Journey to Whoville at Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac
From breakfast with the Grinch to an ice-sculpted wonderland, this trip is a must-do for holiday magic.
Our daughter entering kindergarten in public school has been quite an adjustment for our family, with absences carrying much more of a penalty, and travel becoming harder. Weekend trips are great for working within our schedules (plus, air travel with a small child is just a lot to manage). If you’ve checked off your Holidays in Philly Checklist and are looking to get out of town for the weekend, Gaylord National Resort offers so much holiday fun in one place, just a car ride away. Philadelphia Family was hosted by Gaylord National Resort with accommodations, tickets and some meals to make this article possible.
We drove down I-95 to our destination just across the Potomac from Washington DC. When we briefly lived in the DC area about decade ago, National Harbor, Maryland was just barely a thing, and now this area of PG County has really come into its own with a bustling downtown filled with shops and restaurants, the magnificent Capital Wheel (more on that later), and of course the resorts on the river.
Gaylord National is a winter wonderland unto itself. You could easily not leave the resort during your entire stay, and never lack for something fun and festive to do. The main attraction is, of course, ICE. This year’s installation is bigger than ever as the 15,000 square foot “cold room” (it’s only nine degrees, so grab a giant blue parka!) welcomes the classic holiday story, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! From his dastardly exploits to his heartwarming happy ending, you’ll see it all unfold in more than 2 million pounds of sculpted ice.
In addition to marveling at the installation, you can also take a trip down the ice slides while in there! Plus, obviously, photo ops galore. A tip for those looking to document your adventure: sometimes when it is so cold, your phone will die (this happened to me!), so bring a camera as a backup—I am so glad that I did! The parkas don’t have pockets, so you’ll have to bring a crossbody that fits over it!
In keeping with this year’s Grinchy theme, you can also have a character breakfast with the Grinch and his dog Max. Themed selections like green Whoville waffles are part of the meal, and there are plenty of chances for photos and interactions with the characters. You can also grab a “Grinch’s Wonderful Awful Idea Scavenger Hunt” and take a self-paced indoor scavenger hunt with clues and puzzles, plus a prize at the end (our daughter got an adorable little plush Grinch keychain).
The gift shop in Christmas Village also has all things Grinch, from stuffies to ornaments to home goods! There is also a Build-a-Bear workshop just inside the store. And for little ones, take a ride on the Village Express Train next to the toys!
If the ice slides inside the exhibit just made you want to do more cold-weather activities, you’re in luck. For bigger kids and adults, Reindeer Rush Ice Tubing offers a fast, exhilarating slide that is two-stories tall! And if your preferred pace is a little slower, head to Winter Square for indoor ice skating (and stop by the new Tinsel Tavern—a rinkside tacky Christmas themed bar with adult beverages and hot chocolate for the kids) and relax by the firepits.
The holiday fun continues with the indoor Christmas Village, where you can meet and take photos with Santa Claus, join Mrs. Claus for storytime, and even enjoy a family gingerbread house workshop in Gingersnap’s Christmas Kitchen.
If you really want to go all out, this year the hotel is offering a new Christmas Dreams Suite, all decked out for the holidays and loaded with goodies. But that can be hard to come by, so rest assured that all the rooms are lovely. We recommend getting an atrium view room, so you can watch the nightly Christmas Miracles Laser Show, a light show with laser fountain effects and indoor snowfall, happening every half hour. We were even able to watch Cirque Dreams Unwrapped—a half-hour acrobatic spectacular—from our room’s balcony (you can also buy tickets for the show, if you want to get a better view).
If you can step away from your kids (whether leaving them with your supportive partner or calling a babysitter), be sure to check out the on-site spa, and even sign up for a culinary workshop on Saturday afternoons!
You could spend all weekend getting cozy inside the resort, but if you do want to venture outside, be sure to get tickets for a ride on the 180-foot-tall Capital Wheel for amazing views. This personally ruined all other ferris wheels for us, because each gondola was enclosed and heated! Also, we fortuitously timed our ride to take place during the Saturday night waterfront fireworks show, which really launched our trip into some Hallmark-level “holiday magic” territory. Throughout the holiday season you can also catch holiday movies and Santa visits at the National Harbor.
If you’re sticking around even longer (perhaps for Winter Break), and are looking for more to do in the area, Washington DC is just across the river, and has plenty of holiday fun (and free museums) to visit as well! Two standouts for us are the National Zoo’s ZooLights (which are FREE—thanks, Smithsonian) and the Enchant Christmas light maze and market at Nationals Park (they seriously built a Christmas dreamscape inside a ballpark, it’s pretty incredible). Both of these attractions are accessible via the Metro once you get into the city.
Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac runs from November 15 through December 30. The resort is located at 201 Waterfront Street in National Harbor, Maryland. The holiday activities at Gaylord National Resort are available to book individually or as a bundle in advance online, with special package options for overnight guests through the end of December.
Photographs by Laura Swartz, except where indicated.