Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Québec City and A Night in the Hôtel de Glace

 I'm alive.

Yes, I still have all of my fingers and my toes.  The tip of my nose may never be warm again, but that is the price you pay for staying overnight in a hotel made completely out of ice and snow.  I thought growing up with lots of lake effect snow from Lake Erie and spending the last 6 years here in Boston would have prepared me for a long weekend in Québec... it did not.

Last October, I purchased a Groupon for a night in the Hôtel de Glace.  I did not go for the exclusive package (extra night, dinner, etc etc), I just had the bare bones package including Saturday night in the ice hotel, a welcome drink, and breakfast the next morning.  The following evening I was booked a room at the Four Points Sheraton down the road from the Ice Hotel.  I thought being nearby would be a good idea and thought it was fairly close if I wanted to explore centre-ville. Up until a few days before the trip, I did not even consider having a spare room for Saturday night.  My traveling companion did not appreciate this plan and booked the additional night at the Sheraton (just in case). 

Centre-ville, Québec City
Around 6:30 AM on Saturday morning, I left Boston to drive up to Québec City.  My GPS said I should get there in about 6 hours.  Unfortunately, my GPS did not account for driving through several minor snow storms and miles of unpaved roads.  The 6 hour trip turned in to 7.5 excruciatingly long hours.  Having the backup room was actually a wonderful idea as I was able to drop off my bags somewhere secure during the day and not keep it locked in the car.  Since I had some time and it was still snowing, I took a cab into Québec City from the Sheraton.  Their website is a bit deceiving.  I did not realize the hotel was so far from the old part of the city.  It was a $30 cab ride one way, yikes! Keep this is mind if you want to see more than just the ice hotel.

I arrived within the walled city with just enough time for my 2:30 walking food tour with Tours Voir Québec.  Though a bit pricey at nearly $43 a person, the tour was very informative and a lot of fun.  Coincidentally, there were no other people booked on the tour either, so it ended up being a private tour.  We stopped at several locations as our guide gave us some history of Québec City.  Some of our stops included small wine and food tastings at three different restaurants, an introduction to maple liquor at the SAQ, and stops for cheese, chocolate, and maple product tastings at Maple Delights.
Part of the wall surrounding the city

The tour ran for 2.5 hours and I was back on a cab headed to the hotel at 5pm to prepare for my very cold night ahead.  I would recommend this tour, or at least this tour company, if you are trying to get a quick history of the city and don't have a lot of time.  We spent a lot of time outside, so be prepared with lots of layers and some good boots.

When I got to the Sheraton I warmed up a little and started packing for the night.  The following items went in my overnight bag:  Two extra pairs of socks, a pair of synthetic leggings to sleep in, a moisture wicking long sleeve shirt to sleep in, a swim suit, camera, cell phone, extra gloves, and an extra hat.  The following items did not go into my overnight bag, but should have: a pair of flip flops, more socks, feet warmers, even more socks.  Can you figure out which part of my body was the coldest?

The chapel
I arrived at the Hôtel de Glace at 7pm.  In hindsight, I would have arrived early so that I could have taken the last English speaking tour at 5pm, but I have watched the special on the Discovery Channel, so I wasn't too sad.  The night before was the grand opening, so pretty much the entire hotel was finished.  It is incredible!  There are both rooms and suites for overnight guests to stay in.  The rooms are cheaper than the suites, but they all have the same "amenities".  That is a bed frame carved from ice with a wooden frame and mattress on top.  The suites have wonderful carvings and fake fireplaces that warm your heart and soul, but not your body.  As you can imagine, fire and ice do not mix well.

The deluxe suite
At 8:15, I gathered with several other people in the orientation room.  For an hour we listened to a woman try to convince us that we would not be cold.  She listed out detailed instructions on how to get into the sleeping bag and how it is good for even colder weather than what we were sleeping in.  When we exited the orientation, I'm not sure anyone was 100% convinced.  Since I did not really think ahead for dinner, I ended up eating dinner at the little cafe in the "warm building" next to the hotel.  The warm building is where the bathrooms, food, locker rooms, and concierge all are.  This building is open 24 hours a day, so if you need to potty in the middle of the night, you don't have to make yellow snow.

After my sub-par dinner of a cold ham and cheese panini (I do not recommend eating here), I made my way back into the hotel for some drinks at the bar.  My package came with one free drink in a souvenir ice glass.  If you keep your glass, any additional drinks are discounted by $2.  The drinks run from about $8 to $15 depending on the liquor.  In reality, the ice glass only holds about as much liquid as a shooter.  A $15 shooter is pretty expensive.

