Living in the cold of Minnesota for eighteen years almost didn’t seem worth it after spending six years on the coasts of the United States. Now that I’m back, I was reminded that winter’s magic is spread throughout its outdoor activities. Last night, I enjoyed sparkling ice chandeliers, cozy caverns, and ice fountains as I adventured through an ice castle. It was my first time experiencing it and I can only imagine how children feel as they walk through, what felt like Elsa’s castle.
To get to the ice castle, guests can park in one of the several lots. It was easy to find parking especially in the parking lot farthest from the entrance. Our shuttle driver informed it’s riders that she was the only bus running that night. Understandably, there was a little bit of a wait time between parking lots A and B so if she wasn’t there when guests were ready to be picked up, she promised she’d make her rounds. After being dropped off, the bus load of people made their way to the ticket line. The tickets are pre-purchase only and are accessible on your phone. After checking in, guests are free to roam the castle unguided.
There is a funny story about our check-in process. You have to sign an acknowledgment waiver not to damage, climb, run, or lick the ice castle. I made a comment to the worker saying that he probably gets a lot of funny comments about the waiver and his response was,
“Well, we don’t want anyone getting stuck again.”
Of course, my mind flashed to the scene in a Christmas Story. In the film, a child licks a flag pole and his tongue stays stuck to it until the fire department saves the day. My friend told me the worker probably meant that someone was stuck climbing the castle which in retrospect makes a lot more sense. Regardless, please be hygienic and don’t lick things. The fact it’s on the waiver means that people are, in fact, licking the ice castle. I don’t get it. Anyway, for fun facts about the ice castle, scroll through the slideshow below.
Before showcasing the activities in the castle, I want to quickly add a story about my experience at the entrance because I think it’s an important reminder to treat people with kindness. If you want to skip this story, head down to “The Experience.”
My friend and I were waiting in the ticket line preparing hand warmers and our tickets when we heard shouting over by the exit. A man stood yelling at the bus driver. Mind you, we are at least 60 yards from this man and hear him perfectly. He enthusiastically claimed he’s been waiting for the bus and she has passed him twice already. He also announced it was his turn to get on the bus and go to his lot. Clearly, he was angry and the poor bus driver calmly tried to explain to him that she was the only one driving the shuttle tonight and needed to alternate between both the A and B lots.
I didn’t see how this situation was dissolved but what hit me the hardest was that this woman had a child directly behind her driver’s seat with books, toys, and a little bag of food. It was 7:30 at night and I’m sure she didn’t want to bring her (presumed) child to sit in a bus for hours on end. She had to endure harassment while her child experienced it too. Understanding her predicament, I made sure to tip the bus driver on my way back to the parking lot and let her know that I understood how uncomfortable that must have been as I’ve had similar experiences working in the customer service industry. I reassured her that she was doing an amazing job under the circumstances and that she can brush off the earlier comments.
Regardless of what I did to try to make her feel appreciated, I feel she never should have needed to endure anger from a person like that in the first place. As someone who worked ten years in customer service, I plead that everyone tries to remember that we are all doing our best. We are all human. Even when things don’t go the way we planned, we as a society need to spread kindness instead of further negative emotions.
As the ticket line shuffled throug the booth, groups slowly approached the ice castle and people took pictures, stood in awe, and even danced under it’s light. It really was a magnificent sight to behold upon first seeing it. I actually enjoyed the shuttle system and ticket line because it limited the number of people entering the castle at one time. As one bus load moved through the line, the queue was empty for the next load and everyone was able to get their pictures without waiting forever or feeling rushed to get one shot. I applaud the Ice Castle operations whether this was intentional or not.
Once inside, guests were hypnotized with bright colors, fire dancers, sparkling icicles, and eccentric workers. My favorite interaction of the night was with a worker that deemed my friend and I, as Mr. Beard and Miss Russian Oligarch–thanks to my hat and coat. He was very playful but helpful with directions as we grabbed plastic sleds to head to the top of the slope.
Speaking of which, the ice castle housed three slides. One miniature slide for those that are younger or afraid of heights, a bigger slide that sent me flying, and a sliding hill that allows two people to go at the same time. Sledding as a child feels almost incomparable now after sliding down a smooth ice slope. I flew so fast down the slide I almost let out a scream out of pure shock. Luckily, I held my composure as a “Russian Oligarch” should.
After trying the slides once, we explored colored tunnels, crawl spaces, photo op spots, and viewed ice sculptures near the fountain. There was so much open space that it didn’t feel as crowded as it could have. There seemed to be a natural flow of people following the ice castle paths counterclockwise from the entrance. Especially after the fire dancers had finished their routine. I didn’t catch the entire show but it was spectacular near the end.
Pro tip: if you’re hoping for a specific photo in the ice castle, do it during a performance. Most of the guests will be watching it, leaving you time and space to get creative with your camera.
To exit the ice castle, guests walk through enchanted lights and follow the path to the fire pits and picnic area. Food, souvenirs, and adult beverages are available in this area for purchase. The adult beverages are served from the polar ice bar which was an igloo made entirely of ice. The bar tender was extremely kind and even after it was closed, she served me an adult hot cocoa upon request. I was hoping to get a virgin drink but I was informed both the cider and the hot coca were premixed with alcohol. Still, the drink tasted great and it was the perfect temperature to drink.
With my drink in hand, we found ourselves a cozy fire pit and observed the picnic area and tubing hill. The hill sat near the polar bar and looked like a traditional, non-icy Minnesotan snow hill. Perfect for tubing. My counterpart and I decided that this slope was too short of a run for adults but it seemed like kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they ran up from the bottom toting along their giant tubes. I remember doing that as a child and it’s no easy feat!
Timeline: They close in late February-early March. On the Minnesota site February 20, 2023, is the last day tickets are on sale via the calendar. I assume that is the last day they are open but I recommend getting your tickets sooner than later as they will sell out.
Best time to go: Go at 7:30 P.M. on a weekday. We went on a Monday at that time and had time to kill as well as photo spots to ourselves. Most of the crowds are rushing through to get home earlier but if you’re patient you can enjoy all the attractions by the time the gates close at nine. Also, a worker told me they are planning on rebuilding layers of the castle in the colder temperatures next week (January 29th-February 5th) so I recommend trying to visit at some point in early February 2023.
Be prepared: Try to go on a warmer night. The temperature last night was around 15° F last night but with the moisture in the air, it felt warmer. I almost needed to take off my overcoat from feeling too warm. I wore a turtle neck shirt, sweater dress, fleece tights, and jeans. To top off my look, I wore warm mittens, a winter overcoat, Bearpaw boots, and the stylish cozy hat that gave me my apparent Russian-inspired appearance.
Expect a workout: I wasn’t sure why my calves were sore when I went to bed last night but I realized I had spent an hour and a half walking on mushy ice sand. It was really fun and added to the aesthetic of the ice castle but I recommend wearing comfortable boots.
Date or family event: Yes, bring your family. At times, it felt more like an event for families rather than an activity for young adults. Is it a cool date spot? I don’t recommend chilling too long in the light caves but if you’re competitive like me, the sliding slopes are a great way to compete against your date.
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Let me know in the comments what you’d want to experience at an ice castle.
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