Is it me or does it seem like the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year? Do you have those friends who put up Christmas trees before Thanksgiving? Are YOU one of those friends?
Every year, the holidays seem to take me by surprise but admittedly, I have my tree up and we’ve already kicked off Christmas on the Potomac at the Gaylord National Resort. If you missed any of my posts from the last few years (here’s our visit last year and the year before and our very first visit!).
Christmas on the Potomac is a collection of activities at the Gaylord National Resort, a resort area just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The biggest attraction is the annual ICE! show, a 15,000-square-foot interactive indoor attraction created entirely of ice. Every year, 35 artisan ice carvers from Harbin, China travel to create a themed attraction for the holidays and this year, we celebrated A Charlie Brown Christmas. But there’s plenty to make an entire family fun day out of it.
Start with Cirque Dreams Unwrapped
Think of this special holiday show as Cirque du Soleil Light. Performed in the Atrium, it’s only a half hour long (perfect for little attention spans) and includes some acrobatics and plenty of visual delights.
There are free seats available for every performance but they are first come, first served. If you want guaranteed seating, you can purchase tickets and even combine them with ICE! for a better bargain. Check with Gaylord National for showtimes but we chose an afternoon performance and headed right for ICE!
Bundle Up for ICE! at Gaylord National
If you want to catch a glimpse of all the experiences at ICE!, just check the #BlueParka hashtag. If you haven’t figured it out, it’s because everyone wears a blue parka before heading in to the tent just outside the hotel. Think you don’t need it? Think again. The temperature inside the tent this year was 9 degrees. I needed a winter coat, hat, gloves, and a parka on top of that. And after a 20-30 minute walk through, I was still freezing! (FYI: Your electronics can get so cold that they’ll shut down. If you’re using your phone or camera, keep it close to your body for warmth!)
The only real distraction from the cold is the incredible ice structures. This year’s theme is based on one of my all-time favorite Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas. If your kids haven’t seen it, it’s worth having them watch the 30 minute special before going so they can appreciate each display.
The highlight for many is the ice slide located smack in the middle of the exhibit (we all participate in this!).
Here my one tip: Don’t sit directly on the ice. Sit on your parka and lean back if you need to. It’s the only way you’ll get moving!
Just as your fingertips are about the freeze, you’ll know you’ve arrive at the end with the sound of Christmas carols and the beautifully carved clear ice nativity scene at the end. Take a moment to appreciate the scene and then go warm up!
Warm Up in the Christmas Village
Just inside the hotel, you’ll drop off your parka and enter the Christmas Village where we love spending some family time.
While they have a lot of activities for kids, like a carousel, a train ride, visits with Santa, and even “ice skating” on a teflon surface, we have two goals upon entering the village: 1. Secure hot cocoa ASAP and 2. Master the fine art of gingerbread house decorating.
At the Gingerbread Decorating Corner, you can purchase a fully assembled gingerbread house ready for decoration or keep it simple with gingerbread men. We always opt for the house which we decorate as a family (we usually don’t let my husband help much though).
And when the magical gingerbread man comes around to take photos and your son is conveniently missing, you totally get into the spirit of things.
After we finished decorating, we wandered through the Christmas Village shop and decided to grab some dinner. We were going to need it because our Christmas celebrating wasn’t over yet! Just 20 minutes away is George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We headed over for their Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon by Candlelight
After the shiny happy Christmas fun at Gaylord National Harbor, we headed across the Potomac into Virginia for a preview of the Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour given every year during the holidays. This tour not only allows you to see the house and grounds decorated for Christmas but also allows you to experience it by candlelight, as it would have been during George Washington’s time.
During this special event, I was allowed to take photos but as you’ll see, photography by candlelight is a special art and one that I’m not experienced with. Photography is typically not allowed inside the house so you might just enjoy unplugging experience Mount Vernon as they would have done in the late 1700s.
Before heading out on the tour, be sure to take in the beautiful Christmas trees at the Visitor Center as you won’t find any in the house (Christmas trees were a much later tradition historically).
Once you do head out, you’re literally guided by candlelight and taken in through the kitchen. You’ll not only meet people dressed in period costume but you’ll also hear them playing the characters that might have worked or lived at Mount Vernon.
Upon leaving the house, you’ll get a chance to party like the Washingtons. Back in the 1700s, dances were the events where you would meet and socialize with friends and potential suitors. We were invited to join in as we learned to dance the minuet. I wish we still danced like that – so much easier!
Finally, before taking our leave, we stopped by the nearby camp set up with fire pits, warm apple cider, and Moravian spice cookies.
We loved spending the afternoon at Gaylord National and then finishing off the day with a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon. If you’re looking to ad holiday family fun, it’s easier to make a full day of it right along the Potomac River.
See it on Video!
My family and I were hosted for all events above.