Another beautiful suite
If I were to go back, I would pack a flask and pour my own alcohol into the ice glass after I got my first free drink.  After a few drinks, I decided to take our orientation leader's advice and try to increase my body temperate in the jacuzzi before turning in for the night.  I used the locker rooms to change into my swimsuit and picked up my terry cloth robe from the concierge.  Our orientation leader said that it would be okay to just walk out to the jacuzzis in your boots, but this is where I really wish I would have brought flip flops like some of the other overnight guests.  My boots got soaked after running in and out of the jacuzzi as fast as I could.  I can honestly say, the water was no where near warm enough!  In addition, the snow blowing into my face from the top of the hotel was not a comfortable feeling.  I'm pretty sure I could have gotten my temperate up with a hot shower instead. 
The bar area

In the bar drinking from an ice glass
After about 15 minutes in the outdoor spa, I returned to the warm building to change and dry my hair.  Once I changed into my PJs,I enjoyed a complimentary hot cocoa and tried to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.  When I could no longer keep my eyes open, I bundled back up and made my way to room 22.  It did look very cosy with a small candle burning, but I quickly realized walking through the snow in wet boots was not the way I wanted to start the night.

I uncurled my sleeping bag, quickly took off my jacket and snow pants, and changed into my sleeping socks.  After zipping myself into the mummy style sleeping bag, I spent the next several hours thinking about how cold my feet and nose were and trying to will myself to sleep.  The people who say they had the best sleep of their life here are either A) lying or B) sleep in very uncomfortable beds at home. Fortunately, I did not have to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night, but I do feel bad for anyone who does.  I doubt I would not be able to go back into that sleeping bag after warming up in the heated building during the night.

I got up very early the next morning and made my way back to the heated suite at the Sheraton and napped for a while.  Around 12PM, I had to grudgingly put my snow clothes back for a 1pm dog sledding ride in Stoneham with Aventures Nord-Bec.  The Hôtel de Glace has a package that includes this option, but I booked my experience separately.  It just made better sense to me to plan my activities on my own.  The drive took about 30 minutes from the hotel (again, in the snow) to the chalet in the middle of the woods.

My room for the night
There ended up being about 20 people in our party with 2 people per sled.  We were ushered to an area for a quick lesson on how to drive a sled before being directed to our team of dogs.  I was in the last sled with Mazuka and Powdee as my dog team leaders.  The ride through the woods was a lot of fun.  I crashed into a snow bank once and made my partner face plant in the snow, but it was still pretty entertaining.  The 40 minutes through a winter wonderful were serene and very beautiful.  I was told not to bring my camera on the sled, but I wish I did.  There were people in the woods with cameras, meaning you could buy photos at the end.  $50 for a photo package seemed really expensive, but since I had no other options, I conceded.

Sledding through the snow
After the ride, everyone warmed up in the chalet with hot cocoa and some cookies.  This was a lot of fun and an experience I recommend if you are in the area.  Be prepared for a long drive from the city if it is snowing and be on the lookout for icy roads.  That night I was exhausted and ended up eating dinner in the hotel.  It was surprisingly delicious and not horribly priced.  A 3 course meal was about $40 without beverages.  The next morning, I made a few quick stops in the city for some souvenir shopping before driving back to Boston.  The weather wasn't nearly as bad coming home. 

All in all, I have the following recommendations if you are planning a trip to Québec City and the Hôtel de Glace...
  1.  Make sure your car has 4 wheel drive and other appropriate snow gear...check the weather in advance!
  2. If you are even the slightest bit hesitant about staying the night in the Hôtel de Glace due to claustrophobia, cold feet (literally), or are prone to crankiness with a lack of sleep, don't do it.  Be sure to visit as it is incredible to see, but enjoy a warm night in the comfortable of a real bed.
  3. If you do stay the night, pack lots of socks, flip flops, and a hair dryer.
  4. If you want to explore the walled part of Québec City, book a hotel closer to centre-ville, not the Sheraton.
  5. Lastly... make sure you have some serious winter gear (coat, gloves, boots, etc). 
I'm glad I went, but I won't be returning in the winter. I bet it is beautiful in the summer though.  :)

A thing worth noting:  Québec City is a french city, so if you don't understand French, you may find it a bit frustrating.  Most people can speak English to a certain degree, but many other people (especially outside of the tourist zones) do not.  Be prepared.


  1. YOu are to funny Tina, I would have froze to death! But what a wonderful experience you had freezing! Love Aunt Chia

  2. While reading this story I could not get the smile off my face knowing all along you don"t like being cold. Glad you had fun. Love you Princess.

  3. This is great! Lol. I think u made the most of it and it was a great experience. Not sure I could have survived it with a smile but I think I'd like to try! Can't wait to see the rest of the pics :)
    Love, Aunt Debbie

  4. Next time go somewhere warm!

    Love aunt CHia

  5. I agree! If I do make a return trip, it will definitely be in the summer!