ICE! at the Gaylord National

My family was very fortunate to be invited to the Gaylord National Hotel and Conference Center to check out ICE! this year.  ICE! has become something of a holiday mainstay here in the DC Area, and while it’s technically in Maryland’s National Harbor, it’s only a 35 or so minute drive up 95, making it totally trip-worthy from Prince William County. 

Hubby wasn’t available to come with us, because our even time was 1pm.  To those of you out there who are aware what that means this time of year, I feel your pain.  To those of you who aren’t clear what I’m talking about, I’d like to refer you here: 1 PM IS NOT OKAY´╗┐ That was okay, though, because PwcGrammy is always game for shenanigans with the grandkids. 
Before you head into ICE you get to watch a short film about the production process, which includes flying in a team of artisans from China who produce a giant outdoor ice show each year because it’s so blasted cold where they live that the entire river turns into ice and they can make sculptures that last all winter.  For real. Obviously here we don’t have that problem, so they’ve put the ice sculptures inside two giant tents (think the white domes they put over your tennis courts if you live in Montclair) that they cool to a balmy 8 or 9 degrees. To prepare you for this, everyone gets a standard issue blue parka to go OVER your coat.  Bring a hat, gloves, and a scarf, though, because it’s COLD.  Taking my gloves off to take pictures with my iphone made my fingers sad.  PS- you’ll want lots of pictures because those parkas are bringing sexy back. Check out me and my mom huggling for warmth.  You know you wish you looked that good ­čśë

I’ve been told by numerous readers that the best time during peak season to visit ICE is on a weekday.  We were there on a Sunday, but since it was still November we didn’t experience any real crowds. Even without the crowds, I’d recommend that if it’s possible for your family you take one adult per child, or at least 2 adults, because when we got into the slide room, we were losing track of kids left and right as they went down the various slides at different speeds.  Some of you may be calmer than me about that, but everyone was so blue! It was like trying to find a specific Smurf in a crowd, and that made me rather nervous.  However, the kids had a blast and quickly figured out that to maximize your speed on the slides, you need to get your feet up and make sure your blue coat is under you.  There are a total of 6 slides, and the ice stairs are covered with carpet, so you won’t trip. 


The ice sculptures themselves are absolutely amazing.  Thinking that these were all just giant blocks of frozen water when they arrived is mind-boggling.  My kids loved all of the funny scenes from “Shrek the Halls” and recognized many of the characters, which made them happy.  I could not believe the craftsmenship that went into making everything.  I believe that our entire walk through the displays, including sliding, took about 30 minutes.  The setup is flat and the walkways are wide, though, so if you are bringing someone who will require a wheelchair, accessibility should not be an issue.

The final display at the end of ICE! is a gorgeous nativity scene done in all clear ice.  When you’re facing the scene, there’s a giant clear angel behind you.  The display lights up every few minutes and tells the Christmas story.  Imbedded lights color the characters as they’re mentioned and make the nativity be a rainbow of colors.  It’s pretty awesome. Pricing information is available here and starts at $15.99 for kids 4-11 and $22.99 for adults (weekday) going up to $22.99/$29.99 on the weekends.  Military discounts are available on weekdays and some weekends, and start $13.99/$18.99.  Children 0-3 are free. 
So, after you finish walking around ICE! There’s a lot of other stuff that you can do. For $35, you can meet the Dreamworks characters (Shrek, Po, Puss in Boots, Alex the Lion) and participate in a scavenger hunt that’s themed for the movie “The Guardians”, which my 6 year old liked for awhile, my 9 (9!) year old loved, and my 4 year old thought was torturous because she couldn’t read and can’t write small enough to fit in the blanks provided.  She did like meeting the characters, though.  This is a walk-through and you spend about 30 seconds with each character shooting a few pictures, which are available for purchase at the end of the walk. At the end of the scavenger hunt, your kids get a movie poster and a certificate, assuming they filled out all of the blanks correctly. We also tried making cookies at Gingy’s House (my daughter is not actually unimpressed with the cookie, she’s upset that I told her not to eat her cookie until I took a picture.  My blog needs totally cramp her style).  After you finish decorating your cookies (you can select a gingerbread train or a sugar cookie stackable tree) 

When you’re done decorating your cookies, you can visit Gingy and get a few pictures.  Kits for this start at $29.95.  Gingy was really cute, and the kids had fun, but the kits are just flat cookies, so if you’re looking to keep prices down…

I thought this sign was hilarious….so, here’s a picture of it.

Also available (but we didn’t try them) are a ShrekFeast where you eat with the characters, brunch with Santa, pictures with Santa, Potomac Express rides (a mini train in the hotel atrium- rides are $2 and I know’s son loves the train).  You can also package all of these things together with a hotel stay, and I have to say, I’d never been to the Gaylord before and it is absolutely breathtaking.  It’s the kind of hotel that you see in movies about hotels.  Everything is spot on and gorgeous. 
At the end of our visit, we were able to check out the nightly treelighting show, which is amazing.  The lights and fountain dance, the music is great, and at the end it “snows” down into the atrium.  The kids thought this was really neat, although I think they were expecting an actual blizzard.  They liked the flurry anyway. I would literally go just to see the treelighting again.  It was amazing.  These happen at 6:30pm and 9:00pm every night from November 17th-January 6th. If your kids are old enough, you could make a complete day of this by taking part in whatever Dreamworks Experiences you’d like, and then staying for Family Fun and Fireworks´╗┐ in the National Harbor Plaza.  They start live music at 5, you could come in and warm up with the Christmas Tree Lighting at 6:30, and still be outside in time for fireworks at 7! Brilliant!
All said and done, this was an amazing experience.  It can definitely add up quickly, but it’s an amazing thing for the kids.  Have you been? Leave a comment letting us know your experience!
PwcMoms was provided with tickets to ICE! The Character Meet and Greet/Scavenger Hunt, and Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating.  All opinions are my own.