ICE! And The Gaylord National Christmas Celebration - My Family Travels

Head to National Harbor, Maryland for the Gaylord National Christmas celebration, an event you’ll never forget. Holiday cheer overtakes the expansive, waterfront Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center with memorable décor, traditional activities, attractions and seemingly endless poinsettias.

Three generations don the iconic blue parkas to brave the cold at the Gaylord National ICE! show.
Three generations don iconic blue parkas to brave the 9 degree temperatures inside the Gaylord National ICE! show.

ICE! is the centerpiece event showing Nov. 20 to Dec. 31, 2022, during the Gaylord National Christmas season. While new to my family, our relatives had attended ICE! for many years at different Gaylord Resorts. Now we know why.


Each year, a whopping two million pounds of ice are dyed and sculpted to bring the five Gaylord Resorts’ ICE! stories to life. For the 2022 Gaylord National Christmas, they cleverly dramatize the movie “A Christmas Story.”

Ice sculpture of family having dinner at a Chinese restaurant from the movie "A Christmas Story."
Imagine how much fun the Chinese master ice sculptures had doing this scene at a Chinese restaurant from the movie “A Christmas Story.”

Do not try this at home! Forty professionals from China’s renowned Harbin Ice Festival use chainsaws and handtools to create the magic. At each Gaylord, the environment is maintained at 9 degrees F. Nonetheless, master carvers must remain on standby to touch up details that soften from visitors’ body heat.  (Pause to meet these artists on the entryway’s touch screen displays.)

Of course, you’ll capture images of the amazing, larger-than-life ice sculptures. Yet it’s the unexpected sight of family inside a frozen hall — bundled in blue parkas and struggling with frozen cellphone cameras – that’s unforgettable.

Winter-themed activities and attractions abound, for an extra fee. Grab an inner tube for high-speed sledding on a frozen tubing hill inside the convention center. Stay indoors to toss snowballs as a hidden elf sends new batches of snow down a chute.

Past the holiday gift shop, drop into the Gingerbread Cookie Decorating workshop. The friendly staff shares tips on how to work with gooey icing, sprinkles and pre-baked gingerbread persons.

Outside, also for a fee, are bumper cards and a skating rink, with rentals available.


Gaylord National Harbor atrium filled with Christmas decorations for the Gaylord National Christmas events.
Stroll the Gaylord National Harbor atrium to admire the Christmas decorations, dining and shopping options during the Gaylord National Christmas events.

There’s plenty of resort action in addition to the Gaylord National Christmas. All ages will appreciate the resort’s heated, Jr. Olympic size pool. It overlooks a sundeck and the Potomac beyond. No need to swim, however, when you use the well-stocked fitness room or join the morning yoga class taught around the pool deck. There’s always the video game arcade for the less active in your party.

Explore boutiques, the full-service Relache spa, and plenty of restaurants. We sipped and snacked at the atrium’s sports bar, Harbor Social, while the kids explored walkways draped in garlands and lanterns. Next day, it was breakfast at the Gaylord’s District grab n’go cafe and lunch at the pop-up Taqueria.

For a special pre-Christmas holiday celebration, treat the family to the Old Hickory Steakhouse in Gaylord National. All ages will love the attentive service, excellent Wagyu strip steaks, locally caught and grilled Rockfish. Start with the extravagant cheese platter said to be a favorite of President Andrew Jackson, whose hickory walking stick gives the restaurant its name.


Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial in gingerbread at Gaylord National Harbor Resort.
Gaylord National Harbor pastry chefs create Washington DC’s top monuments, such as the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, in gingerbread.

While the centerpiece of the holiday season is definitely the spectacular ICE!, there is entertainment to gift forward for the holidays. Book in advance for these original live stage shows, scripted and designed by the Gaylord’s own events team.

At “Cirque: Spirit of Christmas,” watch high-flying gymnasts and trapeze artists enact the story of a young girl discovering the holiday spirit.

