As a travel columnist for over two decades years, the question I get asked the most is what my favorite trip or destination has been. While it’s hard to answer that question, having traveled all over the world, I certainly can narrow it down to my Top 10 or so, all-time-most-memorable-journeys and the Ice Hotel in Quebec is certainly in my Top 10 of over 900 trips logged.
For about three months, every year, a wondrous frozen water extravaganza of art draws thousands of visitors from around the globe into a mesmerizing world of elegantly sleeted chandeliers, indoor polar slides, ornate frozen furniture, disco, bar, and refrigerated artistry that is nothing short of miraculous.
Each winter season, within just a few short weeks, this engineered icy spectacle is re-designed and re-constructed from hundreds of tons of ice and tens of thousands of pounds of packed snow.
No two years are ever the same as several dozen uniquely themed rooms and suites, glacial nightclub, a majestic wedding chapel, and a unique lodging experience are created for brave adventure seekers looking to be awed for either a day visit or for a gutsy overnight stay that requires preparation and bravery.
From the moment they enter this aesthetic spectacle, guests are taken into another realm of beauty and tranquility as light plays a visual extravaganza on the eye with colors, textures, and lighting.
For those brave enough to take the class and prepare for an over-nighter of a lifetime, sleeping in the Hotel de Glace is successful only with the help of arctic rated sleeping bags, and meticulously planned pre-sleeping preparation. If sleeping in a room where cell phones freeze, cameras malfunction, and even boots and sweaters must be protected, sounds doable or inviting, get ready to slumber, or not, on top of a mattress placed on a block of ice as a bed foundation.
While checking in, and before entering the actual ice hotel, guests warm up in the separate, and heated Entrance Pavilion to purchase tickets. There the you’ll find a large boutique which promises your last chance at cold weather gear before entry. Having entered, guests can access the Celsius Pavilion where soups, sandwiches, light snacks, and beverages are for sale in the light snack area. Locker rooms are provided as intelligent overnight guests do take the preparation course seriously. There, they are instructed how to raise their core body temperature before bed by indulging in the spas and sauna in a methodical and time sensitive manner, right before turning in. This includes the important task of blow drying one’self from head to toe in order to prevent condensation or frost bite. Most guests choose to store personal items in the lockers or back at the Sheraton as they freeze in the rooms.
The Hotel de Glace partners with the Four Points by Sheraton Quebec about a mile away. Check-ins take place through the Sheraton, where typical hotel amenities, and warmth are only a 2-3 minute complimentary shuttle away and a warm and cozy room is waiting, just in case. As locals say, “There is no shame in not making it through the night.” I did make it through the night but by 5 AM I needed to use the bathroom and was not willing to go through the entire process of raising my core temperature again, so I opted to check out shortly thereafter.
Overnight patrons at the ice hotel enjoy an ice cocktail in the Ice Bar, complete sleeping equipment, access to the hot tubs and sauna area, a hot wake-up beverage, and breakfast.
A few of the varied and individually themed suites at the Hotel de Glace even boast fireplaces that are strictly for ambiance and aesthetics, as they are specifically designed to not emit any heat whatsoever.
In order for the arctic sleeping bags to function correctly, one must wear the correct synthetic fibers and socks and have clean, dry, and unworn clothes separately reserved just for sleeping, as moisture is the enemy.
A spectacular and romantic wedding chapel of ice is also enjoyed by dozens of couples each year, many of whom dogsled in for their big day to tie the knot. It seems rather unlikely, however, that many honeymoon babies are conceived overnight in the hotel. There are no doors on the rooms but rather a drape that hangs over each door jam.
With the reality that even escaping one’s single mummy bag to make a midnight bathroom break hundreds of feet away, is a major feat and requires the monumental effort of completing the entire preparation protocol again, it seems for most that, “It probably ain’t happenin’,” on the wedding night. At least that’s what I thought after some serious consideration and after making it through the night but not without my eyelids freezing many times. My nose and eyelids were just about the only part of me exposed. They told me not to cover my nose to prevent moisture which is the enemy and to prevented at all costs. Quite literally, imagine sleeping in a freezer.
I did heed the sage advice to only partake in one cocktail as I was reminded that alcohol lowers the body temperature, which is the opposite of what you will be trying to accomplish.
One amazing attribute of this unusual lodging, is the extreme insulation and acoustic property of the ice structure. Even with the blaring music from the disco, the suites and rooms are supremely quiet and serenely peaceful at night. So quiet in fact, that most guests comment on the eerie stillness, even with there being no doors on any of the rooms. I was told that is remains an even and consistent temperature of 10 degrees, regardless of the often negative digit temperatures outside.
Was I warm and comfortable? Not exactly. Sometimes, briefly…maybe. But North Face graciously provided me, before my visit, with many under shell garments and a wonderful new jacket to review and to make my stay as comfortable as possible. Most of the time I was so awed by the beauty, splendor, and novelty of the experience that I did forget, my lack of warmth, at least for brief periods.
A day or early evening visit and tour may be more enjoyable for most. But I must give credit to one family who came to stay with their very young infant who was the first baby to stay at the Ice Hotel. The baby was happy and warm when I met them and the parents reported he slept through the night without issue.
You won’t find any lodging opportunity like it anywhere. The crystalline ice sculptures and intricately designed walls, indoor ice slide, bars, and discotheque are an unforgettable sight to see and experience. If I do go back, I don’t think I would stay the night again. However, I would jump at the chance to tour the exquisite property and enjoy a frozen cocktail at the bar again. In fact, over a million like-minded visitors have experienced this frozen wonder since it first opened nearly 17 years ago.