You Better Move It - Move It to National Harbor!
Christmas on the Potomac at the Gaylord National
by Our Kids
November 29, 2011
Welcome to DreamWorks' Merry Madagascar
This year ICE! features DreamWorks' Merry Madagascar, a winter wonderland made from two million pounds of ice, carved by 40 ice sculptors over 40 cold days. The artisans come to National Harbor from Harbin, China, world-famous for the annual Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival.
The temperature inside the big white dome is a nippy 9°, so before entering ICE! you'll be fitted with a warm blue parka. Parkas are available for most ages and even the youngest visitors will enjoy a trip through this magical display. But be prepared! Make sure you wear pants, sensible closed-toe shoes and also bring gloves and a hat. For the littlest kids, make sure you bring warm coats for them as the parkas really will be overwhelming.
Now enter the chilly but dazzling world of Merry Madagascar, based on the DreamWorks Animation 2009 holiday TV special. If you're not familiar with the storyline, here's a quick synopsis. Santa and his reindeer have crash landed on the island of Madagascar. Because of the crash, Santa doesn't know where he is and what he's supposed to be doing. So, it's up to loveable Alex, Gloria, Melman, Marty and those crazy penguins to help save Christmas. Kids will love seeing the characters up close in many beautiful, colorful ice sculptures. There are sculptures of penguins and the reindeer having a showdown and kids will get a kick out of King Julien and the lemurs dancing!
The middle of the pavilion is home to an Our Kids favorite -- the two-story ice slides. There are five slides in total and the Our Kids interns stayed for so long their behinds hurt. Be sure to remind your children of the clearly stated rules; it'll help them stay safe.
The final Merry Madagascar tableau features the characters back on the island, opening presents and happy to have helped save Christmas. On the way out is a pretty display of traditional Christmas scenes of the Nativity and a grand angel celebrating the "True Meaning of Christmas." In years past, once you exit ICE!, you are taken directly into the gift shop. Not this year! You have other options:
- Grab a Snack. After exiting ICE! and returning your parka, you can grab a cup of hot chocolate or some delicious roasted nuts, both for an extra fee.
- Go Ice Skating. Like last year, there is an ice skating rink that kids and adults were enjoying. Warning: when we were there, the ice was bumpy and I was told they clean the ice; but to be honest it looked like it was never touched by a Zamboni. Skating will set you back $12/person (non-resort guests) or $10/person if you are staying at the resort. Be sure to wear or bring appropriate socks.
- Take a Ride on the Potomac Express. Younger kids will enjoy riding the train. All riders 36" tall and under require an adult to accompany them. Adults ride free with a child under 36", otherwise everyone must have a ticket. A ticket is $2 or you can purchase three tickets for $5.
- Shop the Gift Shop. Plenty of ornaments, holiday decor, plush animals and character merchandise from the various DreamWorks movies.
Hours of Operation & Admission
ICE! is open daily from November 18, 2011 to January 8, 2012. Hours vary, so check the website to get specifics.
Admission prices admittedly are a bit steep at $25 to $35 for adults and $20 to $30 for a child. If you're looking for a local unique experience, then we say make plans to include this in your family budget. There are discounts for seniors and military, kids under 3 are free. You can also get a little discount on regular priced adult and child tickets as a Member of Our Kids. Walk-up tickets are available, but online ticket purchase is highly recommended.
Monday to Thursday
Friday to Sunday all day
|Adults (13 & up)||$25.00*||$35.00|
|Kids (4 to 12)||$20.00||$30.00|
|Kids (0 to 3)||Free||Free|
|Military Adults (13+) Available only at the box office. Not available online.||$22.00||$32.00|
|Military Kids (4 to 12) Available only at the box office. Not available online.||$17.00||$27.00|
|VIP Pass||For an extra $15 per ticket, you can add a VIP option to your ICE! ticket, which allows you to bypass the general admission line to enter ICE! You'll also snag one cup of hot chocolate and a chance to meet the infamous Penguins of Madagascar.|
|Parking||Our Kids continues to assert that parking fees at the National Harbor are over the top. But, if you're there for ICE!, purchase a $10 parking voucher ahead of time. For all your options, visit the Gaylord National website or the National Harbor website. Parking is cheaper at the various garages throughout the complex (vs. parking at the Gaylord National) but it does add up quickly.|
|Getting There||Before you head to National Harbor, take a good look at the map if you aren't a regular on the new Wilson Bridge. If you're coming from Northern Virginia traffic lanes are divided into Thru (which you do not want) and Local (which you do) sections that can surprise you. You can find detailed directions from various points through the DC metro region on the Christmas on the Potomac website.
