Most people have heard of or seen pictures of the Ice Hotel in Quebec, but few relish in the idea of staying there to freeze your tuchas off for a night. I have always thought it was something quite unique and different, and although I am not a fan of Old Man Winter’s ‘gifts of nature’, I have always wanted to see the famous Ice Hotel and sculptures inside. I had googled how much it would cost to stay there last fall and was crushed to see that prices start from about $450+ per person! Needless to say, when I say a deal for two for $375 on Groupon this past December, I snatched it up quick!
Plan Ahead for Transportation
I grabbed that deal so quick in fact, that I didn’t realize getting there would cost more than the stay itself. I had done a quick google search before buying and thought VIA Rail would be a good option. However, I later discovered that although it was cheap transportation, getting there by rail would be painfully long and offered a limited schedule for arrival/departure. And with the unpredictable weather in February, driving wasn’t a good option either, so to the skies I looked. I monitored flights for a couple of weeks out of YYZ (Toronto Pearson) to YQB (Quebec City) and bought tickets via WestJet about 6 weeks out. The reservations team does not provide much help with transportation information, so expect to make these arrangements on your own.
Note: If you are looking to stay at the Hotel de Glace, make sure you research transportation options before you book. The hotel itself is about a 3-hour drive from Montreal, and a 30-minute drive for Quebec City/YQB Airport. There appears to be a shuttle that you can reserve to go to/from the hotel and Quebec Place d’Armes ($19.95 per person one way or $29.95 round trip).
How It Works
Once we arrived, we received our normal room key and were sent over to an exuberant gent who gave us a 20-minute orientation on how it all works, and gave us passes to the spa, tube park, for welcome cocktails, and for breakfast at Resto Safari. As an overnight guest, your normal room is where you get dressed, shower, etc. and your cold room is only for sleeping. You also have access to the hot tubs and sauna after 9pm and the idea is to warm up your body before cozying up into your Nordic sleeping bag in the -5°C temperatures inside the Ice Hotel (complete with outdoor porta potties, which luckily, I didn’t have to use once). There is also a mandatory training demo that you must sign up for on how to prepare for bed. We took our luggage up and went for a quick look at the Ice Hotel before attending the training. The session was informative and a good demonstration on how to use the sleeping bags properly to stay warm.
After the training, we had dinner at Resto Safari – the food was very tasty, the portions quite reasonable, all with good service. Our server, Claudia, was great in that she was there when we needed her and pleasant. After, we checked out the Ice Hotel a bit more and located our cold room before it closes at 8pm, and headed up to our normal room to get comfy and prep for our nordic sleep. I went out to the hot tubs and it was so relaxing sitting with the jets going under the stars, and the snow falling slowly down on you. Truly peaceful and mesmerizing - you have to try it to understand. The sauna was small and dripping a bit, but very cozy.
Better signage/paths for accessing the Ice Hotel/hot tubs after 9pm is definitely needed. You have to go through the Bora Waterpark in what appears to be a ‘restricted area’ to get to the entrance where the hot tubs are. As a first timer, I had to ask security how to get through and truly thought I was going the wrong way. I ended up giving directions to at least two others on how to get in/out later that night, so at least I wasn’t the only one.
Once you enter your cold room dressed in pajamas and your winter gear, it takes a few minutes to unpack your sleeping bags and shimmy in properly (the zipper is definitely a struggle). Of course you remove your boots and jacket, but we left our hats and mitts on. The room is incredibly quiet – not a single sound unless someone walks past your door. If you’re claustrophobic, you may struggle with a sleeping bag that latterly confines you up to the neck. The sleep itself was fine for me (a little stiff after sleeping on an ice block and a thin mattress), but at 5:30am we moved inside as my partner found the sleeping bag too constricting and he couldn’t stretch comfortably.
The Pre-Arrival Details Are Lacking
It is not at all clear when you are booking that you actually get two hotel rooms. You have your cold room inside the Ice Hotel, which is solely yours between 9pm and 9am and contains only a bed (ice block on the bottom, with plywood, a mattress and a blanket on top), a night stand made of ice and a curtain as a door; You also receive a second normal room inside the resort with heat, plumbing, electricity, TV (you know, typical hotel amenities), with check out at 11am. This is disclosed once you get booking confirmation, but nowhere on the website or during the booking process did I see mentioned that I was essentially reserving two rooms.
The websites for Hotel de Glace and Valcartier Village could definitely be updated for what is available on site at the hotel. I had to email them for a link to the restaurants and menus, and the menus were only available in French (some have sub-sentences with English translations). In-depth details regarding activities and pricing are hit and miss, and appear to be available by request only ( I could not find any details online regarding the dog sledding ,which is located off-site and takes about 3 hours). Some links from their activities page have minimal information and no link with more details, and a downloadable map of the resort would be fantastic! For someone who has never been, it’s very hard to conceptualize where everything is located and how close together attractions/restaurants/hotels are.
Doing advance research and reading TripAdvisor reviews really helped me understand what to expect. We also received a preparation guide in advance by email, which outlined what to wear/bring, what temperatures are like inside the hotel, check-in details and other basics (onsite activities, restaurants, parking, etc.). Booking details didn’t fully confirm what was included in terms of access at the resort - complimentary access to the spa and winter tube park were included, which was nice. It’s also very handy if you speak fluent French, since most staff spoke beginner to intermediate English, but the taxis drivers spoke zero English. Google translate came in very handy, and the real-time translation for foreign language signs is amazing!!
Ice Hotel Intriguing, Resort is So-So...
The resort itself is definitely family focused. We went on a Wednesday/Thursday and there were kids everywhere! As a young couple without kids, with one of us who doesn’t participate in water sports (so we avoided Bora Waterpark), there wasn’t much to do onsite. We enjoyed the spa for close to 2 hours and did spend some time outside, riding the conveyor belt up the slopes and a winter tube down them (this was my fiance’s first time tubing), but aside from that and seeing the ice hotel, not much onsite. I would have liked to try the dog sledding off site if we had more than 24 hours in Quebec. There are only a handful of dates with special events taking place, so most of the trip.
I bet you’re waiting to hear if Hotel de Glace is worth seeing. It is! The theme this year was People of the North, and the craftsmanship in the sculpting and design was phenomenal! Attend the complimentary tour if visiting because it is so informative (especially when you don’t read French) - the guide goes into details about how the sculptures are made so they don’t have air bubbles (using reverse osmosis) and shares lots of neat facts, including that each ice block at the entrances weighs about 500 pounds! To be honest, I think a day visit to the Ice Hotel would suffice just fine if you want to fore-go the cold and quiet overnight stay – you can check out TripAdvisor review if you like, including my review.
Total cost to visit Hotel de Glace:
Overnight stay package: $431.16 (includes tax)
Flights for two: $582.92 (includes advance seat selection, approx. $12 each)
Travel Insurance (travel interruption/delay up to $1000 for two): $71.28
Taxi to and from YQB to Hotel de Glace: $53.20 + $56.75 (including tips)
Dinner at Resto Safari: $94.15 (including tip)
Park ‘N Fly: $34.76
Gas to and from the airport: approx. $30
TOTAL TRIP COST: $1354.22
I'm a 20-something woman working my way through life in Canada, traveling when I can afford it and seeking out my passions one day at a time.