Tag Archives: DreamWorks Merry Madagascar

The Holidays on ICE!

A little branding to go with the ICE! tour


Last year, as our family made the rounds of DC holiday activities, we decided to skip ICE!, the Gaylord National Resort’s spectacle of Disney movie-themed ice sculptures. Despite its popularity, we’d heard mixed reviews and found the admission price ($35/adults, $25/children) somewhat steep for something that might be less than wonderful.

As this holiday season rolled around, I still felt ambivalent about it, wondering if the expense would be worth it.  So, when LivingSocial recently had a deal on the ICE! experience, I jumped on it. The discount, combined with my curiosity about the venture, made the offer a no-brainer, and I scooped up two adult and two child tickets for $58 total, a savings of more than 50%.

An icy scene from Merry Madagascar

And here is where I tell it to you straight: I’m really glad we got that deal, because if I’d paid full price for ICE!, I probably would have felt like I’d been ripped off. It’s not that it was a bad experience – we did have fun, and I can appreciate the imagination, time, and artistry that went into creating the exhibit – but, generally, I found it overpriced, underwhelming, and too loud and cold to fully enjoy.

But that’s just my opinion, and I’m aware that we all have different ideas of what is “worth it,” so here’s a more detailed account of our experience to help you decide if ICE! makes the cut for you…

With some blackout dates looming and a “no Saturday” restriction, I wanted to use the deal soon and decided to visit on a weekday after school.  It turned out Sasha didn’t need a ticket (free for ages 3 and under) and my husband couldn’t come, so friends joined us and used our extra tickets. The timing worked out perfectly. We got there around 4pm and parked easily in a garage next to the ICE! venue, where it’s just $5 for two hours. (There is an “official” ICE! lot across the street where you can park for $10 all day, but it’s really no closer than the garage.) We also arrived to find no lines and redeemed our vouchers for tickets easily and quickly.

The preview of the exhibit and the flick

From there, we made our way to a preview room for an intro to both the exhibit and Merry Madagascar, the 2009 TV movie that provides the theme for ICE! A staff member gave us a quick rundown of what to expect before we watched a short video about how the ice sculptures were made, then a trailer of the film on a giant screen. We continued on from there to yet another area, where long blue parkas were distrubuted to every guest. We donned these over our own jackets, as we were told temperatures would be extremely cold.

Bundled up in blue, we finally entered the exhibit and got an initial eyeful of the icy wonderland, which admittedly is quite impressive upon first sight. Scenes from Merry Madagascar whittled from ice surrounded us, and the bluish lights made it dazzle.  But the other thing that struck me was the noise.  With so many machines working to keep the air chilled, it was hard to hear anything – and hard for the kids to hear us adults.  Luckily, it wasn’t very crowded, so we could keep up with them as they zipped through the displays, but requests for them to slow down were futile. Because of this we wound our way through the exhibit rather quickly, but to be honest, it was more of the same most of the way through, just minus the initial wow factor.


Then we came upon the slides about five minutes into the tour. These five icy lanes where guests could whiz down on their bums were easily the highlight of ICE! for the older kids. With barely a wait, they got to ride down many times until we encouraged them to move on after about 20 minutes, as the cold really started to set in while we stood there with the little ones watching them come down.

I figured there would be more interactives, but it turned out the slides were it. We meandered through more frozen Merry Madagascar scenes for another five minutes until we came to the final display, a large nativity scene sculpted in ice. It was somewhat unexpected after viewing so many cartoon characters, and seemed an odd closing piece to an exhibit that, until then, had featured big, playful displays in brilliant colors.

A post-ICE! ride on the mini-train

The ICE! exhibit might end there, but the larger experience continues, which can be a good or bad, depending on how you look at it.  There are many more activities, which also means opportunities to fork out cash – concessions for sale on the way out, an ice skating rink, min-train rides, meet and greets with costumed characters, and a souvenir shop you have to walk through to exit. Our kids rode the train for $2 a pop, but we managed to get them to forgo the rest (after convincing them to put back all the candy and toys from the store they insisted they needed), as it was time to get home.

Later, when I asked the kids what they thought about ICE!, Owen raved about the slides then noted that he “got cold so fast.” Sasha just gave a “brrrr.” I give it about a 6.5 out of 10, but if I’d paid the full price, it would definitely be less. And that seemed to be a shared  opinion among the friends who accompanied us.

