[Note: This post was written by KFDC Contributor Emily Moise, a local writer and mom of two young children. She always has excellent recommendations for kids’ activities around the DC area. See some of them here, here, here,]
An oasis of Christmas magic awaits you at National Harbor’s Gaylord Resort & Convention Center. If you’ve never been, you’ve likely still heard of ICE!, the resort’s annual holiday season event boasting incredible, themed ice sculptures. But the ad on your social media feed doesn’t illustrate the extent of the elaborate, immersive experience, in addition to the world-class Christmas Village and overall holiday joy carried throughout the resort.
My family spent the night at Gaylord prior to attending the holiday events, and it may be our new tradition. We arrived at sundown when the magic is really at its best. The balcony to our room overlooked the entire atrium, aglow with a Christmas tree and twinkling lights overhead. The core memories being created were 1000% worth a night of sharing a room with two over-excited kids. We also spied the amazing Christmas Dream Suites from our room.
The next morning, the Christmas Village and ICE! – themed around A Christmas Story – were officially open. Plan to start your experience with ICE! – an outdoor, tented exhibit space chilled to an unimaginable 9 degrees. Think ice bar or walk-in freezer if you’ve ever been in one, and bundle up in your warmest gear. Parkas are also provided but are not warm enough on their own, though cute for a family photo op.
No words can fully describe ICE! and the mind-blowing, multi-colored ice creations that a team of ice carvers from Harbin, China, are brought in to build. On your way in, there is a small display showing the process and tools used – try to pause and explain things to your kids beforehand – they may be too cold to chat in the exhibit. And if they have yet to see A Christmas Story, watch some of the classic scenes ahead of time to make it more meaningful as well.
Hopefully your kids aren’t too cold in ICE! to take advantage of the coolest (pun intended) ice slides ever. Otherwise, you should head directly to Snow Flow Mountain indoors and plan to park it there for awhile. This four-lane tubing slide does not mess around! The height requirement is 42” and it makes total sense once you see how fast the tubes careen down the slope. The smiles and laughter are priceless.
Next, we checked out Snow Factory, where you can build and toss real snowballs, but it wasn’t quite ready for our visit. Temporary disappointment until we saw the next stop was a visit with Santa – the real one according to my 5-year-old (I’m more discerning with my Santas). After the prerequisite photo-op, we spotted a gingerbread girl named “Cinnamon” and followed her to the Gingerbread Decorating Corner. My kids chose the pre-constructed houses over cookies.
On our way out of the Christmas Village, we said hi to Mrs. Claus, who leads 25-minute Christmas Traditions experiences featuring story readings, sing-a-longs, and cookies with milk. (Tickets must be purchased in advance.) We got bundled up to head back outdoors to the Ice Skating and Ice Bumper Cars area (but not really on ice), but my kids were a bit holidazed so we decided to call it a day – and a very memorable one at that.
Christmas at Gaylord National runs daily from November 20 – December 31. ICE! is back after a two-year hiatus, so expect it to be a popular event, especially on weekends. Tickets start at $25/child and $37/adult; ages 3 and under are free.
More Tips & Info
* There are professional photo-ops at ICE! and with Santa. Be prepared to pay $25 per photo or take your own photos where photo-taking is allowed.
* Have a place to store your cold weather gear after ICE! or make a run to your car to drop things off once you are settling indoors.
* Cirque: Spirit of Christmas and The Greatest Story Stage Show begin November 25, both shown in the Gaylord National atrium.
* Harbor Social is a super kid-friendly option for dinner at the resort. There are games everywhere, including duckpin bowling (call to reserve a lane in advance).
* Stop by The Holiday Sweet Shoppe at the resort for some treats and nostalgia.
* Holidays at National Harbor includes a nightly tree light show, as well as fireworks Saturday nights November 12 – December 17 at 5:30pm.
Christmas at Gaylord National
Where: National Harbor | Oxon Hill, MD
When: Through December 31
Admission: Varies by activity