For the past ten years, Gaylord Palms Resort near Orlando has turned their convention center into the ‘Florida Fridge’. The event begins to take shape in October, when 40 Chinese artisans and their cook arrive from Harbin, China. The ice men cometh to carve two million pounds of frozen water into a frosty fantasyland. The job takes approximately one month to complete.
Originally only crystal-clear ice was used, created by filtering de-ionized water for three days. Then, colored ice blocks were developed by adding food coloring. The process is not as easy as it sounds; the mixture must be stirred constantly to obtain consistent color. Making white ice is easiest, just freeze quickly for a cloudy look.
In previously years, I’ve walked through the finished attraction and highly recommend it get into a holiday mood. However, this year I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see ICE under construction.
The themed project starts with detailed architectural blueprints. Measurements are transferred and marked off on the floor, like a home building site. Ice blocks start arriving from the factory at a rate of two truck loads a day for 15 days. Each block weighs 400 pounds, so must be moved around by a forklift.
Workers begin to assemble the blocks, adding special fluorescent lights between some of the pieces and cutting others with chain saws. I saw a small square block placed on a larger rectangular piece, which would eventually become a head on a body. The sculptors denote points to guide them as they work like Michelangelo. Each artist brings his own set of tools, akin to a chef and his knives, including a variety of rakes, chisels, picks and trowels.
The temperature in the room hovers around nine-degrees, so carvers wear warm boots, coats, hats and gloves. (You should, too, although Gaylord provides oversized parkas.) They grapple through four-hour shifts with a warm-up break outside. I was cold after half an hour, but the Chinese are rugged. Harbin temperatures’ average only two degrees in the winter and sometimes plummet to -36. No wonder these men enjoy Florida’s balmy weather.
This year’s theme is Merry Madagascar taken from the Dreamworks’ movie. All scenes and characters are constructed entirely from ice, even the popular interactive slides. No wooden supports or iron beams are used.
The only scene to be repeated, since this event began, remains the magnificent life-size nativity, created from sparkling crystal-clear cubes. One artist, chosen by fellow sculptors, receives the honor of carving the largest angel.
If you haven’t seen ICE, make the drive to Orlando and treat yourselves and the kids to one ‘cool’ outing.
For further information and tickets: www.gaylordhotels.com
Read about my previous visit to ICE: Delicious Fun with Gingy at Gaylord Palms