ICE! will be at the National Harbor through January 8. Tickets are $35/adults, $30/kids during peak hours and $25/adults, $20/kids during non-peak hours. They are available for advance purchase online.

Some things to be aware of if you plan to go:

*It’s very cold in the exhibit, so along with a warm jacket to wear under the provided parka, bring a hat and mittens, preferably in bright colors or distinctive patterns, so you can easily spot your kids among the sea of blue parka sporting guests.

*Adults are not allowed to ride the slides with kids, which might upset younger children and discourage them from going (as was the case with Sasha).

*Look for garage parking before heading for the official ICE! lot. There is one located right next to the venue where it’s just $5 for two hours, $11/max. I can’t see a visit going beyond a couple of hours, though it’s just $1 more than the ICE! lot if you do end up staying awhile.

*Be prepared to pay for the extras you will encounter when you exit ICE! There’s too much there to say no to everything.

*Visit on a weekday if possible, as the crowds are guaranteed to be smaller.



Filed under All ages, Christmas, DC, Holidays, Maryland, Seasonal, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

The Weekend Round-Up: December 16-18

Wandering through ICE!


Holiday events are still running strong, and there are special museum programs and children’s shows to round out this weekend’s options for family fun.  And, of course, DC’s tried and true activities are always a good bet — scroll right down the page for a slew of recommendations.  Happy Weekend!

Celebrate the SeasonIf you’re looking for ways to embrace the holiday spirit, you have your pick: visit Santa in his workshop, drive or stroll through holiday lights, view nature and DC-inspired seasonal exhibits, see intricately constructed model train displays, experience the holidays on ICE!  This guide to DC’s best holiday events has details on all of them.

Holidays on StageAll of the classics are at our local theatres. This post has a review of The Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre, and you can read my write-up of Adventure Theatre’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. For even more holiday shows, see this post for a listing of the season’s favorites.

Rockin’ Hanukkah ConcertYosi and the Superdads play an interactive and humorous family concert filled with klezmer, rock, ska and rockin’ Hanukkah tunes at the McClean Community Center on Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $10/McLeanresidents, $15/non-residents. The show is recommended for ages 3 and up.

Elmo Makes Music In Sesame Street Live’s latest production, everyone’s favorite red monster and his friends make their own music with instruments that they never knew existed.  Join them as they share their love of music on the Patriot Center Stage now through Sunday.  Tickets range from $15-50 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.

Up, Up & Away – The Corcoran is hosting a Family Workshop for children ages 8-12 on Saturday from 10:30am – 12pm.  Guests will discover what the average person would need on a journey to Mars in the NOW exhibition Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro: Are We There Yet? After that create a personalized jet pack using recycled materials for your own adventure into outer space.

Holidays Around the World: ChristmasDrop in at the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone on Saturday from 11am – 4pm to learn how people all over the world observe Christmas. Through a variety of activities, guests can journey to Colombia, the Philippines, and Croatia for a multi-cultural Christmas celebration.  Admission is free.

Family PortraitsLearn about people who have influenced American history and culture through a variety of ongoing programs and activities offered by the National Portrait Gallery. This weekend’s subject will be Pablo Picasso in two different workshops. On Saturday from 2-4pm, kids ages 5 and up can join Facing History: Be the Artist Youth and Family Program to view portraits, hear stories, and create art. Admission if free, but registration is required.  On Sunday from 2-5pm, guests of all ages can drop in for Portrait Story Days to hear a tale about Picasso and do an art project. For a fun DIY adventure at the Gallery, Portrait Discovery Kits are available on Sunday from 2-5pm. They include “Seek and Find” cards, “Portrait Detective” and “Historian Guides,” and a “Compare and Contrast” activity using a doll. Visitors can check out kits at the education center, room E151, on the first floor. Kits need to be returned prior to 4 p.m. on Saturdays or 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

American Indian Art – Sculpture artist and painter Gregg Analla will be at the National Museum of the American Indian on Saturday from 10:30am – 12:30pm to lead a workshop on Pueblo pottery and symbolism.  Recommended for kids ages 5-12, the sessions will last about an hour and welcome guests on a first-come, first-served basis.  They will take place in the imagiNATIONs Activity Center, which is also a fantastic place to explore American Indian culture through a variety of interactive exhibits. Admission to both the workshop and museum is free.

