You can chill out at Ice!, the frosty feature of 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures opening Tuesday at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. This year the chilly walk-through marvel features a theme based on Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Since temperatures are kept at a wintry 9 degrees, visitors are given parkas and see six individual rooms depicting the story of Ma in her kerchief and Pa in his cap, and you can see the Chinese artisans at work in a live ice carving zone.
There are also four ice slides contained within the event and an Alpine Rush snow tubing attraction for an extra charge where you slide down an 18-foot, eight-lane hill on a tube. And for adults, the On the Blocks Ice Bar ($15.95 upgrade) is where you can pop in for specialty drinks on bar stools made of ice.
The final room is the stunningly beautiful Nativity scene carved from crystal clear ice.
It's all done by artisans from Harbin city in northeast China, known as the "Ice City" in a chilly province near Siberia where it stays below freezing for almost half the year.
They work in three kinds of ice. There's clear "crystal" ice made using highly filtered de-ionized water that is frozen slowly to create ice so flawless it is often compared to Waterford crystal.
The white ice is similar to the stuff in your freezer at home and is invaluable when carving a snowman.
And the special colored ice that has given Ice! shows their signature look for more than a decade are like giant popsicle sticks dyed with simple food coloring — though the not-so-simple process of making it involves stirring the water constantly as it freezes to ensure a consistent color throughout the block.
Bring gloves and scarves: It's a polar 9 degrees inside, and even though the resort gives you very comfy heavy parkas, anything exposed will be freezing by the 30-minute mark and the parkas don't have pockets.
Charge your phone: The cold drains your battery, so try to keep it warm in your pocket and know that your battery life will drop to sub-zero in no time.
Use a backpack: If you can, leave your purse behind or put your stuff in a backpack so you are free to play on the ice slides or pose for pictures.
Keep track of your group: Once everyone has a blue parka on, it's hard to tell people apart. If you decide you want to speed it up before you get too cold, alert the rest of your party you are moving on.
Consider staying over: This becomes an attractive option when you consider you really can't stay in there more than 30 minutes before the cold gets unbearable. Hotel guests can get unlimited access. The hotel also has Cirque Dreams UnWrapped, a free live stage show, character breakfasts and other Christmas features. The hotel's rates start at $151 if you book early and off peak hours. Otherwise, try to allow at least half a day for the visit by taking time to walk around the resort's beautifully decorated gardens and holiday displays. It's a great setting for family pictures.
Pick your day carefully: Take note of when nearby schools are out of session. The crowds really balloon after the public schools get out for winter break. The early weeks of December tend to be the least busy.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] or (727) 893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.