Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee hosts the annual ICE! extravaganza, with 2 million pounds of glittering ice, 1.5 million pounds of snow, and 2 million twinkling lights to kick off the Season of Joy in grand style. This year’s ice displays are themed to the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, in a colourful retelling of the beloved story.
The displays are accessed via Alpine Village, which also includes a marketplace, ice bar, food and drink kiosks, and the wintery fun of snow tubing.
What can you expect when you enter the ICE! exhibit? The first thing is the cold; it’s 9F in there (that’s minus-12C!), so this isn’t the place for shorts and flip-flops. Each guest is given a parka to help battle the chill, but we strongly advise packing something extra-warm in your suitcase so you’re prepared in advance. You don’t want to rush through and miss anything because your teeth are chattering and your feet are frozen!
Proper gear to battle the cold is especially necessary if you plan to enjoy the On the Blocks ice bar (ages 21 and up only). Choose from a sample of Jackson Morgan Southern Cream or Goose Island beer, plus a Makers Mark or Absolut signature cocktail, or a glass of Chardonnay or Cabernet. The bar is (obviously!) made purely of ice, so expect a real ‘chill-out’ experience. There is limited seating and a couple of tables, and each guest gets to keep their signature drink glass as a souvenir.
One of the major highlights of the attraction, especially for children, though adults love it too, are the 4 themed ice slides, built on twin inclines made with real snow. No tubes necessary here, just head to the top of the hill, sit down, and slide back to the ground!
Frostbite Factoryinside the exhibit features a live ice carver going about their work, and guests can ask questions, for a fascinating insight into how it all comes together. All the artisans come from China, hence the experience is as real as it gets.
It’s Orlando, so naturally you’ll exit the attraction into a gift shop, but this one has a wide variety of Christmas decorative items and gifts, plus a small kiosk with snacks and hot cocoa. Nearby Build-A-Bear Workshop has every character a child could possibly want, from reindeer to Minions to Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Chewbacca, and everything in between.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread, and guests can choose between decorating a gingerbread family or a gingerbread house at Gingerbread Decorating Corner. You can even meet-and-greet and have a photo taken with the largest gingerbread man we’ve ever seen!
Keep your hat and gloves on and head over to the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing 8-lane snow hill, to the left of the entry to Alpine Village. On Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. until closing it become Cosmic Tubing, with low lighting punctuated by flashing LED lights and energetic holiday tunes. Kids 36 inches to 41 inches tall must ride double with an adult.
New for 2015 is Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt (replacing the popular gnome hunt of previous years) in the atrium area of the main resort. 10 of Santa’s scout elves are perched in various locations, and guests can follow clues to discover their whereabouts and solve puzzles that will lead to revealing the elves names. Succeed and you’ll be entered into a grand prize drawing.
Guys, if you’re planning on presenting that special lady with her own bit of ‘ice’, why not pop the question surrounded by ICE? With two proposal packages to choose from ($199-$499) each couple receives two adult admissions with priority access to the exhibit, hot cocoa, a dedicated photographer, one free photograph with the option to purchase more (or choose an entire flash-drive of photos for an additional $75), and vouchers for a return visit the next year to celebrate her having said, “Yes!”. The Deluxe Package adds an ICE! tree ornament, photo flash drive, and a block of ice carved with the Big Question, “Will you marry me?” (personalised with her name for an additional $50). To ensure it all runs smoothly, the groom is given a pre-arranged consultation and walk-through to tailor the experience especially for his intended.
It’s easy to make a half-day of it, especially if you add Breakfast with Mrs. Claus to your day. Then head over to Alpine Village with your wish list in hand for a photo with Santa himself. Photo packages start at $35, and Santa does take a short break between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to care for his reindeer, so plan accordingly.
End the day with the Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6.15pm daily, a nightly Grand Snowfall, and the spectacular Cirque Dreams Unwrapped show, with all the jaw-dropping talent you’ve come to expect from Cirque du Soleil. The 25-minute stage show takes place at select times (usually twice daily), and is free for all to enjoy.
ICE! runs from late November through early January (24 Nov-3 Jan in 2015). Tickets are $29.99 ($16.99 ages 4-12; $26.99 age 55 and up; save $1 per adult, $2 per child/Senior by booking online here. For an additional $10 per person, get the Chill Pass and bypass the queue to get in.
Other noteworthy Christmas mood-setters are Now Snowing at the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, just off Highway 192 in Kissimmee, with live music, ice skating, Charles Dickens Carollers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and Florida-friendly ‘snowfalls’ at 6, 7, 8, and 9pm nightly. You’ll want a hire car for this one, so that you can drive around the community and take in the incredible Christmas light displays put up by homeowners. All events are free, with the exception of skating and carriage rides.
International Drive’s new icon, the 400 foot Orlando Eye, celebrates its first Christmas with Frostival, featuring decorated capsules with the themes Winter Wonderland, The Night Before Christmas, Candy Canes, and Gingerbread House, for the ultimate view of Orlando in best holiday style. At select times, children can even enjoy a flight on the Eye with Santa, complete with priority boarding, a photo, a cookie and story-telling, starting at $35. Make time for ice skating before or after a flight at the ice rink outside I-Drive 360. A 30-minute session is $12 ($10 advance purchase) and includes ice skate hire.
It may be warm, and the palm trees will still be blowing in the breeze, but there is no doubt a December holiday in Orlando adds a special magic to the Christmas season.
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