If you read about our guide to National Harbor spring activities, you know how a visit to Gaylord National Resort was on my bucket list. Visiting Gaylord in the spring was glorious, but I’ve wanted more than anything else to visit Gaylord National Resort for their Christmas activities at the National Harbor.
Everything I had seen and read about Christmas at Gaylord National Resort seemed like it would be spectacular. We’ve sent other JFF writers to Gaylord at Christmas before, but I’ve never had a chance to experience it myself, until now.
As part of a sponsored media visit, my youngest teen and I had a chance to stay overnight at Gaylord National Resort and experience the attractions. Enjoying the Gaylord National Resort Christmas activities and the National Harbor was everything I could have hoped for and more.
As a mom of teens who are closely approaching their college years, I’m treasuring every moment I get with my sons before they leave for college. This Christmas trip to Gaylord National Resort has created such special memories for me and I know it will for my youngest son as well.
Plan a visit to Gaylord National Resort during the Christmas season and enjoy these National Harbor Christmas activities at Gaylord National Resort and near the Gaylord National Resort.
Christmas Activities at Gaylord National Resort
There are three main areas where Christmas activities take place at Gaylord National Resort.
- The hotel atrium
- The ballrooms and outdoor space at the Gaylord National Convention Center (connected to the hotel)
- An outdoor space between the convention center and parking garage
Unless noted, the Christmas activities take place from November 20, 2022 – December 31, 2022. When booking tickets you will be asked to select a designated time. Give yourself time for each activity.
Please also read any fine print during the ticket sale process as some details may impact how many tickets you need, what time you will visit, and other factors.
Exclusive Access for Overnight Guests
This year, Gaylord National is offering perks and special access to overnight resort guests so they can wait in line less and enjoy more! These perks include:
- “Chill Pass” privileges to ICE!, offering front-of-line access and shorter wait times for this year’s signature attraction. “Chill Pass” is free for eligible overnight guests. Attraction tickets are required and sold separately, in advance.
- An invitation to “Extra Cool Hour,” which provides early entry into ICE! and Christmas Village one hour before it opens on select dates. “Extra Cool Hour” is free for eligible hotel guests. Attraction tickets are required and sold separately, in advance.
Christmas Village at the Gaylord National Convention Center
Enter the convention center, walk past a few decorated Christmas trees, and enter not a ballroom but a wonderfully welcoming Christmas Village. Mrs. Claus, gingerbread characters, elves, and others walk the village and pose for pictures as children, teens, and their grownups engage in one fun activity after another.
There is no fee to walk around the Christmas Village and reservations are not required to enter. Reservations are strongly requested in order to participate in the activities.
The Christmas Village is open to the public. You are not required to stay overnight in the hotel in order to visit Gaylord’s Christmas Village.
The Christmas Village at Gaylord National Resort is open from 10 am to 9 pm daily. Hotel guests can enjoy the Christmas Village and activities an hour earlier at 9 am.
Snow Flow Mountain
You can’t miss Snow Flow Mountain. It’s large enough to be seen from the entrance to Christmas Village. It sits almost towards the back of the village and extends outward toward the entrance.
Tube down a slightly rocky ice mountain. Tubes have a flat bottom layer to prevent riders from slipping through the tube. The mountain offers 4 lanes across. Each lane allows for one tube at a time. Tubing is available daily for an additional fee of $24.99 with all day access.
Snowball Build and Blast
Snowball Build and Blast gives guests the chance to form and launch snowballs. Trays of snow come down from snowmaking machines on a conveyor belt. Create snowballs and toss them into another snowball machine. Different spots are worth different points. Challenge your family to see who can score the most points.
This activity is at the far back end of the Christmas Village and has a $12.99 participation fee.
The first home as you enter the Christmas Village is the gingerbread house. Here guests can let their imagination run wild while decorating a gingerbread house, family, or cookies. Prices vary between $25.99-41.99 depending on the kit selected. The price is per decorating kit, not per person. One kit can accommodate multiple guests.
