What it’s really like to stay in an ice hotel
Staying in an ice hotel seems to be fascinating to a lot of people, but what’s it really like?
After several years of wondering, Hubby and I finally tried it out at the Hotel Glace just outside of Quebec City, Canada. It is the only ice hotel in North America, and it seemed easier than heading to Sweden for a 3 day vacation. We decided our night at the ice hotel would be sandwiched in between nights at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac deep in the heart of Quebec City. One night to gear up for the ice hotel stay and one night to recover from it.
Hotel Glace is actually built on the grounds of the Valcartier Village (1st time at this location) every winter season and is only open from early January through the end of March. It’s built in stages, so there might be more rooms to choose from later in their “season”. The Valcartier village is a winter playground with a regular hotel, 35 tubing slides, indoor water park, ice skating, restaurants, snow rafts, etc. A room in the Hotel Glace also comes with a “twin room” in the Hotel Valcartier, a tubing pass, spa access, and breakfast. Your twin room is where you can shower, store your bags and prepare for your night in ice.
Check in takes place at 4pm at the “twin” Hotel Valcartier. Technically, the ice hotel is a tourist attraction that is open for paying visitors from 10am until 9pm daily. It sits on the far end of the resort, and the back of the Hotel Glace backs up to the back of the indoor water park on the property. This allows for the bathrooms inside the waterpark to be used by the Hotel Glace guests. The biggest questions I seem to get are about the bathrooms…very important. You just exit the back door of the ice hotel, into the back door of the “twin” resort and there are bathrooms there for your use.
So we checked into our twin room and took the day visitors tour of Hotel Glace. It’s really informative about the way the hotel is rebuilt each year, etc. Each year is a different theme and has corporate sponsors. The 2016 theme was “Rivers” and the 2017 theme was “The North”. So our room’s ice sculptures and wall decorations were Mongolian falcon hunters. Others were arctic animals, etc. Corporate sponsors also have their own sculpture area of the hotel as well. There are 3 ice bars, a lobby, a chapel for weddings (they host about 30 per season), several outdoor hot tubs, a sauna, and an ice sculpture gallery. After the tour, we wandered around the larger resort until our mandatory survival meeting at 6pm with Kaley. She was our hostess, has stayed in the ice hotel several times, and will go over the logistics of how to survive a night in the hotel. It was nice to see a few other nervous faces in the meeting. After our meeting we went to the most casual resort restaurant for dinner on our own. Kaley stressed eating a decent sized meal, like that would help keep us warm? Oh well, I’ll try anything once, obviously.
So, the “party” for overnight guests starts in the ice bar around 9pm. I wore jeans, wool socks, snow boots, several layers on top, a long down puffer coat, hat and waterproof mittens. The waterproof mittens are to hold the ice flute my drink came in! There are very few stools and benches, and they are all made of ice with animal pelts on top of them. You have to bring a cash or credit for the bar, as you can’t charge your drinks to your ice room. Strategically, you won’t go to bed until around 11pm or midnight, so the night has just begun. We made a decision not to drink beer and stuck to the mixed cocktails on the menu. Beer drinking seemed like a way to set yourself up to have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the cold night, and we wanted to prevent that as much as possible.
It was fun to mingle with people and find out what brought them to Hotel Glace for the night. There were a lot of couples from Boston, New York, and Ohio. There was also a family from Australia! There are family rooms with 3 queen beds in them if you wanted to make your visit to Hotel Glace a family affair. Kaley hosted party games with the group, and we even got a chance to sculpt a block of ice into something. Hint: It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Around 11pm, we headed to our twin room to change into our swimsuits. They suggest spending time in a hot tub or sauna before bed to raise your core temperature for the night. It was kind of silly fun to be walking to the hot tubs outside in a robe and flip flops when it was only zero degrees farenheit. At this point, the rest of the resort is fast asleep (with being a family resort) so there was a funny commradery with the ice hotel guests that were still wandering around. After 30 minutes in the hot tub, we went back to the twin room to dry off completely (including any moisture in your hair), and get into long underwear. Don’t forget to go to the bathroom one last time too! So walking back to the Hotel and Glace, we had on long underwear, socks, boots, winter coat, a hat, that’s it. In our hands we had our phones and an clean pair of warm wool socks.
In our room, we pulled our provided sleeping bags out of their cinch bags and put our coats into them. I sat on the bed, put my clean socks on, as any sweat in your socks could freeze and make you cold. I then wiggled into a micro fiber sleep sack (provided) and stepped into the sleeping bag. The sleeping bag is rated down to -29 degrees farenheit. It has an inner cinch that goes around your neck (not tightly, you can still fit your hands through) and a cinched hood so that only your face sticks out once it is zipped up. And surprisingly, I was nice and toasty! Hubby was instrumental in zipping me up and was fine doing his own. So by midnight, we were dozing off.
I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of Hubby snoring, and wished I’d warn my earplugs, but could hear or see nothing else. The rooms are almost soundproof because of the ice, and are only separated from the hallway by curtains. I wasn’t cold, but not as toasty as when we went to bed and managed to fall back asleep after rolling over on my side a little closer to Hubby. I woke up again around 7:30am and laid there for a while before I got up the nerve to brave a cold arm to lean over to get my phone out of my boot to see what time it was. Around 8am I stared messing with Hubby to wake him up, goof off and laugh that we made it all night! Wake up call is at 8:15am so that they can tidy up before the tourists start coming through again around 10am. Kaley actually opens your curtain and says, “Wake up call, it’s 8:15am”. They give you one more call in case you need it.
We had placed our ice flutes on our ice nightstand when we went to bed, and they were still frozen and sitting there when we got up! We quickly zipped out of our sleeping bags, threw on our coats and boots to head into our twin room to shower and get ready for the day! We survived!! The breakfast buffet inside the Hotel Valcartier was sufficient, but nothing to write home about. We took the 11am shuttle back to Quebec City because we had reservations for a walking food tour in town around 2pm.
So the bottom line: It was a fun one night crazy experience that I would do again with my kids or a group of adults. Even though we only went as a couple we had a great time. The french speaking made for a lot of laughs and felt like we were across the pond.
I certainly wish we had known about all of the winter activities going on at the Hotel Glace “twin” hotel. We might have even stayed an extra night in Hotel Valcartier in order to take part in all of the fun things to do there. We didn’t pack snow pants, so we also weren’t excited about getting all wet and cold on the tubing slopes. So we gave our included tubing tickets to a family as we headed out the door. Hopefully, they’ll pay it forward just like those crazy Americans did.
Note: This post was not sponsored in any way, although we used all kinds of points and miles to make the trip affordable. I’ve shared those methods here. As always, all opinions are my own.