by Diana Lambdin Meyer
If your family is into extreme experiences and wintertime activities, the Hotel de Glace in Quebec City should slide to the top of your “Crazy Things to Do” list. Hotel de Glace translates to “hotel of ice,” and that’s exactly what this place is — a hotel made of compacted snow and ice. Designed after the original ICEHOTEL in Sweden, the hotel is one of many eclectic attractions at Quebec City’s Winter Carnival, a two-week celebration that transforms this city of 600,000 into a frosty playground.
Hotel de Glace first came on the scene with the millennium in 2000, and each year, it takes on a slightly different shape and theme. In 2014 the theme was “Myths and Legends From Around the World” and in 2017 it was an “Ice Circus” theme. Themed-suites are also available each year.
Got a budding architect in your family? They will love learning about how the Hotel de Glace is constructed each year. Starting around December 1, workers assemble metal forms for the walls, which are then filled with artificial snow and packed tight. The end results are walls that are four feet thick. Self-supporting ceilings and archways made out of snow bricks continue to be added, some requiring ice pillars about 12 feet high. As various rooms are created, master ice carvers and snow sculptors begin their work, creating a typical hotel registrations desk, bar, dance area, a two-story ice slide and multiple sculptures found throughout the hotel, all made from snow and ice. A small amount of wiring in the snow walls allows for both practical and decorative lighting throughout. The hotel architects must adhere to building safety standards as if this were a traditional hotel construction project. Work progresses 24 hours a day and if all goes well, the hotel opens the first week in January.
The temperature is a constant 22 degrees Farenheit, which is often balmy compared to exterior temperatures in Quebec City this time of year. Because snow is an insulator, it’s amazingly quiet in the guestrooms at night.
And even if you don’t want to spend the night, come tour and play around during the day, prior to guests checking in for the night. The admission price is usually about $20 per person, with discounts for those under age 12. Guided tours explain the construction process, and you can jump on a bed, enjoy a glass of ice wine and see if it’s something you and your family might want to do at a later time. After a visit here, your kids will never again be satisfied with making a simple snowman or snow fort.
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- Hotel made of ice and snow
- Snowshoeing at night
- Scavenger hunts and games
- Theme Park
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
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It just sounds horrible at first, but you will be sleeping on a jumbo-sized ice cube. Seriously. The bed frames are solid ice, topped with a piece of plywood, a thin mattress and some animal hide blankets. Each guest receives his or her own sleeping bag and mummy sack, which is guaranteed to keep you warm and toasty to about 40 below. That's if you follow the proper instructions.
Upon arrival at the Hotel de Glace, you and your family will join other guests for an orientation session. This is where you will learn the best ways to stay warm, how to enter your sleeping bags and other tips for enjoying the night ahead. Heed this advice. A separate pair of socks, a hat and keeping your nose out of the sleeping bag will mean the difference between shivering misery and a truly amazing evening of sleep.
Do not pack cotton pajamas for your family. Cotton is organic, which retains body heat/moisture, and will contribute to chilliness in your sleeping bag. Synthetic or polyester jammies are better. But, experienced Hotel de Glace guests and staff report that sleeping in the nude is the best option for staying warm. Your children may have already learned this in scouting activities.
Most seasons, the Hotel de Glace has about 40 rooms, which usually include two or three suites. Some suites even have a fireplace and its own sauna. All beds are queen-sized, sometimes with two or more beds to a room. There are no ice cribs.
This is important: YOU WILL NOT HAVE AN INDOOR BATHROOM for middle-of-the-night necessities. Heated bathrooms are available in the Celsius building, and four heated portable toilets are positioned just outside various entrances/exits to the hotel. Showers are also available in the Celsius building. Note that there are no bathtubs available.
You will not have a TV, radio or any electrical outlets in your room, nor will you have a door. Only a heavy curtain separates you from the hallway.
Because outside guests tour the hotel in the evening hours, the earliest bedtime is 9 p.m. Wake-up announcements are "called" down each hallway around 8:30 a.m. Check-out is 9 a.m.
And remember, if you decide you just can't make it through the night, the Celsius Pavilion is open and staffed all night long. Usually a half dozen guests show up here sometime during the night.
