Nine Degrees of Winter Fun
Guest Post by Kimberly Button
Strolling under the watchful eye of a gigantic frozen hippo, I thought for sure that I was suffering from frost bite. A half hour later, I was contemplating my risk for sunburn and questioning the probability of tan lines as I floated in the pool. Who says that Florida doesn’t have seasons?
The yin and yang of winter and summer can be found simultaneously at perhaps the coolest place (quite literally) in Florida, the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. This year marks the 10th anniversary of ICE! at Gaylord Palms, an arctic winter celebration that gives Floridians just a taste of what a 9-degree winter play land is like, without the commitment of actually having to live in it.
ICE! at Gaylord Palms is just one part of the Christmas at Gaylord Palms celebration which runs until January 1, 2013. Two million twinkling lights, three different stage shows, a 54-foot Christmas tree, character meet and greets and themed dining all create a festive atmosphere throughout the central Florida property every day.
The biggest attraction by far, though, is ICE! Two million pounds of ice are delivered to the resort when most people still have yet to decide on a Halloween costume. Then 40 expert ice carvers arrive from Harbin, China to begin chiseling and shaping the 20,000 square foot display. Shipped in 14 shades of colors created from food-safe dyes and even milk, the 400 pound blocks soon resemble familiar images of Christmas.
Why Chinese ice sculptors? Turns out that ice carving is a major industry in northeast China, where the brutal winds blowing in from Siberia create perfect conditions for the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival every January. Before these artisans start carving at one of the top four biggest ice and snow festivals in the world, they bring their talents to central Florida.
Each year, ICE! at Gaylord Palms features a different theme. In 2012, it’s Merry Madagascar, based on the DreamWorks’ Animation TV classic. Never seen the movie? It doesn’t matter. A 70,000 square foot pre-show experience offers a primer with character meet and greets, gingerbread decorating, and even videos on ice carving through the ages.
“This year, we’re really delving into what this story is all about before guests even enter the attraction,” said Aaron Mendelson, Director of Special Events at Gaylord Palms.
Good thing because I, somewhat apologetically, have never seen a DreamWorks film. Before I entered into the frozen land of penguins, lemurs and a Santa with amnesia, though, I donned a long, hooded parka which Gaylord Palms loans to guests at no charge. A welcome gesture for those of us who haven’t owned a winter coat in years.
Admiring rooms full of the frozen sculptures is great fun, and leads to Facebook-worthy photo ops, but at some point you have got to get your blood moving again just to stay warm. Nine degrees, after all, is really, really cold.
That’s where the two story ice slides come in handy. The frozen ride down a slippery slope amidst colorful icons of the Eiffel Tower and Russia’s St. Basil’s Cathedral at least gets some blood returning to your outer extremities.
No matter what the theme is each year, the grand finale room of ICE! at Gaylord Palms is always a stunning nativity scene. This year, one of the tallest angels in the attraction’s history overlooks Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and a gathering of shepherds and livestock all fashioned from stunningly crystal clear ice shimmering under the lights.
My blood has clearly thinned out in the years since I lived up North, so I need to leave the frosty retreat for something more tropical. Part of the beauty of a Florida Christmas is the chance to hang out by the pool all season long. I took advantage of the Gaylord Palms’ recent $50 million renovation which added an adults-only South Beach Pool and adjacent SandBar, as well as a family friendly Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park, Wreckers Sports Bar and updated guest rooms.
Lounging in a deck chair by the palm-lined pool, my only encounter with ice was the condensation coating the glass of my frozen daiquiri. I contemplated which type of holiday getaway I like more – one with snow and colder temperatures for a traditional Christmas feel or one where shorts and flip-flops are the wardrobe of choice. I stopped my needless pondering as I realized that here in central Florida, I didn’t have to choose.
Information: www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-palms/ (407) 586-0000
Kimberly Button, a freelance journalist in Orlando, is the author of the Fun For Disney World Lines app and Orlando Green Travel app. Visit www.kimbutton.com for more information.