Ice, ice, baby: Gaylord Texan features Lone Star Christmas

Posted Saturday, Nov. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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If you go Lone Star Christmas at the Gaylord Texan resort begins Thursday and runs through Jan. 4. Besides the life-size ICE! exhibit on The Nutcracker, highlights include an eight-lane snow tubing hill built with 1.5 million pounds of snow; gingerbread decorating; a 5D holiday mini movie experience; 350 lit trees; miniature train sets; a 7-foot-tall gingerbread house with train;; 25-foot-tall toy soldiers; 2,300 decorated wreaths; 5,600 feet of garland; 12,000 ornaments; 2,500 poinsettias; toy soldier stilt walkers; the Little Drummer Boy; and, of course, Santa Claus. www.christmasatgaylordtexan.com or 817-778-1000

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It has 1.5 million twinkling lights, 12,000 ornaments and a 54-foot-tall rotating Christmas tree.

But nothing in the Gaylord Texan’s annual holiday extravaganza draws more attention than the 2 million pounds of ice that have been carved into the show’s centerpiece display, a tribute to the magical story of The Nutcracker.

The Grapevine resort helps kick off the holiday season Thursday with the opening of Lone Star Christmas, which runs through Jan. 4.

Forty master ice artisans traveled from Harbin, China, to Grapevine to spend 30 days hand carving the life-size characters and scenes in the “ICE!” exhibit.

Visitors can bundle up in complimentary parkas and enter the winter wonderland, which is kept at a wintry nine degrees, to enjoy the Nutcracker scenes, slides and bonus rooms, including “Christmas in New York” and the Nativity.

Attraction promoters said their theme features Clara and her Nutcracker prince and other favorite scenes from the classic ballet, accompanied by the original Tchaikovsky score.

John Steenhoven, consultant to International Special Attractions from Steenhoven Production Group of Southern California, explained the details behind the mammoth frozen display.

“ICE! at the Gaylord Texan was inspired by another great display of ice sculpture more than 6,000 miles away in Harbin, China which isn’t far from Siberia,” Steenhoven said. “In Harbin, all of the ice is harvested from the frozen Songhua River. But since there aren’t many frozen rivers in Texas and the demand for ice to create ICE! is huge, International Special Attractions built a custom high-capacity ice plan just to serve the Texan.”

‘A rainbow of colors’

Planning for ICE! began more than a year in advance when the theme for next year’s ICE! was decided upon, he said. Next was a trip to Harbin to review plans with the ice sculptors who would be coming to Texas and “to enlist their creativity as to how to bring to life the characters and scenes.”

Working drawings were drafted, which translated art into the the practical, architectural task of constructing the ice sculptures. In October, they brought in refrigeration equipment and chilled down the insulated ICE! enclosure to about 15 degrees.

Semitrailers began delivering what would be hundreds of thousands of pounds of block ice.

“Then the artisans arrived from Harbin and began creating the attraction, much of which is done with hand tools perfected over centuries of ice sculpting in northern China,” Steenhoven said.

“One of the challenges of presenting ICE! is to explain what it isn’t,” he said. “When most people think of ice sculptures the vision of a carved swan on a banquet table comes to mind. So explaining the beauty and wonder of an ice attraction that’s a walk-through holiday wonderland with larger-than-life scenes and characters created from clear ice but also ice in a rainbow of colors is our job.”

Making good with the Grinch

Steenhoven said ICE! becomes a complete sensory experience including music throughout the attraction and illumination from a full theatrical lighting package that includes hundreds of LED lights imbedded in the ice.

“ICE! was the first ice attraction in the world to portray the themes of the Christmas holidays,” Steenhoven said. “Consequently, many of the sculptors who came from Harbin weren’t familiar with images of the holidays in the United States.”

One image that caught them by surprise, he said, was in 2009 when ICE! at the Texan featured How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Steenhoven said the artisans, “Having never before seen the Grinch,” loving referred to him as “the big green monkey.”

Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367

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