By Donna McEwen
Imagine leaving balmy Charleston, South Carolina (+70 degrees F) and arriving in Quebec City, Canada for Winter Carnival during a polar vortex, making it the coldest weekend in decades (-22 F). With the wind chill factor reaching -40 F on Saturday February 3, the Carnival organizers decided to postpone the opening ceremonies until the next day. Becky and Roy Smith, from Charleston, who have always been up for an adventure, stuck with their plan, put on ALL their winter clothes and spent the day visiting the Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) on the outskirts of Quebec City. They were not disappointed as they meandered through the chapel, the Grand Hall, the bar and several bedrooms. This year 30 bedrooms are available to rent.
Hundreds of couples have been married in the ice chapel over the years, and two weddings took place during the Smiths’ visit, so the chapel was closed to the public in the afternoon for the private events. Luckily Becky and Roy arrived in time for a glimpse of the chapel before the weddings started.
Different options that are offered are ‘Wedding Proposal Package’, ‘Vow Renewal Package’, ‘Elopement Package’ and several types of private weddings (all between $1700-$9200CAN). Handmade ice flutes and champagne are part of every package.
Furs on the ice block pews
In the ice bar, all ceilings, walls and floors are made of ice. Cocktails are served in 4”cubes of ice, with a one inch hole drilled out. It’s not always easy to hold these cubes, but it gets easier with practice.
Lots of room for dancing, a good way to warm up
Grand Hall complete with ice chandeliers, columns and sculptures
The reservation for a room ($400+Canadian) gives you two rooms for the night, one in the ice hotel, plus another in the modern heated lodge next door. Guests can leave their clothes in the warm room or escape back into the heat at any time of the night. In the ice room, warm sleeping bags are provided for each guest, good to -40F. Only your eyes and nose should be visible, a hat essential! Make sure to go to bed warm and dry since it is difficult to warm up if you start out cold and damp. The ice hotel bedrooms include wooden box springs and mattresses, covered with animal skins or quilts, sitting on blocks of ice. Several different themed rooms with colored lights can be visited until the guests start checking in. There are no doors, only curtains, and the restrooms are down the hall.
The concept originated in Sweden over 30 years ago, and a new version of the Ice Hotel has been an annual construction in Quebec City since 2001. The design is never the same. The construction takes over a month to complete, using metal supports to hold up the arches during construction, similar to a technique used with wooden supporting structures, employed during the building of stone cathedrals in medieval times.
L’Hôtel de Glace has the shortest opening season of any hotel: from early January to sometime in March. The occupancy rate is very high, but it’s best to avoid reserving at the end of the season because the hotel is weather dependent. Staying in an icy room in the last few days of March can never be a sure thing. When it is too warm for too long, the decision is made and the whole structure of frozen water gets bulldozed down in approximately five hours. Gone!