Travel Logs

Travel Log #5

Ice Hotel (Quebec)

Ice Hotel itself

From the outside, embraced by a wall of snow and ice, the Hotel de Glace looks like a series of ice covered barracks that you would imagine might be found in a remote, arctic location and might be the used for a secretive military operation.  It's great wooden front doors, the constant flow of amazed visitors and location right beside Quebec's Station Duchesnay convince you of its more artistic purpose!
Ice Hotel - ice bench As you enter the Hotel, you find yourself in a building where everything is made entirely of ice (with the exception of some deer pelts that have been mercifully placed on some of the furniture-- a saving grace for your bottom when you need to sit down for a moment!) The ambient temperature (which is typically between -2 C and -8 C) is obviously warmer inside than the temperature outside (which was -26 C the night we stayed in the Hotel). The artistic design, furniture and just the sheer fact that you find yourself walking through the halls of such a building most definitely take your mind off the fact that you are in a sub-zero climate!
The Grand Hall with its 350 pound chandelier (anchored only by the icy roof) runs parallel to a museum dedicated to the life and arctic expeditions of Bernard Voyer. 
Ice Hotel - icy shotglass On either end of the Grand Hall, you'll find a Club (N'Ice Club or Absolut Bar) where you can enjoy a cocktail "on the rocks" (literally) in your very own ice glass.

The Hotel produces about 50, 000 hollowed out ice cube glasses each year.  The N'Ice Club has an amazing sound system and can host up to 400 guests whereas the Absolut Bar has more of an intimate lounge feel and can hold up to 150 guests.  Many overnight packages at the Hotel include a free vodka cocktail in one of these bars.

While it seems like a good idea to have a (FREE) shot before bed time, DONT DO IT! (See below)
Some of the walls of the Hotel are clear which is unlike the ice cubes you'd find back home. This clear appearance is thanks to the special purified water that is to make all of the huge blocks of ice that comprise the Hotel. This unique clear quality enhances the sleek look of the ice sculptures that are found all over the Hotel. One block of ice can weigh up to 300 pounds and 500, 000 tonnes of ice (and four two six weeks) is needed to create this icy palace.  The surface is smooth to the touch and even as you irresistably run your fingers across a block or two, they won't get wet- yet another marvelous side-effect of using purified water.
Ice Hotel - N'ice bar
Ice Hotel - Absolute Bar
Enterance to the N'ice club from the front lobby
The Absolute Bar. Those pillars are so pure you could lick them and not stick! (belive me, I tried!)
Ice Hotel - Inside the chapel
Around the corner from the Absolut Bar, you'll enter a romantic chapel with one, long aisle that is lined with ice benches that have been covered with fur.  The chapel, which only hosts civil services, has intricately carved candle holders and a grand altar.   The Hotel hosts up to 30 weddings each year at a cost between $1200 and $1600, depending if you need management to book an officiant for you or not.
Ice Hotel - Room with drapes The real adventure begins as you explore the 34 different hotel rooms that line two long parallel corridors that lead outside at their far ends. One corridor holds basic hotel rooms that have one or two beds and a night table, the other corridor boasts theme rooms which are adorned with murals, ice sculptures, and specially carved bedframes.  For example, one of my favourite theme rooms was called "Muraille de Chine."  The bedframe was a large, icy dragon and the walls depicted the Great Wall of China in all its grandeur.  Another room payed homage to Nefertiti and yet another had a round bed set a step-down into the ice and surrounded by bright pink curtains.
The most awe-inspiring rooms hug the courtyard where you'll find two hot tubs, a sauna and a comfort station (i.e., change rooms and toilettes).  These four premium suites are true works of art and of the heart.  The attention to detail and stylish design of these rooms is complemented by the addition of fireplaces.  These are special fireplaces which emanate light but no heat (as it's drawn up and out of the hotel right away so as not to destroy the integrity of the hotel walls).  The Florale, Balade en Traineau, Nous Deux and Qannik suites are larger than any of the other rooms, have wooden doors (in contrast to the curtains which separate other rooms from the corridor) and elaborate wall carvings and sculptures.  The Balade en Traineau suite recreates a sleigh ride, complete with sleigh (your bed), horse and forest.  Overnight accommodation in these suites is lucratively priced at $400 per person, based on double occupancy.
Ice Hotel - Flower room
Ice Hotel - Room with Fireplace
Staying Overnight at the Ice Hotel

