Last year, as our family made the rounds of DC holiday activities, we decided to skip ICE!, the Gaylord National Resort’s spectacle of Disney movie-themed ice sculptures. Despite its popularity, we’d heard mixed reviews and found the admission price ($35/adults, $25/children) somewhat steep for something that might be less than wonderful.
As this holiday season rolled around, I still felt ambivalent about it, wondering if the expense would be worth it. So, when LivingSocial recently had a deal on the ICE! experience, I jumped on it. The discount, combined with my curiosity about the venture, made the offer a no-brainer, and I scooped up two adult and two child tickets for $58 total, a savings of more than 50%.
And here is where I tell it to you straight: I’m really glad we got that deal, because if I’d paid full price for ICE!, I probably would have felt like I’d been ripped off. It’s not that it was a bad experience – we did have fun, and I can appreciate the imagination, time, and artistry that went into creating the exhibit – but, generally, I found it overpriced, underwhelming, and too loud and cold to fully enjoy.
But that’s just my opinion, and I’m aware that we all have different ideas of what is “worth it,” so here’s a more detailed account of our experience to help you decide if ICE! makes the cut for you…
With some blackout dates looming and a “no Saturday” restriction, I wanted to use the deal soon and decided to visit on a weekday after school. It turned out Sasha didn’t need a ticket (free for ages 3 and under) and my husband couldn’t come, so friends joined us and used our extra tickets. The timing worked out perfectly. We got there around 4pm and parked easily in a garage next to the ICE! venue, where it’s just $5 for two hours. (There is an “official” ICE! lot across the street where you can park for $10 all day, but it’s really no closer than the garage.) We also arrived to find no lines and redeemed our vouchers for tickets easily and quickly.
From there, we made our way to a preview room for an intro to both the exhibit and Merry Madagascar, the 2009 TV movie that provides the theme for ICE! A staff member gave us a quick rundown of what to expect before we watched a short video about how the ice sculptures were made, then a trailer of the film on a giant screen. We continued on from there to yet another area, where long blue parkas were distrubuted to every guest. We donned these over our own jackets, as we were told temperatures would be extremely cold.
Bundled up in blue, we finally entered the exhibit and got an initial eyeful of the icy wonderland, which admittedly is quite impressive upon first sight. Scenes from Merry Madagascar whittled from ice surrounded us, and the bluish lights made it dazzle. But the other thing that struck me was the noise. With so many machines working to keep the air chilled, it was hard to hear anything – and hard for the kids to hear us adults. Luckily, it wasn’t very crowded, so we could keep up with them as they zipped through the displays, but requests for them to slow down were futile. Because of this we wound our way through the exhibit rather quickly, but to be honest, it was more of the same most of the way through, just minus the initial wow factor.
Then we came upon the slides about five minutes into the tour. These five icy lanes where guests could whiz down on their bums were easily the highlight of ICE! for the older kids. With barely a wait, they got to ride down many times until we encouraged them to move on after about 20 minutes, as the cold really started to set in while we stood there with the little ones watching them come down.
I figured there would be more interactives, but it turned out the slides were it. We meandered through more frozen Merry Madagascar scenes for another five minutes until we came to the final display, a large nativity scene sculpted in ice. It was somewhat unexpected after viewing so many cartoon characters, and seemed an odd closing piece to an exhibit that, until then, had featured big, playful displays in brilliant colors.
The ICE! exhibit might end there, but the larger experience continues, which can be a good or bad, depending on how you look at it. There are many more activities, which also means opportunities to fork out cash – concessions for sale on the way out, an ice skating rink, min-train rides, meet and greets with costumed characters, and a souvenir shop you have to walk through to exit. Our kids rode the train for $2 a pop, but we managed to get them to forgo the rest (after convincing them to put back all the candy and toys from the store they insisted they needed), as it was time to get home.
Later, when I asked the kids what they thought about ICE!, Owen raved about the slides then noted that he “got cold so fast”. Sasha just gave a “brrrr.” I give it about a 6.5 out of 10, but if I’d paid the full price, it would definitely be less. And that seemed to be a shared opinion among the friends who accompanied us.
ICE! will be at the National Harbor through January 8. Tickets are $35/adults, $30/kids during peak hours and $25/adults, $20/kids during non-peak hours. They are available for advance purchase online.
Some things to be aware of if you plan to go:
*It’s very cold in the exhibit, so along with a warm jacket to wear under the provided parka, bring a hat and mittens, preferably in bright colors or distinctive patterns, so you can easily spot your kids among the sea of blue parka sporting guests.
*Adults are not allowed to ride the slides with kids, which might upset younger children and discourage them from going (as was the case with Sasha).
*Look for garage parking before heading for the official ICE! lot. There is one located right next to the venue where it’s just $5 for two hours, $11/max. I can’t see a visit going beyond a couple of hours, though it’s just $1 more than the ICE! lot if you do end up staying awhile.
*Be prepared to pay for the extras you will encounter when you exit ICE! There’s too much there to say no to everything.
*Visit on a weekday if possible, as the crowds are guaranteed to be smaller.