Duchesnay ecotourism station , Quebec - I arrive for my tour of the Ice Hotel, a 30-minute drive from Quebec City, at around 10 am, just in time to see brave souls who've spent the night stagger up to the checkout desk located in one of the heated buildings at the resort.
They look tired yet proud. The clerk wishes one couple a happy anniversary, and I'm astonished to realize that they actually made a point of coming here to celebrate this special event.
A mother and her three kids, all bundled to the hilt, come into the sales area looking for souvenirs of their adventure. The mom goes on about how they love winter camping and what a great time they had. The kids, looking desperate for a warm bath and a night in a real bed, just nod their heads.
It's hard to picture an ice hotel until you're actually there. On the outside, it looks like a giant igloo. But of the 10,000 tonnes of snow and ice in the structure, 320 are beautiful works of art and ornate furniture carved out of ice.
This year the hotel has 32 rooms as well as two art galleries, a movie theatre, the Absolut Ice bar and a reception room that accommodates 400.
Upgrades are added every year, including an interior and exterior skating rink, a large hot tub and, amazingly, a wedding chapel.
The chapel is truly lovely, with ice benches covered in animal fur, a crystalline desk for signing wedding contracts and an altar in front of which couples are joined in cold but wedded bliss.
The bar is the main hangout, and the drink of choice is flavoured vodka provided by the one of the sponsors, Absolut, served in glasses carved out of ice. My husband tries the citrus, which he says is delicious, while I stick to hot chocolate in a fruitless attempt to warm up.
Two wood-burning fireplaces are encased in glass, which is a bit frustrating for those who fantasize about enjoying their heat. If you want to get warm, there are a couple of options. One is to jump in the spa's hot, bubbling water and enjoy a nice long soak. The only drawback is having to get out in your bathing suit at below-zero temperatures. But those who've tried it assure me that one's body temperature stays up long enough to dash into the heated trailer's change room and, more important, bathroom.
How do you go to the bathroom? In the hotel's first year, operators provided Johnnies-on-the-spot, but now a heated trailer with his and hers washrooms seems luxurious by comparison. Hanging out it in the bathroom is another way to warm up, but not too exciting.
A third way is to get into your special arctic-quality sleeping bag and go to sleep. Once you're inside and your body heat warms it up, it can get so hot that you can actually sweat.
This is why you're advised not to overload on the layers of clothes. Perspiration actually cools you down, and then it's difficult to warm up again.
Do not put off going to the bathroom. The energy you expend on keeping your pee warm could be better used heating your body.
Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be brave and spend the night. But on this visit I'm enjoying the vicarious thrill of watching the survivors say their goodbyes and go off to their next adventures.
As for me, I'm proud to say I survived the tour.