The OK Transportation Coordinator gives National Harbor "needs improvement" scores for offering few non-car options like biking or mass transit. Since cars are the only realistic way to get there, parking anywhere at National Harbor is pricey. There is a newly opened 1.1 mile pedestrian path on the Woodrow Wilson bridge which connects the Mount Vernon Trail to National Harbor; but with kids in tow, this is probably not a feasible option. On a brighter note, though, there is also a water taxi from Old Town. $16 round-trip for adults; $10 round-trip for children ages 2 to 11.
Military discount not valid on Saturdays and Military I.D. must be presented.
The DreamWorks Experience at Gaylord National
Fun times at the ShrekFeast
Rooms are spacious and clean and if you get a room facing the atrium, you can sit on your balcony and enjoy the magnificent views inside the hotel as well as the gorgeous views of Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, DC. If you have an elevator lover, the glass enclosed elevators will allow you to catch some amazing views as well. Fun fact: "The atrium trusses, which stretch from one side of the hotel to the other, weigh 50 tons each. Together, they total 1,200 tons or 2.4 million pounds. To put that weight into perspective, it would take 45 space shuttle missions to launch these atrium trusses into the Earth's orbit, which would be more than one third of the 117 total space shuttle launches to date."
Perks of the DreamWorks Experience include:
- Tickets to ICE!. As a resort guest you can enter one hour earlier than the general public.
- DreamWorks Character Passport. If you love DreamWorks characters, this is a must-do. Kids can have their photo taken with characters from Madagascar, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda and Shrek. There are photographers all over the place taking pictures who will give you little cards with numbers to purchase said pictures if you choose. However, what's really neat is that you can take your own pictures and save a few bucks!
- ShrekFeast. Head to the Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine restaurant in the morning for breakfast with Shrek and friends. This was a highlight for the OK interns. Yes, they are 11 and 9; but the delight in their eyes at seeing Puss in Boots, Princess Fiona and Shrek was beyond words. The staff got into the Ogre spirit from the greeting the hostess gave to the pouring of our "Swampjuice" by our server. Take the Ogre oath and you'll get a cute ogre ear headband.
- Puss in Boots & the Quest for the Magic Beans. A scavenger hunt suitable for all ages will take you around the resort in a quest to find the answers to about 15 questions. Turn in your completed hunt for a small prize.
- Gingy's Gingerbread Decorating. Not part of the above package, but something you can add on is a chance to choose from two different options and make a yummy gingerbread masterpiece and meet Gingy. Prices start at $29.95 plus tax for a gingerbread cookie family kit and go up from there. DreamWorks Experience participants can add this perk on for a discounted rate of $19.95 and up. Open daily from noon to 9pm.
- UPDATE (12/7/11): "Gaylord National Resort is pleased to announce that everyone, no matter if they are a daytime visitor or overnight hotel guest, can take part in meeting the lovable DreamWorks Characters from the Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and Puss in Boots movies. Previously only available to overnight hotel guests, the DreamWorks Character Passport is now open to daytime visitors, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy this fun, new experience." Cost is $35/person ages 4 and up.
While at the resort, plan to catch the Tree Lighting Ceremony, every evening at 6:30pm in the atrium. Where else can you find the world's only suspended, 7,000lbs synthetic glass tree? This event is open to the public, so even if you don't stay at the Gaylord National, you should really try to make this activity fit into your agenda. Our Kids tip: get there early and snag a seat in front of the fountain. Not only will acoustics be better, but kids will get up close and personal with the DreamWorks characters and see the beautiful fountain come to life.
The 6:30pm light show
- Brunch with Santa take place on weekends from November 26 to December 24, 2011. Seatings are between 11:30am & 2:30pm. Tickets are $55 per adult and $27.50 for ages 4 to 12 (includes tax and gratuity). It is highly recommended that you make advance reservations.
- Brightest Star Fountain Show takes place nightly at 9:30pm. Choreographed water will dance to music and lights as the Christmas story is narrated.
- Northern Lights. Every evening from 6pm to midnight look up and be amazed by the 150-foot tall light curtains hanging from the atrium. Take a ride on the glass elevators to be mesmerized by this display.
- You can also take advantage of some of the other amenities at the resort. They have an indoor/outdoor pool (which was unfortunately undergoing maintenance at the time of our visit) and a family arcade called The Potomac Playzone. Surprise your spouse with a treatment at the Relache Spa or get some exercise at the 24-hour fitness center.
