By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
The weather outside has NOT been frightful, as we’ve had a warm winter so far, but if you need chillier temperatures to get into the holiday spirit, you’ve always got the ICE! show at the Gaylord National!
This annual event, a holiday tradition for many area families, features large and amazing ice sculptures in a specialty-built area that keeps the frozen artwork at nine — yes, that’s 9 — degrees (brr!!!). This year’s theme is “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the classic TV Christmas special that celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2015. The walk-through attraction features all the main characters and memorable scenes from the “claymation” show.
For weeks ahead of the show, 35 artisans from Harbin, China (the ice sculpting capital of the world) have hand-carved more than two million pounds of ice to create the attraction. Visitors to ICE! — now through January 3, 2016 — also can see artisans carve ice sculptures live in The Frostbite Factory (hours vary by day so you may or may not get to see this during your visit).
If you’ve been to ICE! before, you know the deal: all guests receive a special blue parka to wear over their own coats. This will keep you warm enough to go through the whole exhibit, but keep in mind that even so, nine degrees is still VERY cold so you may only last in the exhibit for a short while. Close-toed shoes, good gloves, and warm clothing are a must, as this will also help you stay longer and view a bit more. Be sure that your kids are bundled up, whether they want to or not!
One fun feature of ICE! each year is the set of ice slides that you can actually slide down on! (Be sure you are sitting on your parka to enable a smoother ride.) The slides are about halfway through the exhibit so you can see some ice sculptures before and afterward. Toward the end of the exhibits are a few signs explaining how the artists make the ice sculptures. By then you may be pretty cold, so if you don’t have time to read the signs, take a picture!
At the very end of the exhibit is a grand room with an ice nativity. Unlike the themed “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” sculptures, which are whimsical and colorful (they’re mostly made of tinted ice), the sculptures in this last room — Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds, and more — are made of clear ice, giving the scene the feel of a larger-than-life fine crystal nativity set. By this point, you may be pretty cold, even though you most likely have been inside the exhibit 20 minutes or so, but don’t rush through it — it’s a beautifully done scene, so plan some time to take in the sights (and snap photos — these would be good for a family Christmas card, too!).
Speaking of time, this is all in all a quick show… the cold temperatures, even with the parka and even with you fully bundled up with winter accessories, will limit how long you can comfortably be there. Because of that, I highly recommend that you pick a time when your kids will be well-rested and better able to tolerate the cold temps so you can get the most “bang for your buck” — tickets start from $20 per child (age 3-11, or $16 with a military discount) to $35 for adults (ages 13 and up) during peak times; children ages two and under are free at any time. Since this is not a cheap show, you want to go when you can really enjoy it! Go during non-peak times to save money (and avoid crowds) and also look for deals on discount websites or through memberships such as AAA.
ICE! is part of the “Christmas on the Potomac” celebration a 44-day celebration that includes more than 2 million lights, indoor snowfall, a new 55-foot-tall suspended star-tiered Christmas tree, and more. Additional activities right at the Gaylord (for an extra fee) include carousel rides, the Gingerbread Decorating Corner sponsored by PEEPS©, the Elf on the Shelf© Scavenger Hunt a new Gourmet Holiday Experience: The Art of Chocolate, photos with Santa, Potomac Express Train rides, and more.
Right at National Harbor you also can enjoy holiday movie sing-alongs, a holiday market, free concerts, the Capital Wheel gondola Ferris wheel, shopping, and more. Dining options abound, and if you want to eat right at the Gaylord National, one option is the Kris Kringle Holiday Feast, which we were invited to try out. This is a buffet dinner that includes a very large selection of items such as seafood dishes, a carving station, various salads, pastas, a children’s buffet (with kid favorites such as chicken tenders, pizza, and mac-and-cheese), and a great variety of desserts, most of them beautifully decorated for Christmas. The buffet is $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids ages 3-11, a reasonable price for something of this type at a resort, and if you come with a good appetite! Remember, you can always walk off some of the calories walking around National Harbor, which is lovely this time of year.
Disclosure: My family was invited to the media preview for ICE!, touring the ice sculpture exhibits and enjoying the Kris Kringle Holiday Feast. The opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.
Photos (c) and provided by Gaylord National Resort