Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

Good grief! The ICE! show at Gaylord National Resort featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas is only going to be around a few more days!

Each year, the Gaylord hosts this extravaganza in which 40 Chinese sculptors carve 1,000 tons of ice into characters from a chosen theme. Past years have featured the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty and Madagascar.

This year, visitors are treated to iconic scenes from the classic Christmas special featuring characters from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip. Giant blocks of ice, dyed with simple food coloring, are carved into snapshots from the story, including Snoopy’s ostentatiously decorated doghouse, Lucy’s psychiatry business and the traditional Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A separate display, carved from clear, sparkling ice, depicts the Nativity.

Visitors, dressed in standard-issue blue parkas to protect themselves from the 9-degree temperatures inside the chamber, waited in lines to try the ice slides — two for adults and two for kids.

In previous years, the sculptures could be challenging to photograph due to the large number of visitors inside. This year, crowd control was proving a challenge. At 7 p.m., hundreds and hundreds of people were still waiting to get inside. Children whined and tempers flared. Experienced staff members commented they’d never had crowds like this before — one day visitors numbered 10,000.

Yet inside, it wasn’t crowded. There is often a bottleneck where visitors are obliged to have their picture taken. (Like the photo? It’s another $30.) But on this day, once we got past the ticket gate, there was no line for the photographer and only a few people were waiting for parkas. Some upbeat staff members inside tried to console visitors who had been waiting in the long line. If you have the flexibility, visit during the day or on a weekday. Not only are crowds smaller, ticket prices are lower as well.

Ticket prices vary based on age and day and time of visit. Packages are available, some including extras and/or overnight stays.

Although visitors’ time inside ICE! is not limited, you will eventually get cold, despite the parka. But Gaylord offers visitors more than just the ICE! display. If you have children, extra options include a carousel, gingerbread house decorating, a Build-a-Bear workshop, ice skating and more. Food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages, hot cocoa, popcorn, cookies and more, are sold throughout the Gaylord complex.

A light show is held at various intervals each evening in the lobby, and this year Cirque du Soleil performs twice a day as well.

If your kids get restless after the frenzy of Christmas dies down, head out to Gaylord’s ICE! These delightful, one-of-a-kind sculptures are not be missed!
———————————————————–ICE! through Jan. 1, Gaylord National Harbor Resort & Conference Center, 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor, MD

Take the Kids to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I used to visit Santa at Macy’s, go ice skating at Rockefeller Center and look at all the toys at FAO Schwarz. Now that I’m no longer in the big city, I’ve struggled to match that magical experience here for my own children, so I was thrilled to learn about Christmas Town at Bush Gardens in Williamsburg, VA.

This extravaganza includes a selection of live Christmas shows, opportunities for the kids to get their pictures taken with Santa and Rudolf, and an artfully crafted display of more than 10 million lights.

I bought Christmas Town Fun Cards that allow us unlimited visits through Jan. 5. While our family is not planning to camp out here for the entire winter break, it was the deal that made the best sense for us when we compared the price to the one-day option. Ticket prices vary based on when you buy them and your membership level, so vet your options carefully.

The drive from the DMV to Williamsburg is about two and a half hours if there’s no traffic and you don’t stop to use the bathroom or get coffee, so plan for three-plus hours.

Parking at Busch Gardens is plentiful, and the lots are named after countries. Remember what country you park in; lots seem to be about the same size as the actual countries. Shuttles take you from the lots to the park.

Hint: Do not try to get into the shorter stroller line at the gate if you do not have a stroller. It is Stroller Sally’s job to make sure everyone is in the correct line, and she will notice you don’t have a stroller. Believe me, you do not want that, because she takes her job very seriously.

Once you get through the entrance, you are immediately immersed in the delightful sights and sounds of Christmas music, lights and decorations. Carolers in period costumes carrying lanterns stroll through the park, serenading all.

The temperature drops when night falls, but the warm feeling of Christmas keeps the chill from setting in. The beer stations and the spiked hot cocoa help with this as well.

