A quick word of advice: Don’t visit ICE! — a sprawling carved-ice exhibit kept at a frosty 9 degrees at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine — in flip-flops.
Your toes will freeze.
But even with frozen toes, you’ll probably still appreciate this "Frosty the Snowman"-themed wonderland created from 2 million pounds of ice by a team of Chinese master carvers.
In fact, nearly all of Grapevine, a 50,000-population city in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, transforms for the holidays — so much so that it has dubbed itself the "Christmas Capital of Texas."
Our 6-year-old and 3-year-old daughters, who have been singing "Last Christmas" since, well, last Christmas, appreciate that sort of enthusiasm for the holidays. So the day after Thanksgiving, we hit the road for Grapevine, hoping it would be just the place to get into the spirit of the season.
From the elaborate lights that line Main Street to the wealth of activities filling the calendars at area resorts, it was. The following are our top six ways to embrace the holidays in Grapevine.
1. Eat breakfast inside a life-size gingerbread house.
To come here is to step into your own fairy tale.
Every year, Great Wolf Lodge creates a life-size gingerbread house inside its Loose Moose Cottage restaurant. Here are this year’s ingredients: 1,200 pounds of powdered sugar; 800 pounds of egg whites; 60 gallons of lime juice; 85 pounds of chocolate; 120 pounds of jelly beans; 25 pounds of spice drops; 525 pounds of gingerbread; and 4,000 Peeps and Mike and Ike candies.
All you have to do to have a private meal inside is make a reservation with the front desk and agree to have $10 added to your bill to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.
After loading up our plates with biscuits, pancakes, bacon and other staples from the breakfast buffet, we took our place at the table inside the house, the smell of gingerbread (expectedly) wafting through.
From the red and green Mike and Ikes that lined the cracks in the walls to the icing icicles that dripped from the roof, it was a dining experience unlike any other.
Also, if you stay at Great Wolf, you get access to its 84-degree year-round waterpark, a rare treat in winter and an excellent place to burn off some of that seasonal sugar.
Info: Great Wolf Lodge, 100 Great Wolf Drive, Grapevine; 817-488-6510; www.greatwolf.com.
2. Hop aboard the North Pole Express.
We wanted an unforgettable way to meet Santa, so we reserved seats on one of Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s Victorian rail coaches headed for the North Pole.
Once the train got going, we sang Christmas carols with the elves and stopped briefly to pick up Mrs. Claus who, once on board, gave each child a "We Believe" silver Santa bell. About 15 minutes later we magically arrived at the North Pole, where we walked through "snow" (read: bubbles) on the Christmas tree trail.
After watching Santa’s arrival and enjoying some Frosty Chocolate Snow Milk in a take-home mug, we took our place in line to meet the big guy himself. His advice to both our girls: "Be good to your sister."
Info: Grapevine Vintage Railroad, 705 S. Main St., Grapevine; 817-410-3185; www.grapevinetexasusa.com. The North Pole Express, which runs select dates through Dec. 23, is technically sold out for this season; check website for more information.
3. Make your own glass ornament.
Sure, there will always be a place for those play-dough ornaments on the tree. But for an elegant yet interactive twist, visit Vetro Glassblowing Studio & Gallery, where, for $30, you can create your own glass ornament.
Show up at the studio (ideally after making a reservation) and pick your colors (red, green, blue, black or mixed) and your style (swirled or spotted).
After an artist teaches you the proper technique, you will be handed a metal rod with a ball of molten glass at the end. Dip the molten glass (which has the consistency of Silly Putty) into shards of colored glass until it is completely covered, then hand your creation over to the artist to complete.
The color-dipping process was simple enough that each of us, even our 3-year-old, could do it, and the experience offered a fascinating look at what it takes to create an object out of glass.
Info: Vetro Glassblowing Studio & Gallery, 701 S. Main St. No. 103, Grapevine; 817-251-1668; www.vetroartglass.com. Ornament making is offered through Dec. 23; check website for days and times.
4. See "Frosty the Snowman" in ICE!
ICE! returns to the Gaylord Texan Resort this year with a new theme: "Frosty the Snowman." Slip into a provided parka, then stroll past intricately carved characters and scenes from the cartoon. Or, for a burst of adrenaline, hop on one of the exhibit’s two-story-tall ice slides. (There’s also a smaller ice slide dedicated for kiddos.)
New this year is the Frostbite Factory, where you can watch master carvers from Harbin, China, in person as they create new sculptures. And, for the 21 and up set, there’s a new On the Blocks ice bar, which features an ice luge and a souvenir glass to take home.
Info: Gaylord Texan Resort, 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine; 817-778-1000; www.gaylordtexan.com. Exhibit runs through Jan. 3; check website for days, times and pricing.
5. Meet Gingy and decorate a gingerbread house.
Once you’ve thawed out from ICE!, stick around the Gaylord Texan for its Lone Star Christmas festivities, which include milk and cookies with Mrs. Claus, snow tubing and a variety of enormous decorations and holiday displays that incorporate 2 million lights and 15,000 ornaments.
Our favorite? Decorating gingerbread houses, then meeting the beloved "Shrek" character, Gingy, in the flesh — er, dough — as part of Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating workshop.
Info: Gaylord Texan Resort, 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine; 817-778-1000; www.gaylordtexan.com. Runs through Jan. 3; check website for days, times and pricing.
6. Watch a scuba-diving Santa.
This is the only item on our list that we didn’t get to experience personally because it hadn’t started when we visited. But because Sea Life Grapevine is always fun for the family, I’m recommending it anyway.
At 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 13, 14, 20 and 21, a red-suited scuba-diving Santa, complete with a white beard and accompanied by an elf, will take to the aquarium’s 160,000-gallon ocean tank. Visitors can pose for pictures with him and even find out if they’ve been naughty or nice.
Also at Sea Life for the holidays, the Octonauts are returning for a variety of activities including appearances by Captain Barnacles and Kwazii, holiday-themed book readings and ornament coloring. Once you’ve soaked it all in, drop by Legoland Discovery Center, located right next door at Grapevine Mills.
Info: Sea Life Grapevine, 3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway, Grapevine; 877-819-7677; www.visitsealife.com/grapevine.