A fixture in the Christmas entertainment market for several years now, ICE at Gaylord Palms (located just barely off-property right next to Disney World) is always something of a spectacle. In its earliest years, it offered hand-carved ice sculptures that recalled generic Christmas iconography: a train, gingerbread houses, candy canes, and snowmen. More recently, it’s gone in the direction of known intellectual property–a recent example was the Shrek overlay. This year’s theme of Charlie Brown is new for them, and it’s a tremendous fit. It may be my favorite ICE yet.
Let’s talk about the process first. ICE is not shy to explain how it’s created. Artists from Harbin, China are flown in many months early, and spend a long time carving (sometimes with chainsaws) large blocks of ice in a facility kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit (pretty far below freezing! They don’t want to risk a melt). Each year there is about two million pounds of ice needed for the display!
Some of the ice is colored with food coloring, and much of the artistry on display is how those colored chunks come together into the ultimate ice sculpture. My personal preference is simplicity: colored chunks integrated with others (as opposed to, say, introducing many non-ice external props, which they did with the Shrek exhibit). This year they did great in terms of keeping it simple.
There’s always been a set of slides in the middle of ICE, and you shouldn’t pass up the chance to go on them. It feels somehow like an old-fashioned activity, like from a bygone era. Which, by the way, also makes the Peanuts theme a great fit.
The story is overall one of Charlie Brown learning the true meaning of Christmas. You may or may not remember the plot from the animated made-for-TV movie on this same theme, and you may or may not pick up on the same plot at this “look but don’t touch” experience. Even if you don’t, you’ll have a great time looking at all exhibits and displays.
You’ll also get a chance to see the Harbin artists at work, building and repairing things.
Each year there is also a nativity scene (one assumes the Gaylord operators have a Christian connection); this year it comes last. This is the one scene that is essentially the same each year, and is just created anew each time.
ICE costs $29/adult, but there’s more in the hotel. First, there’s a stage show (new this year) that has gymnastics and a cirque-du-soleil type of appeal.
After the ICE experience is shopping, Build-a-Bear, cookie decorating, and even meet and greets with the characters.
For a separate fee (actually a combined price of $46/adult), you can have access to the snow tubing area. Here you can go down snow slides on tubes (presumably, for the price you can do it over and over and over again). My attendant asked if I wanted to be spun as I was launched, and it added even more fun.
There’s also a snowball-throwing facility here. Think shooting gallery but with snowballs, and if you hit it just right, you can trigger the snow effect.
Overall, the Gaylord Palms continues and expands its reputation as one of the major players in the Christmas experience market in Orlando. The overall experience is admittedly not bargain-priced (caveat: we were comped as media), but there are many families for whom this sort of activity is exotic and exciting enough that it’s worth it for them.