And for tried and true DC pursuits, check out these links:

The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Rainy Day Recreation (ie, Indoor Fun)


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Filed under All ages, Annual, Art, Chanukah, Christmas, DC, Educational, Free, Holidays, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Music, Seasonal, Theatre, Virginia, Weekend, Winter

The KFDC 2011 Guide to DC’s Best Holiday Events

Season's Greenings at the U.S. Botanic Garden


DC doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the holidays. There are options galore for celebrating the season, many of them annual events that quickly become family traditions.  See model trains wind through miniature Christmas villages, drive through dazzling light displays in the woods, have a cool experience (literally) with interactive sculptures in ice. Some of the fun begins as soon as this weekend, so bookmark this page (along with this one featuring live entertainment) and start making some holiday plans.

Season’s Greenings
Where:U.S. Botanic Garden
When: November 24 – January 2
Admission: FREE
If my blog stats are any indication, this is easily DC’s most popular holiday attraction; searches for the Botanic Garden’s seasonal exhibit exceeded all other topics last year. And I can’t say I’m surprised. Season’s Greenings is an annual delight for all ages. The conservatory exhibit features Washington landmarks constructed from plant materials and one of the city’s largest Christmas trees. But the highlight, hands-down, is the garden railway, which never fails to impress and enchant with intricate, imaginative designs. This year, try to guess “Who Lives Here” in the whimsical animal houses along the mini-train route. For even more holiday magic at the garden, there are concerts most Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when the USBG stays open until 8pm.  For more on the seasonal favorite, read this KFDC review from last year.

Holiday on the Ellipse
Where: The Ellipse, President’s Park
When: December 1 – January 1
Admission: FREE
This should have a permanent spot on everyone’s DC holiday repertoire. The National Christmas Tree, the National Menorah, Santa’s Workshop, plus trains and displays representing all 50 states are a must-see during the season. Kids will especially love visiting Santa in his adorable little cottage for a peek at his operations and a photo op on his lap (read about our experience there last year), which is open at select times, usually through Christmas Eve. And the rest of it lit up at night with the White House and Washington Monument glowing in the distance makes for a dazzling holiday scene.

Trains loop the National Christmas Tree

Christmas on the Potomac
Where: National Harbor
When: November 18 – January 8
Admission: FREE, though some activities cost extra
National Harbor goes all out during the holidays. ICE! might be the big attraction, but there’s way more to do there to warrant a visit without the frozen entertainment. Most of it takes place in the Gaylord National Resort, which is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a spectacular glass Christmas tree, nightly tree lightings starting November 25, the Potomac Express train offering rides for guests, photo ops with Santa, indoor snowfalls, fountain shows, and more. (Read about our experience there last year.) Afterward, shop the holiday market on American Way (open Saturdays & Sundays November 26 – December 18 or grab a bite at one of the Harbor’s many restaurants.

Where: National Harbor
When: November 18 – January 8
Admission: Mon-Thurs $25/adult, $20/kids; Fri-Sun $35/adults, $25/kids; 3 and under are free. Get 50% off with this LivingSocial deal while it lasts!
Technically, this is part of Christmas on the Potomac, but it’s supposedly such a huge spectacle in itself, that it deserves its own write-up. And since I have yet to experience it myself (as explained in this post last year), here’s the description from the website: “Gaylord National’s popular ICE! winter holiday attraction returns with an all-new, hilarious theme: ICE! featuring DreamWorks’ Merry Madagascar. From Nov. 18 to Jan. 8, the DreamWorks Animation holiday TV special will be brought to life in an interactive world of colorful ice sculptures carved entirely from TWO-MILLION pounds of ice. Relive the story as you stroll through this amazing attraction featuring scenes such as how Santa and his reindeer crash-landed onto the island of Madagascar, and why Alex, Marty, Gloria, Melman and the wacky penguins must figure out how to save Christmas by delivering all the presents themselves. Even the mischievous lemur King Julien learns the true meaning of the holiday and manages to get himself off the “naughty list” once and for all. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, and there are timed entries are every half-hour.  Hours vary by day, so be sure to check the schedule when you plan to go.

National Menorah Lighting
Where: The National Ellipse
When: December 20, 4pm
Admission: FREE, but you must request tickets
As I noted in this post from last year, it’s tough to find family Chanukah events open to the public in the area. But they do happen, and this is a nice one.  Along with the lighting, there will be entertainment by the U.S. Marine Band as well as Dreidelman and the Macabees. If you don’t mind waiting in line afterward, stay for latkes and donuts. Tickets are free, but you need to request them in advance. Go here to get yours.

