Tag Archives: Review of ICE!

ICE! Up Your Holidays and Then Some at Christmas on the Potomac

One of the impressive frozen scenes sculpted in ICE!

One of the impressive frozen scenes sculpted in ICE!

The Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor goes all out for the holidays. Their annual Christmas on the Potomac extravaganza has festivities galore that capture the spirit of the season. And the best part is that there are activities for all ages at varying price points (even free!).


The seasonal celebration began this past weekend, and we had a chance to preview it the evening before it opened to the public. But this wasn’t our first time experiencing Christmas on the Potomac; we’ve actually enjoyed many of the attractions for several years — and one not as much. But I went back with an open mind and fresh perspective and, hence, have revised my view a bit.


The Gaylord Hotel itself is still pretty spectacular this time of year. The atrium is transformed into a holiday wonderland with stunning decor all around — long strands of sheer fabric lined with glimmering lights hang overhead, indoor trees and street lamps twinkle with lights and shiny ornaments, and ruby red poinsettias line the walkways. Hanging from the ceiling is a huge Christmas tree sculpture constructed of metal with colorful lights and stars adorning it. Just taking in the whole dazzling scene is an activity in itself.


There are also “dancing” fountains that light up with colors and ebb and flow to rousing music. The Polar Express train offers rides around a small track. A nightly indoor “snowfall” is magical for little ones. And there are several dining options, including a hearty buffet at Pienza Market.



And then there is ICE! The popular holiday spectacle presents a holiday-themed story told through a tour of massive, vibrant ice sculptures, this year featuring “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” If you’ve been reading KFDC for awhile, you might recall the first (and only) time we visited four years ago, I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan.


But four years can make a difference, especially with young children. Back then, Sasha was just two years old and couldn’t get over being so cold. Owen, who was five at the time, kept running ahead, and I couldn’t find him among the sea of blue parkas that everyone wears, and he couldn’t hear me call for him because it was loud.


This time was a much different experience. It was still extremely cold (9 degrees!), but the kids (now 6 and 9) didn’t seem to mind at all, so strolling through the frozen scenes wasn’t stressful, and we could really take in the artistry of the sculptures and follow the whole story.


To boot, we all had fun whizzing down the ice slides. We spent about 30 minutes in the exhibit, then the kids took a carousel ride on the way out. I do have to acknowledge that, since we were there during a preview, it was less crowded. And it was a complimentary tour, so I can’t complain about cost (rates start at $28/adult, $20/children).


So, here’s my new view: If you’re up for splurging on a unique holiday attraction, ICE! is pretty cool — literally and figuratively. But if you don’t feel like throwing down, there is still a ton at Christmas on the Potomac that will give you a warm and fuzzy holiday feeling.


Christmas on the Potomac, including ICE!, runs daily through January 3 at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor. As noted, many activities in the atrium of the hotel are free or a small fee. ICE! rates are $35/peak, $28/non-peak dates for adults; $28/peak, $20/peak, $15/non-peak for ages 3-11; free for ages 2 and under. There are discounts for groups and military — see the website for details.

For more about National Harbor and things to do there, see this post and this one.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by National Harbor, however, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and I only promote programs, activities, and products that I truly believe in and/or think would appeal to KFDC readers.


Filed under All ages, Annual, Christmas, DC, Eats, Exhibit, Holidays, Hotel, Maryland, Music, Seasonal, Weekdays, Weekend, Winter

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