Mrs. Claus Christmas Traditions
The retelling of the Christmas classic, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas is a much loved holiday tradition. At Gaylord, enjoy that tradition with Mrs. Claus. She’ll read the story, sing along with guests to favorite holiday songs, and share a batch of Santa’s favorite snack – warm, freshly-baked Christmas cookies and ice cold milk. Tickets are $13.99 each.
Photos with Santa
You can’t leave Christmas Village without a picture with Santa. It’s one of the highlights of Gaylord National Resort Christmas activities. Photo packages start at $35.
ICE! A Christmas Story inside Gaylord’s Christmas Village
ICE! Unless you’ve been to ICE! before you’ve likely never experienced anything like this before. The colorful, detailed, and magnificent ice sculptures made from 2 million pounds of ice will take your breath away.
The Gaylord Resorts rotate through different ICE! themes each year. There’s the Grinch who Stole Christmas, Peanuts, and others. At Gaylord National Resort in the National Harbor, this year’s theme is The Christmas Story movie.
As media, we were fortunate to visit on a day when admission was limited to the press and VIPs. We didn’t experience many lines. Keep reading to learn what you need to know to make the most of your ICE! experience.
8 things to know about ICE! at National Harbor Resort
- ICE! is located in a building on the Gaylord National Resort property, it’s accessible through the Christmas Village.
- Timed tickets can be purchased in advance or inside the resort. Tickets are included with some hotel packages.
- Once you have your ticket, you’ll get to learn all about those skilled artisans by watching videos of their work.
- Make sure you pay attention to the rules shown on a screen as you wait in line because there is no touching and NO licking the ice!
- Even if you’re wearing snowpants, hats, gloves, thermals and your own coat, don’t miss out on the parka. It isn’t stylish and has no pockets but 9° is really cold! Plus, how can you get that classic ICE! photo if you’re not all dressed alike?
- It takes about 30 – 45 minutes to tour ICE, unless of course you decide to take a few turns on the famous ice slides or go back and revisit some areas.
9 Tips for Visiting ICE! at the Gaylord National Hotel
- To avoid long lines arrive early in the day, an hour before closing or on non-peak days.
- Be sure to pile on the layers and carry a backpack. You can always remove a layer to put in the backpack if you get too warm. We had on two layers and the complimentary blue parka and were comfortable. We recommend having a scarf and mittens to protect areas that the blue parka doesn’t cover.
- Speaking of the blue parka they make us all look alike which can be a bit overwhelming trying to keep track of your family, especially those of you with little ones. Bring a uniquely colored or designed hat to easily identify your family in the sea of blue.
- Photos are encouraged and welcomed. However, some cameras may not react to the cold well and could run slow or not at all. If you plan on using your iPhone camera don’t forget to enable the settings so you can use the side button to take photos. This saved my fingers as I didn’t need to leave them uncovered just to take a picture.
- When it comes to photos when you first walk in for ICE you will be directed to a green screen to take a family photo to purchase at the end of the exhibit. Photo packages started around $20 or you could get a package like we did that came with 4-5 photos, a snow globe and a digital download.
- The ice slide is the centerpiece of the attraction. Be prepared for your kids and even you to want to go down the slide a few times. Insider tip: Put the blue parka completely under your behind lean back a little and you will slide quicker without sticking to the ice. Also, parents are not allowed to ride with their children. It’s one rider at a time per slide. There are 5 slides in the room including special smaller slides for children under 4 yrs old or 40 inches tall.
- There are 7-10 “rooms’ in the exhibit including the slide room, Nativity room, and scenes from The Christmas Story. The exhibit is an at-your-own pace walk-through. (Please note no strollers are allowed but they do offer stroller parking.)
- Save money by looking online for discounts or take advantage of one of the packages offered at the resort that includes unlimited visits to ICE during your stay. When purchased in advance you can save up to 50% on tickets! Prices range from $14 to $37 per person. Combo tickets for the other Gaylord National attractions are also available. If your kids are going to want to do ALL the Christmas activities at Gaylord National Resort it makes sense to purchase the Silver or Gold pass.
