Christmas on the Potomac

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Imagine 2 million twinkling lights, dancing fountains and indoor snowfalls. Imagine walking by lifesize, hand-carved ice sculptures and sliding down a two-story ice slide.

Where are you? You are celebrating the Christmas season in style during the Christmas on the Potomac celebration, just outside of Washington, D.C.

The sixth annual Christmas on the Potomac comes to life at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center for 52 days – from Nov. 15 through Jan. 5.

The resort, a Marriott holding, decorates its exterior, atrium and lobby areas with those millions of twinkling lights. It uses LED lights because of its commitment to the environment.

In the atrium, a 60-foot tall Christmas tree suspends from the ceiling of the 19-story space. It features glass ornaments that sparkle with colors like a stained-glass window.

A free nightly water fountain show thrills the audience as the water dances to musical selections. And even though the atrium’s temperature is a comfortable 72 degrees, it may start to snow. Yes, twice nightly, real snow flurries drop from the roof.

More thrills include:

ICE! featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – This attraction is the work of a team of 40 ice artisans from China. After a month-long work schedule of ice carving in a 9-degree freezer tent, giant ice-sculptures – some 20 feet high – will emerge in the 15,000-square-foot tent erected outside the atrium on the lawn between it and the Potomac River.

“Each year, we bring 40 carvers from Harbin, China, to share their centuries-old art form through our attraction. Getting to see the carvers work on creating these giant-size ice sculptures is mesmerizing. They truly bring the images we have on paper to life,” said Julie Norris, overseer of all the Christmas activities and attractions as the director of special events and entertainment.

Visitors can walk into the chilly freezer tent, which is attached to the atrium, and pass those ice sculpture figures, which depict the characters from the story, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Walk the carpeted pathway past “Ma in her kerchief and Pa in his cap” and see how the story comes alive with the oversized sculptures and all that ice, more than two million pounds. Keep on walking as Saint Nick and his eight reindeer come into sight.

Presented by Pepsi, this attraction requires 36 truckloads of large, 400-pound blocks of ice transported from ice factory to pallets to refrigerated tractor-trailers to forklifts to an onsite freezer.

“The guests that come to ICE! love it,” Norris said. “Kids are always in awe of how large the sculptures are and can’t wait to get on our 20-foot ice slides. Parents, too, are equally impressed by the detailed creations made by our ice carvers.”

But the ice slides are not for the faint of heart. Riders must be over 4 years of age, able to walk up steep stairs, love the cold and not be afraid of heights. There also is a children’s slide for the very young.

Ending the ICE! show is a Christmas in New York City display featuring the sounds and sights of the city at holiday time. Iconic visuals such as the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Center are included.

Christmassy DreamWorks Experience

Wandering through the hotel, you may come across some unsuspecting characters. Presented by DreamWorks Animation films, familiar figures from movies such as “Madagascar,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Shrek” converse with and entertain you. Watch out, you might get a BIG hug from one of them.

Brunch with Santa: Dec. 8, 15, 22

Photos with Santa: daily before Dec. 25

Potomac Express miniature train: daily

Gourmet Holiday Cake Pop Experience: varied days and times

Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating: daily

Spa treatments: reservations required

The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center is D.C.’s only waterfront resort. The 2,000-room resort is part of the 300-acre National Harbor waterfront. Located eight miles south of D.C. and directly across from Old Town Alexandria, the Waterfront Street property overlooks the Potomac River on the Maryland side of D.C.

The glass facade of the 19-story atrium is breathtaking from the outside and its inside view of the river is spectacular.

Accommodation packages for Christmas on the Potomac are available. A one-night resort stay includes unlimited admission to ICE!, a $100 resort credit and a souvenir family photo. (Promo code: 1GC). There are discounts for military families and onsite parking is available.

“(This event) makes for a great family Christmas experience that can be appreciated by all generations,” Norris said.

Even employees eagerly anticipate the spectacle.

“I’m so excited to see it (the show),” exclaimed Rachel Dinbokowitz, public relations manager for the resort and a former central Pennsylvania resident.