We purchased the cocktail and tour ticket and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Amazing what they have done with creating beds, furniture and decorations carved out of ice. They have an ice slide also inside the hotel. Neat place to visit.
We visited in March of 2019 and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. My kids were a bit apprehensive about whether they could sleep through the night in a hotel made of ice, but we all slept soundly. Everyone does an orientation before a stay overnight at Hotel de Glace so you are well prepared. Follow the steps and you should be fine. The night starts with an ice sculpting party and a drink out of an ice glass, then you settle into your suite for the night. Remember to listen to the suggestions - don't drink coffee or more than one beverage containing alcohol, and do the hot tub, then thoroughly dry off etc. It is incredibly quiet inside an ice hotel, with no running appliances etc. so be prepared for how calm and quiet it is. You also have access to a room indoors if you are not able to make it through the night. Happily, we had no issues sleeping and woke up extremely proud of ourselves for making it through the night. Take a tour during the day to see the other suites. This is a must do for everyone. Also the tube ride was amazing. Our entire family spent the day after our stay riding Everest and racing down the tubing hill. Most fun we've had in ages.
Each year, the Hotel de Glace takes on a slightly different theme. For example, "A Journey to the Center of Winter" was the theme in 2013, and in 2014, the theme was "Myths and Legends From Around the World," where guests saw well-known stories depicted through the art of ice and snow. The theme for 2015 was traveling through space and time and in 2017 it was all about the circus.
A two-story ice slide is a lot of fun for parents and kids, who will surely visit it over and over again. Don a headlight for some nighttime snowshoeing around the grounds. Sign up for an ice workshop and make your own sculptures from a block of ice. Or visit the Sugar Shack and eat fresh maple syrup candy poured out on the snow.
Each night, the staff coordinates games and a scavenger hunt inside the hotel. Families can also opt to cuddle up on the big leather couches in front of the fire in the Celsius Pavilion. A few board games, storybooks and other toys are available for young ones. You can also get some popcorn and other late-night snacks here. Wi-Fi is available in the Pavilion.
Guests are encouraged to spend time in one of the three hot tubs just before they go to bed. Kids will laugh as icicles form on their noses and ears!
Children are allowed in the bar at the hotel, where there's always dancing, hot chocolate and adult drinks.
Be sure to buy a souvenir in the heated entry facility. Teddy bears for the kids and plenty of T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats will impress your friends at home.
Dining at the Hotel de Glace is limited to breakfast, an event held in the Celsius Pavilion beginning around 8:30 a.m. Breakfast is buffet-style and fairly typical morning fare -- pancakes, sausage, bacon, fried potatoes, poached eggs and a limited selection of dry cereal, along with the requisite juices, milk, coffee and tea.
Vending machines for snacks and soft drinks are also available for guests at any time.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
You will not have your luggage with you in your room. All guests receive a locker in the heated Celsius building, so plan on bringing a very small tote to carry items to your room. These should be items that will not suffer from freezing temperatures. Your phones, cameras and other electronics should stay in your locker.
Stuff your pockets with plenty of extra tissues. Your nose should be the only thing exposed as you sleep, and because of that, it will probably get a little runny. If anyone in your family wears glasses, do not place them on the ice nightstand overnight. They will be frozen to the surface the next morning.
Packages for extended stays in Quebec City are available through the Four Points by Sheraton Quebec.
The Art of Smart Timing
Hotel de Glace construction begins by December 1, and is usually finished by the first few days of January. Depending on the spring melt and daily inspections by engineers, the hotel will close sometime in late March. Weekends during Winter Carnival in Quebec City are the busiest times.
Quebec City's Jean Lesage Airport (YQB) is an international airport with direct flights from many U.S., Canadian and European cities each day. There is no airport shuttle to Hotel de Glace. Most destinations in Quebec City are no more than 20 minutes away from the airport, including Hotel de Glace, which is not guaranteed to be at the same location each year.
It will be cold 24/7 as you are walking around the property, so be prepared.
For Mom and Dad
Parents can get the kids all tucked in their sleeping bags and then head out for a glass of "Hot Caribou," the official drink of the Winter Carnival. It's hot red wine with a shot of vodka and a cinnamon stick. Afterward, relax in the hot tub together.