Dewayne Bevil on Attractions
Theme Park Ranger
November 24, 2011
Gaylord Palms is giving new meaning to "going green."
Its annual ICE! extravaganza has adopted a "Shrek the Halls" theme, starring the animated-film ogre and other characters from the Shrek movies, including Fiona, Donkey, Puss in Boots and Gingy.
So now a chunk of the hotel's convention center is brimming with green beings, with Shrek and family dominating the scenes of elaborate, king-size ice sculptures. Guests can see Shrek with his ogre babies, the three little pigs toting a Christmas tree, a big red dragon, a festive swamp (with outhouse) and characters warming themselves around a glowing fireplace.
The accompanying storyline is based on a 2007 holiday TV special titled "Shrek the Halls." Before donning parkas and entering the 9-degree exhibit guests see a video that recaps the television show.
"They are now inside the world of Far, Far Away and the swamp, and they're coming to Shrek's house for the holidays," says Aaron Mendelson, director of special events and entertainment for the resort and convention center in Kissimmee.
Visitors also can be transported into the TV special, too, by posing for photos with a giant icy Shrek who's reading the "Christmas for Village Idiots" book seen in the show.
The sculptures were created by carvers from Harbin, China, as they have been since ICE! began in 2003.
"Our design team comes up with these concepts, and then we travel to China and work with the artisans from the engineering standpoint to say, 'OK, this is Shrek's house … and in a perfect world, it's a wonky little tree stump. Will the ice support that?'" Mendelson says.
The result of the seven-week project is a brilliantly colored walkthrough exhibit that builds up to a room sporting five ice slides for kids and adults.
That area "takes place in Shrek's house, and it's kind of chaos because everyone is telling their twisted version of the night before Christmas," Mendelson says. (Check out the icy banquet table, including the turkey sculpture.)
This is the first year that ICE! has been branded with licensed characters, and it's part of the hotel chain's year-round partnership with DreamWorks Animation.
"It allows us to do some things that are a little bit more out of the box for us," Mendelson says.
"I think the way the entire experience looks from the moment you hit our box office to the time you go through any one of our attractions, it's a brand-new thing this year."
An element retained from previous years is the nativity scene, ice versions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and assorted animals. It's the final scene of ICE!, and it's a sparkling contrast to the brightly colored Shrek scenes.
"You come out of that world, and you come into this beautiful crystal clear ice, which has our archangel and our nativity scene," Mendelson says. "It really sets off the two."
Also receiving the DreamWorks treatment is the companion attraction Kung Fu Panda Awesome SNOW. The area, set during a winter carnival, has Asian architecture and 150 striking red lanterns dangling from the ceiling.
But its purpose is to serve as a snowy playground, complete with snowball fights. It is home to a 70-foot slide that appears to emerge from a giant pagoda. Plus, it has more of the white stuff than last year.
"We went from about 40 tons of snow to 130 tons of snow today," Mendelson says.
Gaylord keeps the area a bit warmer — 55 degrees. You might not need that parka.
Other add-on options are a gingerbread-decorating station featuring the Gingy character and the opportunity to see the current "Puss in Boots" film in 3-D inside a 200-seat theater constructed for the season.
The DreamWorks effect will continue at Gaylord Palms after ICE! closes Jan. 2, Mendelson says. Look for themed pool parties in the future.
"It will be, in many ways, the backbone of our leisure programming," he says.
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ICE! at Gaylord Palms
Where: Gaylord Palms Resort, 6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee
When: Daily through Jan. 2, operating hours vary.
Cost: Ticket prices vary according to day and time. ICE! prices range from $13.99-$29.99; SNOW tickets are $11.99-$22.99; ICE!-SNOW combo tickets are $25.98 to $43.98.
Quick tips for ICE!
•Obviously, this is one cold attraction — unbearably cold if you're dressed in standard Florida clothes. Don't be ashamed to take gloves, heavy coats and scarves. My face was the coldest, most pained part of my body. Warm, hooded parkas are provided, but layers work even better (and they don't come with gloves or pockets).
•There are gloves, sweat shirts and the ilk for sale in the ICE! gift shop, along with a slew of holiday merchandise and DreamWorks goodies. Donkey ears, anyone?
•You'll be happy to have all those layers if you bring kids, because the little ones will want to go down the ice slides over and over and over.
•When arriving at the Gaylord Palms entrance, bear right toward the convention center side to park. There's no need to drive up by the resort lobby.
•Got sticker shock? There are promotions out there. Shop around and do an online search for ticket discounts. At the very least, buy tickets in advance through the official website (www.ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com). Admission is always discounted when purchased online, and there are electronic ticket booths for will-calls that let buyer skip the box-office line.
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