Come light the National Menorah

Christmas at Mount Vernon
Where: Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, & Gardens
When: November 25 – January 6
Admission: $15/adults, $7/ages 6-11, free for ages 5 and under
The special daytime holiday program at George Washington’s homestead includes 12 Christmas trees, a gingerbread Mount Vernon, historical chocolate-making demonstrations (and tastings!), and more.  Guests will also have the chance to tour the rarely opened third floor of the mansion to learn how the first First Family celebrated Christmas.  And outside, Alladin the camel will be on view to recall the camel ol’ George himself bought for 18 shillings in 1787 for his guests’ enjoyment at Christmas.

Holiday Train Show
Where: Union Station
When: November 22 – January 2
Admission: FREE
The Holiday Train Show located in the Main & West Halls features a new model train display for the first time at Union Station in 15 years. MTH Electric Trains, a leading model train manufacturer in Columbia, Md., is providing the locomotive exhibit that consists of model trains from every railroad era and includes trains from Europe and other parts of the world.

Holiday Festival of Trains & Toys
Where: B&O Railroad Museum
When: November 25 – December 31
Admission: $14/adults, $12/seniors (60+), $8/ages 2-12 free for B&O members
This is a venue dedicated to locomotives, so you know the holiday model train exhibit is going to be special. So much so, it changes throughout its run featuring new displays from various Model Railroad Exhibitors every few days. The exhibit opens the day after Thanksgiving with the arrival of Santa in the Roundhouse at 10:30am. On weekends through December 18, guests can enjoy train rides with Santa and Frosty the Snowman along with crafts and choral performances. Train rides are $2/adults, $1/children, free for B&O Members.

Holly Trolley Fest
Where: National Capitol Trolley Museum
When: November 26 – December 18, Saturdays & Sundays only
Admission: $7/adults, $5/ages 2-17 (includes unlimited rides)
Guests can ride with Santa on the street cars and enjoy the model garden railway and holiday village inside the museum. Of course the est of the museum, offering a glimpse into the history of street cars, including a Hall displaying different cars from around the region and Europe. Visit the website for directions museum.

Where: National Zoo
When: November 25 – December 11, December 16 – January 1
Admission: FREE
Every year, thousands of environmentally-friendly light and animal exhibits transform the Zoo into a holiday wonderland.  The highlights are dozens of animal light displays, and this year there will be an “iceless” skating rink (made of an eco-friendly synthetic skating surface) in the Picnic Pavilion Guests can also enjoy entertainment and a special train ride for children, special talks by animal keepers, Zoo-themed model trains displays, and the gingerbread habitat contest entries on display in the auditorium.  The Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank, and Kids’ Farm will be open every night. Skating and train rides cost extra: $5 to skate, $2 skate rentals, $3 train rides.

Watkins' drive-thru light show

Festival of Lights
Where: Watkins Regional Park
When: November 25 – January 1, 5-9:30pm nightly
Admission: $5/car, FREE on December 25
This spectacular holiday drive-through event of more than one million twinkling lights has been dazzling holiday-goers for 25 years. This is great way to get into the holiday spirit from the comfort of your car – pop some holiday music into the CD player, turn on the seat warmers, and take in the illuminated scenes. New festival features include Santa flying a helicopter and driving a fire truck.

Symphony of Lights
Where: Symphony Woods, Merriweather Post Pavilion
When: November 21 – January 1, 6-10pm nightly
Admission: $20/car
Called a “woodland wonderland,” this beautiful display of more than 70 larger-than-life, animated and stationary light creations is a local holiday tradition for many. Cruise along the 1.4-mile route through the Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia and enjoy the twinkling lights as you go.

Garden of Lights
Where: Brookside Gardens
When: November 25 – January 8, with noted exceptions
Admission: $20/car Mon-Thurs, $25/car Fri-Sun
Visualize close to one million twinkling colorful lights shaped in imaginative displays throughout the gardens. Enjoy the four seasons illuminated as giant summer sunflowers, autumn leaves, winter snowflakes, spring flowers, rain showers, and more. Walk along the easily accessible paths and you’ll see what sets this light show apart from others; it’s the hundreds of wrapped trees and shrubs, beautifully lighted gazebos, cascading fountains, and the individually formed displays in the shapes of blooming flowers and wild animals. Look for moving displays such as a flock of geese, or an 11-foot giraffe covered with 9,000 lights. Open weekdays 5:30-9pm, with last car admitted at 8:30pm, weekends (Friday – Sunday) 5:30-10pm, with last car admitted at 9:30pm. Closed December 24 & 25, and January 2-5.

