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This year we decided to skip a year of doing our favorite holiday-themed activities in New York City in exchange for making our first trip to the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine near Dallas, Texas. For a few years I have seen magical-looking photos and videos of families enjoying the Gaylord’s indoor snow-tubing, two-million twinkling lights, snowball throwing, outdoor ice-skating, and their 9 degree multi-room ice sculpture exhibit. It looked amazing (and expensive), so if we were going to do it, it had to be our marquee holiday event of the season.
I already wrote about our experience with the actual Gaylord Texan Resort and how to book your lodging (and eat) for less, but now it is time for the really good stuff, the Gaylord Texan holiday activities. As I mentioned in the first post on the Gaylord, there really is no way to do this on the cheap unless you win this amazing looking package, but there are ways to be a little more strategic and avoid spending more than necessary while building holiday memories.
Go to the Gaylord Texan Early in the Season
It’s too late for this tip this year, but in case you want to start planning for next year, the easiest way to save on the holiday activities at the Gaylord Texan is to go before Thanksgiving like we did. Not only will your hotel room likely be cheaper earlier in the season, but they also typically have a Groupon available for discounted admission to the ICE exhibit and they also usually have a 50% off ICE code on their Facebook page. This year that 50% off code was valid until November 21st, excluding Saturdays after 5PM.
Bundle Your Gaylord Texan Activities
Another strategy to save money on the holiday activities at the Gaylord Texan is to bundle them and buy more than one activity at once. ICE is the main attraction, but it honestly wasn’t our absolute favorite offering, in part because of the crowd and in part because the toddler losing it mid-attraction (more ICE tips to come in a third and final post on the Gaylord).
That favorite Gaylord Texan activity award went to the snow tubing. If you are only going to do two activities I would strongly recommend that snow tubing be one of them, and they offer discounted bundles for both ICE and snow tubing.
The price for an ICE and snow tubing combo ticket is currently $39.99 for adults and $28.99 for children. If you were already looking at a peak season ICE ticket that is a modest upcharge, though it wasn’t worth it for us since we bought 50% off discounted ICE tickets and tubing is $18.99 for all ages, so be sure to do your math.
If you want to go all-in, they have a “Play and Save” package where for $69 for adults and $62 for children you get all of these inclusions:
- ICE! featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- Snow Tubing
- Santa’s Snow Throw
- Build-A-Bear Workshop Scavenger Hunt
- Gingerbread Decorating Corner (gingerbread man kit)
- Ice Skating
If you also want to include Cookies with Mrs. Claus, that brings the price to $74. You have to reserve a specific time for ICE and Cookies with Mrs. Claus, but otherwise, you can do the other activities as you wish on your selected date.
A potentially even better deal than that if you want to do all of those activities is to upgrade to a Play and Save after purchasing your ICE ticket. We bought a 50% off adult ICE tickets for $15.00 each and a child ticket for $8.50, and on our ticket PDF, there was an offer to upgrade to the “Play and Save” package above for an additional $45 per person which would offer some savings over purchasing the package outright.
Be Picky About Who Does Each Activity
While all of your crew may want to walk through ICE, it is possible that not everyone will want to do every activity, so be picky about who does what. For example, we all went through ICE, but for the snow tubing, it was the girls, Grandpa, and me. When it was time to ice skate, it was just C and me, the Elf Breakfast was the girls and me, and at snowball throwing, it was just the girls.
Thankfully, the two-year-old was free for all of those activities except for snow tubing and snowball throwing (we shared a bucket). As an aside, she was the absolute minimum height allowed on snow tubing at 36 inches, and even that required riding in a double tube with a paying adult, which worked out great for us but is worth a mention if you were planning on just sending the kids.
There was no real reason that all six of us needed to do everything, so we saved money by carefully aligning activities with interest and activity levels. We also spread the activities out over two days as the crowds really got insane as the day went on, so it would have been unpleasant to try and squeeze everything into one day. On the first day we did ICE and snow tubing, and on the second day, we did the Elf Breakfast, ice skating, snowball throwing, and our visit to Santa.