Christmas Activities at the Gaylord National Resort Atrium
The magnificent atrium is one of my favorite parts of the Gaylord National Resort. There’s always something to see. If you’re going to stay at the resort you really must book a room with an atrium view.
Cirque: Spirit of Christmas
While Cirque: Spirit of Christmas hadn’t yet started during our visit, from our room balcony we could see the actors and actresses hard at work rehearsing. Tickets are available for floor-level seating starting at $21.99.
This Cirque-styled Christmas show features dazzling acrobatics, feats of flexibility, and high-flying stunts centered around Noel, a child who has lost the love of the season. Spirits visit with her to help remind her of the true meaning of the season in energetic, dreamlike chapters.
Build a Bear
Build-A-Bear®️ has been creating heart-warming experiences for more than 25 years! Children and teens can create their own reindeer, bear, or other lovable stuffed creature right in the heart of the Gaylord National Resort.
Advanced reservations are not required and the store is open most evenings till 9 pm.
Shine Light Show
We saw a practice run of the Shine Light Show our first night at Gaylord and it looked fabulous. The official run of the show didn’t start till November 25, 2022, after our visit.
The NEW 2022 Shine Light Show dazzles with thousands of dancing lights synchronized to a high-energy, seasonal soundtrack. Animated light curtains, that hang in front of the atrium windows, glow with Christmas imagery behind a centerpiece tree that magically transforms into a gleaming and glowing holiday spectacle.
The Christmas laser light show runs daily at 7:30 pm, 8:45 pm, and 9:15 pm. Quick note for guests staying in atrium rooms. If bedtime is before any of these shows starts bring a clip to help keep your room’s curtains closed. I found that light from the show seeped into the room between the curtain panels. Once I used a hairclip to hold them together we were good.
There is no admission fee for this Christmas light. It is visible from the hotel room balconies, lobby bar, lower level atrium, and open spaces near the elevators.
The Greatest Story Stage Show
The Greatest Story Stage Show was another show that didn’t start till after our visit. It’s in full production now with performances on Wednesdays through Sundays.
From the Gaylord website, “The birth of Jesus Christ has been called ‘the greatest story ever told.’ Experience it through the eyes of six international storytellers in a musical stage show and multicultural celebration of everlasting faith, hope, and love.”
The Greatest Story is a complimentary show and seating is available on a first come, first served basis. Purchasing guaranteed seats is an option to guests who want to ensure seating for a specific date/time. Pricing for the guaranteed seats is $13.99 per seat.
Outdoor Christmas Activities at Gaylord National Resort
Between the hotel and the self-parking garage is the ‘Winter Square’ where more family fun can be had.
Enjoy an outdoor ice skating rink made with real ice. Ice skating is available for an additional fee of $20.99 which includes unlimited ice skating on the day of purchase. Skate rentals are included in the fee. Skate sizes range from 9 toddler to 13 adult.
We recommend skating earlier in the day when the ice is likely to be in the best condition for ice skating.
Ice Bumper cars
Love bumper cars? Experience the thrill of driving them on ice! Slide, spin, and bump your friends and family as you take a ride in the ice bumper cars. Ice bumper cars are available for an additional fee of $13.99.
More Gaylord National Resort Christmas Activities
Merry Snoopy Scavenger Hunt
We didn’t participate in this Snoopy Scavenger Hunt but we did ‘see’ Snoopy around the hotel and children holding the scavenger hunt sheet.
From the Gaylord website, “Search high and low to help Snoopy deck his house out for the Dog House Decorating Competition in this fun, resort-wide scavenger hunt. Complete the quest to win a special souvenir.”
There is a $12.99 ticket fee and tickets must be purchased in advance online.
Take some family portraits
Yes, Santa and characters are available for pictures in Christmas Village, but that’s not the only place to take special family pictures. The Gaylord National Resort is decorated beautifully for Christmas. There are elaborately decorated Christmas trees in the lobby and hallways.
