For those of you who eagerly anticipate Christmas as soon as there’s a slight chill in the air, I mock you.
No, seriously. I do mock you. Those of you who had the audacity to listen to Christmas music before Halloween? You know who you are. It’s just wrong. The official Christmas season doesn’t start until Thanksgiving Day when Santa shows up at the end of the Macy’s parade. That’s just how it is.
The day after Thanksgiving, you’re totally allowed to proceed with trees and lights and Hallmark movies and, yes, Christmas music.
But here’s your chance to mock me because CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY THIS YEAR!
Every year, Gaylord Resorts all over the country focus on family-friendly holiday themed programs. The Gaylord National Harbor, which is a stone’s throw from Washington, DC, offers its own annual version known as Christmas on the Potomac.
My family and I were invited to spend last Saturday to experience the program as guests of Gaylord National and to get into the holiday spirit. With daytime temperatures hovering in the 70s, I wasn’t sure that stepping inside the Gaylord would do that for me.
But I was totally wrong.
Inside the Gaylord National Resort
We actually arrived late on Friday night for an overnight stay and as soon as walked into the lobby, it felt like Christmas was upon us. Beautiful Christmas trees and wreaths decorated the check-in area while a giant sculptured tree hung in the Atrium.
As we stepped out onto our balcony that overlooked the Atrium, we heard a loud voice mention that the Rock’n Around the Starlight Tree Atrium Show was beginning in 15 minutes. On the advice of the hotel personnel, we grabbed a vantage point overlooking the tree and watched the 10 minute show before heading downstairs to dinner.
Like many other Gaylord hotels, the interior of the atrium is like a giant biodome – trees, buildings, walkways – all lit up (and not just for Christmas). It actually feels like a small city and it was nice to just stroll downstairs in the morning to another restaurant for our welcome brunch.
Breakfast with Charlie Brown & Friends
If your kids like character dining, they’ll love meeting the likes of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Lucy at the Breakfast with Charlie Brown & Friends. Unless your kid is like mine and he wants nothing to do with those characters. Luckily, Lucy picked up on that and sort of coerced him into a smile.
The rest of the time we were smiling anyway because the food was amazing!
As part of our guest package, which we dug into over breakfast, we received tickets for the Play-All-Day pass, which included access to ICE!, and admission to their three holiday rides, The Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt, and a decorating experience at the Gingerbread Decorating Corner.
ICE!® featuring Christmas Around the World
This is the main reason people attend Christmas on the Potomac. The ICE! show is like nothing you’ve ever seen (or felt – brrrrrr!). Imagine 2 million pounds of ice, colored and carved into elaborately themed ice sculptures. Every year, skilled Chinese artists travel to create these exhibits in freezing (literally temperatures). The theme of this year’s show is Christmas Around the World.
Before heading in, everyone in your party borrows a blue parka for the event. Trust me, you’ll need it.
You walk through the exhibit at a self-guided pace and take as little or as long as your cold hands will let you. But you’ll definitely want to leave time for photos and to slide down and actual ice slide.
Make your way through the “North Pole” and then head to The Frostbite Factory where you can see an artist at work.
At the very end, all of the colors are gone as you take in the nativity scene, carved out of clear ice, that when paired with lighting and music actually looks like heavenly crystal.
Exit and it’s time to shed that blue parka and head into the Christmas Village.
The Christmas Village
Even as we walked into the rising temperatures of an unseasonable warm November day, I was chilled to the bone. As if they knew that would happen, we walked back into the Gaylord and stumbled upon a hot cocoa stop where we all gladly stopped and sipped for a while.
Inside the new Christmas Village, we had several options that are great for kids, depending on the type of kids you have. There’s the carousel, teacup ride (both of which we opted not to ride for fear of nausea) and the Gingerbread Decorating Center.
Inside, we had three tickets for three decorating boxes of… UGLY SWEATERS! You can decorate a gingerbread house or go for the smaller kit, which actually contained six Ugly Sweater cookies ready for decorating. Between the three of us, that meant 18 cookies for decorating. If you have a larger family, you could easily share one or two of the kits and save yourself some time any money.
A word of caution: the way out of the Christmas Village is through a gift shop with all kinds of goodies including a Build-A-Bear Workshop on site. Were we able to make it out of there without spending any money? We have an only child so you tell me.
There were other options like the Potomac Express Miniature Train Ride and Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt but we enjoyed the slower pace that was perfect for our small family with a big kid. If you have smaller kids that need to stay busy, having a Play-All-Day Pass and the ability to jump between multiple activities is probably a good idea, especially as the crowds increase into the holiday season.
Know Before You Go
If this looks like your cup of tea, you’re not alone. Several of my New Jersey friends told me this is on their bucket list. Here’s how you can check it off that list!
- Plan early. The earlier in the season, the lighter the crowds. And it will help put you in the holiday spirit!
- Arrive early. As you might guess, the crowds for ICE! can get bigger as the day goes on so plan to arrive early or late or be prepared to wait!
- Dress warmly. No, seriously. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not enough. Gloves, scarves, hats, mittens, earmuffs, handwarmers are all a good idea. Even with that blue parka, 9 degrees is pretty darn cold.
- Be flexible. When we finished ICE!, we were ready to decorate the gingerbread. There can be a long wait as decorating time is unpredictable.
- Be careful. We probably spent a good 20 minutes in ICE! and we nearly frozen when we came out. Although we took plenty of pictures, my electronics seemed to be suffering by the time I was leaving. And my iPhone needed a little thawing out time before I could put it to work.
- Have fun! Whether you go for the day or plan an overnight, there’s so much to see at the hotel but also plenty to do in the National Harbor area including shopping and eating (great restaurants!).
What I loved the most about our excursion is that it totally put us in the holiday spirit. The tree, however, still won’t go up until after Thanksgiving.
Accommodations and tickets for all activities were provided by Gaylord National as part of their Influence Preview program. All thoughts and opinions are my own.