I can’t remember the first time I heard about ICE! at Gaylord Palms, but I do remember how badly I’ve always wanted to take my kids. My husband and I stayed at Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, Florida, 15 years ago. I was 8 months pregnant with our oldest daughter and I remember how speechless the inside of the hotel made me (and not many things make me speechless because your girl loves to talk). I remember 3 things from that trip… 1) the atrium 2) how high the beds seem when you’re 5’3” and 8 months pregnant and 3) the ice cream shop which let my husband in after closing, since he told them he had a very pregnant wife in the room that was having an ice cream craving. Shout out to the person that opened up for him!
Gaylord Palms left an impression on us then and we’ve often spoken about staying there again with our three daughters. This year, realizing our oldest is 14 and getting to that age where family things aren’t “as fun” as they used to be, I made the decision to make it to ICE! no matter what. My kids have never seen snow (except for my middle daughter who was just a baby and doesn’t remember it). So rather than driving to another state and hoping for snow, ICE! seemed like the next best option.
So last weekend, we surprised the girls with ICE! tickets. Now that we’ve finally experienced it, I want to share the good and the bad, as well as a few tips, in case you’re considering making the trip.
What is ICE!?
ICE! is an adventure through hand-carved sculptures and displays made from more than 2 million pounds of ice. Each year, Gaylord Palms has an all-new theme and this year, featured THE POLAR EXPRESS™.
ICE! is absolutely unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Make sure to dress for 9 degrees and don’t forget your gloves! They do provide a blue parka for every guest which will give you extra warmth, but you do still need to dress appropriately. If you’re a Floridian like us, you may find yourself excited about being able to see your own breath. It’s the little things…
What About the Cost?
ICE! can get pricey, depending on how many in your party and how many activities you buy tickets for. ICE! has an admission fee (from $14.99 child/$28.99 adult), but that’s only part of the attraction. They have at least 7 additional activities, each with an extra fee. They do offer a discounted advanced ticket option on their site. They also offer a bundle which can save you up to 40%, but again, it depends on the number of activities you sign up for.
The smallest bundle, which includes ICE!, snow tubing and the secret Santa scavenger hunt is $51.17/adult and $39.97/child (plus sales tax and processing fee). The biggest package, which includes ICE!, 7 activities, a show, pre-paid parking and a “skip the line” pass, is $112.11/adult and $103.71/child (plus sales tax and processing fee). The bundles are your best option.
How About the Extra Activities?
This year, you can choose from:
- Snow Tubing
- Secret Santa Scavenger Hunt
- Gingerbread Decorating Corner
- Santa’s Snow Throw
- Naughty or Nice Escape Room
- Sugary Sweet Storytime
- Elf Training Academy
Initially, I didn’t buy tickets for our 14 year old for the extra activities because she’s a teenager and I didn’t want to hand her the tickets in exchange for eye rolls… but she was actually the most excited about the entire experience. The look on her face and seeing her so happy and trying to take it all in, made the trip even better. She must’ve thanked us a dozen times throughout the day. ICE! is definitely fun for all ages.
If you’re going to spend money on any of the extras, I highly recommend Snow Tubing! They give you a wrist band and you can go up and down as many times as you’d like, throughout the day. It was, by far, my kids favorite part. They would have spent hours there if we allowed them to.
TIP: Bring your camera! While they do have photographers in the Snow Tubing area, if you are able to, take your own. Our kids went down a total of 6 times and the professional photographers only took 3 photos of only one of our three kids and they were all blurry. It would be awesome if they mounted stationary cameras that automatically took pictures as each person slides down. We would at least have had the opportunity to get one photo keepsake that way. Instead, I just have the couple of videos I was able to get with my phone (see our highlight video below).
The other activity we opted for was Snow Throwing. It’s $9.99 per bucket of snow balls. You receive approximately 10 and you throw them at various targets. If you hit one, suds come shooting out, like snow. I’d honestly skip it next time. They didn’t love it and it took only minutes to throw 10 snowballs each, so I wish I would have spent the money on something else.
