On a particularly crowded Monday afternoon (yesterday), I visited Gaylord Palms Hotel to experience the 2010 version of their popular Christmas time attraction, ICE!. This year, the hotel also adds SNOW! to the mix, providing guests with two chances for a chillingly good time, if they can avoid a few potential hiccups along the way. Read on for tips on how to have the best time at ICE! and SNOW!…
Visitors from around the world come to ICE! at Gaylord Palms to marvel at millions of pounds of ice, hand-sculpted, colored, and lit to create stunning holiday scenes. It’s a walk-through experience like no other. SNOW! offers guests a chance to have a taste of a northern winter in Florida, with a room full of real snow available for touching, snowballing, and inner tube riding. It’s all just a short drive away from many of Orlando’s major attractions, but not all is perfect in this winter wonderland.
The Gaylord Palms Hotel is located around 10-15 minutes from Walt Disney World, so it is quite convenient to find for anyone visiting the Mouse and traveling with a car. Tickets for admission to the ICE! and SNOW! attractions are $19 in advance or $22 at the door – for each attraction. Upon arrival, guests may be surprised (as I was) to find that Gaylord Palms charges $13 for parking, with a $2 discount for purchasing tickets to both attractions. It’s an added cost to watch out for.
With a $3 savings available, normally I’d recommend purchasing tickets in advance. But the line to pick up tickets at Will Call moved several times more slowly than the line to purchase tickets – so much so that I recommend just buying your tickets in person and paying the extra cost to avoid a long initial wait (30+ minutes) upon arrival that can spoil the trip. For me and my wife, it was a poor introduction to a fun attraction. Moreover, self-service kiosks are available for ticket purchasing with no wait at all.
But I only recommend buying tickets day-of if you get there early. By the time we arrived at around 4 p.m., SNOW! had sold out for the day. Both ICE! and SNOW! have timed entry, but are operated differently. You book an ICE! entry time in advance when purchasing your ticket, but it’s not likely to sell out even on the busiest days (like yesterday). However, you don’t get a SNOW! entry time until you trade in your ticket for a wristband. And by the time we did that, they were telling us to return at 7 p.m. We hadn’t planned on spending the whole night at Gaylord Palms (or even more than an hour, frankly) so we ended up passing on SNOW! completely and saw many other frustrated guests arriving at the same conclusion. It’s possible to plan all of this ahead of time when purchasing tickets online at GaylordPalmsTickets.com, but it was also clear that not all guests (myself included) realized that timed entry would be such an issue. SNOW! is new for 2010 and I’m sure Gaylord Palms is still working out the kinks in how they operate it.
Having concluded that we wouldn’t be visiting SNOW! this year, it was time to experience ICE!, which begins with picking up a parka, included for wearing (not for keeping) with the price of admission.
It’s a freezing (literally) 9-degrees Fahrenheit inside ICE! and the parka is quite welcome. However, hats, scarves, mittens, boots, or any other cold-weather wear are not included but are HIGHLY recommended if you plan on spending more than a few minutes inside. I made the mistake of arriving with only a light hoodie and jeans to keep me warm and ended up leaving the attraction 25-30 minutes later with frozen (almost literally) hands.
Finally inside, if you can stand the cold temperature, ICE! is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, offering scene after scene of carefully crafted ice blocks this year creating scenes from “The Night Before Christmas.” Here are a few of my favorite colorful pictures I took along the way:
In the middle of the experience, ICE! features a popular set of slides down which guests may race to the bottom. I, of course, had to give the ice slide a shot and while it was fun (and certainly unique), it was also a bad idea for me to press down on the ice with my bare hands to help me slide faster. I left the slide with a smile on my face and freezer burn on my palms – but it was worth it.
While guests are allowed to remain within ICE! as long as they wish, I don’t think I could handle any more than the 25-30 minutes I spent inside. For my Floridian bones, it was too darn cold. Perhaps if I had come prepared with warmer clothing, I could (and would) have stayed inside longer. But as is, I was ready to get the heck out of there.
Upon exiting, guests return their parkas and have plenty of opportunities to blow their frozen, drippy noses with complementary tissues, accompanied by an amusing sign:
Like any good Orlando attraction, ICE! exits into a gift shop. This one is filled with Christmas ornaments, ICE! apparel, and other holiday goodies:
Just before entering ICE!, guests also snap a green screen photo, which places them “inside” the attraction and is available for purchase on the way out. But it makes much more sense to me to bring your own camera to capture your own memories inside, provided that your cold hands can handle the camera throughout the experience. Also, when you emerge from the 9-degree interior into the warm exterior of ICE!, be aware that your camera lens will likely fog up and condensation will form. It’s a good idea to turn your camera off for a while at this point to allow the water droplets to disappear while you shop.
All in all, Gaylord Palms creates a stunning display of colorful scenes inside ICE!, but the overall experience of attending the attraction leaves something to be desired. Walking around ICE! is a fun and unique way to celebrate the holiday season, but guests not prepared for the parking cost, long lines, timed entry, and extraordinarily cold temperature may find themselves wishing they had stayed back at the hotel instead. As long as you arrive prepared, ICE! (and presumably SNOW!) can provide a great time for the whole family.
ICE! and SNOW! are open daily now through January 2, 2011. Get tickets and more information at GaylordHotels.com.
More photos from Gaylord Palms ICE!: