Christmas on the Potomac: Gaylord National Adds to the Magic of the Season

A “white Christmas” regardless of the temperature. A super-chilly attraction that will warm your heart. A new spin – plus twists and jumps! – on Christmas…

Whether you’re just home for the holidays or entertaining out-of-town-guests, if you’re in the Washington, DC, area in December, you have many opportunities to take in the magic of the season. One place to find all of this – plus kids’ activities, pampering treatments, plenty of food, and unique events – is the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.


The resort at National Harbor in southern Maryland, just minutes from Washington, DC, and Alexandria, Virginia, is popular all year long but is “the belle of the ball” in winter. Its very popular Christmas on the Potomac is a weeks-long, multi-event celebration of the holidays that appeals to visitors of all ages.

Featuring seasonal shows, unique attractions (some of the events are free) and holiday lodging packages, the Gaylord becomes home to people enjoying “staycations” as well as visitors from other areas. Here’s what you can look forward to, whether you seek family fun, a girls’ night out, or a romantic weekend away.

Holiday fun for everyone
Likely the most well-known feature of Christmas on the Potomac is ICE!, its signature event. Each year the resort is one of only four Gaylord properties in the country to feature this chilly exhibit of beautiful, whimsical ice sculptures. The walk-through holiday attraction has dozens of colorful ice sculptures made from two million pounds of ice. The sculptures are hand-carved by 40 artisans from Harbin, China, widely regarded as the ice sculpture capital of the world.

Walking through the exhibit, kept at a chilly nine degrees Fahrenheit (wearing special parkas to keep you warm) is an adventure in itself. But for an extra-cool time, you can slide down one of four twostory- tall slides – also made of ice!

This year’s theme depicts the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which promises to have broad appeal. “It’s just one of those shows that’s going to touch upon every generation,” says Rachel Dinbokowitz, public relations manager for the resort. “What a great way to celebrate the holidays with parents, grandparents, the kids, just visitors of all ages.” As always, the exhibit ends with a stunning full nativity scene in clear ice that will take your breath away. Upon exiting the ICE! show, guests can warm up with a cup of hot cocoa or by ice-skating in a small indoor rink at the Christmas Village. Other activities include a Build-a-Bear workshop, gingerbread decorating, storytime with Mrs. Claus, Santa photos, and carousel rides.


Fans who can’t get enough of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and their friends also can join them for character breakfasts. Every weekend (and on select weekdays), guests can enjoy a buffet breakfast at the hotel with visits and photos with the Peanuts gang. Kids also can participate in a Snoopythemed scavenger hunt.

And new this year is Cirque Dreams Unwrapped, a 25-minute show that taps into “the holiday-inspired dreams of a child.” The production is a vibrant Christmas fable with spectacular costumes, gravity-defying feats, and other excitement that aerialists, acrobats, and whimsical characters bring. Tickets for up-close, guaranteed seats are for sale, but each day some limited free seats also are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Each night, the Gaylord National also brightens its already stunning atrium with a free show. The evening tree lighting is a show in itself with classic Christmas music, laser lights, a dancing fountain, and indoor “snowfall” so you can enjoy a “white Christmas” indoors.

“We have some of the most unique holiday attractions in the area, plus the hotel is all decked out, so it’s a popular time when many locals visit,” Dinbokowitz says. You get to enjoy fun shows and see all the lights and indoor snowfall in 70-degree weather, which is lovely.”

Also returning this year is the giant gingerbread village, Dinbokowitz says. Last year, the resort’s pastry team made a 10-foot by 20-foot replica of Washington, DC, out of gingerbread. This year, the theme is Christmas around the world. “The cool thing about it is that we have such a diverse group of pastry chefs, they come from all over the world, so they get to highlight their homes and show something iconic about each,” Dinbokowitz said. “This allows for a personal connection, with an educational component for guests.”


Grown-up fun
The Gaylord National, now celebrating its tenth year, clearly is a great place for families. But adults who want a night out on their own can find fun options just for them, too. One standing attraction for adults is the resort’s Pose rooftop lounge. This bar and lounge is open only to registered hotel guests age 21 and up.

Located on the resort’s 18th floor, it has floor-to-ceiling windows and luxurious indoor and outdoor seating to comfortably enjoy great daytime or nighttime views of National Harbor and Washington, DC. On most Fridays and Saturdays, a DJ plays music late into the night.

For even more fun – and a whole new way to experience ICE! – the Gaylord National this year is launching the Arctic Dash. Similar to “polar dip” or “polar plunge” events, this one-time activity challenges guests to freeze a bit for fun. On December 5, participants will get to run through the ICE! exhibit after regular hours in their bathing suits only and enjoy cocktails as a reward.

Adults who prefer something mild over wild can enjoy seasonal offerings at the spa. In keeping with the holiday theme, Relâche Spa is offering chocolate-themed treatments such as facials, manicures, and pedicures.

A home for the holidays
With so much to see and do, to fully experience Christmas on the Potomac takes a few visits, something easy to do for those who live in the area. But even locals would do well to book a stay. Gaylord National offers various overnight packages that are good for staycations or a fun getaway with visiting friends and relatives.

Each package comes with certain benefits, such as ICE! tickets that get you in one hour early and with unlimited entry on that day. “The nice thing about our packages is that we try to give them added incentives and luxuries,” Dinbokowitz said. “We look to have more things to make our overnight guests feel extra-special in addition to all the magical experiences they will already get.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF GAYLORD NATIONAL