The lobby greets guests with oversized stone pillars adorned in enormous holly wreaths and ornament swag. Across a foot bridge, the 8-story atrium features a 54-foot tall Christmas tree with two 25-foot toy soldiers standing sentinel. All around the resort, 150 trees, more than 5,000 feet of garland, and 15,000 ornaments make every turn festive. This is truly Christmas on a Texan scale.
This holiday season, we had the thrill of participating in Gaylord Texan's twelfth annual Lone Star Christmas. Check out how we spent our day. And be sure to read to the end so you don't miss our tips for making the most of your visit!
Our Day at Gaylord Texan's Lone Star Christmas
The well-known highlight of Lone Star Christmas is "ICE!", but that is just the beginning. Perusing the events menu, we decided to try out as many activities as possible, and opted for the "Play All Day Pass." At $64.99/per person (adults & kids) or $54.99 on off-peak days, this pass includes:
(UPDATED 2017 prices: $62.00pp, adults & kids, no difference for peak vs. off-peak days)
The Elf on a Shelf Scavenger Hunt
The idea: Follow clues to locate ten elves hidden around the resort. Then solve puzzles to reveal the elves' names. Complete the hunt and earn a prize!
Our experience: An adorable clue book, a nice walk through the resort, and some funny elf scenes made this an enjoyable activity for our whole family. Seven-year old Mag was completely engaged throughout the hunt, and was enthused about the prize she received upon completion.
Note: At 7, Mag was able to do much of the puzzle-solving with minimal to moderate assistance. As we observed other families, we noted that kids 4 and up seemed to be enjoying this activity, albeit with more guidance from their parents; kids two and under required continuous prodding and prompting from increasingly flustered parents. We saw several younger teens completing this together without parents, which was probably a fun break for both the teens and their parents.
The idea: Tube down a two-story tall hill covered in real snow. Over 2 million pounds of snow are brought in for this 52-day event.
Our experience: We're from Chicago. We get tons of snow. We go sledding a lot. But we still loved this, especially Mag. The novelty of seeing snow indoors and getting to snow-tube inside a resort has a magical draw.
Note: We did this over and over and over. And then a few more times. It helped that we were there on a weekday, and never waited more than 2 minutes for a turn; people we talked to said that the wait can be prohibitive during the weekends.
The idea: Don a parka (provided) and walk through an enchanting exhibit of ice carvings. Forty Chinese artisans work for a month to carve two million pounds of ice into themed sculptures. This year's theme: Christmas Around the World.
Our experience: We had visited the ice sculpture exhibit at London's Hyde Park "Winter Wonderland" last Christmas, so we thought we knew what to expect with this exhibit. We were so wrong. "ICE!" far exceeded our expectations. The ice carvings were phenomenal; far more colorful and whimsical than those we had seen in the past.
Midway through the exhibit was an ice slide with no wait time. Although it was a bit challenging to pick up decent speed on this slide, sledding down an icy slope while balanced on the parka's tail was a fun change from ordinary sledding.
Note: If you're like us, you might feel a little too cold to linger and read each sign about Christmas in the different countries. So consider taking photos of the signs. That way, later as you're warming up with a hot chocolate, you can read about Christmas in each of the countries represented in "ICE!"
The idea: Stop in the gingerbread workshop and decorate your own single gingerbread man, a gingerbread family, a snowman family, or a gingerbread house. Then have your picture taken with Gingy.
Our experience: Gingerbread walls and a themed tree gave the gingerbread workshop a magical Christmas feeling. The decorating experience was just as wonderful: yummy cookies, easy-to-use frosting (other pre-made kits often come with dry cookies and rock-hard "construction" frosting), and a fun variety of candy decorations. Ending the experience by meeting the cuddly Gingy just made our day!
Note: If you have any photography tricks up your sleeve, bring them to this stop. The fluorescent flood lights used in the gingerbread workshop cast shadows and altered hues in bizarre ways, making it a challenge to capture this magical scene on camera.
Cookies and Milk with Mrs. Claus
The idea: Mrs. Claus reads a Christmas story aloud while children enjoy their bedtime milk and cookie. Kids each get their own book to follow along in, and can take their book home. After storytime, Mrs. Claus is available for photos.
Our experience: At the end of an exhausting day of Christmas activities, Mag loved snuggling up in a red bean bag and listening to Mrs. Claus' soothing voice. And we parents were just as happy to have a chance to sit and relax, too. Plus, you can never go wrong with a huge, chewy chocolate chip cookie.
