We're fortunate in the Southland to have a wonderful variety of traditional holiday events each season; LA families can take in Christmas lights, boat parades, Nutcracker performances, and even outdoor ice skating rinks. Add to that a holiday entertainment experience adjacent to the Southland's most famous cruise ship, The Queen Mary. For the past four years our warm blooded kids have been able to CHILL from Thanksgiving into the New Year, and we don't mean the kind you do with a board in hand. CHILL is a day's worth of holiday themed activities and photo ops—and a great reason for a family drive to Long Beach.
CHILL's multi-event happening mostly centers around ice, though it should be noted that this year's event does not include the Ice Kingdom ice sculpture installation which has been the centerpiece in previous years. Still, the Queen Mary's holiday set-up lets you skate on ice, tube on ice, get sprayed with ice in a 4D movie, and enjoy a few rounds of faux snow. Replacing the story told through ice sculptures of previous years is a multi-room display called Alice in Winterland, which offers at least as many photo ops as the Ice Kingdom, without freezing the camera or requiring bulky coats. Each room is themed to a part of the story from Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, with a combination of interactive exhibits, giant light displays, and wandering characters. Light-up interactive rabbit ears or tiaras can be purchased for $9 (included with a front-of-line Elf Pass) to enhance the experience with bonus features (not to mention making photo ops even cuter).
Alice in Winterland is the 2016 silk and light display.
The temperature inside the exhibition is not cold like other years (if anything it can get a bit warm when crowded), so no winter gear is required this year. Less stuff for Mom to carry is a good thing, right? Note that the wait for this display can be long; we went on a Saturday night when the regular line had a wait of an hour or more. If you can afford the Elf Pass upgrade, you get to walk straight in. Alice in Winterland admission is included with all tickets. Be sure to bring your best camera; the photo ops are wonderful, but the lighting is very dim.
Sharing the pavilion is an actual frozen attraction, ice tubing. A tall ramp covered with a sheet of ice is set up for flying down on an inner tube, with friendly staff to help the process go smoothly and to push the tube at a thrilling speed. Although there is real ice, a light jacket is plenty warm enough to enjoy sliding down the hill. This year's tickets all include unlimited trips down the tubing hill. With normal admission you probably won't want to wait to do it more than once or twice, but Elf Pass holders can ride over and over without a wait.
The other icy attraction at CHILL is the outdoor skating rink. Seasonal ice rinks are a familiar sight around LA at Christmastime—more spring up every year—but this is the only ice rink we've seen that is set up slam against the side of a vintage ocean liner. The view is breathtaking. Treats this rink offers as add-ons include luxurious cabanas with sofas and fireplaces, and penguin-shaped walkers for beginning skaters to lean on. The rink is smaller than some local pop-up rinks, but the ice is good, and the ambiance can't be beat. Skating costs $15 extra (including skate rental), which helps to keep the crowds down, and guests must book for a specific 45-minute session.
Chilling with penguin...
The 4D Film experience of Polar Express is included with all tickets and is a great excuse to board the vintage ship. The movie did not have a long wait when we went—just long enough for the kids to explore a historical display about the ship before we sat down for a thoroughly enjoyable double feature (lasting about 40 minutes all together) which rushed us through snow and ice, tubing with snowmen, training to the North Pole, and—well, we'll let the rest be a surprise. It's a lovely excuse to get some weight off your feet, or wind down at the end of the day.
Kids wanting a visit with Santa can stop in to chat with the whole Claus family in their gingerbread house—Mr. & Mrs. Claus and a chatty elf. Only purchased photos with the trio are allowed (no selfies) but I do have to give the performers credit; they really spend time with each child and offer a lovely memory whether or not you buy a photo.
Mr. & Mrs. Claus charmed us all with a romantic dance to the tunes of carolers at sunset.
New this year is the Stocking Shop, where guests can create their own Christmas stockings ($9) with the help of a glue-gun-wielding elf. For the amount and variety of decorations offered, and the quality of the experience, we thought the price was more than fair, and the kids were delighted with their new stockings. A returning add-on is the Polar Paintball session; for $5 extra visitors can fire paintball at targets, and an occasional Yeti who darts in and out among the targets. Other extra attractions include wandering performers and stage entertainment (we saw storytelling, costumed characters, and carolers) as well as a photo-op candy cane lane to wander, a giant ride-on rocking horse, a bounce house, and the giant swing ride from the Neverland Ranch ($5 extra, or free with Elf Pass).
Food is typical amusement park type fare (and prices), with alcohol options to warm up chilly adults' insides.
All told, a family can easily spend an entire day at CHILL and find plenty to do—and then stay into the evening to enjoy the breathtaking light displays. Spending a whole day and participating in all of the fun ranges from $35-$50 for adults and $25-$40 for kids, depending on the date, though we know of a great online discount through our affiliate Goldstar. Elf Passes (front-of-line) cost $15. Figure in parking ($20), or plan ahead to look for parking farther away (Long Beach has a free bus service that can help with creative parking).
CHILL opens at 5pm on weekdays and 10am on weekends and holidays; watch for it to open at 10am during winter break. Evenings it's open until 10pm most nights, and the nighttime lights definitely make it worth staying after dark. The best game plan if possible is to come early in the day to enjoy the most popular attractions and avoid traffic in the parking lot, since the bigger crowd seems to arrive close to sunset.
CHILL at the Queen Mary is open every day - including Thanksgiving and Christmas Day - November 21, 2016 until January 8, 2017.
Originally published November 22, 2012, with updates each season