ICE! At Gaylord National Harbor

Where: 201 Waterfront St, Oxon Hill, MD
When: Open daily until January 3, 2016; hours vary depending on day/week. Tickets during peak times (weekends and the two weeks closest to Christmas) are $35 for adults, $28 for kids 3-12, and kids under 3 are free.

ICE! is cold. Should this seem obvious? I mean, I don’t know how to explain it (perhaps because the language on the website says the temperature is kept at, and I quote, “a chilly 9 degrees”), but we did not quite realize *just how cold* ICE! was going to be. I believe we were conjuring visions of a brisk coolness, a pleasant sort of “I can see my breath in this building!” chill. Oh no. You feel 9 degrees down in your bones. Down in the deepest part of your heart that can only be touched by things like when Thomas Jay dies looking for Veda’s ring in My Girl. In that place- you will feel those 9 degrees.

Luckily, ICE! is so darn impressive you won’t much mind.

This was our first year attending ICE!- in 2013 we had a newborn, and last year she was only just one, so far too young to go, but this year, with a 6 year old a 2 year old, we thought it was time to give ICE! a go. The great thing about ICE! is that you could do it every year because the theme changes- last year was Frosty the Snowman if I recall correctly, and this year’s theme was Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, featuring characters and scenes from the 1970 Rankin-Bass Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. (If they ever do a Home Alone themed ICE! I am going to die on the spot- praying over a Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese for that happen right now.)

If you’ve seen the movie, all the characters and scenes will be familiar to you. In fact, you should watch it before you go, just to freshen up. It will probably be on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas about 32 times this month, along with my eternal personal favorite, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Upon entering, you are instructed in stern tones not to lick, touch, or sit on the ice. I had to forcibly desist from indulging the urge to touch it because they told me not to touch it.


Baby Claus being delivered to Mr. and Mrs. Kringle


Sombertown, ruled by Burgermeister Meisterburger, toyless, with Kris Kringle giving Miss Jessica a china doll


Kris Kringle and the Winter Warlock

Once you’ve made your way through the seven Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town themed rooms, you end up in a massive room with ICE SLIDES. I repeat, ice slides. You walk up and then zip on down like a vodka shooter in an ice luge. Wheeeee!


There’s a lot going on in ICE! If you can stand the cold for very long, like maybe if you’re not from Georgia and find anything under about 40 degrees unbearable, you could easily go through 2-3 times to fully see everything.

At the end of the display, just before you emerge from the frozen indoor tundra, there is the most beautiful and serene Nativity scene, carved from crystal clear ice, with an illumination and narration show taking place. It was such an unexpected surprise after all the color and whimsy of the main ICE! display. Somehow, I don’t know how, maybe because everyone else is back in Santa’s Toy Factory ping -ponging down ice slides, this room is much less crowded than every other room in the exhibit, which gives it a quiet, reverential air. Well, it was something!


Just because you’ve finished ICE! doesn’t mean you’re nearly done with the Christmas on the Potomac experience. Just inside the doors of the Village of the North Pole is a carousel and a gingerbread decorating workshop. Inside the hotel itself is a small train (the Potomac Express) that children can take a ride on, a Santa to visit, and an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. We had to go during the day in order to accommodate our two year old, but if you’re lucky enough to be at the Gaylord in the evening, there’s a nightly light show at 6, 7, 8, and 9 pm every night that features indoor snow and a 65 foot hanging illuminated Christmas tree

Handy tips: 

-Dress warmly! ICE! provides mandatory blue coats that are meant to both keep you warm and keep you dry, but any appendages that will be exposed would do well to be covered, so bring hats and mittens as well.

-No strollers are allowed inside the ICE! exhibit.

-Visitors to ICE! are eligible for reduced parking at the Gaylord for the event; parking in the self-park lot at the Gaylord is just $13 for four hours and can be purchased in advanced via this link. 

Make a day of it:

There’s tons to do and see down at National Harbor! The weather is really weird this month and it was a balmy 60 degrees or so the day we were there, so we were able to walk around the Harbor and enjoy the day after our visit to ICE!


If coming to National Harbor is a bit of a trek for you, consider taking a ride on the Capital Wheel while you’re visiting! My family did this last summer and it was a big hit with my 5 year old, who had never been in “such a huge Ferris Wheel.”

The Harbor Christmas tree is up right now as well:


Now, if you will, please join me in fervent hope that next year’s ICE! features Kevin McAllister, the Wet Bandits, and Little Nero’s Pizza.

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