Tag Archives: Gaylord National Resort

Christmas on the Potomac, Sans Ice

All aboard the Potomac Express at Gaylord National Resort

Let me start this post by clarifying the title:  I’m in no way suggesting you shouldn’t visit ICE!, the signature holiday attraction at the National Harbor.  What I am saying, however, is that Christmas on the Potomac at the Gaylord National Resort is pretty cool even without the frozen amusement.  I know this from firsthand experience — that’s how our family did the holiday celebration at the resort sprawling along the Potomac in Fort Washington, MD.

Through my neighborhood parents’ group, friends who have visited, comments on previous posts, and reviews on other blogs and local websites,  I’ve been hearing mixed things about ICE! at the Gaylord.  Usually, I like to experience something for myself rather than rely on hearsay; but at nearly $75 for our family of four (free admission for Sasha under 3), we decided to forego the Grinch-inspired ice park this time.  Besides, we could always go back another day if we really wanted to check it out.

The “lite” version of the Christmas on the Potomac worked out quite well for us.  The Gaylord Hotel itself is pretty spectacular anytime of the year, and even more so with the atrium transformed into a holiday wonderland.  The decorations are brilliant — long strands of sheer fabric lined with glimmering lights hang overhead, indoor trees and street lamps are adorned with colorful twinklers and shiny ornaments, and ruby red poinsettias line the walkways.  And the centerpiece of it all is the giant glass Christmas tree, standing 60 feet tall in front of a wall of windows overlooking the Potomac.  Just taking in the the beautiful scene is an activity in itself.

For the kids, however, the best parts are just below the tree.  The Polar Express, an adorable little train, circles a small track and offers $2 rides — a big highlight for my babes.  Just next to the train, Santa is waiting for photo ops, and just around the corner up a few steps a lovely fountain shoots up sprays of water, delighting kids of all ages.  This is all set among what feels like a little village in the atrium.  Walkways are lined with aforementioned trees (real ones) and lamps, stores look like little houses, and restaurants like outdoor cafes.   Scattered throughout are bronze sculptures of Dr. Seuss characters, and finding them became a bit of game.

We experienced all of this on a Saturday afternoon, and found it a really nice way to enjoy some family holiday time.  An evening there sounds like it might be even better.  Nightly, the atrium becomes a greater spectacle as Northern Lights sparkle overhead, the fountain “dances” to holiday tunes, the Christmas tree is illuminated, and “flurries” drift down on Snowfall Lane.  Surely, this is the kind of thing kids would find magical.

The festivities at the National Harbor aren’t limited to the hotel. Guests can glide on green ice at an indoor ice skating rink located in the ICE! pavilion (rates start at $10, including rentals). There’s an outdoor holiday market on American Way, where vendors sell handmade crafts, holiday gifts, specialty foods, treats, and more. The National Children’s Museum Launch Zone has regular activities for kids (check the website for details).  The many retail stores and restaurants, most of them family-friendly, offer holiday shopping and dining options.  And, if you go on Christmas Eve day, you can catch Santa and his elves waterskiing on the Potomac at 1pm.

So, if like us, you aren’t quite sure about ICE!, the holiday scene at the National Harbor is still worth a visit. It’s running through January 9, including December 25, so keep it in mind for the winter break from school as well as a Christmas Day treat.

And if you are keen on the ICE! exhibit, check out this review on the No Monsters in My Bed blog as well as this promo code for a discount.


Filed under All ages, Christmas, Festival, Free, Holidays, Hotel, Maryland, Seasonal, Shop, Trains, Weekend, Winter

Holiday Train and Light Displays

A train display from Christmas past at the U.S Botanic Garden

For kids young and old, some holiday traditions are just as anticipated as opening a huge pile of presents under the tree. Mini locomotives chugging around ornately decorated tracks and twinkling lights forming enchanting displays are easily two seasonal favorites.  If model trains and holiday lights are part of your family’s holiday repertoire, here’s where and when you can view them this year.  Some have already started, and many will be ready for viewing this week.  Enjoy!


