ICE! National Harbor

While some cities, like New York, have a rich tradition of winter celebrations, Washington, D.C., is largely lacking in such attractions.  New York has the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice-skating rink, New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and snow in Central Park.  Washington has freezing rain on Pennsylvania Avenue and what’s called the National Christmas Tree that’s really just an evergreen growing in front of the White House that gets decorated with lights every December.  

Because Washington generally lacks many famous winter attractions, my family is so happy that the Gaylord National Harbor has featured its “Christmas on the Potomac” event for the past several years, highlighted by the amazing frozen creations of its ICE! show.

ICE! really needs to be seen to be believed. After donning parkas provided by the Gaylord, guests to ICE enter a building kept at 9 degrees to tour room after room of ice sculptures crafted by Chinese artisans from the ice-bound city of Harbin.  The entire production involves two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures that guests can walk right up to and admire (licking the sculptures, though, is not advised).

This year, the carvings recreate the characters from “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” the stop-motion Christmas classic from 1970 starring Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney.  And in the middle of that retelling sits the perennial ICE! crowd favorite, and my family’s most beloved part of the show: a two-story high ice castle with five ice slides for visitors old and young to shoot down.  Be warned, though: parka-clad butts slide really, really fast over ice.

Another highlight of the ICE! show involves the “Frostbite Factory,” a platform where a handful of Harbin artisans continue to carve ice sculptures right in front of guests.  While it’s not explained why the artisans would need to keep carving after ICE! has opened, I like to think it’s to replace sculptures damaged the tongues of guests who couldn’t help themselves.

The final room of ICE! represents a stylistic change from the rest of the show.  While most of ICE! features colored ice sculptures that resemble the colorful animated characters of the “Santa Claus is Coming’ to Town” movie, sculptures in the final room are made of crystal clear, diamond-like ice cut to form a traditional Christmas nativity scene.  A towering angel dominates the room with its impressive beauty and craftsmanship. Overhead speakers recite the New Testament Christmas story, making it clear that this final room of ICE!, at least, is definitely a “Christmas” attraction rather than a non-religious “Holiday” attraction.

After leaving ICE!, guests turn in their parkas and can warm up with hot chocolate, ride a carousel, and build gingerbread houses (and, of course, visit the gift shop).  The enormous main lobby of the Gaylord features more activities, including a train ride for small children, more gift shops and a ear-pounding, eye-dazzling laser and water fountain show under the lobby’s suspended Christmas tree.

My family loves touring the Gaylord’s “Christmas on the Potomac” every year, and ICE! 2015 was a great part of our holiday celebration this December. It can be part of yours, too! ICE! runs through January 3. Get tickets today.

We received a press review of ICE! in exchange for this review but no monetary compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own or my family’s.