The Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee has once again turned its massive convention center space over to Ice, its annual winter wonder you can walk through to marvel at 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures.
This year features a Nutcracker theme, with carved ballerinas and brightly colored characters courtesy of dye inserted into the ice before sculpting. There are also ice slides in one section and even live demonstrations of ice carving by Chinese artisans. New this year is an Alpine Rush snow tubing attraction (extra $17 charge), where you slide down an 18-foot, eight-lane hill. And for adults is the On the Blocks Ice Bar (extra $15.96, includes souvenir cup and drink), where you can pop in for a drink on a bar stool made of ice.
The snow tubing area is massive, with sturdy inner tubes with a center panel that keeps your bottom from getting wet. Each ticket gets you 10 rides, which is likely plenty since hauling that big inner tube up the stairs and then flying down the chute (or in my case bouncing off the sides like a pinball machine all way down) can be exhausting.
This event can add up: $14.99-$28.99 depending on the day, for just the event with no add-ons like tubing or the ice bar. Plus, there's the $18 charge to park at the resort. (Tip: You can get that parking fee waived if you eat at one of the resorts' four restaurants and validate your parking pass.)
Try to make at least half a day of it by taking time to walk around the resort's gardens sprinkled with more than 2 million twinkling lights, holiday displays and its famous 54-foot Christmas tree. It's a great setting for pictures.
You can also catch a free pop Christmas show called Luminescence, held every night (except Dec. 8) at 6:45 and 8:45 p.m. It has singing and cirque-like aerial choreography. The band and singers are quite good, but it somehow feels wrong to watch a contortionist writhe overhead in a high-cut leotard while the band sings Oh Holy Night.
Still, the Luminescence show is a good one, making Ice a good place for a multi-generational day out with kids and grandparents. For really young kids, keep in mind there aren't too many interactive play areas other than the ice slides inside the sculpture area, plus parents were having to police their kids from the temptation to lick the ice.
Bring gloves: It's only 9 degrees inside, but the resort gives you heavy parkas. The parkas are warm, but they don't have pockets, and anything exposed gets painfully cold by the 30-minute mark. Bring gloves, a scarf and wear warm socks.
Charge your phone: The cold drains your battery, so make sure it's fully charged and try to keep it warm in your pocket.
Leave your purse: Stow it in the car if possible or use a backpack. We found ourselves constantly policing purses when playing on the ice slide or having to move them out of the way for pictures when really all we needed was a camera in our pockets.
Shop for the best price: There are lots of add-ons and packages, like cookies and hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus, so think hard about your group's needs and take advantage of savings by buying online and using a Florida resident discount on Ice tickets using promo code FLR14. Marriott members can also save on select days.
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. Last holiday season Gaylord Palms had more than 200,000 visitors, but Dec. 13 drew 11,000 people in one day. Try to go in the early weeks of December.
It's really cold: That's a big "duh," we know, but consider even the workers there are moved out after 30 minutes to warm up. Lingering can be painful. If you decide you want to speed it up before you get too cold, alert the rest of your party you are moving on because once everyone has a blue parka on, it's hard to tell people apart.