Norwegian Train Display
Where:  Union Station
When:  November 23 – January 3
The giant Norwegian model train has enchanted visitors every December for 14 years, as it winds through the mountains and fjords of Norway. Each train is hand-crafted by an expert model builder and is a replica of a current or historic Norwegian train.  The display launch coincides with the regional kick-off for the 2010 U.S. Marine Corps Reserve “Toys for Tots” campaign on Tuesday, November 23, at 10am.

Season’s Greenings
Where: U.S. Botanic Garden
When: November 25 – January 2
The famous garden railway will feature world landmarks from the continents of Africa, Asia Europe and South America.  Along with the train display, the conservatory will contain the garden’s popular holiday exhibit featuring Washington landmark buildings all created with plant materials set amidst pathways and pools of blooming poinsettias and other holiday plants.  The Botanic Garden is open daily from 10am – 5pm, with hours extended on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December until 8pm. Admission is free.

Holiday Festival of Trains
Where: B&O Railroad Museum
When: November 26 – January 2
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 on Friday 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. Admission is $14/adults, $12/seniors (60+), $8/children (2-120, free for B&O Members.  Train rides are $2/adults, $1/childred, free for B&O Members.  For more info and the exhibit schedule, visit the B&O Railroad museum website.

Winter Display and Train Exhibit
Where: Brookside Garden
When: November 27 – January 9
The Washington, Virginia, Maryland Garden Railway Society constructs their model “G” scale train exhibit inside the Brookside’s Conservatory Winter Display. Trains weave around evergreens, poinsettias, salvias, and other flowering plants as they travel trough towns and country-side scenes. Free admission during daytime hours from 10am – 5pm.  In the evenings with the Garden of Light Display, admission is $20/car on weekdays, $25/car on weekends.

Holly TrollyFest
Where:  National Capital Trolley Museum
When: November 27 – 28, December 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 & 19
Ride with Santa on the Street Cars 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm! Enjoy the model garden railway and holiday village inside the museum from 12pm – 5pm. Visit the website for directions.

Where:  National Zoo
When:  December 3 – 12 (Fri – Sun), December 17 – January 1 (nightly except for Dec. 24, 25, 31)
Explore a wintry wildlife wonderland of model trains set up inside the zoo’s special train station—the Visitor Center. Beginning December 4, children can enjoy a train ride on the Great Meadow across from the Great Ape House. Admission to ZooLights is free. Train rides are $2.

Holiday Trains and Planes
Where:  College Park Aviation Museum
When: December 18 – December 24
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.  Admission is $4/adults, $3/seniors, $2/ages 2-18, free for children under 2.


Christmas on the Potomac
Where:  Gaylord National Resort, National Waterfront
When:  November 18 – January 9
Discover the 60-foot glass tree and holiday decorations, be amazed by indoor snowfall and explore a walk-thru winter wonderland sculpted from ice.  For more details about this holiday wonderland, check out this post.

Symphony of Lights
Where: Symphony Woods
When: November 19 – January 5
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. Open 7 days a week, including holidays, from 6pm – 10pm. Admission is $20/car.

Where:  The National Zoo
When:  December 3 – January 2
Thousands of environmentally-friendly light and animal exhibits will transform the Zoo into a holiday wonderland.  The highlights are dozens of animal light displays, including a new one this year featuring Andean bears.  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.  To top it all off, it’s free!  For details on hours and parking, see this post from a few weeks ago.

Festival of Lights
Where: Watkins Regional Park
What:  November 26 – January 2
This spectacular holiday drive-through event of more than one million twinkling lights has been dazzling holiday-goers for 24 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.  Admission is $5/car, free on December 25.

Garden of Lights
Where: Brookside Botanical Garden
When: November 26 – January 9
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.  Admission is $20/car on weekdays, $25/car on weekends.

Winter Lights Festival
Where: Seneca Creek State Park
When: November 26-27, December 3 – January 1 (nightly, except for all Mondays and Dec. 25)
Winter Lights features 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 Boat Parade of Lights
Where:  Alexandria City Marina
When: December 4
Alexandria’s harbor lights up when more than 50 illuminated boats cruise the Potomac River at 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. Admission is free!  The Marina is located at ) Cameron Street in Old Town.


Filed under All ages, Annual, Christmas, DC, Festival, Holidays, Museums, Outdoor, Seasonal, Winter