After the fun wound down around 9 p.m., we headed out for food and more drinks. I used my Bhlen app to find restaurants and bars in the area. The area has plenty of breweries and distilleries, but what we didn’t know is that most of Williamsburg shuts down by 10 p.m. Luckily, the local Wawa is open 24 hours.

We returned to the park the next day to get the most out of the investment we made in our Fun Cards, and we were pleased to find it was less crowded during daylight hours, allowing us to enjoy more shows and shorter lines.

Christmas Town is fun for kids and adults alike. But slip a six-pack into your trunk before you go, and grab a pizza to bring back to the hotel.

———————————————————–Christmas Town, 1 Busch Gardens Boulevard, Williamsburg, VA; select days and times through Jan. 5, prices vary

 

 

Garden of Lights: A Seasonal Beacon in the Woods

Brookside Gardens is a bright spot in Montgomery County, Maryland, and especially so during the holidays, when this public park flips the switch on more than 1 million lights throughout its 50 acres.

Garden of Lights has been delighting visitors since 1997 with its dozens of illuminated flowers, birds, bugs and other creatures. Among the perennial favorites are Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, and a green bullfrog whose throat lights up in white when he croaks.

All along the paths you can find illuminated roses, sunflowers, tulips, daffodils, mushrooms and more. Animal light sculptures include woodland and wetland creatures such as a wolf, fox and heron, as well as African mammals such as a lion and a giraffe.

The insect world is well-represented by ants, dragonflies, butterflies and bees buzzing around a beehive. Near a rainbow (complete with lightning, rain clouds and thunder sound effects), is an orange spider waiting stealthily in a blue and white spider web.

Next to the Children’s Garden is the ever-popular giant caterpillar, big enough for guests to walk through.

Both the Visitors Center and the Conservatory are open during Garden of Lights. Various bands and choirs perform each night in the Visitors Center. Snacks and beverages are for sale, and the gift shop is open as well.

The Conservatory provides brief respite from the cold with its towering green plants, bright blooms and tropical, greenhouse warmth. An even bigger draw, however, is the model train display set up at the back. The Washington, Virginia and Maryland Garden Railway Society spends many hours each year setting up the trains, trolleys and accompanying scenery. Local areas are depicted in miniature, including Glen Echo Park, the MARC train station and Brookside Gardens. Particularly eerie is the miniature display of the Conservatory, which includes visitors looking at model trains.

Like much to do with the holiday seasons, the Garden of Lights is perfect for all ages. Any night of the week you can find toddlers exclaiming at the enchanting representations, young couples holding hands on their first Christmas together and grandparents marveling over the cleverly designed scenes.

Who will you go with?

———————————————————Garden of Lights, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD, through Jan. 1, closed Dec. 24 & 25; 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; $25 per car/van Sunday-Thursday; $30 Friday & Saturday

National Christmas Tree Brightens Ellipse

The National Christmas tree, a vibrant green with vertical stripes of red this year, stands as a beacon on the Ellipse to locals and tourists from far and wide.

You’ll probably want to combine your stop at this landmark with a visit to another downtown attraction, as there is not a whole lot to do here outside of snapping selfies with the tree, but plan to spend at least 15 minutes checking out the accompanying décor.

The tree is sequestered in a fenced-in area, along with many model train displays, which delighted the children in attendance.

On the outer perimeter are 56 smaller trees representing all the U.S. states and territories, each decorated by a school group from that area.

Also onsite is a life-sized plastic Nativity scene of the ilk you might expect to find in your hometown and a small booth selling White House Christmas ornaments for $22.95 plus tax.

Front side
Back side

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Various choral, musical and dance groups perform on the Ellipse on many nights throughout the holiday season; check the National Park Service’s list for details.

The National Christmas tree is lit daily at 4:30. The lights are turned off at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; the tree stays lit until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Access is free.

 

It’s Season’s Greenings at the Botanical Gardens

Forget the cold that has descended upon us here in the DMV by escaping for an hour or so into the humid warmth of the Botanic Gardens.

