Sleeping On Ice: Hotel de Glace
By Natacha Pierre
Nestled on the outskirts of Old Quebec City lies a unique hotel that will no longer exist by April. That’s right. The hotel will, in fact, become a mere puddle of water in three months. This is Hotel de Glace, the only ice hotel in North America.
I was very fortunate to not only visit but also spend a night in an exceptionally well-crafted creation that was a chilly -5 degrees Celsius inside.
Checking Off the Bucket List
Sleeping in an ice hotel landed on my bucket list after watching a documentary on the intricacies involved in building such a hotel in Sweden. In some ways, it was more difficult than building a brick-and-mortar building because of time, building material and weather constraints. In other ways, it was easier because the building material was abundant and errors could easily be melted away. It was something I simply had to experience. However, I was not prepared for the price associated with such a unique venture. My luck changed when I scoured through Groupon and found a deal for Quebec’s ice hotel. I wasted no time in snagging the opportunity.
After checking in, my friend and I decided to thaw out in the Celsius Pavilion, which includes a café, lounge, restrooms, lockers and changing rooms. Most importantly, though, it was toasty and had free coffee, hot chocolate and wi-fi.
Although we arrived around 3 p.m., we only had access to our rooms from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. due to ongoing tours. Since we had a lot of time to waste, we decided to participate in a special behind the scenes tour. The tour shared fine details about how the hotel was built and served free cocktails in shot glasses that we carved from ice.
Constructing an Ice Hotel
The hotel was built in 2001 with only 11 beds. It now has 51 beds in 44 rooms, including a honeymoon suite with a private sauna and hot tub. Yes, there are couples crazy enough to get married in the ice chapel.
Construction began on the hotel in December and was completed by the end of January. Builders made 15,000 tons of snow with snow blowers then placed the snow on dome-shaped molds. The molds created walls. I was surprised how rock solid the snow became after freezing over. Once I learned this, there was no need to worry about rooms caving in.
In addition to 15,000 tons of snow, the hotel used 500 tons of ice for furniture. (When furniture is made out of ice, it is more aptly called art). I was nothing short of amazed at the beautiful sculptures, massive chandeliers filled with milk and ice slide that graced the Grand Hall. Intricate art was also carved into the walls. A kaleidoscope of lights dancing on the ice created a spectacular dream-like atmosphere. It was a bit disappointing, though, that all the art would disappear in a few months.
I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes by the end of the tour and started rethinking the entire venture, but a warm French dinner and red wine reinvigorated me.
Preparing to Sleep on Ice
After satisfying our hunger and need for warmth, we begrudgingly returned to the main room just in time for the last mandatory briefing for overnight guests.
DON’T wear cotton, as it retains moisture when you sweat, and your sweat will turn ice cold.
DON’T wear your day clothes or day socks to bed, as they will be moist and turn ice cold.
DON’T put glasses on the nightstand, as they will be warmer than the ice and will seep in the nightstand. DON’T urinate in the rooms, as it will melt the ice. Plus, it’s gross. $100 fine.
DON’T leave your belongings out. They will be icy.
DO use your arctic sleeping bag exactly the way we demonstrate or you’ll freeze to death.
DON’T stick your head inside said sleeping bag or your breath will turn to cold water.
DON’T go to bed without urinating first or you’ll have to unwrap yourself and walk outside in the freezing cold to reach the restroom.
DO toast your body in the hot tub and sauna before going to bed. The arctic sleeping bags will retain your body heat!
The only caveat was that the hot tub and sauna were outdoors. The scene was a sight to behold: a beautiful midnight sky with snow flurries and peaceful whistling of the leaves joined by five Americans in flip-flops and bathing suits hopping around like bunnies and shivering like chihuahuas. A collective “AHH!!” was released as we toasted our bodies in the hot tub for at least an hour.
I made sure to urinate right before bed. However, my bladdar was full 20 minutes after intricately wrapping myself like a mummy in my sleeping bag. That darn red wine! There was no way I was going back out in that cold. So, I held it until morning.
My sleeping experience was fine, for the most part. I was toasty everywhere except my face. My nose was frozen, and I kept wanting to stick my entire head inside the sleeping bag until I remembered the rules. I tossed and turned so much to keep my head warm that my sleeping bag made a 180-degree turn by morning. Having a full bladder didn’t help.
Tips for Next Time
I now know that I should have used a towel or ski mask to cover my face and avoided drinking several hours before bed. When I finally relieved my bladder at 8 a.m., I was surprised to see my friend in the warm Celsius Pavilion sleeping on one of the leather couches. She didn’t make it past 5 a.m. I guess sleeping on ice isn’t for everyone; however, I don’t regret a second of it. I would do it again with better preparation, of course. I may even exchange vows in the ice chapel.
If you’re considering sleeping in an ice hotel, don’t hesitate! It is a very memorable and unique experience. I recommend Hotel de Glace, which is a quick two-hour flight from NYC and less expensive than many others. So what are you waiting for? This hotel will melt soon!
Have you ever slept in a unique hotel? Let us know in the comments.