By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun
Want to travel the world this Christmas? ICE!, the annual ice sculpture display at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor in southern Maryland has an international theme this year, and after touring it recently, I can tell you that it is simply adorable. Larger-than-life frozen ice figures “dressed” in clothing symbolic of their lands put a different spin on this bright and beautiful display.
Each year, artisans from Harbin, China, the ice-sculpting capital of the world, travel more than 6,000 miles to hand-carve more than two million pounds of colorful ice into larger-than-life ice sculptures with different themes each year. Visitors don special parkas (provided by the show) to withstand the nine-degrees-Farenheit temperature required to maintain the sculptures intact.
ICE! is on display now through January 1, 2017, as part of the ninth annual Christmas on the Potomac celebration, which includes nightly holiday fountain shows with lasers and indoor snowfall, photos with Santa, an indoor train ride and attractions, an Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt gourmet holiday food and beverage offerings including a new Christmas Cookies Around the World class, winter spa treatments, gingerbread decorating, and more. See below for more about our visit to ICE! this year, what you can expect, and tips to make the most of your visit.
We began our visit with a buffet breakfast with Charlie Brown and friends at Pienza, the hotel’s restaurant on the lower-atrium with a nice ambiance. Breakfast here is always good, with lots of options: breads, sweets, fruits, an omelette station, build-your-own French toast station, all sorts of hot and cold meats, and more. In keeping with the Peanuts theme, some dishes are named after the characters, such as “Pig Pen’s Dirty Hash Browns,” which was probably my favorite side: cooked just right, not at all greasy, and with veggies mixed in.
During breakfast, guests have a chance to meet some of the life-size Peanuts characters — Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy — who walk around the breakfast area and also pose for photos (for an additional fee); you can even take a picture in front of Snoopy’s dog house! Breakfast is available on weekends for $26.99 per child and $39.99 for adults, so it’s on the high side but you can really fill up (we skipped lunch, we were so full!).
Warmed up from our big meal, we were ready to enter the frozen wonderland that is ICE! As always, we’d come well-prepared with mittens, hats, and boots, even though it was an unseasonably warm day outside. The lightweight but warm parkas that ICE! provides will certainly help you brave the 9-degree exhibit, but if you do not have gloves to cover your hands, for example, you will most definitely feel the chill, which means your experience won’t be as pleasant.
Once inside, you can immediately begin to explore holiday traditions from around the world, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, and more through Christmas Around the World. The first exhibits that feature some countries also have signs with descriptions about the unique celebrations there. Take the time to read the signs so you can learn about some of the neat Christmas traditions in places such as The Netherlands or Ethiopia.
Soon after you enter the room where the big ice slides are. Adults and kids alike can take a little ride down one of five lanes in this big two-story slide made entirely of ice! This room continues the “Christmas around the World” theme with “Merry Christmas” sayings in different languages, such as Spanish or Hawaiian.
As you exit the slide area to the next room, you go through tunnels on either side, both of which have the ice “people” representing different countries. Here, and in the next room, you will find ice sculptures for the United States, Canada, Scotland, Switzerland, Japan, Congo, Israel, and many more.
The sculptures have nice details and some have cute touches, such as the Brazilian boy propping his foot on a soccer ball. (These, and the big “Peace” sign on the opposite side, would make for great Christmas photos!)
The next room Parade of Toys, has larger-than-life ornaments and more ice replicas alongside the actual toys (such as a large stuffed lion) for comparison. This room also has a huge Santa’s sled made of ice. You can actually sit in it to get some neat photos! Same with the big pink bear that has an area in front of it where you can sit down.
The final room, as always is the nativity scene. The main display is the typical manager scene with multiple ice figures, and there are three other smaller displays with angels and shepherds. Unlike the other exhibits at ICE!, the nativity scenes are not colorful but made of clear ice, so the result resembles a giant fine crystal set.
Tickets for ICE! start at $29 for adults and $21 for children during non-peak days; and $36 for adults and $29 for children during peak days. Kids 3 and younger are free. Military and group ticket pricing also is available. See details at www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. To continue the fun after the show, you can also enjoy (for additional fees) activities such as teacup, carousel, or train rides; gingerbread decorating (in its own dedicated room, or buy a take-home kit), and an exclusive Build-A-Bear Workshop experience with a cute polar bear plush, designed for Gaylord Hotels. The Build-a-Bear Workshop is in the special store that has all kinds of wares (both ICE-themed and regular) including many ornaments and decorations, toys, plush animals, stationery, clothing, and more. There’s also a hot cocoa bar and, during select times, cookies with Mrs. Claus sessions.
You really can make a full day of your visit with all that the Gaylord Resort offers during the holidays. Other Christmas on the Potomac attractions include “Cask & Cocoa” international chocolate and wine pairings, special dining events, an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt, photos with Santa, and light shows. Each night (6-8 pm) the “Very Merry Atrium Show” features leaping water fountains, colorful laser lights and twinkling lights, while the “Rock’n Around the Starlight Tree Atrium Show makes the tree come to life with 60-feet high water jets, indoor snowfall and a kaleidoscope of laser lights (these shows are free).
As usual, the Gaylord National is offering holiday packages (starting at $199) that include including one night accommodations and tickets to experience ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World with unlimited, priority entry. Get a sneak peak at this year’s exhibit through the photos below!
All photos (c) P. Hall or Gaylord National Resort, as noted in captions
Disclosure: My family was invited to the media preview of ICE! on opening day, including the tour, breakfast, attractions, and gifts. We have attended this event for many years and the opinions expressed here are my own.