A Holiday Weekend Getaway at Gaylord National

This Maryland hotel transforms into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures and more.

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The decked-out atrium of Gaylord National Resort / Photograph courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

Despite starting earlier and earlier each year, the holiday season moves quickly — before you know it, you’re running out of time to make greeting-card-perfect memories (let alone send greeting cards). But three hours down I-95 at Maryland’s Gaylord National Resort, in National Harbor, you can pack an entire holiday season’s worth of festiveness into a single weekend.

My busy family of three makes the drive from Center City to the resort on the Potomac every year — it’s manageable enough for an overnight, but there’s enough going on that we feel like we’ve taken a vacation. My daughter immediately runs over to the hotel’s months-in-the-making gingerbread village in the lobby — complete with a toy train running through it.

Gaylord National’s holiday gingerbread display in the lobby / Photograph by Laura Swartz

There’s always something to do. One minute, you’re careening down an ice mountain on an inner tube; the next, you’re watching a Cirque performance, taking a chef-led cooking class, or strolling through 17,000 square feet of massive ice sculptures. Yes, the hotel’s main holiday attraction, ICE, features five tons of sculpted frozen H2O in a tent so cold (nine degrees Fahrenheit) that they hand out parkas to wear over your regular coats. After a two-year hiatus, ICE returns with an A Christmas Story theme — imagine Ralphie in his pink bunny suit and the iconic leg lamp rendered in larger-than-life colored ice.

ICE at Gaylord National Photograph courtesy of Gaylord National

There’s an indoor Christmas Village, with shops, Santa, and gingerbread decorating. But we’re more focused on the outdoors, where there’s ice-skating and ice bumper cars. The nighttime lines for that are worth it for the added novelty of flashing lights on the spinning donut-like cars. And there’s no shame in grabbing a bear-shaped ice-skate aid to sit on and “let” your small child push you around the rink.

Try to reserve an atrium-view room so you can watch the nightly performances — including the light shows around the giant Christmas tree, set to music and fountain effects — from your indoor balcony in your pajamas, rather than having to head downstairs at bedtime. There are also four suites decked out with holiday decor, if you want to go all out.

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Bowling at Harbor Social / Photograph courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

New this year, the Harbor Social sports bar has duck-pin bowling, shuffleboard and more — plus a menu designed with one-handed eating in mind. Our favorite après-skate hangout is Pose Rooftop Lounge, draped in retro ’80s fabulousness and with a soundtrack to match. After I explained to my daughter that, yes, that’s what computers and phones looked like when I was little, we had fun playing old-school video games like Atari Pong and Pac-Man as my husband and I sipped themed cocktails.

’80s-themed Pose at Gaylord National / Photograph by Laura Swartz

If you venture off-property, be sure to get tickets (and pre-ride cocktails at Flight Deck bar) for a ride on the 180-foot-tall Capital Wheel, especially on Saturday nights, when you can catch fireworks over the Potomac from your heated gondola.

The Capital Wheel at night / Photograph by Backyard Production via iStock/Getty Images

Gaylord National’s holiday attractions runs from November 20th to December 31st. Rooms start at $350 per night.

Published as “Jaunt: Weekending at … Gaylord National” in the November 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.