My kids really wanted to go to the Character Breakfast with Elf on a Shelf, but it would have been over $150 for the five of us, so we took a picture at the Elf on the Shelf Photo spot. If you walk by Villa de Flor, you can catch a glimpse of them for free. I know it’s not the same, but I just couldn’t imagine paying that much for breakfast and a couple of pictures with the elves.
The one thing that was made pretty clear on all of the reviews was the long lines! Getting into ICE! reminded me of one of the popular rides at Disney. It took us almost 45 minutes to get from the front, into the actual ice exhibit. You can purchase a “chill pass” to skip the lines. Once inside, expect to be one in a giant crowd of people, hoping to get a picture without a bunch of strangers in it. Don’t let my shots fool you. I had to time them perfectly, or crop out a person or two. Toward the end, you can choose to slide down the ice slide, but be prepared to wait in another long line.
TIP: One of the staff told us that the best time to go in is right before one of the shows, as most of the people are waiting in line there instead so the lines are much shorter.
Another activity we really wanted to do was the Naughty or Nice Escape Room. Again, it was $16.99 per person, so we chose to skip it. Instead, we bought a $20 card for the arcade and the kids seemed happy with that. Unfortunately, most of the games were out of order. Of course, my kids still made the best out of it and had a blast.
We also didn’t get a chance to see any of the complimentary shows. They do have the option to pre-purchase guaranteed seats, but we chose to forego that option and hoped the lines would be reasonable enough to wait. Unfortunately, the lines were way too long, so we skipped them.
TIP: If you really want to see the shows, but don’t want to pay for guaranteed seats, make sure to arrive at least an hour early.
Should We Stay at Gaylord Palms?
Gaylord Palms was honestly even more beautiful than I remember. A lot has changed in the last 15 years and being there just before Christmas allowed us to enjoy their incredible holiday décor. Everywhere you look there are lights and different themed Christmas trees. They have so many holiday photo opp spots including an Elf on the Shelf box, an ornament, a gift and a snowmen chair.
The staff was so welcoming and helpful. We arrived at around 11am (5 hours before check-in) and they had a room ready for us. It’s rare to find a hotel that allows you to check in that early and after our 3 hour road trip, we were so grateful. Our reserved room had a construction and parking lot view and they were so accommodating, moving us to a room with an incredible atrium view, for an upgrade charge (totally worth every penny).
TIP: If you are able to, pay for the atrium view. There is nothing like it. We loved being able to sit on our balcony and see everything. There was a light show throughout the early evening that we could see from our room.
The water slide area is AMAZING. My kids couldn’t get enough! Only disappointing part was the our 7 year old isn’t tall enough for the big slides, but if she’s anything like her sisters, she’ll be tall enough during our next trip! They have a splash zone, a family pool and an adult only pool for those of you that want to relax and soak up the Florida sun without the kids running around. They also have the FlowRider, a surfing machine, though there is an extra fee.
Be prepared to spend lots of money on food. They have a number of dine in restaurants as well as room service, all on the pricier side. Even the fast, smaller spots are pricey… delicious, but pricey.
TIP: There is a refrigerator in each room. If you can, bring some food with you, or consider picking up food at an outside restaurant, to save some money.
So if you’re wondering if it was worth the money, I’d say yes. Just pick and choose what you think your family would enjoy the most. Also, if you are able to, turn it into a mini-vacation and stay at the hotel, even if just for one night. The hotel really offers so many great family-friendly activities. We had a fun packed 24 hours that our family will remember for years to come.
I’ve put together a highlight video of our trip to ICE! and our stay at Gaylord Palms. You can watch it here:
Learn more about the making of ICE! by visiting www.ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com. If you’re planning to attend this year, make sure to hurry. ICE! is only around until January 5, 2020. If you can’t make it this year, make sure to check it out next year! And don’t forget to check out all of our fun family travels!
*We received complimentary tickets to ICE! in exchange for our review. All opinions are my own.