There is a sweet-smelling gingerbread village at the front desk.
There’s gorgeous sunlight that beams in and around the atrium filled with decorated posts, gardens, and more. Use that to your advantage. Take some family photos. While it’s not a structured activity, it would be a shame to miss out on such a stunning setting for a family photo.
One More Gaylord National Resort Activity
Search for Endangered Animals with Wildlife Rescue – An Augmented Reality Experience presented by bubbly™
We experienced this interactive adventure on our first visit in the spring and it remains available until December 24, 2022. Gaylord National Resort is transformed into an exciting safari for families to discover and learn about endangered animals.
This virtual experience guides guests to track down endangered species and helps ensure they are monitored for their protection. The adventure highlights indigenous animals and, with the magic of augmented reality, brings them to life before your eyes!
This is a complimentary experience for hotel visitors and overnight guests. The activity takes place in the Gaylord National Resort Atrium. Using the Wildlife Rescue app, guests look for golden circle stickers on the floor. Scan the circle to trigger the app to share details about the endangered animal and an image of the animal in the Gaylord National Resort setting. You can scan the QR code to download the app.
Christmas Activities near Gaylord National Resort at the National Harbor
One of the reasons a visit to Gaylord National Resort is so convenient is because of how easy it is to get to the downtown area. We always leave our car in the self-park garage and explore the area on foot.
You can get to the downtown area with just a short walk and use the hotel shuttle to get to the outlets and other nearby destinations.
Fly high for some of the best views of the National Harbor decorated for Christmas.
Up, up, and away, 180 feet above the pier is quite the way to take in views of the Potomac River. Whether you ride the Capitol Wheel’s comfortable, climate-controlled gondolas by day, night, or sunset, you can’t beat the views it provides. Gondolas can seat up to a family of 8. View the schedule and make a Capitol Wheel reservation.
Shop till you drop for Christmas gifts
One of the things I’m trying to do more of on our press trips is shop local and support small businesses like my own. Since Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center covered our accommodation expenses I used some of those savings to invest/shop at nearby local businesses.
Here are a few of my favorites. Visit them to bring back souvenirs and holiday gifts.
- MahoganyBooks because black books matter and I’m always trying to add books to my teacher’s library. We picked up a new children’s book and some graphic novels.
- Community Love Hub LLC where shoppers can play games and enjoy thought-provoking murals while shopping.
Plus we discovered by accident that there’s a special Shop Local promotion going on in the National Harbor. Receive a free National Harbor snow globe with a minimum $50 or $100 purchase at participating retailers in the Waterfront District while supplies last.
At the nearby Tanger Outlets, families can participate in an Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. Santa has sent some Scout Elves on a special mission to play a game of hide-and-seek at Tanger. Find them all and you may just win a $250 Tanger Outlets gift card.
There’s no fee to participate and the scavenger hunt booklet always makes a wonderful activity for kids with coloring pages and puzzles. Visit tangeroutlet.com/elfontheshelf to learn more.
Pick up some sweet holiday treats
Christmastime always makes me crave sweets, so of course I had to bring home some yummy treats.
- Sticky Situations has some delicious honeys, syrups, oils, butters and more. Sampling is encouraged so you know you’ll love what you bring home.
- Savannah’s Candy Kitchen is your classic candy store WITH ice cream. We couldn’t pass up the chocolate-covered marshmallows and chocolate bark.
Sip on some free hot chocolate
Participating retailers are making the holiday season extra cheerful by giving away complimentary cup of hot chocolates. Visit the National Harbor site to see which stores are participating.
Catch a Christmas movie
Starting Sunday, November 13th until December 18, 2022, at 2 pm the National Harbor is showing family-friendly movies on the Plaza’s big screen.
