Every once in a while an annual tradition features something so surprising, it makes it feel like a whole new experience. That is the case with the theme of 2019’s ICE! extravaganza at Gaylord Palms Resort, which recreates the wonderful tale of The Polar Express, right down to a gleaming black steam engine that takes your breath away, even more than the chilling 9-degree (-12C) ‘Florida freezer’ in which the carved-ice exhibit is located.
But there’s more. Much more! Let’s take a look at 6 reasons this holiday tradition should be on your Christmas Wish list.
1) ICE! featuring The Polar Express
For those who haven’t read the beautifully illustrated, Caldecott Medal-winning book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, it’s the tale of a young lad who experiences a magical journey on Christmas eve, when he—along with other pyjama-clad children—boards the Polar Express train bound for the North Pole. There, he meets Santa Claus and thousands of elves, and is invited to make a very special request.
This year’s ICE! self-guided walking exhibit allows visitors to ‘board’ the Polar Express and take that journey themselves, from sitting on the train’s seats to jaunty waiters balancing mugs of hot cocoa, while passing country-sides, mountains, and ice plains on your way to the North Pole. Although a few scenes recall the computer-animated movie of the same name, the gentle, yesteryear nostalgia is strong here, and when you first set eyes on the train—well, that’s a moment that makes this theme extraordinarily special.
Guests can also test the warmth of the parka they’re provided with admission to ICE! on the two-storey ice slides half-way through the exhibit. All ages can slide, there is no additional charge and you’re only limited in rides by how long you can endure the cold! The final scene in ICE! is the same each year: a clear-ice recreation of the Nativity, reminding visitors of “the reason for the season.”
2) Alpine Village
This is where all the action happens! Alpine Village occupies the enormous space before you enter ICE! and after you exit, with the chance to try a bit of wintery ‘rump bumping’ on board an inflated inner tube on the Snow Tubing slides; test your snowball launching skills against three Snow Throw sets; and enjoy story time, sing-alongs and the homely comforts of milk and cookies at Mrs Claus’s Christmas Traditions ($12.99).
Decorate your own gingerbread house and pose with gingerbread characters Cinnamon and Nutmeg at Gingerbread Decorating Corner ($22.99), or meet the Sugarplum Fairy and sip hot cocoa during Sugary Sweet Storytime ($15.99), both located inside the Alpine Village Sweet Shop.
In the gift-giving mood? Create a unique keepsake to place under your Christmas tree at the hands-on Elf Training Academy ($12.99) or assemble a cuddly friend at Build-A-Bear Workshop (prices vary).
You can even meet Santa Claus himself. He’s on hand at Alpine Village, ready to take your wish list and pose for photos.
3) Cirque Dreams Unwrapped
You probably know the wildly inventive Cirque style of entertainment when it comes to big shows, but this shorter variation is just as intriguing. It features aerialists, acrobats, juggling feats and a contortionist, all served up with a big helping of comedic creativity. The show lasts 25 minutes, and it’s free for all visitors.
Be sure to arrive early, not only to get a good seat, but also to see the high-energy musical tree-lighting extravaganza, #LIT Light Show, all around a 60-foot Christmas tree.
4)Naughty or Nice Escape Room
Trading on the wildly popular escape rooms that have cropped up across the country in the past several years, this family-friendly version of holiday-themed clues and puzzles pits players against the clock in a race to remove their names from Santa’s Naughty list and place them firmly on his Nice list ($16.99).
5) The Rest of the Resort
Gaylord Palms’ atrium is massive, and you’ll find loads of free Photo Ops scattered throughout that will add to your memories of the day. As you wander, be sure to take in the (free) Christmas Tree Trail in the Everglades section of the atrium. For an additional fee ($11.99), the whole family can try the Secret Santa Scavenger Hunt. Pick up the Scavenger Hunt booklet and Santa’s Secret Service Decoder Ring, then head into the atrium to find hidden clues!
6) Elf on the Shelf Character Breakfast at Villa del Flora
Last on this list, but certainly not least, this fun family buffet breakfast is the perfect way to start your adventure, or cap off an overnight stay. Meet the Elf, his Saint Bernard puppy pal, and an adorable girl elf who interact with guests and pose for photos. A storyteller also makes the rounds periodically, and the atmosphere is genuinely festive.
Choosy eaters will find plenty to enjoy with the buffet’s standard breakfast items, including fresh fruit, cereals, eggs, roasted potatoes, breakfast meats and more, while those with a taste for American favourites will delight in scrummy buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, corned beef hash, frittata, and fresh-made omelettes. It costs $34 (ages 13 and up) or $23.99 (ages 4-12).
We highly recommend an overnight stay to make the most of the array of offerings, but if time doesn’t allow, make a full day of it instead. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are ideal, when the theme parks are at their busiest. It’s one of our yuletide traditions, and it may just become one of yours!
Tickets for ICE! are $28.99 (children $14.99, under 3s free). Most experiences outside of ICE! are free, but some, including Snow Tubing ($19.99, unlimited runs) and Snow Throw ($9.99 per bucket), are extra, while packages are available so you can choose the experiences you most want to try. The event runs every day until January 5, from 10am until 9pm.