ICE!: Behind the scenes at Gaylord Hotels’ holiday exhibit

Each holiday season, the four Gaylord Hotels in the United States import about 100 master ice carvers from Harbin, China’s Winter Festival to carve elaborate, life-size exhibits for the resorts.

I recently got to peek behind the curtain and watch the artists at work at the Gaylord Palms Resort near Orlando, Florida.

The ICE! exhibits are a wonder to walk through, with room out of room full of sculptures where everything – even walls and stairs – are made out of ice.

ICE! gets its start months before the exhibit premieres in November, with a theme and technical drawings to plan the exhibit. The carvers start their work about 30 days before ICE! opens.

Bringing in the ice is a logistical feat in itself. Each sculpture starts as a 400-pound ice block trucked to Orlando from Adel, Georgia. The timing of the ice’s arrival is carefully planned because all of the colors in the exhibit are added when the ice is frozen and not on-site.

Larry Walter, one of the show’s on-site producers, said two to four trucks of ice are delivered each day, with largely clear and white ice being delivered at the beginning of the process and the colored ice coming to add the finishing touches later.

The artists start the carving with chain saws to shape the ice. Fine detail work is done with small chisels and other hand tools.

All this work happens in rooms at the hotel’s convention center that are chilled to 9 degrees Farenheit. Visitors to the exhibit are loaned parkas to walk through.

This year’s ICE! exhibit at the Gaylord Palms has the theme “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The rooms are set up as if you are walking through the poem. The whole thing is lit and musically scored like a show.

Once the exhibit opens, most of the artists return to China. But a team of about 10 stays behind at each resort to do touch-up work and be on call to take care of any mishaps. Walter said guests usually can’t resist touching the sculptures, and things do wind up breaking off from time to time.

The other Gaylord hotels have different ICE! themes. The Gaylord National near Washington, D.C. has “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee has “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” And “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the theme at the Gaylord Texan near Dallas, Texas.

There are a couple of popular features that make their way into each ICE! exhibit, regardless of the theme. There’s always a “slide room” with ice slides for kids (and some adventurous parents) to play on. And ICE! always ends with a life-size Nativity, done completely in crystal clear ice.

The ICE! exhibits all open in mid-November. You can save a few bucks on tickets if you buy them online in advance at the Gaylord Hotels Web site.

Here’s a video look at my behind-the-scenes visit to ICE!:

I asked Walter what happens to the sculptures after the exhibit closes in early January. He said everything is bull-dozed, crushed and moved out to an area of the resort’s parking lot to melt, which usually takes just two days in Florida.

Gaylord Opryland hotel to re-open Nov. 15 in Nashville

The clean-up work is done at the Gaylord Opryland hotel, and construction crews have moved on to the rebuilding and renovating.

Hotel officials say Nashville‘s largest hotel will re-open on Nov. 15, six months after the Cumberland River overflowed its banks and flooded the hotel’s common areas.

The photo below, which was released by the Gaylord Opryland, shows that the water also rose within a foot or so of the ceiling in some guestrooms in the hotel’s Magnolia area.

The Magnolia area rooms are getting a complete renovation (as shown in the rendering at right), with an updated, lighter look than they had before.

The Gaylord Opryland hotel is also getting a new look in the Cascades area lobby and the rotating Cascades Terrace bar, as well as in several of the hotel’s restaurants. Two new restaurants — offering Mexican and Italian cuisine — are being added during the rebuilding.

The adjacent Grand Ole Opry House, which was also flooded, is on track to reopen Oct. 1, according to Gaylord officials. (The Grand Ole Opry shows are still being performed at other Nashville venues.)

Gaylord’s price tag for all of this clean-up and renovation is estimated to top $215 million.

Nashville landmarks remain closed after historic flooding

After a weekend of torrential rains and flooding, sunshine is predicted in Nashville, Tenn., today. Officials at many of the city’s landmark spots for visitors will be assessing the damage and starting the clean-up process.

Here’s a look at what’s open, what isn’t and what won’t be for some time:

The Gaylord Opryland Resort is closed. At last report, many of the hotel’s common areas were flooded with up to 10 feet of water. The resort’s 2,800-plus hotel rooms have not been damaged, but the company says it will take months to clean up and re-open for business. Reservations for the Gaylord Opryland have been suspended, and Gaylord officials said they are seeking alternatives for the conventions scheduled at the complex in the coming weeks. The Gaylord contained 12 percent of the city’s hotel rooms, and The Tennessean reports today that some larger conventions are being directed to Gaylord properties in other cities.

