by Carmel L. Mooney
Every year thousands of visitors from around the world come to Quebec City to enjoy the festivities of one of the world’s most enormous family-friendly winter festivals. Quebec Winter Carnival is ranked among the world’s top ten best winter festivals and is considered one of the world’s 1000 must-see destinations.
Parades, rides, attractions, sporting events, dog sledding, dining, ice sculptures, ice buildings, skating, skiing, snowshoeing, and more create a world-class vacation destination in one of North America’s most majestic cities.
Flying into Quebec City at Jean-Lesage International Airport is hassle-free.
The magical and historical city of Quebec is transformed into a winter wonderland worthy of a movie or fairy tale. Music, events, dining, and activities abound that celebrate Carnaval. Bonhomme, the snowman, is the mascot whom children revel in spotting and meeting throughout the city during the Carnaval festivities.
We stayed at the Hilton Quebec which was within walking distance of everything the picturesque city offers. This proved invaluable.
We enjoyed dog sled races and show shoe races and live bands on the Plains of Abraham. The Carnaval Day Parade rivals the Macy’s Parade and is a must-see with dozens of gigantic inflatable characters including Bonhomme.
Also one magical evening we were enchanted by a lovely ice skating session just blocks from our hotel at Place D’Youville where families with kids of all ages skate under gently falling snow to music.
Bonhomme arrived and the kids went wild with excitement. It was like a scene out of the movie with the beautiful and historic buildings and lights framing the rink.
One highlight was a guided Snowshoer’s Walk on the Plains of Abraham where our entertaining guide dressed in period costume, narrated and sang with us while weaving a tale of the history of the area.
Just a few beautiful miles from Quebec City is Le Nordique a gorgeous spa retreat where visitors can enjoy massages, hydrotherapy pools, and more, all amongst majestic mountain backdrops and frozen rivers and lakes.
A beautiful hotel property nearby, Le Manoir du Lac Delage offers sumptuous meals and gorgeous views. We spent the afternoon eating a simply wonderful lunch and partaking in a fun outdoor activity called Rand Orientation where, on a snowshoe, participants hunt for markers in the forest from coordinate clues and a compass. It was a wonderful way to see the backcountry and exercise while testing our skills.
Also nearby is the Wendake nation’s hotel and museum. Home of the first inhabitants of the Americas, this village is very intriguing. The four-star hotel, Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations, blends the tradition and culture of the Wendake native people. The food is a cultural experience where delicious native foods like smoked sturgeon and seal are extraordinary. And home-baked bread made with native grains like bannique bread made with wild berry corn and flour is tantalizing. The foods are prepared by native peoples or by elders using generations-old techniques. Local cheese and locally crafted adult beverages for mom and dad, make this so unique and delightful. Even the herbs used to prepare the foods, over 90 of them, are locally produced.
The entire community is full of historic and educational buildings and a walking tour is a must.
Also just outside the city of Quebec we enjoyed Montmorency Falls Park where we took the grand cable car ride up the mountain to a spectacular historical and natural wonder. These falls are higher than Niagara Falls and simply amazing.
Another novelty of the Quebec City area is the Hotel de Glace just a few miles from the city.
Every year, for less than three months, a wonder of frozen water brings families from around the world into a mesmerizing world of sleeted chandeliers, indoor polar slides, ornate frozen furniture, and refrigerated artistry.
In just a matter of weeks, this engineered spectacle is re-designed and re-constructed each winter season from hundreds of tons of ice and tens of thousands of pounds of packed snow.
No two years are alike as several dozen uniquely themed rooms and suites, and a glacial nightclub create an unforgettable lodging experience created for brave adventure-seeking families looking to be awed for a day visit, or a more adventurous overnight stay.
From the moment they enter this aesthetic spectacle, guests are taken into another realm of beauty and tranquility as light plays a visual extravaganza on the eye with colors, textures, and lighting.
For those brave, enough to take the class and prepare adequately, sleeping in the Hotel de Glace is successful only with the help of arctic-rated sleeping bags, and meticulously planned pre-sleeping organization. If sleeping in a room where cell phones freeze, cameras malfunction, and even boots and sweaters must be protected, sounds doable, get ready to slumber, or not, on top of a mattress placed on a block of ice as a bed foundation.
Upon arrival, and before entering the ice hotel, families warm up in the new, separate, and heated Entrance Pavilion to purchase tickets. There the North Face hosts a boutique that promises your last chance at cold-weather gear before entry. Having entered, guests can access the Celsius Pavilion where soups, sandwiches, light fare, and beverages can be enjoyed in the new light snack area. Locker rooms are offered as most overnight guests do take the preparation course seriously which teaches them to raise their core body temperature before bed by indulging in the spas and sauna methodically, right before turning in. Most personal items are left in the lockers or back at the Sheraton as they would freeze in the rooms.
The Hotel de Glace partners with the Four Points by Sheraton Quebec about a mile away. Check-ins take place through the Sheraton, where typical hotel amenities, and warmth are only a 2-3 minute complimentary shuttle away and a warm and cozy room is waiting, just in case. As locals say, “There is no shame in not making it through the night.”
Overnighting parents at the ice hotel can enjoy an iced cocktail in the Ice Bar. Guests are provided complete sleeping equipment, access to the hot tubs and sauna area, a hot wake-up beverage, and breakfast.
Some suites at the Hotel de Glace even boast fireplaces that are strictly for ambiance and eye appeal, since they are specially designed to not emit heat.
For the arctic sleeping bags to function correctly one must wear the correct synthetic fibers and socks and have clean, dry, and unworn clothes separately reserved just for sleeping, as moisture is the enemy.
One amazing attribute is the extreme insulation and acoustic property of the ice structure. Even with the blaring music from the disco, the suites and rooms are supremely quiet and serenely peaceful at night. So quiet in fact, that some guests comment on the eerie stillness, even with no doors in the rooms.
A day or early evening visit and tour may be more enjoyable for most. The crystalline ice sculptures and intricately designed walls, indoor ice slide, bars, and discotheques are an unforgettable sight to see and experience. Over a half-million visitors have experienced this wonder just since 2001.
Carmel L. Mooney is the author and the editor of Road Trips for Couples.