Friday, February 21, 2014

Putting the CHILL in Chillaxin': Florida's Ice Festival and Bar

There truly is something gloriously wonderful about light through ice. Andersen’s Snow Queen certainly thought so. And so, too, does Jennifer Lee’s Elsa in Disney’s Frozen.  Yet, those ladies’s didn’t hold an icicle to Empress Anna.

Anna Ivanovna had her serfs build a massive castle from solid ice to celebrate Russian victory over the Ottoman Empire.  She had them chisel an expansive ice garden that included orchards and birds, walls and statues. She had them carve ice furniture for the whole place, too, including—interestingly-- ice mattresses and ice pillows. She died by the time her castle melted; she was NOT a nice person, so no tears need be shed for the cold-hearted queen.

People still build castles of ice. Canadians do as witnessed at Quebec City’s Winter Carnival. The citizens of St. Paul have erected several since the 1880’s as part of their winter festivities. Saranac Lake has as well.  And then, there’s the one they build every year in Sweden.

ICEHOTEL is situated above the Arctic Circle in a town that has as many sled dogs as it does people.  For 24 years, more than a hundred artisans from all around the globe have sustainably constructed the hotel from scratch, beginning in March when 5,000 tons of blocked ice is harvested from the Torne River. The ice is left refrigerated until construction begins in November. Doors open by December and close again in April when the entire structure begins to melt back into the river.

Each rendition, a work of art. For that reason, aside from being a winter lover’s destination getaway, ICEHOTEL draws 50,000 people a year, some playing it safe and just taking the day tour. The more adventurous stay. 

Upon arrival, guests staying in cold rooms are given a survival course, an introduction in sleeping snugly in the interior’s constant temperature of 20 degrees. Ice block beds are topped with thick mattresses and piles of reindeer skins. Staff arrives in the AM with steaming mugs of lingonberry juice before turning on the private sauna. Understandably, most guests select one night in cold rooms, and finish off the remainder of their stay in warm rooms. 

What constitutes a “warm room” in a hotel made of ice? Good question.  Neighboring heated chalets.

I, myself, would choose either an Art or Northern Light Suite, the latter which is designed so that the Aurora Borealis can be seen through the crystal clear ice ceilings.  With cold room rates starting at $675/night, such beauty doesn’t come cheap. But, then, you wouldn't catch me anywhere near that much ice. Ever. Unless, of course, it was right here in Florida. 

You wouldn't think anything other than ice cream would go over here in Florida. But, you'd be wrong, as, apparently,  was I. 

Patrons seem to dig the frig and put the chill in chillaxin’ at the Ice Bar in Orlando where everything is made of ice—even the glasses in which the drinks are served. Thus, visitors are given, (rented for $20/head), parkas and gloves upon entering the establishment that's decorated with ice carvings, back lit with a pulsing LED light show.

The Gaylord Palms Hotel recreates an indoor winter wonderland at Christmastime. Kept at 9 degrees, the attraction called ICE! features an Alpine Village, two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, and four ice slides. 

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