Thursday, December 8, 2016

ICE! Sculptures at Gaylord Hotels

A life-size nativity scene carved entirely out of ice

Every winter, I get a little jealous when people visiting colder climes start sharing photos of ice sculpture festivals and ice hotels. In Texas, Mother Nature does not keep the outdoors cold enough for us to enjoy such things. December weather is all over the place. Some Christmases, it's been warm enough to wear shorts. On another, more magical Christmas, snow flurries fell from the sky, causing my children to abandon their half-unwrapped gifts to run outside. When I heard about the Gaylord Texan Resort hotel's ICE! Winter Wonderland, I knew that it would be the perfect mini-getaway during our holiday school break. Gaylord Hotels has four locations around the USA, each with a different themed ICE! exhibit.

Which list are you on?

At first, the high ticket prices — $33 for adults during peak hours — gave me pause, but a quick query of friends assured me that it was worth it. They even talked me into paying an extra $15 each for the Fast Pass option since some said they waited 90 minutes in line for this popular attraction.

Don't worry if you don't have a coat. They'll loan you one... which makes finding your family a tad difficult.

The exhibit hall is kept at a chilly 9°F (-13°C) which is ideal for Frosty the Snowman but not so good for people. Thank goodness that warm, knee-length parkas are included in the admission price. They had them in all sizes for both kids and adults. We also brought along hats, scarves and mittens as my friends recommended since those are not provided. In fact, we even wore our regular winter coats underneath the borrowed parkas just to make extra sure we didn't get too cold. At least it wasn't windy since we were indoors. Unlike way up in the frozen North, we were walking on carpet instead of trudging through snow, so my feet didn't get numb either.

Piling into Santa's frozen sleigh

Expecting everything to be plain white ice, like the kind from my home freezer, I was surprised by the abundance of colors and the clarity of the clear ice. Much more impressive than the tabletop ice sculpture at my wedding! Two million pounds of  ice are custom made offsite using a special recipe and then delivered to the Gaylord in 36 truckloads over the course of 3 weeks. White ice, similar to the home freezer-type, is frozen quickly so that it maintains a cloudy look. The clear ice is created by slowly freezing highly filtered, de-ionized water. It takes 3 days to freeze a 400 pound block of ice. The water in the colored blocks are dyed with food coloring and then stirred constantly so that the color is even throughout the block. The many blocks are assembled using water which freezes on contact to act as the glue.

Master carvers from Harbin, China create these frozen pieces of art

The artisans behind these masterpieces come from Harbin in northeast China. The town is famous for its yearly Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival which is the largest in the world. While the rest of the sculptures were already completed, there was one work in progress so that visitors could watch the master carvers in action. I thought it was fascinating, especially how closely the piece followed the schematics posted on the wall.

Be sure not to lick the ice while posing

The exhibit was not huge, but it took us about an hour to go through — mainly because I stopped to take photos and examine all the details. What I shared in this blog is just a few of them.

Toys from Santa's Workshop

Part of me wanted to linger, but part of me wanted to get out of the cold. I'm sure that everyone who lives somewhere that actually gets cold is laughing at me at this point. Please understand that where I live, the city literally shuts down if there's a smattering of snow or hint of ice on the ground. We are not equipped to deal with freezing temps.

For those visitors who wanted to stretch out their time in this humongous walk-in freezer, there were something to do for both kids and adults.

This ice slide is a far cry from the burning hot metal slides of my Texas childhood.

For adults who have always dreamed of bellying up to an ice bar.

Eventually, I realized that my family had left me to huddle up near the exit, so I tucked away my camera. A free hot cocoa was included in our Fast Pass ticket, but we skipped it because the line was long. I am not the only cold weather wimp in Texas. After returning our borrowed parkas, we headed to the adjoining exhibit hall to enjoy Santa's Wild Workshop Snow Tubing which was an additional cost ($19 for 12 runs).

Whee! Snow tubing

This room was thankfully much warmer because the only snow was on the 12-track tubing hill. While my kids were big enough to do it all themselves, including carrying the tubes uphill, I saw parents with younger children use double tubes. Santa's Snowball Throwing Workshop with real snowballs, a rarity in this part of Texas, was in the same hall, but I didn't see anyone doing it.

Festively decorated atrium of the Gaylord Texan Resort hotel

The rest of the Gaylord Texan Resort was dressed up for the holidays. There were enough family activities to make a full day visit as long as you have the money to fund it all.

  • Glacier Gliding Ice Skating on the 5,000 square foot outdoor rink - $17
  • Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt - $12
  • Build-a-Bear Workshop - price varies
  • Gingerbread Decorating Corner with Gingerbread Man meet & greet - $30-$69 for a kit
  • Cookies & Milk with Mrs. Clause - $20/child and $5/ required adult
  • Rudolf's Holly Jolly Breakfast - $20/child and $38/adult
  • Photos with Santa - $30 and up for photo package
See link for full details.

