[circuit type=review circuit_id=”20420170942″]
Editor’s Note: Gaylord National Resort provided a complimentary stay so that TPG could get an inside look at the hotel and its amenities. The opinions expressed below are entirely those of the author and weren’t subject to review by Gaylord Hotels or any external entity.
For many families, the holidays become more of a holi-daze as they scramble to pack in all sorts of Christmas magic between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. However, this over-tired, working mom of two found a way to pack in a season’s worth of magical holiday activities into one weekend with only a round-trip car ride required.
TPG was invited to participate in a holiday preview event at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. As a staff member who lives in the Washington, D.C., area with no plans that weekend, I got the garland-filled assignment (alongside my family).
The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center and the National Harbor area have always been a bit of a mystery to me as a DMV (that’s District, Maryland and Virginia) resident. I knew the area mainly as something to look at while inching over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in bumper-to-bumper traffic. After a night there, I learned that it’s well worth a trip around the Beltway for a holiday visit.
Holidays at The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center MARRIOTTHoliday suites full of sweets
As part of this hosted stay, my family received a special Christmas Dream Suite at the Gaylord National. The suite had a view of the resort’s Christmas tree, which hung in the massive atrium over a stage. There are regular tree lighting shows, and the suite gives you a perfect seat for all of them.
The space itself was an enormous hospitality suite featuring a kitchenette, large dining table, two seating areas, a huge bathroom and a walk-in closet that I am pretty sure is bigger than one of the bedrooms in my house. Gaylord had kitted out the entire space for Christmas with lighted garland, a tree and stockings.
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
The kitchenette was stocked with a huge plate of holiday sweets and a hot chocolate-making station.
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
The Christmas Dream Suite had a standard double queen room connected to the suite, which was also decorated with a lighted wreath over the nightstand.
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
While the space was all about Christmas, it lacked some basics you might expect in a suite. For example, the suite itself didn’t have a bedroom, so if you wanted to sleep in the Christmas-themed space, you’ll be bunking on either a Murphy or sofa bed (the suite had both). It also didn’t have bathrobes or slippers, but I am guessing that for many families, the Christmas touches are luxurious enough.
Prices for the Christmas Dream Suites start from $499 per night for four people or $549 for six people (and come with a double queen or single king connecting room). There are two other types of Christmas suites at the Gaylord: The Junior Christmas suite can sleep two and starts at $549 per night, while the Grand Christmas Suite, can accommodate two people and starts at $599 per night. (Unfortunately, the suites don’t appear to be bookable with Marriott Bonvoy points but you will earn on a stay.)
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
A non-Christmas room at the Gaylord National starts around $160 per night or 31,000 Marriott Bonvoy points during the holiday season; so, if you can do without decorations, you can still be on-site for all the holiday fun while saving a little bit of cash. One great perk overnight guests receive at the Gaylord — suite or not — is early access to holiday attractions and priority access to restaurants and bars at the resort.
The National Harbor area also has an AC hotel, a Westin and a Residence Inn, all within an easy walk of the Gaylord resort. So, you have plenty of other Marriott options for a stay in the area.
Holiday activities at Gaylord National MARRIOTT
Remember how I said you could pack a season’s worth of holiday magic into one weekend? At the Gaylord National Resort during the holiday season you can:
Go ice skating
Watch a fireworks show from a Ferris wheel
Get photos with Santa and listen to stories read by Mrs. Claus
Build a gingerbread house
Go snow tubing indoors
See an amazing indoor ice exhibit featuring Rudolph
See two different Christmas stage shows
Go on a holiday scavenger hunt
Given that our stay was less than 24 hours, we didn’t experience everything the resort had to offer, but we sure wanted to.
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
Our first stop was the Capital Wheel, a 180-foot-tall Ferris wheel that sits alongside the Potomac River. Tickets for a spin on the wheel were included in our visit (regularly $17 for adults, $13.50 for kids), and we stepped on board right after sunset. That seems like a silly time to hop on an attraction that’s all about the views, but a fireworks show started at 5:30 p.m. and lasted for most of our ride.
JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
I have a strong fear of heights that usually makes Ferris wheel rides miserable, but being up in the air was a totally new way to watch fireworks — and I loved it. However, some of that courage may have come from a pre-wheel stop at The Flight Deck, a waterside lounge that’s part of the wheel area, for a cup of holiday cheer. The Flight Deck would also be an excellent spot for fireworks viewing if you can’t time your wheel ride perfectly.
The National Harbor fireworks run every Saturday night through Dec. 30 at 5:30 p.m. National Harbor also has a 60-foot tree, and from sunset until 9 p.m., it lights up in a dazzling show.
While National Harbor has plenty of restaurants to choose from, we went back to the Gaylord to marvel at the Christmas decorations along the grounds and in the atrium. Once the sun was down, lights along the front of the atrium made it look like Queen Elsa from Arendelle was in residence, while string lights along the trees and shops gave it the feel of a holiday village.
We grabbed dinner at Old Hickory, the resort’s steakhouse with a modern take on Hunt Country chic leather and plaid. Our group ate crabcakes and steak; while the crabcakes were excellent, the steak was just fine. Still, the service was stellar, and on a non-family trip, I’d love to pass some time at Old Hickory’s stylish bar. I will point out that the restaurant can be a little loud, however, and my husband, who suffers from hearing loss, had a difficult time following the conversation. I don’t suffer from hearing loss, and I did as well.