From January to April, throughout the last six years, over 35 000 people have called the Ice Hotel home for at least one night. Visitors come from all over the world for this experience. We met a couple from London, England and another from Australia. As we engaged in polite conversation with other Hotel guests, it seemed as though we were all preparing for a space shuttle launch or a serious expedition to the North Pole. Everyone seemed to be positive yet slightly apprehensive and nervous about the idea of sleeping in a room made entirely of ice wherein the temperature was currently measuring in at -6 C. Self-reassuringly, everyone seemed to repeat the same mottos: “It’ll be okay,” “It should be interesting,” “Once in a lifetime experience...”– just like astronauts the night before the big launch.

Back at the Welcome Chalet, where all of our belongings were being stored in lockers for the night, we gathered with other guests around a cozy hearth and waiting for our orientation session to begin. Guests attend an information session that teaches you how to have a good night at the Ice Hotel. Essentially, it’s a how-to-actually-get-some-sleep-in-the-extreme-cold lesson. First, you learn how to envelope yourself in your arctic sleeping back: squirm into the inner lining up to your neck and then squeeze into the sleeping bag, position your pillow in the hood and then zip yourself up from the inside. Ice Hotel - Sleigh bed room
Ice Hotel - Our room Now, you’re just a few pulls of a couple of strings away from being as close to a mummy as you’d want to be! These bags are suitable in down to -30 temperatures and are constructed to provide maximum insulation and protection from the cold. Ice Hotel - Nancy Asleep
Nancy ensconsed in her sleeping bag...
She looks like she's sleeping, but she just ALWAYS blinks when I shoot!

A few suggestions for a comfortable night in your arctic bag: take a dip in the hot tub or enjoy some quality time in the sauna. Personally, this seemed like the last place I wanted to be before sleeping in an ice cave but, as it turns out, it is one of the best pieces of advice that you’re offered at the orientation session. The warmer your core temperature at the time you snuggle into your bag, the warmer you’ll be throughout the night because the bag is designed to insulate that heat. Wear enough clothing so that you’re comfortable, not hot, at the time you wrap yourself into your bag. Also, it’s wise to avoid drinking too much before bed. Avoid listening to your inner child who always asked for that last glass of water right before bedtime and imagine exposing your longjohn-clad body to the extreme cold at 3 a.m. because you need to pee... real bad.
Best to avoid all liquids, alcohol or not (despite those tempting cocktails in those cool ice glasses and the desire to warm up with a large hot chocolate), for a while before your predetermined bedtime.We made that 3 a.m. trek to the loo and it wasn’t pretty. As I lie awake, I realized that it was a mistake to shrug off the slight chill that I had in my back right before bedtime because the sleeping bag insulated my cold and kept me awake. Looking through the small view window that I had created with my sleeping bag, I couldn’t help but focus on the topic of hypothermia.

Previous reading had taught me that some conditions leading to hypothermia include: cold temperatures, improper clothing and equipment, fatigue and exhaustion, dehydration, poor food intake, and alcohol intake. Check times six. It was certainly cold. I was convinced that I was obviously not wearing the proper long underwear. It had been a long eight-plus hour drive from Toronto. I hadn’t had nearly enough water that day. Let’s face it, when on vacation, a lot of diet rules go out the window. And, yes, I admit it, I partook of one of those yummy cocktails in those cute glasses about an hour before bed. So, lying awake, I had some time to mull over all of these “facts,” all the while trying to focus on where I was and what an incredible experience I was having. It was surreal. I was torn between uber-self-awareness and experiential reverie when Rob interrupted with a convincing “I have to pee, dammit!” I announced that I was coming with him. The ensuing reverse-mummification and shuffle to the washroom was nothing short of a chase seen through underground tunnels that you might see at the movies.

After suiting back up in our sleeping bags, I found that I had finally shed the chill in my back and that it had moved into my feet. Though, after only a few moments of hypothermia digression, I fell asleep. As bus-fulls of people begin to roam through the Hotel at 10 a.m., we needed to be out of our room before nine o’clock. We awoke to the gentle voices of Hotel staff waking our neighbours at various times between 7 and 9 a.m.

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Ice Hotel--