Note: If you are interested in purchasing, or even viewing, the professional photo taken of your child(ren) with Mrs. Claus, check it out that same day at the "ICE!" ticketing booth. We could not access ours online later, despite the photographer having given us a ticket with our access code.
10 Tips to Enjoy Your Lone Star Christmas
- If possible, go on a weekday. Lines are significantly shorter, and prices are reduced. Note: neither is true of weekdays once kids are off school for Christmas break.
- If you go on a weekday, purchase your tickets on site, not online. The online ticketing process is not up to speed with today's world of e-purchasing, and can be a frustrating experience. That said, anyone needing weekend tickets might do better to purchase online, to avoid weekend lines at the ticket booth on site.
- If you purchase tickets online, do not select the "print at home" option. Our purchase of three Play All Day Passes required the printing of 15 (yes, 15!) pages, with full color photos on them. Even using the gray scale option on the printer, that was a ton of ink. And paper. Of course, weekend goers might want to consider the ink/paper loss as a trade off to eliminate waiting in line for will call tickets on site.
- Consider breaking the experience into two days. Less tired kids. Less tired parents. Need we say more?
- Don't automatically assume the "Play All Day Pass" is your best option. If we could re-do our ticket-buying decisions, we probably would purchase an all day pass only for Mag, then piece together single-activity tickets for the two of us.
- Having three all day passes meant we each had (and paid for) our own scavenger hunt booklet, which is unnecessary when working together as a family. Nor did we two adults need the prize for completing our booklets.
- Without the Play All Day Pass, we would have had better options for gingerbread decorating. (See #6 below)
- We would have been fine with just one adult having a snow-tubing ticket, as one of us was always waiting at the bottom of the slide, manning our backpack (see #7 & 8 below), taking photos, etc.
- If you opt for the "Play All Day Pass," be ready for some surprises, good and bad.
- The good: the Play All Day Pass comes with unlimited snow tubing. This was a pleasant surprise, because Gaylord Texan's website mentions getting a wristband for 12 runs down the snow tube hill. Nowhere did we see mention of unlimited access with the all day pass, so Mag was thrilled by this surprise.
- The bad: Gaylord Texan's website mentions the gingerbread options of decorating: a gingerbread family (6 cookies), a snow-family (6 cookies), an entire gingerbread house, or a house plus family. All options sound like a lot of cookie decorating fun! When we showed our tickets at the gingerbread house, we were shocked to be given a single gingerbread man each. When we asked why we weren't getting the gingerbread family package, we were told that the Play All Day Pass comes with one single cookie each. But even knowing that now, I still can't find anywhere on the website that lets guests know to expect a smaller scale decorating experience with the pass. We were able to work out a satisfactory agreement with the staff on hand, but I would hope the resort would takes steps to eliminate future guest disappointment in this area. UPDATE: 2017 website does list "gingerbread man kit" under the Play All Day Activity Pass. So be advised that means a single cookie per pass holder.
- The bad, but not that bad: the Play All Day Pass automatically gives you the start time of 10:00 for the scavenger hunt. But to start the hunt, you must collect your materials at the concierge window, which doesn't open until 11:00 on weekdays. So if you're going on a weekday, ignore what your ticket says, and plan to start at 11:00.
- Bring snacks and water. More than you think you will need. Walking all over the resort on a scavenger hunt, lugging snow tubes up stairs, and burning fuel to keep warm in an ice exhibit will make you hungrier and thirstier than you might expect. We had sucked down a water bottle each and most of our snacks by halfway through the day. Resort snacks and water are priced about how you'd expect, so bring as much as you're willing to carry.
- Bring winter accessories and layers. The "ICE!" exhibit hall is kept at about 9 degrees F (-13C). Although hooded parkas are provided, bring a hat, too, as the hood is loose. And don't forget mittens or gloves; the parkas don't have pockets. If you own thermals or any type of base layer, throw them on under your jeans. The warmer you are, the longer you'll want to stay to enjoy this exhibit. (We spent about 30 minutes in "ICE!" but would have stayed maybe 15 minutes longer with a base layer.)
- Bring a pen or pencil. Yes, most moms probably have one (or tons!) in their purse, but just in case, it's worth mentioning that you'll need one for the scavenger hunt, and it's not included with the clue booklet.
- Roll with the punches and have fun making family memories! Even the best laid plans aren't invincible. Hiccups on a trip are almost inevitable, so whatever comes your way, remember the most important thing is being together with family and making memories with your children.
Spending Christmas season at Gaylord Texan?
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Have a happy holiday, from our family to yours!
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