Every year, the Botanic Gardens dresses up for the holidays in fragrant evergreen and pretty red ribbons and invites the public in to appreciate its beauty.

One of the most popular parts of the showcase — dubbed Season’s Greenings — is the model train display, hence the separate line to access the West Gallery, complete with stanchions as if it were Disney World.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, crowds were small, allowing the dozen or so visiting children a close look at the trains circling around the models of stations across the U.S., including New York’s Grand Central Terminal and our own Union Station. Each replica is made from 100 percent plant-based materials. A separate display depicts a small village at the North Pole, flanked by dozens of poinsettias. Various trolleys and trains — including the beloved Thomas the Tank — chug and puff on tracks at eye level and overhead, through tunnels and over bridges.

Those not interested in model trains or replicas of train stations may enter the conservatory through a different entrance. This line can move more quickly during busy times.

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The Garden Court is decked out with two Christmas trees; replicas of the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, among others; two topiary bears; and scores of poinsettias and ferns.

Once visitors have had their fill of the beauty of the Garden Court and its accompanying holiday decorations, they can meander through the other sections, including rare and endangered, Mediterranean, orchids, medicinal, deserts, Hawaii, primeval and everyone’s favorite this time of year: the tropics. The heat and humidity of this towering, glass-walled room brings you right back to August in the DMV. It’s fun to lose yourselves in these rooms, checking out the cacti, greenery and beautiful blooms, including pink and purple orchids and birds of paradise flowers.

The Botanic Gardens are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., including Christmas Day, but will close at 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, for a private function. It will be open late on Thursday, Dec. 20, for a performance by an acapella group, The Capital Hearings, and Thursday, Dec. 27, for a performance by a The Capital Accord Chorus. Season’s Greenings will be on display through Jan. 1. Admission is free.

 

Georgetown’s Got That Special Glow

Although Georgetown glows 24/7 with all the gold and diamonds in the shop windows, it’s even brighter this time of year with the fifth annual Georgetown Glow light installation in full swing.

Find some time to bundle up in the next couple of weeks and head out to take the 11-stop walking tour of illuminated art. (Cupcakes are not an official part of the tour, but the line for the coveted confections stretches down the block nightly.)

The first stop on the walking tour is Run by Italian artist Angelo Bonello. Fifteen outlines of figures fixed atop the 3300 block of M Street light up in succession, making it appear as if one figure runs across the rooftops, jumping and rolling in sheer delight all the way to the edge of the building.

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Nearby is Social Sparkles by Toer of the Netherlands. Here, lights are suspended on tubes from the arbor in Francis Scott Key Park. They dangle unobtrusively until a visitor walks underneath, tripping a motion detector and causing the tubes to light up and dance around, creating patterns on the ground below.

Local artist Robin Bell floods the footbridge across Cady’s Alley in a shimmering blue light, and Kanva Architecture’s Entre Les Rangs looks like a field of pink lollipops that reacts to wind, light, weather and the presence of visitors.

Elizabeth Coco of Artistic Lighting bathes a long a stretch of the towpath in lights which slowly change color as visitors walk along the edge of the canal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prismatic, by New York artist Hou de Sousa, consists of a series of rhombuses constructed of metal rods and rope illuminated with different colored lights. Visitors can walk among the structures, viewing the piece from different perspectives.

Tom and Lien Dekyvere of Belgium’s Rhizome, an installation of geometric patterns, has been traveling around the world for six years. Italian artists Massimo Uberti and Marco Pollice created a neon sign in white that says simply, “TODAY I LOVE YOU.”

The last three installations are a bit farther away from the others and include Twilight Antiques & Thrift by Rhonda Weppler of New York and Trevor Mahovsky of Canada; Faces and Places by Robin Bell; and Rainbow Friends by locals Johnny Dukovich and Klagsbrun Studios.

———————————————————————————————–Georgetown Glow, 5 to 10 p.m. nightly, through Sunday, Jan. 6.