Other live shows at Gaylord National this season include “SHINE” and “The Greatest Story,” which open Nov. 25. If not this year, catch them in rotation as they move to the other four Gaylord resorts in future years.


From the National Harbor mezzanine, you can view the Capital Ferris Wheel and holiday tree made of lights.
From the National Harbor mezzanine, you can view the Capital Ferris Wheel and holiday tree made of lights.

The Gaylord hotel is just steps to the Potomac River walkway and the Capital Wheel. Soar 180 feet above the Potomac waterfront on this climate-controlled Ferris Wheel. This attraction is most beautiful as the sun sets, approximately 4pm in winter. Get your cameras ready to capture the distant Washington Monument and National Cathedral among other DC attractions.

After a revolution or two on the Capital Wheel, explore what the National Harbor development offers. Over the holidays, family-friendly activities include photo ops with the multi-million-dollar display of public art. Your kids will likely favor a salute with the lifelike US military statues guarding the commercial zone.

Be mesmerized by light projections on the towering holiday tree. That moving glow and the changing colors of the Capital Wheel by the pier frame the nightly 5:30pm fireworks show. Nightly tree lightings take place every half hour until 9pm. A real crowd pleaser, National Harbor is the place to take your holiday card family portraits.

If you’re staying a few days, take advantage of 40 restaurants, such as the healthy Mezzeh where we paused for fresh falafels and salad. Shop early for the holidays at the 160 shops, many within the bargain Tanger Outlets. Families traveling with over-21s will enjoy a stroll through MGM National Harbor. Their restaurants, casino and live concerts are very popular over the holidays. 


The Gaylord National Harbor atrium is illuminated by LED projections and more during the holiday ICE! show.
The Gaylord National Harbor atrium is illuminated by LED projections and more during the holiday ICE! show.

Splurge on a vacation stay at the Gaylord National Hotel in one of their Christmas themed suites. It’s guaranteed to put you in the festive mood.

The hotel recently invested $64 million on renovating its attractive, comfortable and spacious guestrooms. In such a large hotel, be sure to request a location near one of the elevator banks if your family has mobility challenges. Choose from large kings or a room with two queen beds, preferably facing the atrium.

Enormous atriums are a signature feature of several Gaylord resorts. You’ll be amazed how much time you spend on your balcony. Without leaving your room, for example, orient yourselves to the resort’s layout or catch glimpses of the thrilling Cirque show.

Caveat Emptor: The atrium’s glitter, festive décor and ubiquitous holiday carols are addictive. Plus, the kids may never fall asleep watching the atrium’s story-telling LED light projections.


Family portrait for Christmas card at Gaylord National Harbor Resort, Maryland.
The Gaylord National Christmas decor is ideal for taking that perfect family Christmas card portrait.

A Christmas gift for you: During the holiday season, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center resort fees include WiFi, a fresh-baked cookie from the grab ‘go market and two welcome drinks at the Harbor Social bar.

Susan Finch of Atlanta, a Gaylord Christmas veteran, shares this travel tip. “Let the holiday bustle wind down and set out for a Washington DC trip just before New Year’s.”  Susan’s family spends an extra day in DC in addition to the Gaylord Christmas events going on through Dec. 31, 2022. “Washington DC has plenty of free things to do like the Smithsonian museums, National Zoo complete with a holiday light display at nightfall, exploring the National Mall and,” she adds, “taking plenty of selfies in front of the White House.”

And the other Gaylords? The Gaylord property in Nashville, even larger, has indoor canals and gondola rides for guests. Out in the Lone Star State, the Gaylord Texan has a waterpark providing a fun reprieve from the summer heat. The Orlando resort has marinelife in its Everglades themed atrium, while in Colorado, alpine chalet and log cabins define the style.

If your family is really into the Christmas spirit, treat yourselves to all four Gaylord Resorts Christmas celebrations this year.

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