Did you want to go to Disney World this year but just couldn't find the time or funds to do so? Consider "Christmas on the Potomac" at National Harbor.
You get both the good and the bad of the Disney experience: Your kids will probably think it's magic. Your wallet might ache a bit.
The highlight of the experience is an amazing tour through ice sculptures -- this year the characters from DreamWorks' Merry Madagascar characters. You and your family members put on large blue parkas and go on your merry way through a maze of large sculptures of Santa, King Julien, Alex, Marty and other characters. (The Ice! tour will run you $25-$35 for adults and $20-$30 for ages 4-12.)
My 4-year-old and 2-year-old didn't know the characters, but that didn't matter. They still got a kick out of the glowing attraction. And they especially liked the ice slides.
You can ice skate after the tour, have photos taken with the characters, ride a small kiddie train, or have some hot chocolate to warm up. These all cost extra.
Then, you must walk through the gift shop before you exit.
Walk over to the Gaylord Hotel for, well, more of everything. Santa pictures (packages start at $20), Gingy's Gingerbread Decorating ($29.95 for a cookie family kit, $49.95 for a gingerbread house kit), nightly tree lighting with a light show and indoor snowfall (free!), a "DreamWorks" passport that includes meet and greets with characters like Shrek, Puss of Puss in Boots and more for $35 per person ages 4 and up (one complimentary guardian per paying child is allowed into the meet and greet areas.)
It may sound like a lot, but if you haven't been to National Harbor, and your wallet hasn't been completely tapped, this might be one special event to take on this holiday season.
My boys were asleep, dreaming of sugarplums and ice sculptures the whole drive home.
-- Amy Joyce (Dec. 9, 2011)