 

Happy Hour Downright Blissful at Bangkok 54

Can you imagine a utopian bar where it’s happy our seven days a week and they only use premium liquor instead of rotgut?

Not only does it exist — it’s nearby. Bangkok 54, a Thai restaurant on Columbia Pike in South Arlington, VA, is just minutes from the Pentagon and Pentagon City Mall and a few short miles from Downtown D.C. It has long been famous for its food, but not as many are aware of their happy hour.

Over the years, I’ve learned to file venues with happy hours into categories.  The first is location. Bangkok 54 isn’t near a Metro station, but it’s easily accessible by car, as well as the Number 16 Metrobus.

The second is alcohol quality. Bangkok only uses premium alcohol, happy hour or nah.

Third is the ambience. I love the décor at Bangkok — it’s simple, yet elegant. The gray mixed with red give the restaurant a sophisticated look, and the tiny, intricately carved statues deliver a definitive Asian feel.

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While happy hour at Bangkok is only two hours (4 to 6 p.m.), the quality of the drinks and the fact you can partake any day of the week more than make up for it. In fact, Bangkok just may be elevating the standards of our local bars. Rather than encouraging you to drink Bud Lite or a mysterious “rum punch” for four hours, they give you a limited taste of the good life. Take advantage of it.

 

It’s Curtains for A-Town

I heard that popular Ballston sports bar A-Town is closing its doors Jan. 1, after six years serving up tasty food and drinks — and some wild and crazy times — to their loyal customers. Although the venue will be replaced with a different concept within the same space by the same owners, A-Town will be surely missed.

I had my 35th birthday party (a few years ago) at A-Town, and I can still remember the delicious brunch, bottomless mimosas, DJ and dancing. Those of you who have attended A-Town brunches might shed a tear remembering their unique tradition of haivng a costumed dwarf carrying a champagne bottle with sparklers refill the mimosa glasses. He was definitely one of the highlights of my party, dressed in a dinosaur costume one minute and being carried in on an inflatable raft the next, looking like he was living his best life.

I was having so much fun that night at A-Town, I didn’t want to let it end. Eventually my guests headed home, so I headed out to the patio to join a group of revelers smoking hookah. As best I recall, I partied at A-Town for about seven hours, but you can lose track of time when you’re drinking and smoking, so it could have been a couple of days, I’m not sure.

As their days wind to a close, A-Town will be hosting a few more epic parties. One is their New Year’s Eve 2019 Masquerade. Tickets to this event are $25-$350, and organizers warn that prices go up the closer it gets to New Year’s Eve. Early bird tickets for $25 include three drink tickets; tables for $300 for five people include 15 drink tickets, a bottle of champagne, two appetizer samplers and the use of the table for the night.

Watch this space to find out about other events at A-Town and throughout the DMV.

 

‘Tis the Season for Office Parties

Office holiday parties are the best.

You get to celebrate a season that you dread and resent (if there’s a waiting room in hell, I’m certain “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey is in heavy rotation there) with the people in the world you like least (stop stealing my yogurt from the break room fridge, Greg).

Wait, did I say office holiday parties are the best? I meant “worst.” They’re the worst.

The most dismal type of holiday party is when they have it in the actual office. If your company opts for the in-office party, start polishing up the ol’ resume, because bankruptcy is NIGH.

If you’ve ever spent Christmas in jail, you know the vibe. The guards are still the guards, but now they’re wearing Santa hats. One minute you’re squinting at a spreadsheet, the next minute you’re eating crudité that would give a dumpster diver pause, and pretending that Funyuns are an acceptable casserole topping in 2018. There’s free alcohol, but is drinking in the office really a good idea? After two or three drinks, the clarity is unbearable. How did your keyboard get so dirty? Why don’t any of these windows open? Does Greg really think he can steal your yogurt with impunity?!

Next thing you know, Greg is being rushed to the hospital while Bobbi from marketing is wrestling a tire iron out of your hands as you scream, “My initials were clearly written on the lid!”

