A childless adult’s guide to ICE! at National Harbor

December 13, 2013

I have never taken psychedelic drugs. But I have journeyed into the enormous walk-in freezer that is ICE!, the annual holiday attraction at National Harbor, and I think I am beginning to understand what it’s like to be on mushrooms: Fun! A little bit frightening! Full of giant mice wearing clothes!


(Courtesy of Gaylord National Resort)

ICE! (always all-caps, always with an exclamation mark) has become one of the area’s mega holiday events, commanding long lines of people eager to bundle up for a tour. Everything in the walk-through exhibit has been carved by dozens of Chinese artisans from the Harbin Ice Festival, using more than two million pounds of ice.

That seems like enough to really blow a 7-year-old’s mind. If you’re a jaded, childless adult like me, ICE! will blow your mind in a different way.

You’ll open the double doors to a series of neon scenes from “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” except the classic tale seems to be set in Whoville, with a touch of Willy Wonka. This means human-size mice sleeping in giant teacups, a vacant-eyed Santa and an enormous moon with a face that looks like embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Each room has a different soundtrack of cartoonish music, but because the rooms aren’t completely walled off, the music mixes with that of other rooms, giving it a haunted carnival funhouse vibe.

(Kyle T. Webster for the Washington Post)
(Kyle T. Webster for the Washington Post)

You’ll wear a giant ICE!-provided parka, but it will ward off the 9-degree cold for only so long. Soon, your fingers will start to get numb. You’ll wonder about the employees in ICE!, who have to stand there for who-knows-how-long, directing children down an ice slide. You will propel yourself onto the ice slide after reading the posted warning: “Ice is extremely slippery.” It will not be as slippery as you think, and you’ll lurch awkwardly down. Probably because you are a childless adult on an ice slide.

The exhibit will spit you out into a scene from New York, with an ice Statue of Liberty and an ice Guggenheim Museum. The final room hosts a clear-as-glass nativity scene, watched over by a slightly menacing angel. It’s over before it’s barely begun, a fever dream that ends with foggy glasses, bewilderment and, of course, a gift shop.

More from our Winter Whimsy issue:
Holiday plays, categorized
A holiday guide for Grinches
What you 'kneed' to know about "Elf the Musical"
One perfect holiday date
5 classic drinks
Christmas Day dinner and a movie

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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Maura Judkis | December 13, 2013