Move over, Nutcracker. A new holiday tradition is gathering momentum. ICE! at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. has emerged as one of the most unique holiday events in the country.
Two million pounds of ice are crafted into complicated ice sculptures by a team of artists from Harbin, China, who spend months creating installations in cavernous 9-degree rooms. (Visitors are loaned heavy blue parkas, making the frigid temperatures bearable -- at least for a short while.)
This year, colorful ice dolls honoring holiday traditions from Samoa to Mexico set the stage for the theme, "Christmas Around the World." Kids flock to the five two-story slides that are made entirely of ice. Artists are on hand to demo how they create the sculptures.
Visitors can warm up with hot chocolate as they meander through an elaborate Christmas Village with rides, a Build-A-Bear Workshop, and gingerbread decorating.
Ducking inside the hotel's lobby is a must-do. The wall of windows overlooking the Potomac is the backdrop for a holiday light show and dancing fountains.
While the hotel is one of the DC areas most festive spots, its location lends itself to exploration since attractions just outside the hotel doors spawn regularly.
The charming streetscape of National Harbor begs for strolling. En route to shops like Marble, a brainy toy store, Pepper Palace with its fiery tasting bar and Capital Teas, where tea brewing is elevated to an art form, there are multiple sculptures from Abe Lincoln to Rosie the Riveter that tug for your attention -- and a selfie.
Of course, the Capital Wheel cannot be ignored, especially since it's the only observation wheel of its kind in the United States. Its graceful presence now sets the tone for the entire waterfront. Climate controlled gondolas that pipe in Christmas music for the season glide 180-feet in the air. During the day riders have a clear view of the brick lined streets of Old Town Alexandria, as well as of downtown D.C. From atop the wheel, you'll capture one of the best views of the Washington Monument. In the evening the gondolas alight with multicolored LED lights.
Nearby along the compact beachfront, J. Seward Johnson's arresting sculpture, "The Awakening" dominates. Adults may marvel at the spectacular work of art, a man's head and limbs emerging from the sand, but children clamber up the five cast-aluminum pieces that span 70 feet across.
Every Saturday through Christmas there are free outdoor holiday movies, so you can bring a chair or blanket and bundle up for family-friendly films like "Elf."
EAT: Plan for cocktails -- the holiday house drink is a pomegranate Merry Mule that's served in a copper mug and embellished with a jaunty sprig of rosemary -- at Belvedere, the Gaylord's lobby bar located in the 19-storey glass atrium that overlooks dramatic dancing fountains and a nightly light show.
Through the New Year, Pienza Market, which is tucked amid the resort's charming interior shopping village, is offering a buffet for families called Food & Fun with Charlie , Brown and Friends. Multiple rooms showcase food from around the world in honor of the ICE! theme of Christmas Around the World. This should encourage kids to step beyond chicken fingers to try dishes like Italian pumpkin risotto and German black forest cake. Cuddly Peanuts characters Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy weave through the dining room, high-fiving and offer to pose for instagrammable moments.
DATES: ICE! Now through Jan. 1
ADMISSION: ICE! (includes admission to the Christmas Village) Adults $36; children $29.