This gingerbread house took up an entire table

Since it was December 31, I thought this would be a fun place to ring in the New Year and booked one of the Lone Star Christmas Overnight Stay packages which includes admission to various holiday activities. We didn't buy separate tickets to the adults only New Years Eve party in the resort's club but had a fun evening nonetheless enjoying a late family dinner at one of the many restaurants. 

As long as we were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we rounded out our family mini-break with a stay at Great Wolf Lodge, literally across the street from the Gaylord, to enjoy their indoor water park, a visit to the nearby LEGO Discovery Center, and a day at the Fort Worth Stockyards to watch the cattle drive and play in the cattle pen maze. All in all, it was a wonderful way to transition from one year to the next.

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  1. Looks like so much fun. Would love to play there.

  2. How fun! I'm boycotting winter, but I might make an exception for this. :)

  3. I had to laugh being Canadian means getting very used to way below freezing weather and knowing the Texans that I do know I can just imagine the shivers and shakes that they feel at this kind of exhibit. But it was really cool, I have seen many an ice bar, and ice sculptures but never the coloured ones that is definitely different.

  4. OMGosh this looks like so much fun! I'm so sad my parents don't live in Texas anymore! I only got to visit them twice there, now theyre in Kentucky! #WeekendWanderlust #Wkendtravelinspiration

  5. What fun! I thought you were in Japan for a while when I saw the sculptures. A great idea for Texas!

  6. Weather in Texas sounds a lot like weather in California. We have had beach days in December and January. An ice focused attraction sounds fantastic. I was going to ask about the clothing but I see it is included (that makes sense). #wkendtravelinspiration #TPThursday

  7. This just looks cold. lol I'll be completely honest and say I would not enjoy this at all. I live in Illinois and every time it dips below 30 degrees I'm tempted to drop everything and move somewhere warm. But I love all the intricacies of the ice sculptures. I will just have to enjoy the exhibit from your pictures. #weekendwanderlust

  8. I too miss the cold weather at Christmas time, Michelle. It's pretty warm here in California usually as well in winter. I'd love to visit one of these Gaylord Hotels, although the price seems a little steep. It's nice that they lend you coats in case you don't come prepared for the cold in the exhibit rooms. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  9. I think this all looks like so much fun. I would love to slide down the ice slide! Happy Holidays Michele!

  10. This looks like a wonderful place to visit but like you I would baulk a bit at the entrance price and all the expensive extras.

  11. Oh I made a bee-line for this post because I adore ice sculptures, mainly because we married in the Ice Hotel of Lappland and had a chance to marvel at them there (yes, I am one of those people who have written about this lol so keep a look out for it next week!). I am also from a Country where the world stops with a flurry of snow and I often think how ridiculous that is! But I digress ... this is wonderful! I didn't know you could hand-make different types of ice or that you could even add colour to it - that's fascinating, and the sculptures are just magnificent. Thank you for sharing this wintery, festive story :-) #TheWeeklyPostcard

  12. I went to the Gaylord Ice! with the kids at the one in DC. Didn’t realise they had them in other locations too. I remember the slide - my kids loved it! And those blue coats too. I thought I was dressed warmly for a DC winter but that ice box took cold to new levels.

  13. I went to the Gaylord Opryland last year but it was a quick stop and we didn't do Ice. I didn't expect the ice to be colored - wow! Looks like a very fun wintery thing to do for those of us in the warmer, southern areas.

  14. i keep hearing such great things about Gaylord Hotels, especially at the holidays. I'm dying to stay in one. The closest is outside Washington, DC. So too far just to visit for the ICE show, though I'm sure it would be worth it!

  15. Gaylord looks like great fun if you can't get to a place with natural snow. I always feel sort of sorry for ice sculptors, and also sand and food sculptors: their amazing artistic creations are doomed.

  16. I lived in Alaska for awhile and one of my favorite activities each winter was to see the annual ice sculpting competition. It is amazing what artist can do with ice! That's great you found one in Texas, although after seeing ice sculptures for free I'd have a hard time paying to see them. I did find it interesting too that there were so many colored sculptures. Makes for a very festive event. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  17. This looks like so much fun! I'd love to see something like this. Ice sculptures are so incredible to see - such clever, talented people behind them! Cool event.

  18. The ice scuptures are beautiful. I've been to the Quebec Winter Carnival, and that's cold inside and out! I'm Canadian but I really don't like cold weather. Although, I did love my carnival time in Quebec, I would probably go back :)

  19. At the start of your post, I thought all I was going to see was clear ice sculptures. Scrolling down unveiled the amazing coloured ice that I have never seen in ice sculptures before. It is very impressive.

  20. What a fun event. Living in Australia snow and ice just don't happen so would be fun to enjoy it all for a day. But those prices! I thought $33 to enter was OK but then there are all the add on's - makes for a very expensive day.


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