Put on your blue parka because it’s time to head into the 9 degree temperatures and experience Gaylord ICE! Every year, Gaylord National Resort, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC and situated in the National Harbor area, hosts Christmas activities that are a perfect way for you to kick off the holiday season. In fact, it’s something that my family has been doing for at least five years.
The first time we visited, it was a small little pop-up tent in a vacant lot near the hotel. My almost 5 year old little boy pouted through most of the trip until we got to his favorite part… the ice slide!
I love that this is something he’s grown up with and even at almost 13 years old, he still gets excited when I tell him we’re heading back. But the Gaylord National offers so much more at Christmas that just the ICE! show, even though it’s the main event.
If you’ve never been with your family (or your struggling with things to do with your out-of-town guests), let me tell you what to expect. And if you have been at Christmas time, let me tell what’s new and different in 2019!
What Gaylord ICE! is all about
Since 2001, Gaylord has partnered with artisans from China to bring their ice carving skills to the United States and since 2009, they’ve been bringing it to Gaylord National Resort.
They actually spend about three months preparing the show so while you’re still enjoying your summer, the ice is slowly being produced in Ohio. By early October, the ice carvers are hard at work creating a themed ice exhibit (this year, the theme was Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas).
Fun facts about making ICE! come to life:
- 2 Million+ pounds of ice used to create ICE!
- 6,000 ice blocks
- Nearly 400 lbs. total weight of each ice block before it is hand-carved
- 13 different colors of ice used in the attraction
- 1,500+ of specially designed light tubes frozen within the ice, illuminating the ice from the inside
- 4 ice slides nearly two stories tall
- 19 feet 3.5 inches is the tallest ice structure in the attraction
- 35 artisans travel to Gaylord National Resort from Harbin, China, to carve the attraction
- 30 days to carve the ice and build the attraction
- 9 degrees is the average temperature inside the attraction
What to Expect at Gaylord National Resort
While ICE! has become the main holiday attraction at Gaylord National Resort, there’s so much more to do. And it’s all about Christmas.
That’s right. You don’t need to utter Happy Holidays around here. Merry Christmas is the phrase that suits the situation. From the moment you walk into the lobby, decked in Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and a confectionery display of gingerbread houses, it’s clear that this is Christmas headquarters.
It’s a treat to stay at Gaylord National so you can experience all of the evening activities like the Christmas Miracles Laser Show, a nightly Christmas laser fountain shows with indoor snowfall, Silent Disco on Ice with an atrium dance part with personal, wireless headphones, or Pajama Story Time with Snowflake the Elf, where hotel guests can join Snowflake the Elf in the living room at Mrs. Claus’ House in Christmas Village.
And if you really want to up your game, you can reserve the Christmas Dreams Suite:
Surrounded by lavish décor and the scent of fir trees piped through the suite, guests will enjoy a Christmas welcome gift with warm fuzzy socks, seasonally scented bath products, a holiday snack basket and Resort Pastry Chef Mohan’s selection of fresh-madeChristmas confectionaries. This home away from home includes valet parking and a one-hour professional photo shoot creating the perfect setting for family Christmas pictures or even a surprise holiday proposal.
But even if you’re not staying at the Gaylord National, there’s plenty to do to make it a full day of Christmas!
ICE! at Gaylord National
ICE! is the star of the Christmas activities at the Gaylord National. Every year, the theme is a bit different but some things (thankfully remain the same). For 2019, you’ll be inspired by Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and you certainly wouldn’t be out of place to wear your favorite Grinch gear.
Your tickets for ICE! will generally include a timed entry which ensures that you have plenty of time and space to see the exhibit and get all the photos you want.
Once you arrive for the show, you’ll be given a blue parka to wear inside the exhibit. But don’t rely on that to keep you warm. BUNDLE UP! Hats, gloves, coats, and even boots are welcome. The parka will fit over top of all of that.
Take your time exploring the exhibit, enjoy the ice slides about midway through, and then wrap it up with the beautiful nativity scene at the end.
