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HOUSTON - After flying thousands of miles around the globe, China"s CA&A Harbin Ruijing Carving Team did not disappoint when it unveiled its ice carving majesty at one of the biggest holiday festivals in Texas.
To the delight of the crowds, 25 ice sculptors from Harbin, Heilongjiang province, carved 136-kilogram blocks of colored ice into whimsical monkeys, butterflies, orchids and more, to create the Ice Land: Rainforest Holiday exhibition at Moody Gardens in Galveston, near Houston.
The inspiration for Ice Land came from the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in China. The Chinese team is led by artist Qiu Guanghui, who has received top honors in international tournaments.
"What is different this year is the rainforest theme. No one else has done this before. It"s unique. We will use a lot of different kinds of ice in 40-plus colors," Qiu said.
The exhibition tent is kept at a chilly -13 C throughout the holiday season to keep the ice frozen. The carvers created more than 100 works.
Bundled up in parkas provided by Moody Gardens, guests at Ice Land experience a frozen world of whimsical fantasy. They come face-to-face with monkeys, birds, butterflies, orchids, ancient ruins and more, as leaf-cutter ants carry Christmas lights and decorations to a magical place all made of ice.
In the first scene, guests discover the large clear-ice Rainforest Pyramid, illuminated green from the inside - complete with Christmas lights to accent the holiday season.
Braving the cold, shivering bartenders serve beer and cocktails to festivalgoers at a Shiver"s Ice Bar, a one-of-a-kind bar with a Mayan Ruins theme. There is even a giant ice slide - the Artic Slide - that takes guests from the treetops to the forest floor.
Ice Land is a major part of the Christmas holiday season at Moody Gardens, which is also home to the Festival of Lights, which features twinkling lights, ice skating and breathtaking views of Galveston Bay.
Moody Gardens has become a holiday tradition for families throughout the region to enjoy the Festival of Lights, an outdoor ice rink, a holiday buffet and train rides for the kids. Guests also enjoy new holiday 3D films, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the exciting Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner& Show at Moody Gardens Hotel.
Kids marvel at Chinese lanterns with pandas and exotic flowers that line the festival grounds. Holiday revelers stroll along a whimsical trail filled with sound-enhanced lighting and animated displays themed to holiday music.
"Having it all culminate today was a lot of hard work by all of our thousands of employees here, and we"re excited to have people come and celebrate the holidays with us," John Zendt, president and CEO of Moody Gardens, said at the opening ceremony.
Residents of the Texas Gulf Coast are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, which inundated the coastline and flooded thousands of homes. The festivities provided an effective way to unwind and usher in the holidays.
"We"re definitely in the Christmas spirit," said a park visitor holding his infant son. "My wife and I both grew up in the Houston area, so we"ve come down here to see the lights at Moody Gardens since we were kids."