I spent the night in an ice hotel where the room temperature is 23 degrees. Here’s what surprised me most about the unusual experience.

Surprise: The doors are curtains! Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
  • I recently spent a night at Hôtel de Glace, made of snow and ice, outside Quebec City, Canada.
  • I didn’t really think about how there wouldn’t be an en suite bathroom until I got there. Instead, there are two port-a-potties outside.
  • I was astounded by how incredibly quiet my room was thanks to the thick walls of snow, and the rooms had curtains as doors.
  • Editorial Note: Insider paid a reduced press rate for the suite, which usually costs $US379 per night.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ahead of my overnight stay at the ice hotel, or Hôtel de Glace, outside Quebec City, Canada, all I could think about was how cold and miserable I would be.

I was so consumed by planning an outfit that adhered to the hotel’s strict preparation guide and that would keep me warm that other logistics didn’t even cross my mind – like, how would I shower? Does every ice room have an ice bathroom? Where will I charge my phone?

All those questions were answered soon enough.

A night in a hotel made of 500 tons of ice and 20,000 tons of snow, however, comes with all sorts of surprises. No. 1 being: I didn’t freeze to death!

Here are all the quirks and surprises I came across while sleeping in an ice cube in Canada.

Editorial Note: Insider paid a reduced press rate for the suite, which usually costs $US379 per night.

I was floored by the ice hotel’s massive size.

The hotel is 42,000 square feet. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

The hotel is built (and razed) every year, and made up of 500 tons of ice and 20,000 tons of snow. This year’s hotel features 42 rooms, covering 42,000 square feet.

Besides guest rooms, there’s a massive bar featuring a giant ship made of ice, a lounge area with booths and a fireplace, an intricate common area with an “Under the Sea” theme complete with whales and seals made of snow, a faux forest full of snow trees, an indoor slide, and a stunning ice chapel that hosts dozens of weddings every year.

Its carvings and designs are way more intricate than I could have imagined.

The details are incredible. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

About 18 artists were responsible for the hotel’s decor, which floored me with its details. One room had frozen apples attached to a tree carving, and another was decorated with a carving of a Norse God made of ice with a beard of fluffy snow.

The “Under the Sea”-themed common area featured two massive whales and seals made of snow, and a jellyfish-shaped chandelier, two helmet-wearing divers, and a huge ship all made of ice.

The cold is actually not an issue.

The sleeping bags are designed for the North Pole. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Granted, I was wearing multiple layers – I slept in a wool hat, wool socks, thin cashmere gloves, merino wool leggings and a merino wool long-sleeve top, plus a fleece and thin down shell jacket – but the sleeping bag was surprisingly toasty.

According to the ice-hotel staff, the estimated 3% to 10% of people who bail on the ice room in the middle of the night do it mostly because they’re too hot.

Rooms have curtains as doors.

Rooms are separated only by curtains. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

I hadn’t really thought about how doors would be built in the ice hotel, and I was surprised to find that rooms were separated from the outside world only by a short velvety curtain.

Rooms also don’t have bathrooms.

The Porta-Potties are heated. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

I also hadn’t really thought about the bathroom situation. While overnight guests of the ice hotel also get a regular hotel room at the nearby Hôtel Valcartier for bathroom and changing needs, the ice hotel itself has only two (albeit heated) port-a-potties.

You get a second room in a regular hotel along with your ice room.

You also get a room in the four-star Hôtel Valcartier. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

When I was first notified of this I panicked, thinking that this meant most people couldn’t hack a full night in the ice hotel and this was a necessary escape plan.

It turns out it’s a necessity for far more mundane reasons: as a place to store your stuff, change, and shower.

You can’t really bring anything into the room with you.

There are no bedside tables or anything to put stuff on. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

I found a pocket for my phone inside the sleeping bag in my room, but there wasn’t anywhere else to put stuff. Water bottles and electronics will freeze, and even putting down eyeglasses can be problematic.

Apparently, according to the hotel, anything on you – even glasses – will have enough leftover body heat to melt into the snow or icy surfaces a tiny bit and then freeze in place overnight, requiring someone to weld it free the next morning (this apparently happens quite a bit).

It’s deafeningly quiet in the rooms.

Sounds are muffled. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the hotel was how quiet it was: The snow muffled almost every sound, and the walls were up to 8 feet thick in some places.

You lose all sense of time.

The light remains constant. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Lights in the hotel’s hallways remained on all night during my stay, and since the doors are just short curtains, I found it relatively bright in my guest room. Between the light not changing all night and the deafening silence, I felt disoriented.

The fireplaces are functional, but they’re more decorative than warming.

The fire is pretty, but also pretty ineffective. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

The fireplaces do work, and we had a nice crackling fire going for about an hour, but they’re meant to “warm your heart” rather than any extremities, according to the hotel’s staff.

Until a certain time, your room is open to the public as part of an exhibition.

The ice bar is open to anyone until midnight. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

There’s an 8:15 a.m. wake-up call for overnight guests, because the hotel opens to the public at 10 a.m.

“You can sleep in if you don’t mind being part of the exhibition,” one staff member joked to me.

Visitors can roam the halls and check out the intricately decorated suites from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. During this time, beds are cordoned off. Then, between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., when overnight guests can take possession of their rooms, floors are raked, repairs and touch-ups are made, and sleeping bags are laid out for guests.

Dehydration is real.

You can’t bring a water bottle with you (unless you want to keep it inside your sleeping bag). Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Well, for me it was. I was toeing a fine line by not wanting to drink too much to avoid a bathroom run in the middle of the night. Also, I’m someone who always has a glass of water on her nightstand, but I couldn’t bring any into the room as it would have frozen solid. I woke up so, so thirsty.

Despite the snow and ice everywhere, the hotel has electricity, exit signs, and fire extinguishers.

The ice hotel has to adhere to the same safety regulations as a regular hotel. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

It was so funny to me to see these mundane, everyday items amid this magical, fairy-tale-like snow castle, but, alas, safety first.

There’s a chapel where people can have their wedding.

The chapel has a very ‘Game of Thrones’ vibe. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

About 40 people get married or renew their vows in the chapel every season.

The hotel is constructed using man-made snow. The ice is brought in from a company specializing in restaurant ice.

The blocks of ice are made by Glace Frontenac and used mainly to make furniture. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

To get ice that is perfectly clear, the hotel imports it from a company that usually supplies the restaurant business with ice cubes.

The hotel, which is a temporary fixture each year, takes only five weeks to build.

The hotel is built one section at a time. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

I was told it takes about five weeks to build the ice hotel and only five hours to knock it down. The hotel can be built only after it’s been at a consistent 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius) for at least a week straight.

About 50 people are involved with the hotel’s construction; 18 of them are sculptors and artists who take care of the decor and more intricate designs.