sign on the outside
Standing in the dark, cavernous space I refused to allow negative thoughts to impact my hopes for the show ahead. Last night--not wanting to spend my snow day stuck in the house--I had impulsively bought a ticket to the 10 AM showing of ICE, an exhibit created by Chinese artisans. After spending Sunday afternoon digging my car out, I had left early to ensure an on-time arrival. Carefully navigating my way through the still snowy neighborhood, I was grateful to make it to a main road that had been cleared by snowplows. The drive went fairly smoothly, and even going below the speed limit, I arrived at the National Harbor with time to spare. I parked and walked over to the ICE attraction.
However, once inside, I discovered that they were experiencing power issues. So I waited with other visitors as the workers hunted out the problem. The tone of the computers as they booted up was the first optimistic sign; I was the third person to pick up my tickets and pay for parking ($10 for the whole day since I was attending ICE!). I then joined the actual line to get into the exhibit and we waited in the dimness, only a few lighted Christmas trees showing that some of the power was working. A little after 10:00 we heard a burst of music swell and the lights turned on, a beginning that received a few cheers from the waiting visitors.
Because I was attending the first show of the day, I was in the first dozen to enter ICE which made viewing the amazing sculptures very easy! Apparently, the crowds can get quite large later in the day since we passed right through a holding area, the lines marked out with ropes.
Before entering the actual exhibition though, we all had one very important stop: the parka station. Here, we were each handed a long blue coat complete with hood. I'm not sure how well the parkas fit the littlest guests such as the toddler with the bear hat in the family behind me. Another visitor pointed out that we were all going to look alike but once inside the actual exhibit, we were all appreciative for the extra warmth. In order to keep the ice sculptures pristine, we were entering a very chilly winter wonderland with a temperature of 9 degrees Farenheit.
I was absolutely astonished by the icy creations awaiting us. The entrance reminded visitors where we were: the nation's capital. Opaque white monuments surrounded a frozen blue entrance sign (ICE!).
the frolicking polar bear
Ducking under a holly archway decorated with shiny ornaments, I stepped into the first major scene. Wildlife frolicked in a starry land. A polar bear cub nuzzled its mother while a stag stood watch nearby. His doe and fawn relaxed by a frozen lake hidden behind a bridge as graceful swans swam by. In front of the bridge the tone turned whimsical with polar bears rolling on the ice and one fishing with a pole in paw. The opposite side of the room moved from the wilderness to a Victorian living room. Two young lovers puckered beneath the mistletoe while the family cat watched from its perch on a piano stool. A nearby table held cookies (but no milk!) for Santa. The green Christmas tree created contrast with the clear people and animals in the scene (in addition to the two lovers and the cat, there were two young children each holding a beloved toy and a dog on a cushion).
A grandfather clock, fireplace with red stockings, piano with sheet music, and a staircase furnished the room. Green boughs with cheery red bows decorated the walls. A sleigh pulled by a faithful steed (even with a Christmas wreath around his neck) provided a great photo op for families before heading into the next scene.
I paused at this pass-through since a film crew was set up just inside the entrance. A friendly employee told us to just go on through though, so a little cautiously I stepped in for a closer look. A group of penguins--done in blue rather than black to stand out better--greeted us, visitors to the North Pole. They seemed to be dancing (perhaps to keep warm? I was definitely beginning to notice the cold despite two pairs of gloves).
the stairs up to the slides
The path led to an igloo made of clear ice. Inside three more penguins tippy-tapped to their own beat. They were so cute with their big eyes, scarves, and stocking hats.
A tunnel covered in little white lights led to a large room. I smiled when I entered; this was the slide room. A wide staircase led upwards. I paused to read the rules and hesitated at the line about "all loose articles must be left with a non-rider in the party." I was a party of one, I had no non-riders. I glanced towards one of the attendants and wondered if I could ask her to watch my purse for the thirty seconds it would take for me to climb to the top and slide down the icy tube. Then I saw a mom get up from the bottom of the slide, her purse in her hands.
