Every year, the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, is transformed into a vast playground made entirely of ice. Two million pounds of it, brought into the subtropical state of Florida via 30-some truckloads, fill the interior of this Marriott hotel, creating the sort of ice-made amusement park you would only otherwise see in a Disney movie. The 2019 theme for ICE! is the iconic Christmas movie, "The Polar Express."
This frosty spectacle is a must-see for the whole family. It runs from the week of Thanksgiving through the first week of January and is the perfect side trip from Orlando for those taking holiday vacations at Disney World.
This winter-season event features tons of ice sculptures, all hand-carved by artists from near and far, depicting scenes of holiday celebrations from around the world. The shaped, cut, illuminated, and often colorful ice sculptures occupy a large portion of the resort's convention center. To give you an idea of the size of this attraction, it includes 1,500 tube lights frozen within three different types of ice: glass-like crystal ice; white snow-pack-like ice; and dyed ice. During your walking tour, you are surrounded by sculptures depicting characters and scenes (from "The Polar Express," specifically, this season).
The ICE! Experience
There's a self-guided, walking tour that begins with a five-minute video explaining how ICE! came to America and how it is assembled each year. The video also explains how the frozen structures are preserved to survive in Florida's humid climate. The walking tour will take you across a bridge made of ice and along a life-sized replica of the Nativity scene. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes in total.
The highlight of the day will definitely be the ice slides. Youngsters and the young-at-heart alike will love gliding down any of the five two-story-high ice slides that are dotted throughout the exhibit. There's no sled required—just sit on your parka, fold your hands across your chest, and go. Children must be able to walk up the stairs on their own in order to ride the slide.
Another popular part of the ICE! exhibit is the Frostbite Factory, a carving zone where you can watch artisan ice sculptors from Harbin, China, do their craft in action. A VIP experience will get you special perks like skip-the-line, VIP seating, and a private demonstration with the ice carvers.
What to Wear
It may be sunny in Florida, but it's cold enough to keep the ice frozen in Gaylord Palm Resort's conference center. Come prepared for a 9-degree Fahrenheit environment. All guests are provided with calf-length, hooded winter coats in all sizes (fitting everyone from infants to large adults). Visitors are required to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes. Hats and gloves are recommended and available for purchase.
While tickets can be purchased at the door, it's highly recommended that you buy them online in advance to guarantee admission at the time of arrival. They cost $29 for adults and $15 for kids and are nonrefundable, but may be exchanged for another day or time slot. Several different combination tickets are available, such as ICE! plus snow tubing and a scavenger hunt or the addition of a "snow throw."
You can also stay overnight with special ICE! package deals. Overnight guests can schedule their visits during the Extra Cool Hour (from 9 to 10 a.m.). Military and AAA discounts are available for guests staying at the resort and Florida residents can get their ICE! tickets for a fraction of the full price. On-site parking is available for a fee.