Gaylord National has several more casual dining options, as well. In-room dining is the most casual since you can wear your pajamas. Harbor Social is the resort’s sports bar with duckpin bowling lanes you can reserve. The Belvedere lobby bar has great views of the atrium, and there’s currently an 80s-themed pop-up lounge on the resort’s roof, which should be worth a visit for the views alone.
The Potomac District Cafe and Market has a selection of grab-and-go options, as well as full menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also an easy walk to dozens of restaurants and bars at National Harbor, so you’re not going to go hungry.
Ice! at Gaylord National MARRIOTT
For many families, the big draw for a visit to Gaylord National will be Ice!, featuring two million pounds of carved ice recreating scenes from the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” movie. The attraction is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll want to dress like Yukon Cornelius for a visit; parkas will be provided if you need them.
In addition to some incredible ice sculpting (teams worked for 12,000 hours to create the scenes), the exhibit also features ice slides and tunnels to wander through. The attraction runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Dec. 30 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 31. Ticket prices range from $25.99 to $43.99, depending on the day you visit; be sure to book tickets in advance.
If you need even more winter fun, you can also book tickets for Snow Flow Mountain, an indoor snow tubing course. Resort guests have early access to the attraction from 9 to 10 a.m. each day. It opens to general ticketholders at 10 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. on Dec. 31. Each ticket includes unlimited runs on your ticket date. Given that the mid-Atlantic has been starved for snow the past few winters, this is your chance to fit several years’ worth of sledding into one day. Tickets are $25.99 per person, per day, and all riders must be at least 42 inches tall.
Visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus usually mean schlepping to the mall, but the holidays’ hottest couple is at Gaylord National all season. Visits with Santa require tickets ranging from $40 to $99, depending on the type of photo package you select. Tickets for a visit with Mrs. Claus, which includes stories and singalongs, are $14.99. On Dec. 13 from 12 to 8 p.m., Santa will use his magic (and American Sign Language) to meet with kids who communicate via ASL. Prices for this event are the same as other Santa visits; however, for kids, meeting with a Santa who communicates the same way they do will be priceless.
Ice skating is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until Dec. 30 for resort guests and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for non-resort guests. Tickets are $22.99 per person. Your family can also visit the gingerbread house-making station, where tickets range from $34.99 to $44.99.
Saving money on holidays at Gaylord National JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking that a weekend of holiday fun at Gaylord National might burst your holiday budget. However, you can save some cash by bundling tickets. A Silver Play and Save Pass includes admission to Ice!, snow tubing and the Reindeer Scavenger Hunt featuring Rudolph and the Misfit Toys. That package will run you $170.22 for one adult and one child, a savings of 20% over booking those activities individually.
With the Gold Save and Play Pass, you get the same events as the silver package, as well as ice skating, gingerbread house making, Mrs. Claus’ traditions and the Snowball Build and Blast (a carnival-like snowball throwing game). The Gold package saves 30% over booking the events individually.
Getting to the Gaylord National
The Gaylord National Resort is about 10 miles south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The easiest way to get there is to drive, as the resort is just off Interstate 495 (the Capital Beltway) in National Harbor, Maryland. Parking at the resort is $36 per night for self-parking and $59 per night for valet parking. (The Christmas suites come with valet parking for one car.)
However, just because driving is the easiest way to get to Gaylord National doesn’t mean you’re stuck there once you park.
National Harbor is a stop on the Potomac Water Taxi route. You can hop on board and cross the river to Old Town Alexandria, where you can wander the streets and take in colonial-style Christmas decorations. Or you can take the water taxi all the way to the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown for the Georgetown Glow — a walking route that features lighted art installations throughout the neighborhood.
Once you’re in the capital, you can hop on a Circulator bus to visit the National Christmas Tree and the waterfront before returning to the water taxi and heading back to the National Harbor.
If you want to stay a bit closer, National Harbor has a free shuttle service that can take you to the nearby MGM Casino to (try to) win some cash; it can also bring you to Tanger Outlets to spend your winnings on holiday gifts.
Checking out JAMIE PAGE/THE POINTS GUY
I left my brief stay at the Gaylord National wishing for more time — there was just so much to do. However, on the flip side, there was also just so much to pay for. With individual activities running about $25 per person, a weekend of holiday fun could get very expensive very quickly for my family of four. Add a stay in one of the Christmas suites, and our holiday budget could easily burst.
That’s why I appreciate the ways you can save on a holiday experience like this. Buying a Silver or Gold package ticket for events isn’t cheap by any stretch. Still, it does make participating in multiple activities more affordable, with the Silver Play and Save Pass hitting a sweet spot in terms of value and the activities my family was most interested in.
Grabbing a regular room at a midweek rate or with Marriott Bonvoy points at the Gaylord is another great way to save money and get more value from everything the Gaylord offers; this is especially true if you have younger kids who aren’t subject to a school calendar.
Sometimes, it feels like the most challenging part of the holiday season is getting everything done while still leaving time for some magic. A holiday visit to the Gaylord National Resort is a great way to take a midseason break to enjoy numerous fun holiday activities all in one place.