Reassured, I headed upwards to the shorter slide. The attendant asked if I was only going on the short slide and I replied at first. I carefully tucked my parka under my bottom and pushed forward. I haven't gone down a slide lately but this was one of the smoothest rides ever! I quickly bounced up and hurried to the top of the steps for a second run, this time from the higher slide. Settling in again, I noticed the nametag of this attendant also stated "South Africa" as his origin. Rushing down, I enjoyed the speed even with a slight bump into the right wall towards the bottom. Following snowflakes formed by lights shining on the floor, I walked towards another passage, this one lined with colorful candy and stars.
elf at work
Now I was in Santa's workshop. Looking back towards the passage, I realized that I could see people preparing to go down the slide in the previous room. The film crew was in this room again so I summoned the courage to ask their attendant what was being filmed. I thought maybe it was promotional footage for the Gaylord Resort which sponsored the event. To my surprise, the crew was actually a news crew for a Ukrainian station. This interesting information continued as she told me that at 11 and Indonesian crew would be in the complex. I looked around then. Blue elves built gifts for children. Toys appeared in triplicate, two formed from ice and one of regular materials. A huge teddy bear filled a corner.
Santa himself stood tall next to some presents.
I stepped alone into the next room and was immediately grateful for the solitude. Pairs of candelabars stood on either side of the room. A stained glass window reflected onto the floor. Another pair of candelabras flanked the main ice sculpture of the space, a beautiful angel. Serenity reigned on her face, a hand reached out. My joy at this true sign of Christmas only grew as I stepped around the corner. A life-size Nativity stood before me. On the right the Wise Men and a camel paid respect to the newborn King. On the left the shepherds with their animals approached the Holy family. Mary and Joseph serenly waited in the center, a manger holding the baby Jesus.
In all the craziness surrounding Christmas preparations, I loved how ICE provided the time to step back and think about the true reason for the celebration. I lingered here for a few moments and then returned to warmth.
I put my parka on the return table and then spent several minutes perusing the gift shop at the exit. My fingers were less than happy with me, and I had no desire to return to the cold quite yet. While I liked looking at the ornaments and other items for sale, I had no desire to pay their prices. Stepping back outside, I almost laughed when I realized that the air felt much warmer now that I had braved the cold of ICE although out here I now had wind to chill me.
I then tried to visit the Christmas displays in the Gaylord but an emergency alarm going off in the lobby made me head back out to explore the National Harbor.
Since it was before 11 and we had experienced two feet of snow over the weekend, a number of the stores were not yet open. I browsed a little (the Peeps store was fun!) and peeked at the Awakening
. I would advise that giant to just stay under his heavy of blanket of snow for now. The Christmas tree on the marina was huge and beautiful. I slipped into Potbelly for lunch (the near freezing temperatures swayed me from Ben and Jerry's...). It was definitely not crowded, no surprise really considering how few people I had seen in general. My cheddar broccoli soup warmed me up nicely. After lunch I carefully made my way back up the icy sidewalk to the Gaylord.
Through the revolving door and down the wide hallway, I found myself in the atrium.
looking down into the atrium
The atrium is a huge space, stretching up at least ten stories, one whole wall and the ceiling all glass. As I stood on the second level looking down on the floor, I was immediately struck by a feeling of a Christmas village surrounded by lush vegetation. I took a few snapshots and then hurried down the escalator since I could hear music starting, the signal for the fountain show even though according to my cell phone we were still a minute or two off of the hour. As the water splashed up in harmony with the seasonal music, I was reminded of the fountain shows I had seen in Disney world. After the show, I wandered into the two shops set up in little houses that evoked a colonial style (one sold sleepwear, the other Americana memorabilia).
I also got my free cookie from the Java coffee shop (thanks to a coupon passed out at the end of ICE). I paused to admire the hanging Christmas tree in the front of the atrium. The glass tree was shaped from huge holly leaves, 108 leaves in total, 110 red berries adding contrasting color. Taking over 2000 hours to create, the tree provided a focal point for holiday visitors to the atrium. I also stopped by the little train exhibit and noticed the first of the large Peeps hidden around the atrium; this yellow bird was perched in the leafy arbor.
On my way out, I cut through registration and happened to glance up; another Peep hung here, upside down over my head. I smiled, took a photo, and continued back to my car.
upside down Peep