Next door, the Grand Ole Opry House was also damaged in the flooding. Officials have not released details on the extent of the damage. Tonight’s Grand Ole Opry performance has been moved to Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. Weekend Opry performances have been moved to the Ryman Auditorium. Other Grand Ole Opry attractions, including backstage tours and the Grand Ole Opry Museum, have been suspended.The historic Ryman Auditorium downtown has not been damaged and was never threatened by the flood waters. The Ryman is the former, longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s likely that many Opry performances will be relocated to the Ryman as long as the Grand Ole Opry House remains closed.

Mega-mall Opry Mills is closed because of the flooding and power outages. Mall officials have not released damage information, but the mall is adjacent to the flooded Gaylord Opryland Resort and Grand Ole Opry House. Nashville news stations are showing helicopter video of flood waters surrounding the mall and parking areas.

The basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is flooded. Fortunately, none of the museum’s collections are housed in the basement, so the exhibits have not been affected. Museum officials say they expect to re-open right away.

The honky-tonks and shops in the popular LoBro area (along Lower Broadway and Second Avenue) are a mixed bag. Some, including larger venues the Hard Rock Cafe and Wildhorse Saloon, are closed because of basement flooding, but other business remain open. The streets and sidewalks are not flooded in this area.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center will be closed for about a month, officials told The Tennessean. The concert hall’s basement has flooded, and essential equipment, including two Steinway grand pianos, has been lost. A note on the Nashville Symphony’s Web site informs visitors that “the status of all upcoming events remains uncertain.”

LP Field
, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, is underwater. There’s no word on whether the stadium’s locker rooms, offices and other facilities have been damaged.

Nashville Predators hockey venue Bridgestone Arena is also flooded. The NHL team says there has been extensive damage to locker rooms, TV production facilities and other venues on the arena’s lower levels.

The Hampton Inn and Suites Nashville – Downtown is completely closed because of flooding. The hotel across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame has relocated its guests to other Nashville hotels.

Flooding has not affected air travel in and out of Nashville International Airport. It remains completely open.

But getting to and from the airport could be a different story. Dozens of road closures dot the Nashville metro area. The metro Nashville government is continually updating a Nashville road closure map online.

Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort to be closed for months after floodwaters rise

The Cumberland River breach this morning in Nashville, Tenn., has flooded the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Gaylord Entertainment now says that the hotel and popular convention site is damaged and currently closed.

Company officials say the extent of the damage has not been fully assessed, but that the hotel will likely be closed for several months.

Last night, as the threat of flooding rose, the Opryland Hotel evacuated approximately 1,500 guests to higher ground. No guests or employees at the hotel have been injured in the flooding.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort is the largest non-casino hotel in the United States, with more than 2,800 rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel hosts hundreds of meetings, shows, weddings and other events each year.

It is a popular vacation spot for country music fans visiting the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and the hotel’s lavish Sunday brunch is legendary among locals.

The Gaylord Opryland is situated on the banks of the Cumberland River, which winds through the city of Nashville. It was protected by FEMA-approved levees.

The company says it will spend the next 24 hours assessing the damage and arranging alternatives for the conventions booked at the hotel in the coming weeks and months.

Floodwaters force evacuation of Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel

It was a late night for guests of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, as the hotel was evacuated because of rising floodwaters.

The torrential rains have stopped in Nashville, Tenn., but the Cumberland River continued to rise overnight.

Around midnight CDT, Nashville emergency officials decided to remove the estimated 1,500 guests from the hotel. Instead of spending the night in their rooms, folks wound up sleeping on cots at nearby McGavock High School.

The hotel sits on the banks of the Cumberland River, which was cresting this morning. So far, Gaylord officials say the Nashville landmark has suffered only minor flood damage.

A note posted on the hotel’s Web site advises that Gaylord has temporarily suspended reservations for the Music City property.

Fifteen people have been killed in the weekend floods. The three interstates that intersect in Nashville – I-24, I-65 and I-40, were all closed over the weekend. Officials say I-40 may be closed for an extended period of time because of flood damage.