All in all, it will take you about 20 minutes to walk through Gaylord ICE!
But don’t stop there!
Gaylord National Christmas Activities
We started our day with the character brunch called Feast with the Grinch. It’s a buffet brunch with songs, trivia, and character meet and greet with the Grinch (the nice Grinch, FYI) and his dog Max. The food is good and the experience is fun (they take a themed family portrait on the way in) but it’s probably best for kids under 10.
We did appreciate our rather full bellies for when we headed to ICE! but the fun continued as we headed to Christmas Village which you can visit either before or after your ICE! visit. This is where we got to experience some of my favorite parts of the trip:
Cocoa Shoppe – Once you exit ICE! you will need to warm up. Even fully bundled, my face and fingers are always freezing! The Cocoa Shoppe is a great place to grab a Hot Cocoa. We usually take a cup and enjoy sipping it while we work on our family gingerbread house!
Gingersnap’s Christmas Kitchen – This has become our annual family tradition. We have a single gingerbread house kit and work on it as a family. As is typical for us, we are secretly competing with all the gingerbread houses being created by the families around us (unbeknownst to them).
Village Shoppe – If shopping is your thing, their Christmas shop is full of super cute Christmas decorations and souvenirs from both Gaylord National and the ICE! theme (Grinch plushes were everywhere!). And for the younger crowd, Build-A-Bear is right on site as well.
Reindeer Rush Ice Tubing – Off to the side of the Village Shoppe is Reindeer Rush Tubing. One price gets you all day, unlimited access. It looks absolutely terrifying. But I swear, it’s more fun than it looks. The most challenging part is carrying the heavy tube up to the top of the hill. Once you’re on your way down, just be sure you don’t put your bottom all the way down in the tube, otherwise you’ll get a jolt at the bottom of the hill.
The great things about Christmas Village is that you can pick and choose the best activities for your family.
Before ending our day, we wanted to squeeze our last bit of fun in at the new Winter Square, just outside of Christmas Village. There, we rented ice skates and hopped on to real ice. REAL ICE! Most places these days offer a synthetic alternative to ice but Gaylord offers the real deal. Ice skating was definitely a highlight for all of use!
Other Activities At Gaylord National
If that’s not enough for you or your family, here are a few other Christmas activities that might be perfect for you:
- Cirque Dreams Unwrapped Atrium Show
- Atrium Light Show
- Photos with Santa
- Mrs. Claus’ Christmas Traditions
- The Grinch’s Wonderful Awful Idea Scavenger Hunt
- Village Express
- Seasonal Spa Treatments
- Holiday Dining
If you want to venture outside of the Gaylord National, the National Harbor area is full of great shops and restaurants (my favorite is Grace’s Mandarin). We walked down near the harbor to see a giant lighted Christmas tree and snow fall from up above.
After taking in the lights, we took a ride on the Capital Wheel, a giant ferris wheel reminiscent of the London Eye. Each car is enclosed and climate controlled so you only have to sit, relax, and take in the view.
Every year is different!
Seeing the Gaylord National at Christmas one year is not the same as seeing it the next. Every year is a different theme and every year they change up the activities and the decorations. This has definitely been my favorite year so far. I happen to love the story of the Grinch but there were so many new things this year.
We had fun on the Reindeer Rush Tubing but I loved the ice skating. It’s getting harder and harder to find ice skating on real ice so it was a thrill to take my son out for his first ice skating experience! Both activities were new this year.
And every year, Gaylord National is adding more – like a piano player in the lobby and a lavish Gingerbread house display. There’s always something new to see every year.
Other Gaylord ICE! locations
If you don’t live within driving distance of the Gaylord National or Washington, DC is not part of your holiday travel plans, you may still be able to experience Gaylord ICE! in another part of the country.
You can find ICE! at the following Gaylord locations (all with different themes and activities). I’ve only ever been to Gaylord National but I expect each one to be equally magnificant!
National Harbor, Maryland
Denver, Colorado Area
Orlando, Florida Area
Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas Area