December 19, 2013: A Visit to the Kimbell Museum
November 28, 2013: Thanksgiving
Return to the Index for 2013

December 18, 2013
Barbara Takes Us to See "ICE!"
at the Gaylord Texas Hotel in Grapevine


Barbara let us (Fred, Lynne and myself) that she had got us tickets for ICE! which is out at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine this Christmas season, and today is the day we are going. The three of us drove up to Barbara's house to pick her up and then drove around to Grapevine to the hotel.


Getting to the Gaylord Texan

The Gaylord Texan Hotel and Resort is probably the biggest hotel complex in this area. It was built five or six years ago and although we had never been there before today, we knew it was a huge place. I think there is something like a thousand rooms, a huge convention center (in part of which the ICE! attraction will be located), indoor and outdoor pools and the largest covered atrium in the area.

So we've looked forward to seeing what all the hubbub is about, and we weren't disappointed.

When we got out there, the signs directed us to a parking garage on the north end of the property, so we thought that was the most convenient place to park. Then we asked the attendant where ICE! was, and found that we'd have to walk the better part of a mile south through the hotel to the convention center.

Barbara has trouble walking that far, so we left the parking garage to see if we could find someplace closer. I thought we'd drive down to where ICE! was and then find the closest parking to it (or I would let Barbara and Lynne and Fred off and then go park). What we found was underground parking right beneath the convention center. I have no idea why they directed people a mile away unless it was to coerce them into walking through the hotel to get to ICE! and maybe buy something in a shop or see a restaurant and stop to get something to eat. But they should realize that many of their visitors might have little kids to carry or older folks who can't or don't want to walk that far. So my respect for Marriott, who run the hotel, has declined.

We went upstairs and got our tickets; they are "timed," that is, they are for a particular half hour and so we got a time that would allow us to go have some lunch first. For that, we walked along the hall heading north to the hotel lobby, which wasn't far.


The Gaylord Texan Hotel

Before we get to the actual ICE! attraction, let's have a look at the inside of the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Convention Center. As you can see from the aerial view above, the hotel portion is essentially a ring of buildings containing the hotel rooms with a covered atrium in the center. The shops and restaurants seem all to be on the atrium level all the way around the ring.

We did not walk all the way around the ring of buildings, but just entered from the south and walked around to the east to find a restaurant with a good lunch menu. We found one themed on Dallas sports, and we got a table out in the atrium to have some lunch.

Of course the most interesting thing about the hotel was the huge covered atrium. As you can see in that last picture, the atrium is indeed quite large- large enough for that huge fountain and for an almost-life-size oil derrick off to one side. You can get a better idea of the size of the enclosed area if you use the clickable thumbnails below to look at a couple of pictures I took of Fred and some of the pictures we took at and around our table:

The diagram above is a little confusing because, unlike most maps and diagrams, north is not at the top but at the bottom. I wanted to show you an aerial view of the atrium at about the same scale as the diagram, but of course Google maps is always oriented with north at the top. A simple rotate 180°, however, gives us this aerial view of the atrium.

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A Look Around the Gaylord Texan Atrium

While we were waiting for our meals to arrive, I got up from the table and made a movie looking around the atrium. I found the structure of the glass ceiling particularly interesting. You can watch this movie with the player at right.

Just up behind us there was a fountain decorated for Christmas, and down below that there was an area of the atrium one level down that was intended to simulate the San Antonio Riverwalk. There were some stairs leading down there, and Fred took the camera and went down to see what it was like. There was a Tex-Mex restaurant down there and some little bridges and stuff. He took some good pictures, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them:

While Lynne, Fred and Barbara were finishing up with their lunch, I borrowed Fred's camera and followed the yellow pathway on the diagram above just to wander through the atrium.

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Fountain at the South Side of the Atrium

I ended up at a fountain that is at the south end of the atrium, just below the point where the bridge from the convention center comes into the hotel. I filmed the fountain from a balcony directly in front of it, and you can use the player at left to watch my movie.

Then I descended from the balcony to get closer to the fountain, and from there I could look back up at another Christmas tree that I'd passed coming down. You can use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of the other pictures I took as I walked through the atrium:

After spending a few minutes at the fountain, I headed back to our table.

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Fountain at the South Side of the Atrium

I thought my walk through the atrium to the fountain had been interesting enough that I might just film the entire thing on the way back, so that's what I did. When I reached our table, I went past it to look down into the Riverwalk section and have a look at the fountain that was right behind our table. You can use the player at right to have a look at this movie.