Santa is Free, But…
A visit to the big man himself is free, but be aware that they do not allow you to take your own photos and the photo packages are PRICEY. I think that Macy’s on 34th in NYC did this process much better by allowing you to take your own photos and having more reasonably priced photo package prices, but it is what it is, so waaaaay too many dollars later, we had two printouts outs and all of the digital images.
If you really want to only use your own camera, then have a family member off of the Santa platform ready to get a shot using a zoom lens or shoot at an angle away from the platform.
We only had about a 10 minute wait to see Santa right when he opened at 10AM on a Sunday, but rumor had it on Saturday afternoon the line stretched close to two hours as there is only one Santa.
Combine an Activity and a Meal
One of my favorite activities at the Gaylord was the Elf on the Shelf Breakfast. This was one of my favorite holiday activities because you got to sit down through most of it, there weren’t crowds, the food was good, the service was friendly, and the theming was cute.
For breakfast, they transform their Zeppole Italian restaurant into an Elf on the Shelf Character Breakfast wonderland. If you have been to a character breakfast at Disney, this is pretty much the same concept with the Elf characters wandering by for hellos and photos as you dine. They do have photographers here who take photos you can purchase, but you can also take your own photos at no extra charge.
The bacon, and elf pancake and omelet stations were fantastic, as were the Elf on the Shelf coloring books that kept the girls busy while I fueled up on coffee.
This breakfast experience is expensive, so again we were picky about who went. Adults are $36.99 and children 4 and up are $18.99, both prices are before taxes and gratuities. For the girls and I, it came to $74 all-in, but it served as a fun and easy activity as well as a meal that kept us pretty full until dinner, so I’m calling it a win even though it was a pricey breakfast.
Skip the Fast Passes
You can purchase a Fast Pass to ICE or Snow Tubing, but I would save that money in most situations. The snow tubing Fast Pass only cuts on the initial line to get in, not the line going up the hills. With ICE, the Fast Pass can be useful, but if you are staying at the resort then you get expedited entry that way anyway. Be sure to tell them you are a hotel guest, as they put us in the empty Fast Pass line as soon as we told them.
If you are going during a peak time, not staying at the Gaylord Texan, and really hate waiting in lines then you can decide for yourself if it is worth an additional $12 per person for a Fast Pass. Honestly, a much better idea is….
Go to the Gaylord During the Week
I fully intend to go to the Gaylord Texan with my family during the holidays again, but I hope to not return on a weekend. There were people everywhere, especially the first day when the resort was also hosting a high school theater conference and there were teenagers literally passed on on the floors that you had to step around. It was pandemonium and almost comical at times. We still had a great time, but I think if you can find a way to go during the week you will have a much better experience and negate the need to spend more on Fast Passes or peak pricing ICE tickets.
If we have an extra day of school you can afford to miss, I think that this would be a great way to spend it building holiday memories together, minus the mass of humanity we experienced on our weekend visit. I can only imagine the crowds get worse as you head towards Christmas. If you do have to go during a peak time, get up early and do as much as you can before lunch when things start to get much more crowded.
Once ICE sells out, the other big activities (especially snow tubing) become completely over-crowded and, to me, unenjoyable.
In order, our favorite holiday activities at the Gaylord Texan were: snow tubing, Elf Character Breakfast, ICE, ice skating, and then snowball throwing, but they were all good, so it is just a ranking of the best of the best. We did not do the cookies with Mrs. Claus, gingerbread making, the Santa Escape Room, or the Build-A-Bear scavenger hunt, though the girls did talk Grandma into buying Build-A-Bears after playing with them for quite a while near the snow tubing ride, so consider yourself warned.
While this is a “your mileage may vary” tip, we were told that we could use some of our remaining snow tubing rides the next day. They give you a wristband that they cross off as you use some of your 12 included rides down the hills, and we had a few left after spending an hour in the lines that we theoretically could have used the next day. Based solely on observation, the wristband color did change the following day, so I’m not sure if the standard rule is you can use leftover tubing rides the next day or not, but it is worth an ask if you end up in that situation.
Even with using these tips, our group of six spent a fair amount at the Gaylord Texan, though not as much as would have if we didn’t look for discounts and use some strategy. I’m happy to do my best to answer any Gaylord Texan holiday questions you may have and would love to hear your money savings tips, too!
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