In this city of palm trees and 80-degree weather, where 90 theme parks compete ferociously for the 20,000 tourists who arrive daily, the latest attraction might seem an unusual...
ORLANDO, Fla. In this city of palm trees and 80-degree weather, where 90 theme parks compete ferociously for the 20,000 tourists who arrive daily, the latest attraction might seem an unusual draw for snowbirds fleeing the cold North: Ice.
Tons of it.
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Move over, Mickey Mouse. The Chinese ice sculptors have arrived, in plenty of time for Christmas. For 35 days they chiseled through 2 million pounds of ice to create a 20,000-square-foot winter wonderland.
The deep-freeze extravaganza was created to promote a local resort hotel, the Gaylord Palms, which spent more than $1 million to house it in an insulated tent at its convention center. Air conditioners and blowers preserve the carvings at a cool 9 degrees.
In one area, two life-size toy soldiers, carved from blocks of blue and red ice, guard the steps to a small castle. In another, toys and animals fill Santa’s workshop, with huge candy canes gracing the doorway.
In addition to tourists, the exhibit has attracted a fair number of Floridians happy to pay the nearly $17 adult admission to experience ice in some form other than a cube.
“I have never seen anything like this, especially for Florida,” said Nancy Hulchur, 69, of Orlando, who spent an hour in the exhibit with her husband, Robert. “We are more familiar with sand castles than we are with ice castles.”
Visitors are given heavy parkas to wear as they wind their way through snow-covered fields and ice-carved fences, past a Nativity scene of life-size figures and animals shimmering under colored lights.
“My parents had sent me e-mails of Russian ice sculptures, so this is something that I wanted to see,” said Ken Chapman, 41, of Riverview, Fla. “The Nativity scene was stunning. That was the prize of the whole thing.”
The Gaylord Palms started planning the details of this attraction in June and placed the orders for the 400-pound blocks of ice from a plant in Cairo, Ga. In the meantime, drawings were sent to the renowned ice sculptors of the Harbin region in northeastern China, whose climate owes a lot to neighboring Siberia.
The 52 artisans were flown to Orlando at the end of September and began work on the project. Once they started carving and cutting smaller blocks of ice with chain saws, everything “happens very quickly,” said Bai Wei, who oversees the work as vice director of the Heilongjiang Province culture bureau. After they were finished, a crew of eight stayed in Orlando for repairs.
An estimated 100,000 people are expected to visit the exhibit by Jan. 2, when the air conditioning will be turned off and the carvings simply will melt away, along with the men who made them.
As the last of the artisans head home to Harbin, they will face a bit of an adjustment: January temperatures there average between 5 degrees and minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the balmy 9 degrees they enjoyed in the tent.