Alexandria Boat Parade of Lights
Where: Alexandria City Marina
When: December 3
Admission: FREE
Alexandria’s harbor lights up when more than 50 illuminated boats cruise the Washington Channel to the historic waterfront. Pre-parade festivities at the Alexandria City Marina begin at 4pm with Santa arriving by fireboat at 4:15pm. The boat parade begins at 6pm. The Marina is located at Cameron Street in Old Town.

Winter Lights Festival
Where: Seneca Creeek State Park
When: November 25-26, then nightly December 2-31
Admission: $12/car Tues-Thurs, $15/car Fri- Sun
The 16th Annual Winter Lights Festival will feature more than 380 illuminated vignettes and 65 animated displays in a 3.5 mile drive through beautiful Seneca Creek State Park. Theme areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village, North Pole, Toyland, and Penguin Cove. Proceeds Benefit Local Charities.

Holiday Trains and Planes
Where:  College Park Aviation Museum
When: December 17 – December 23
Admission: 4/adults, $3/seniors, $2/ages 2-18, under 2 are free
During the holiday season the College Park Aviation Museum gets ready for the festivities as miniature trains, villages, tunnels, and depots spark the imagination and bring history to life. The National Capital Trackers bring a fascinating and constantly moving display of model railroads.

Holiday Entertainment
Take your pick of The Nutcracker productions, see Ebenezer Scrooge on stage, rock out or sing along to holiday tunes, discover celebrations around the world — there are shows to suit all theater preferences, ages, and wallets. See this recent KFDC post has details on live entertainment to be enjoyed this holiday season.

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Filed under All ages, Animals, Annual, Babies, Christmas, DC, Festival, Free, Gradeschoolers, Holidays, Hotel, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Music, Outdoor, Park, Preschoolers, Preteens, Seasonal, Trains, Union Station, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

Where to Play on the Weekdays: November 14-18

The College Park Aviation Museum


Monday –  Children up to age 5 can become Young Portrait Explorers and discover the National Portrait Gallery through history and art. During this session they’ll learn about French artist Henri Matisse by viewing his portrait,  listening to a story about him, and participating in a related hands-on activity.  The free workshop starts at 10:30am.

Tuesday – Join Paige Hernandez at the Havana Hop, an interactive dance performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center that follows the journey of a young girl to Cuba, where she learns to salsa. Recommended for children ages 2-5, the show is part of the Atlas’ new Theatre for the Very Young program. Showtime is 10:30am, tickets are $8.  (Note: the show opens on Monday and runs through Sunday, November 20.  See the schedule for showtimes.)

Wednesday – Learn about the early days of flight at the College Park Aviation Museum.  Check out historic and reproduction aircraft from some of the world’s first aeronautical adventures and enjoy all kind of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities related to flight. And keep an eye on the runway right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows — you might see planes take off and land at the College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world. Admission is $4/adults, $2/children, free for ages 2 and under.  Open 10am – 5pm.

Thursday – Take a tour of America’s Aquatic Treasures, DC’s very own National Aquarium.  While it doesn’t compare to its Baltimore counterpart — the entire facility is housed in the Department of Commerce building’s lower level — there’s still plenty of marine life to fascinate young visitors, including sharks, eels, colorful fish, and many more oceanic creatures.  Admission is $9.95/ages 11 and up, $4.95/ages 3-11, free for 2 and under.  Open 9am – 5pm.

Friday – It’s the opening day of ICE!, the National Harbor’s frozen holiday wonderland. Be among the first to experience this year’s interactive world of ice sculptures featuring DreamWorks Merry Madagascar.  Tickets on peak days (Friday – Sunday) are $35/ages 13 and up, $30/ages 4-12, free for children 3 and under ($25/adult, $20/kids on non-peak days). Timed entry is every half-hour, opening day hours are 10am -10pm.


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Filed under Art, DC, Educational, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Museums, Preschoolers, Seasonal, Theatre, Toddlers, Weekdays