Celebrating Winter: The Ice Hotel

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year ago, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. He writes to us about his family’s latest adventure– embracing the cold. This is his second post. Read the first post here.

Ice Chapel.jpgHaving traveled around the world together, the Jenss family is certainly accustomed to sleeping in some pretty tight and unusual quarters. During our time away from home, we managed to stay in a yurt in Inner Mongolia, tents in the Tanzanian bush (complete with a parade of elephants stomping through the campsite), a campervan in New Zealand, a hut with no electricity or bathroom facilities on a remote island off the coast of Panama, a tree house in Costa Rica, and a couple of log cabins in U.S. national parks. Truth be told, we’ve also had some pretty luxurious accommodations, including the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney Harbour (for New Year’s, no less), the Inverlochy Castle in Scotland, and the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in South Africa. So when we decided to spend some time in Quebec City during the school’s winter recess, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something else a little out of the ordinary.


Actually, let me rephrase that, deciding to overnight at the Hôtel de Glace, or Ice Hotel, is very

out of the ordinary.  Our stay here might have been the single most memorable hotel experience we’ve ever shared as a family– I can’t imagine one topping it. But let me be clear, if getting a good night’s sleep is your principal objective, this may not be for you.

It should be noted that a majority of the 85,000 people who visit the property annually don’t spend the night. Only about 4,000 do.

Why so few? For starters, there are only 36 rooms available (accommodating a maximum of 88 guests) and they’re not cheap. If you’re on a budget, the best bet is to try something mid-week and/or check for special promotions. Families, for example, are offered special rates throughout the season, so make sure to check the website for potential offers. 

Others may simply not be warm to the idea (pun intended) of sleeping in a room that’s about 25° F.  Nevertheless, the Ice Hotel is still well worth a visit. As you might guess, this cathedral-like hotel is not a permanent structure. It takes about five to six weeks to assemble and it’s made entirely of snow (15,000 tons) and ice (500 tons), and it’s the only one of its kind in North America. I’m not sure how long it takes to disassemble, or melt away, but it must be painful to watch since the hotel is truly a work of art.

Tours are available up to 5 p.m., when they close the rooms and suites to non-guests. Until then, you can walk around the grounds, which includes an immense lobby, complete with exquisite ice sculptures, a slide, and chandelier lit by fiber optics; hot tubs and sauna; functional fireplaces; an ice café which serves hot beverages; the famous ice bar, where various “shooters” are served around the clock in blocks of ice; and a majestic wedding chapel, which simply has to be seen to be believed. Yes, people really do get married here, and newlyweds have some pretty impressive suites to choose from for their wedding night.

Ice Feather Bed.jpg

Ultimately, it’s the 17 specially designed suites that are the hotel’s main attraction. Each room has its own unique design, all based on a broader theme, which this year happens to be biodiversity.  As we walked from room to room, each one seemed more amazing than the last. My favorite was the “Desert Suite,” while the kids liked “The Frog Room” the best. Other impressive rooms included those designed by students from Quebec’s top universities who participated in a special Ephemeral Architecture Competition to come up with original designs for a suite using only snow and ice as basic materials. The best submissions were used to design three of the suites and the results were architectural masterpieces!

From what I could tell, I suspected a lot of guests take full advantage of the bar to help them make it through the night. Having our kids along didn’t offer us that option. Instead, we managed on sheer willpower until my youngest son got up at 6 a.m.. None of us really minded getting out of bed early that morning.  After all, we had to get ready to go dog sledding!

Hotel de Glace

All overnight stays include:   

  • A welcome bag and information packet
  • A thermal sleeping bag for the night
  • A room at the Four Points by Sheraton Québec (for storing luggage, a hot shower, and room in case you bail)
  • A welcome cocktail served in an ice glass
  • Access to the hot tubs and sauna
  • Breakfast at the Four Points by Sheraton Québec’s restaurant

For more icy accommodations visit Traveler online.

Follow Rainer on Twitter at @JenssTravel.

Photo by Rainer Jenss

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