Much better than the in-office holiday party is when your company books a room in a bar for the party. Food. Open bar. Your co-workers will probably dance, which is good, because then you’ll get to silently judge them. The challenge here is to drink enough to enjoy yourself, but not enough that it seems like a good idea to tell your boss What You Really Think of Them. I did this once and I spent my Christmas setting up direct deposit for my unemployment checks.

But even if you’re an unproductive member of society like I am and don’t have a job, you’ll still probably find yourself at a holiday party at some point.

One of the most popular holiday party themes is the ugly Christmas sweater party, where people dress badly on purpose, as opposed to the other 364 days of the year, when they do it unintentionally. The best (or worst?) part of an ugly sweater party is that after three or four drinks, when you decide to tell someone What You Really Think of Their Sweater, they’ll just laugh and say, “Yes, that’s the point!”

Still, people love it; just look at the trillions of ugly sweater party photos larding up your social media feeds. The fact that people take such joy in dressing badly must mean something; do we as a society take ourselves too seriously? Are we all tired of trying so hard all the time? Is the key to happiness dressing like a fool and not caring?

It’s a tempting theory, but if it were true, wouldn’t middle-aged dads in the Midwest be the happiest people on earth? Judging by the comment sections on articles about politics, this is definitely not the case.

Of course, the key to any party is the venue, and if you’re looking for the perfect venue for your party, you should check out The Observation Deck at CEB Tower in Rosslyn. (What, you didn’t realize this was SponCon? Shame on you, it’s almost 2019; everything is SponCon.) It features 12,000 square feet of space and sports 360-degree panoramic views. I went there recently for the Destination DC holiday party, and I have to say — it was amazing.  None of my co-workers were there.

Do You Like Beer? Try Social House.

I don’t have a lot in common with our newest Supreme Court Justice, but I do like beer. So I was especially pleased when I stopped by Social House Kitchen & Tap in South Riding last night and found they had 28 beers on tap, 14 of which are IPAs.

While I like beer, I’m not necessarily an expert on the many varieties. Luckily my bartender, Cris, was.

I like a hoppy beer with citrusy undertones, and I identify as an IPA man. Cris knew exactly where I was coming from, and picked out three beers she thought would be right for me.

  1. Pine’Hop’Le by Evolution bills itself as “aggressively hopped.” That was good news for me, as I wasn’t in the mood for any wimpily hopped brew. As you might guess from the name, it’s brewed with pineapple juice, giving it a refreshing, tropical taste. Evolution says it has “juicy hop character.”
  2. Super Dope by Solace — a favorite of Jermaine Dupri, perhaps? — is described as fruity and citrusy, yet resinous. That resinous aspect is especially apropos during this holiday season of bringing trees indoors.
  3. Grovestand IPA by Aslin brings an unusual combination of ingredients together to create an orange Creamsicle-flavored beer. Be warned if you’re lactose intolerant, this “milkshake IPA” is actually made of lactose. It comes in a glass though, not on a stick.

The Grovestand brought me back to my childhood when my family would travel in the summer from Brooklyn to North Carolina, where the only air conditioning was Creamsicles and sweet tea.

The Grovestand was definitely worth the trip from Arlington to South Riding down Route 66 during rush hour, even with snow flurries. The sugar and dairy in the concoction was well-blended, satisfying my beer craving and taking me down memory lane simultaneously.

Next, Cris, a big bourbon fan, made me a strawberry sidecar to infuse some manliness into my love of fruit-flavored libations. Made of strawberry puree, sour mix (freshly squeezed lemon and lime) and bourbon, my sidecar was shaken, not stirred, and poured into a cocktail glass with a sugar rim.

If you’re in the Chantilly area and you like beer — or you just want a fabulous drink made by a knowledgeable, friendly bartender — make your way over to Social House.


Social House Kitchen & Tap, 25370 Eastern Marketplace Plaza, South Riding, VA; (703) 327-6464; open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday.