the past in the Christmas Village. This year, it moves outdoor to a larger space. the enclosed rink is near the ICE! exhibit. Nearby is the Tinsel Tavern, a new, over-the-top ugly sweater themed bar with adult beverages plus hot cocoa for the kids in an outdoor space with fire pits. ($16.99 per person, skate rental included)
New in 2019: Feast with The Grinch in Pienza Marketplace– on Saturdays and Sundays (plus other select dates) feast on a breakfast buffet with a large selection of hot and cold items including eggs, bacon, an omelete station, donuts and pastries, and other traditional foods. Some of them carry with the theme, such as the green Whoville waffles and the Green Eggs and Ham Benedict. Meet The Grinch and his dog Max, and enjoy photo opps. ($40 per adult, $27 per child age 4-12)
New in 2019: The Grinch’s Wonderful Awful Idea Scavenger Hunt – Follow the Grinch as he tries to stop Christmas by stealing the presents. Find the clues and turn in your booklet and win a small prize ($9.99 per person).
Christmas Miracles – The 55-foot-tall suspended starlight Christmas tree takes center stage in the beautifully decorated Garden Atrium. Each night, a light and music show makes it even more magical, especially when “snow” starts to fall indoors!
Cirque Dreams Unwrapped – This spellbinding production of seasonal dreams combines breathtaking choreography, music and showmanship from around the world. The extravaganza on the stage and in the air is a short, 25-minute production. Reserved seats are $17.99 or $19.99 but you also might be able to view it (for free) from the sidelines.
Gingerbread Masterpiece – The pastry team at Gaylord National Resort spends nearly 1,000 hours creating an original 1.5 million calorie gingerbread masterpiece on display in the hotel’s main lobby. This year’s whimsical Tree House Village tops other gingerbread displays with a centerpiece tree approximately 9 feet tall.
Christmas Corner – Stop in the Gaylord Post Office to write letters to Santa and drop them in the giant red mail box with special delivery to the North Pole. This cute little outpost in the hotel lobby offers everything needed to write a letter to Santa complete with cheerful paper, pens and pencils.
Christmas Village – Attractions in the Christmas Village (adjacent to ICE!) include Gingersnap’s Christmas Kitchen, where you can get gingerbread kits and pose with Nutmeg, the Gingerbread Man; Claus’s Christmas Tradition for storytelling with cookies and milk; and a Build-a-Bear Workshop.
Guests also can take photos with Santa, warm up at the cocoa sop, take a ride (younger kids only) on the Village Express, and shop for decorations, treats, and gifts at the Village Shoppe. Outside the hotel, check out Winter Square for nice decorations and holiday lights.
Spa and lodging packages – The resort’s Relâche Spa is offering wine-inspired seasonal spa treatments and packages, and there’s a festive hotel package, too. The “Christmas Dreams Suite” is complete with garland, wreaths, lights and even holiday stockings, plus the scent of fir trees piped through the room. Guests also get a welcome gift with fuzzy socks, seasonally scented bath products, a holiday snack basket and Resort Pastry Chef Mohan’s selection of fresh-made Christmas confectioneries.
As a bonus, this home-away-from-home includes valet parking and a one-hour professional photo shoot. Guests of the hotel can also enjoy perks such as the VIP Carver Showcase (a live ice carving demo), a Silent Disco on Ice, and Pajama Time with Snowflake the Elf in the living room at Mrs. Claus’ House in Christmas Village.
Plan ahead and save: Tickets to ICE! aren’t cheap, especially if you go on a peak day. If you want to save money, look at the calendar to see if there are “value days” that are good for you. Look also for AAA and military discounts, and remember you can use promo code “Influencer19” to save $3 off tickets any day. Also follow the Gaylord National on social media to track cyber days specials.
Dress for the part: If you plan to tour ICE! you need to bundle up. The blue parka the resort provides will keep your body warm, but it’s still a good idea to wear warm clothes (long sleeves and pants), anyway. You definitely will want to bring a winter hat (even if you’re using the parka’s hood) and boots or at least sneakers with very thick socks.
Gloves are a MUST as your hands will get cold easily. Use gloves that you can easily take on and off or that make it easy for you to take pictures with your camera or phone — this is a neat exhibit with great places to take family photos, so you don’t want to miss out!
Another important thing to note: the parkas do NOT have pockets. The lack of pockets is to keep people from putting things in and leaving them behind. Still, you’ll want a place to easily store (and retrieve) your camera, gloves, scarves, and other items you want to keep handy, so a small bag is good (I bring a drawstring bag).
Take your time …but be realistic: How long it takes to go through the ICE! exhibit is up to you, as there is no time limit. I’d say on average of 20 minutes or so is a reasonable time to see it all and even go down the ice slides a couple of times. If you bundle up well, you can spend more time and truly take in all the details of the ice carvings.
But be realistic about the comfort level of who goes with you and their tolerance for extremely cold temperatures. A sleepy baby who is super bundled-up in a stroller might do okay while a fussy toddler who must be strong-armed into wearing a coat may not want to stay long. ICE! is a great exhibit for people of all ages, but you know your family best.
Explore the area: As much as there is to do at the Gaylord (you could easily spend hours there), National Harbor in itself is a great family destination with the Capital Wheel, special events, restaurants and shops, and an outlet mall and the MGM casino nearby. Research all you can do and plan to make it a full day (or weekend!) of fun!
Disclosure: My family was provided with tickets to a breakfast buffet, the ICE! exhibit, and other attractions to facilitate this review. The opinions expressed here are my own.