When the nice folks at Gaylord National Harbor invited B & I to come check out the property & all their holiday merriment & joy, I was a little hesitant. The National Harbor complex is less than six miles from where we live & we’ve watched the area grow from a patch of dirt to a huge entertainment, shopping & hotel complex. I had all kinds of negative, preconceived notions, all of which had no basis other than what I could see from across the Potomac River. To me, it is uncontrolled urban sprawl, but to many others it’s a huge growth opportunity in a Maryland county in desperate need for some tax revenue & entertainment options. So last Saturday morning off we went, over the river & through the woods, to the Gaylord National Harbor.
B had been there previously for a few conferences for work, which is what this hotel does best: it’s a conference mecca, a huge hotel of nearly 2,000 rooms & 470,000 square feet of meeting space. We were interested to see how the hotel would do on its busiest weekend of the year – several conferences coming in or out & packed full of families celebrating the holiday season. After a 10 minute wait to valet the car (never a good sign), our luck turned when we were greeted by cheery JP at the check-in desk. After a brief wait for one of the hotel’s dozen glass elevators, we were zipped up to our 12th floor room.
Our Atrium View Room had a lovely little balcony to enjoy the atrium. This is especially nice during the holiday season, when you can view the nightly light show from the balcony, offering a little peace & quiet & a different perspective. While the towels & toiletries left a bit to be desired & the walls were paper thin, the beds were super comfortable & the double sinks are always a nice touch.
Get Our Wine & Cheese Holiday On
Our first holiday-y experience was an afternoon wine & cheese pairing class. Taught by the hotel’s Maitre d’fromage (best. job. ever!), LaVonia Smith, & fine wine consultant, Eric Rumenap, we had samples of three different wines & cheeses. All the wines offered were from Virginia wineries, which was such a nice touch: I love it when large national brands support local wineries & breweries. We both really liked the Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon (a big, bold, dry red wine) & the Midnight Moon cheese (a nutty, aged gouda, made & aged in Holland) – both of which we’ll be hunting down on a regular basis. The best thing about the class is was the quality of the education from LaVonia & Eric. They were both so knowledgable about wine & cheese & genuinely kind people to just chat with.
Gaylord is offering wine & cheese classes a few more times between now & Christmas. A class lasts about an hour & includes very generous wine pours & three cheese samples. Tickets can be purchased online at a rate of $29 per person, which is a really great deal, considering how much wine you are able to taste.
Brrrr – it’s ICE-y in Here
One of the main reasons the hotel was so full of children is because families flock to the hotel to enjoy the ICE! exhibit. I will admit that I was super skeptical that this kid-centric exhibit would be worth the cost of admission – after all, it’s just some ice carvings. But you know what? It was really cool. Literally! Two million pounds of hand carved ice telling the story of Frosty the Snowman is pretty hard to not be impressed by.
Since we stayed at the Gaylord overnight, we were able to take advantage of having VIP tickets, which come with Gaylord holiday packages. These special wrist bands not only mean you beat the line, you also can come through the exhibit as many times as you want. I’m not ashamed to say we went through twice.
A highlight of the exhibit, which is held in a special tent air conditioned to a balmy nine degrees, is the two story ice slide. By sitting on the bright blue parka you’re issued at the exhibit’s entrance (you need a serious winter coat, gloves, shoes & a hat in this frigid experience!), you can slide down a sheet of polished ice. B was not the only adult who loved this part of the exhibit & went down a few times.
The last scene of the exhibit is an ice nativity scene. It was nice to have a quiet moment to remember the real reason for the Christmas season. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong & I was definitely wrong about the ICE exhibit – it was really neat & I can easily see it becoming part of our holiday tradition.
The ICE! exhibit runs through January 4. Tickets can be reserved online. Pricing varies, depending on when you’re going.
Lights & Beverages
We had heard a lot of good things about Gaylord’s famous holiday light shows, so we settled into the lobby bar with a few beverages (a holiday-drink menu would have made the experience perfect) to see the light show. Technical difficulties delayed the show about 45 minutes, but everyone seemed content, nestled in with their drinks, enjoying the holiday-y-ness of all of it. The light & fountain show, which rotates between two shows nightly on the hour, is really neat & worth pulling a table up to enjoy. We were even able to enjoy the show from our room’s balcony for a different perspective.
You’re Never Too Old for Brunch with Santa
I love a good brunch & if you throw in the jolly man with the red suit, you have me hooked. We enjoyed a bountiful morning brunch buffet with Santa on Sunday morning. Held in the hotel’s Old Hickory Steakhouse, brunch includes a buffet includes a huge selection of chilled seafood (including crab legs, oysters & shrimp), a homemade caesar salad bar, a huge selection of desserts (including made in house Yule Logs!), a nice cheeseboard & a variety of entrees. Once you’ve had your fill of the buffet, a small menu of savory breakfast items is also available to order. We both had way too much food, including lobster omelets. While we were the only ones in the room without little ones in tow (something even Santa felt necessary to point out to us), we still really enjoyed the experience. Throw in a few mimosas & there’s nothing child-like about this brunch.
Holly Jolly at the Gaylord National
Overall, we really enjoyed our visit to the Gaylord National Harbor. It changed some of the preconceived notions I had of the area & I now see the many assets of the entertainment complex. If you’re a family in the DC area, I would consider Christmas on the Potomac at Gaylord National Harbor a must do during the holiday season. But even if you’re a DINK like me, there are still lovely, adult holiday experiences – & lots of holiday experiences for the kid at heart.
Know if you go…
– Make sure & check out the packages online. By bundling together some of your activities, you can likely save money.
– There is a $15 a day resort fee (something I’m so totally opposed to), which includes high-speed Internet access in your room (at the slowest speed – a speed so low, I had trouble even using Twitter), two bottles of water in your room per day, a daily newspaper delivered to your room, & the first 20 minutes of each local or toll-free phone call. I wish they would just give me the bottled water & newspaper like every other hotel & charge a little bit for high quality wifi.
– The price difference between an atrium view room & a non-atrium view room can be as much as several hundred dollars. Unless you’re going to spend a lot of time in you’re room, I don’t think it’s worth the cost difference.
– I normally love valet parking, but the price different between valet & self-parking is only a few dollars & the valet stand was always busy, with at least a 10 minute wait to park or retrieve your car. Self-parking is located in a garage attached to the hotel.
– If you’re going during the holidays, or during a major conference, just bring your patience. A little bit of patience can go such a long way (which is true for so many things in life!).