ICE! ICE! Baby.

December 17, 2009

*Breaks out in dance to Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby‘.

Ohhhh. I have company. A-hum *blushes*. Please excuse my erratic behaviour and pretend you never saw that *adjusts collar*.

But really, ice, ice baby perfectly encapulates our Monday night experience… so rightfully named… *drum roll please*…

“The ICE! Experience”.


I know, right? Who’s the genius that came up with that one!?!

ICE! is located at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Centre in Kissimmee, Florida. It is an amazingly incredible self-paced, walk-through attraction hand carved from two million pounds of ice!

I purchased our tickets in advance online and found a promotional code to apply to the Monday – Thursday Adult Online Advance Purchase category:

Papa John’s Promo Code: SCPJP

This should entitle you to a further $3 off each ticket. $15.99 for an adult was a pretty sweet deal. Well, at least I thought so.

Our tickets were for the 7:00pm – 8:30pm time slot. We arrived right on time and picked up our tickets from will call then headed off to get our big, warm parkas. They recommend closed shoes and pants be worn as the temperatures for ICE! are 9ºF (-13ºC)!!! In all honesty, I’d never been in temperatures this insane before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I brought along my Minnie Santa hat to keep my head and ears warm and snugly.

ICE ICE BABY!

I slipped into my parka and prepared myself for the unexpected. I’d like to say I wasn’t nervous but I was. Actually, it wasn’t so much a feeling of nervousness, but more so that of anticipation.  I’ve never really experienced temperatures below perhaps 39ºF (4ºC) before in my life so I was anxious as to how cold 9ºF would actually feel on my skin (well, whatever skin was left showing… my two hands and part of my face).

As we approached the ICE! exhibit I could feel the temperature decline as the air began to thin. Each breath I took felt sharp and slightly more fresh as each step I paced drew me nearer to the main entrance. An employee working the main door warned me that the temperature was about to drastically decline, and boy, she wasn’t lying!

I cross the line from semi-normal temperatures to freezing cold and it hits me. Just like that; freezing. It begins to feel as though my nose is tightening up and my fingers begin to feel fat and numb; I guess similar to that of the feeling of having arthritis. My cheeks tingle as they adjust to the harsh conditions. While my body continues to react to this unfamiliar coldness, I am already too busy gallivanting in the amazingness that is ICE!

Who knew ice could be so adorable?

I was in awe. Every single thing around me was a result of thousands of pounds of ice having been carved. It was sensational; I’d never seen anything like it! I don’t know where to look. With each turn of my head something more amazing than the spectacle prior would catch my eye.  Back, forth, back, forth. I’m suddenly extremely excited. I feel like a child in a candy store having consumed way too much sugar. I am bright eyed and on edge; reacting to all things made of icy awesomeness.
.

The name's Polar Bear. Icy Polar Bear.

Eskimo kisses. So cute.

As we progress through the exhibit, I hear people comment on how cold it has become. I realise that in all my excitement, I have not noticed how much colder it feels now than when we first entered.  My parka has tiny ice crystals starting to form along the rims. My fingers feel swollen and numb and my hands are as cold as… well, ice. Haha.

Literally freezing my ass off!

There are so many amazing carvings that I start  to wonder how bloody long it would have taken to put this entire exhibit together. It really is out of this world. Well, at first it was just out of this world… and then we came to the ice carousel… then it was just whack. An entire carousel carved from ice. Absolutely insane, yet amazing all at the same time! I sat my big ol’ butt down on a polar bear. Now, in the past I have loosely used the term ‘freezing my ass off‘ to describe the weather. Until this one moment though, I really had no idea what it meant to freeze my ass off until I placed my butt down on that cute, innocent looking polar bear! AHHHHHH! I guess my face expression says it all. It possibly also says ‘hurry up and take the photo so I can jump off this thing!’ I don’t think my butt had ever before felt such a sudden cold shock in all its 23 years of existence. Poor butt. I shall never be cruel to you again! Woops. I lied. Sorry butt, but this promising of non-cruelty came before I even knew there was an ICE SLIDE!!! Yes, you read right. A slide made entirely if ice!!! I made my butt endure a whole five seconds more of icy cold torture before I called it a night.

We reached the end of the ICE! exhibit and returned out parkas. There was still one thing left to do though. Well, two things, but this was the first…

We decided to give Santa a break and grant his Christmas wish instead 😉

And the second was to check out Gaylord Palms lobby. All the hotels in the U.S.A. that I have been to over the Christmas season seem to go all out in decorating, so I expected nothing less from the already impressive Gaylord.

Gaylord Palms main lobby

Ah, Gaylord, thank you for not letting me down. You have impressed me beyond means. The lobby was absolutely beautiful. Never before have I seen any hotel lobby anywhere in the world decorated so elegantly. There was a ginormous brightly lit tree raised up on the centre stage with fairy lights draped from the extremely high ceilings surrounding the tree. Below were a handful of musicians performing Christmas carols for all to enjoy. A small crowd had gathered on the benches in front of the stage to engage in their Christmas spirits and sing along. It really was a spectacular sight. If you are heading over to the Gaylord Palms to check out ICE! it is definitely worth the extra four minute walk over to the lobby to check this out. You will not be disappointed!

Our evening at ICE! at the Gaylord Palms exceeded any expectations I had conjured up and was immensely enjoyed by all. The entry price really is small in comparison to the fun you will have.