Other Activities in National Harbor
In addition to ICE!, National Harbor is celebrating its fourth annual Christmas on the Potomac. Check out their Harbor Holidays guide for full details. Some activities include:
- Friday Night Family Fun & Fireworks will take place on Fridays in December leading up to Christmas from 6 to 9pm. Enjoy strolling entertainment, open houses at participating businesses, discounts, specials and fireworks at 7pm.
- Holiday Market is a way to purchase unique, beautiful holiday ornaments/decorations. Open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6pm until December 18, 2011.
- Waterskiing Santa is an annual tradition not to be missed on Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 1pm sharp. The event happens rain, snow or shine. Don't miss the flying elves, the jet-skiing Grinch, Frosty the Snowman and Santa!
Overall, the holiday season at Gaylord National offers a lot to choose from. You can go the free route and take in the displays at the Gaylord and around National Harbor or you can splurge and go for the total ICE!/DreamWorks Experience. Either way, Our Kids suggests you consider making this one of your family's holiday traditions.
Our Kids Reader Comments
- "After receiving the tickets and reviewing the National Harbor and Gaylord Hotel websites, we decided to make it a two-day Thanksgiving treat. The Gaylord Dreamworks Package was already sold out for Thanksgiving night (we only started to look for a reservation two days before Thanksgiving) so we stayed across the street at the Hampton Inn (very reasonably priced and convenient to everything). We went to the ICE! show on Thanksgiving day and it was wonderful - easy access, no lines, lots of staff to help us put on the blue coats (yes, it's cold, but I had read various reviews so I knew to bring hats, gloves, and to dress warmly), and our kids (4 and 5 years old) really enjoyed the ice slide. Our Thanksgiving dinner was at McCormick and Schmicks, we enjoyed a great view of the Potomac river while eating turkey and apple pie. Next was the 6:30pm tree lighting and light show in the Gaylord Hotel Atrium. The kids liked the dancing fountain and having a chance to say get close to the characters and have the characters wave hi. They also really enjoyed catching the fake snow (it looked like bubbles to me). I was impressed with the Gaylord Hotel, besides being beautifully decorated for the holidays, it also has a very relaxing, joyous atmosphere. All of the staff were smiling and courteous - and there were plenty of staff available to answer questions.
On Friday, we booked tickets for the Gingerbread Decorating at Gingy's in the Gaylord hotel. This is the event my kids keep talking about. We bought the Gingerbread Family kit and it contained everything we needed to decorate the family, including the cat and dog shaped cookies. They LOVE Gingy and beamed with excitement when they had the chance to personally show Gingy their decorated cookies and get a high five. Did I mention they are still talking about Gingy? After lunch at Baja Fresh, we stopped by the National Children's Museum Launch Zone, made a Christmas craft, colored snowflakes, and enjoyed some other quiet activities. The museum will open in 2013, however, the storefront location is still a great place to bring younger kids for a while to have some quiet, thinking play time. On Friday evening, we gathered with the crowd at the Waterfront Awakening Park for the music show, Christmas tree lighting, and fireworks. It was a perfect event for us- not too crowded so there was lots of room to sit or stand and I wasn't fearful of losing the kids, the Christmas tree has various flashing lights so it is interesting to see it light up (it's more than just a simple switch with lights coming on), and the fireworks were great for the event. We were lucky because the mild weather made it perfect to be outside. The surprise for me and a real treat for the kids was the Peep store - I had no idea there were so many Peep options and trinkets, but we now have blue peeps, pink peeps, AND a Peep stuffed animal in our house.
I read complaints about the parking being expensive, but I thought the $11 parking per day was very reasonable (it was added to our hotel bill). Maybe it's because during the year we attend several events in Washington and parking in the district (or a metro ride) is about the same price, so it didn't seem outrageous.
It was our first visit to National Harbor and I think we have just discovered a hidden treasure. I was really impressed with the National Harbor events and the Gaylord Hotel. Next year, I'll save more money and plan better so we can stay at the Gaylord, try to win tickets again, and keep my fingers crossed that it will be mild weather again!
Thank you again for the opportunity to win the tickets - we took full advantage of the ICE tickets and enjoyed a fantastic Thanksgiving at National Harbor." - Comment from the Our Kids member who won a family four-pack of tickets to ICE!
Have you been to ICE! or any of the events at Christmas on the Potomac? What's your opinion? Just drop us a note and Our Kids will add your comments to this review.