Admission is free! Pack your blankets! Grab food to go from one of the dining establishments or a free hot chocolate, and cuddle together to watch one of these movies.
|November 13th||The Polar Express|
|November 20th||A Christmas Story|
|December 4th||Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)|
|December 11th||The Santa Clause|
|December 18th||It’s a Wonderful Life|
Say Cheese! Get the best family photos for your Christmas cards.
The National Harbor’s Waterfront District is filled with some fantastic statues: Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Rosy Riveter, and more. Snap some unique photos with these icons for your family Christmas card.
Watch fireworks blast and lights twinkle on the National Harbor’s Best Outdoor Christmas Tree
While the best indoor Christmas tree hangs from the Gaylord National Resort’s atrium’s ceiling the best outdoor tree has to be the one in the Plaza.
The brand new 60-foot RGB tree comes to life nightly in the heart of the Waterfront District. The breathtaking light show dances alongside a holiday medley performed by the United States Air Force Band.
The light show is fabulous and runs every half hour from sunset to 9 pm with the exception of Saturday nights. On Saturdays, from November 12 – December 17, 2022, the light show begins at 5:30 pm with fireworks immediately afterwards.
Take a spin on the carousel
Fridays through Sundays take a ride on the 36-foot Americana-themed carousel at National Harbor. If you’re facing the water it is to the right of the pier and near the playground.
Make and Take Christmas gifts
We didn’t get a chance to stop by the Muse Paintbar on this visit, but we did in the spring. At the Muse Paintbar, guests can make and take their own painted canvases. Check out their upcoming schedule of classes. All ages are welcome and no prior experience is required!
Stretch, Climb, and Run on the Playground
The National Harbor offers two playground like areas where children can stretch, climb, and have fun. The first is on the main strip that runs parallet to the Gaylord National Resort. There are animal sculptures situated on turf welcoming kids to play.
The second playground area is a traditional playground located right on the water to the right of the pier.
You can learn more about these activities and what else is new at the National Harbor website.
Where to eat on your Christmas visit to the National Harbor
With a plethora of restaurants and eateries in the National Harbor, you’ll never go hungry. View the complete list of the National Harbor restaurants.
Here are a few of our favorites from our visits.
On your visit to the National Harbor, you MUST visit Rosa Mexicana! On our first visit in the spring, I treated one of my sons. On this visit, they treated us to dinner. It was delicious! It’s gotta be my favorite Mexican restaurant. They have a location in New Jersey and I’m determined to get to it.
I can’t pronounce what I ate but it was so yummy and having fresh guac made at your table is something special. My 14 year old had chicken quesadillas. We finished with flan. We were stuffed in the best way possible.
Harbor Social is located in the atrium of the National Harbor Resort. It’s an interactive sports bar experience designed to bring people together. While you dine on shareable entrees, families can play bocce, Jenga, air hockey, bowling, and other games together.
Potomac District Café & Market
The Potomac District Café & Market serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and more. Order something to go or grab and go fresh, light, and filling meals as well as Starbucks™ coffee. Then enjoy all the open-air seating in the Atrium as you enjoy your meal, snacks, or drinks.
Ready to spend part of your Christmas at Gaylord National Resort?
With all these great Christmas activities at Gaylord National Resort, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to spend the night. We were so thankful we did. Between the Christmas activities at Gaylord National Resort and all there is to explore in town, it would really be hard to fit all that holiday fun into one day. You really do need a night or two or three.
Gaylord National Resort ICE! Hotel Offers and Packages
Gaylord National is extending the Cyber Sale Overnight ICE! Package. Save up to 50%* on ICE! tickets with code CYBER22. Must book by midnight on December 1, 2022, 12/1/2022.
- Book your Cyber Sale Room. Save up to 30%** with code 16C.
- Book your Cyber Sale Overnight ICE! Package. Save up to 30%* with code 16C.
- Buy your Cyber Sale ICE! Ticket. Save up to 50%+ with code CYBER22.
- Buy your Cyber Sale Cirque: Spirit of Christmas Ticket. Save up to 50%+ with code SPIRIT22.
Book your stay by visiting their website or calling 301-965-4000.