ICE! is open daily, including holidays until January 3, 2010. Hours vary so check the website prior to arrival.

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Traveling during an economic crisis…

January 16, 2009

Despite popular belief, traveling is still quite possible during this global economic crisis. While some countries have already hit recession, it is being predicted that Australia, fortunately, will surpass it. This does not mean everything is all well and good here, though;  just today it was announced that nearly 45,000 Australians lost their jobs in the month of December, 2008, a .1% rise on previous figures. This largest monthly decline of full-time jobs since March 2003 saw the job loss tally climb to 77,000 since August, 2008.

Although, for some, these figures represent gloom and despair, if you feel confident about the security of your position and your earnings, believe it or not, now is possibly the best time for you to get out there and see the world.

During an economic downturn and recession, travel is often the first cut people make in their budgets. Given that this crisis has struck on a global level, the whole world is adjusting to suit this changing economic climate. Just like the earths’ occupants, the world of travel is also having to alter its tactics to respond to the recognized decline that an unsteady economy brings with it. Airline companies right around the globe are slashing the prices of airfares to help enhance ticket sales. Their aim is to fill seats and they will do what ever it takes in order to ensure their aircraft’s are at full capacity. They realize that if they want people to travel during this time of uncertainty, they are going to have to make you an offer you can’t refuse and that is exactly what smart travel and airline companies like STA Travel and Qantas have been doing.

Launched in December of 2008, STA Travel Australia introduced online travel auctions to their website. Similar to that of eBay, you are able to bid on a huge selection of airfares, tours, package holidays and accommodation. The best part about all of this is that every single auction begins at a crazy $1 AU. That’s right folks, just $1! This puts you in control when deciding on a maximum amount to bid. If you’re after a bargain holiday, STA’s online travel auction is definitely worth the look.

Although by now, this offer has expired, just the other day STA Travel was promoting an insane sale fare of $999 AU including taxes for a return flight from Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Los Angeles, USA. In a perfect economic climate, fares like this are just unheard of. Despite the current exchange rate of $0.66 AU to $1 US, an airfare this cheap can all but make up for the loss in exchange.

In November of 2008, Qantas released a too-good-to-refuse marketing scheme in hopes to amplify its dwindling 9.3% fall in September traffic. A two-for-one ticket sale was launched by Qantas to stimulate demand for international travel. This offering allowed for a second passenger to fly for the cost of only taxes and charges; an offer which received an extremely strong response by the public. Again, in a perfect economic climate, Qantas would never, not even for a second, dream of letting a passenger fly for free.

As mentioned above, the Australian dollar has plummeted severely within the last few months after reaching an all time high in July of 2008. The Aussie dollar has dropped from a whopping $0.98 AU to $0.66 AU to the U.S. dollar. The comparison between the Aussie and U.S. dollar always seems to be the one making the news here, and while some may view this conversion as extremely unfavorable, it should be remembered that there is a whole world out there to discover; your travel plans are not just restricted to the U.S.

Try vacationing in a country with a favorable conversion rate. While these countries may cost a little bit more airfare wise, once you arrive it is a case of more bang for your buck. The Lonely Planet suggests visiting the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Thailand, Laos, Syria, Ukraine and Uruguay. While some of these countries may seem out side of your comfort zone or perhaps not your ideal sense of vacation style, they can be a real adventure to discover. Everybody needs a little adventure in their lives; it’s good for you. Go on, surprise yourself.

Choosing to stay in a hostel over a hotel can be one of the biggest money-saving decisions of your entire vacation. Many people are under the impression that hostels only offer shared, mixed-sex dorm rooms with public facilities. Quite the opposite, actually. Many, if not all, hostels offer private rooms with a private bathroom and sometimes, if you are lucky, even a television. I spent a few nights in a hostel while staying in London, England. My main justification for choosing a hostel over a hotel was the fact that I would be spending barely any time in my room. I really just required a bed and bathroom facilities to get ready in the mornings. I recall paying £15 per night ($33 AU). If the point of your vacation is to get out there and discover the world, your accommodation really just needs to be secure, clean and quiet enough to allow you to get some peaceful shut-eye each night. Another advantage of staying in hostels are the number of people you meet and quickly become friends with from right around the globe; this could prove to be another cost-cutter for when you require future accommodation.

Without realizing it, one of the biggest money-eaters while on vacation is food. The constant eating out at restaurants or snacking in between meals quickly accumulates. Food and beverages were easily my biggest cost concern when traveling, especially through Europe as everything seems to be rather pricey there. My suggestion is to purchase snacks from the supermarket to nibble on through out the day. Don’t go to the biggest major supermarket in town either, have a wander; walk a few blocks down and you will be sure to find smaller, family-run retailers (this is especially more so common in the back streets of Europe) that charge up to half the price that the larger, tourist-infested supermarkets are charging. While in France a few friends and I got lost amongst the back streets of Paris. We came across the most beautiful produce,  freshly baked baguettes and scrumptious pastries at small, independently run stores. We only had to chip in a few Euro each and we all enjoyed a glorious picnic dinner under the Eiffel Tower. There is no way eating at a restaurant could beat that experience, or that price.

Lastly, why waste your time stressing? Your concern is not going to mend the pitiful economy nor will it prevent your country from hitting recession. If you are in the position to, get out there and see the world. After all, traveling is a form of stress relief!

DON'T LET THE DWINDLING ECONOMY CAT YOUR TRAVEL PLANS