Before we left to head over to ICE!, Fred wandered about and found some other interesting aspects of the atrium to photograph, and there are clickable thumbnails below for the best of his pictures:

Of course the whole purpose for coming here today was to see ICE!, so that's where we headed next.



We followed the walkway back to the convention center and then went to the far end for the entrance to the attraction. It may have been my imagination, but the further down the hall we got, the cooler it was. I had been talking with Karl last time I was at Nancy's house about the fact that we were coming here, and it turns out that one year he worked out there with a friend of his, so I kind of knew what to expect.

At the Entrance to ICE!

What I found out from Karl was that when you entered the attraction, the first thing that happened was that you were given a parka to wear- because its close to 0° inside and they can never count on people to bring heavy coats.

After you get the parkas, then you go through three different doors into rooms each colder than the last. The next to last room is kept at about 40°, and the last door takes you into the 0° area. It has to be that cold, otherwise when people touch the ice (as they almost have to do because everything inside- low walls, high walls and all the sculptures- is made of ice) it would melt slightly if the temperature were, say, in the 20s. After a while, the ice would wear down. Also, when it is that cold, then sumlimation (direct ice evaporation) is minimized. So, knowing all this, we headed in to the attraction.

So what, exactly, is the ICE! attraction? Apparently, the Gaylord Texan has had a Christmas celebration each year, and they have had the “Ice!” exhibit before. This year, the exhibit, which uses over 4 million pounds of hand-carved ice, will have a section devoted to the story of The Nutcracker (2 million pounds), an eight-lane snow-tubing hill (another million pounds); a tribute to "Christmas in New York" (yet another 600,000 pounds) and, finally, a huge nativity scene (about a half-million pounds). There are some other ancillary sections, but we did well to cover the major four.


The Nutcracker

The exhibit began with the child-friendly Nutcracker section, full of figures and sculptures from the story.

In the Nutcracker Exhibit

In this first section, families join Clara and her Nutcracker Prince for a magical adventure through the first couple million pounds of hand-carved ice, reliving scenes from the classic ballet, accompanied by the original Tchaikovsky score playing through the speaker system.

So who, actually, does the carving? The sponsors of the exhibit bring in a team of 40 master ice artisans from Harbin, China. These talented craftspeople spend more than a month in Grapevine creating the one-of-a-kind display. Harbin, known as the "ice city" of China, hosts the famed International Ice and Snow Festival annually, where more than 2,000 sculptors carve a 100-acre walk-through ice park using ice from the nearby Songhua River.

The only thing that really surprised me (although if I'd thought about it I'd have realized it would be necessary) was that much of the ice was colored, and the sculptures were carved out of this colored ice. So the colors we saw were not just some kind of coating, but went all the way through the ice- still transparent in most cases.

Although our hands were quite cold (sadly, no gloves with the parkas), we began by taking lots of pictures. (Later on, when we lost feeling in them, we tended to keep our hands in our pockets.) Use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of the pictures we took in the entry area and The Nutcracker:

I also took two movies in this area, and you can use the two players below to watch them:

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Coming into the ICE! Exhibit
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Between the Nutcracker and the Snow Tubing


Snow Tubing

The snow tubing room was a bank of slides basically made out of ice, with low ice walls dividing them. Here are a couple of pictures:

And I also made two movies- one from the bottom of the slide, and one from the top. Use the players below to watch:

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Watching People Coming Down the Snow Tubes
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Looking Down the Snow Tubes


Christmas in New York

To get to the next exhibit, one walks through an ice tunnel into a different "room." Just before I went through, I turned for one last look at the Nutcracker. Going through tunnel brings you to the entrance to Christmas in NY.

The Big Apple: Brooklyn Bridge and The Guggenheim

All the ice sculptures in this room had something to do with New York City, of course. Click on the thumbnails below and see how many images you can identify (like this New York taxicab):


The Nativity

Our visit concluded with a Nativity scene done in ice and, unlike the other areas, all the ice in the Nativity was sparkling clear. This made it look like giant, cut-glass figures, and it was better for that.

The Nativity in Ice

I think you'll agree that the Nativity scene in ice was better without any color.

At left are thumbnails you can click on to see four mour images of the Nativity scene. I tried to get extreme closeups, but I guess it was the transparency of the ice that kept fooling the autofocus.

When we went through the exit door, we were in a room kept near freezing, but it felt like shirtsleeve weather! Two more doors and we were back outside. ICE! was really neat, and we thank Barbara very much for taking us. (As we were driving home, I wondered aloud how much their daily electric bill was.)

December 19, 2013: A Visit to the Kimbell Museum
November 28, 2013: Thanksgiving
Return to the Index for 2013