Forget everything you think you know about CHILL, The Queen Mary's annual festival of ice in Long Beach. The shipside holiday extravaganza has been around for five years now, but has had a revamp this season that makes it completely unlike previous iterations. Whether or not you have visited in the past, you'll want to bundle up your warm blooded kids and take them down to CHILL Ice Adventure Park for a day's worth of ice themed activities, and a night's worth of lights and libation.
CHILL's multi-event happening in front of and on the vintage ocean liner is all about ice. The signature feature this year is a skating rink and ice pathway that combine to create 38,000 square feet to glide along. More than just a rink, the track weaves a path through dramatic holiday light displays and a variety of holiday entertainment. Skaters can twirl around the 26-foot Christmas tree and its performance stage that features Rockettes-style dancers throughout the day and evening, then skate onward through an enormous domed tent that hosts aerialists and other circus performers and Christmas characters (think Father Christmas on stilts). More stops along the path include ice shuffle board, ice bumper cars, and igloo-like domes where guests can gather for a meal or drinks.
Basic admission to CHILL—aka the Grand Expedition pass—includes the skating rink (with skate rentals), all the live entertainment, and repeat runs down the adjacent ice tubing hill. This year the tubing is outdoors with a full view of the beautiful lights and ship, which means that time spent in line is still time to take in the sights. What this year's event does not include is the ice sculpture installation of previous years; in fact the old Spruce Goose pavilion, where the sculptures and tubing used to be housed, is no longer part of the Queen Mary event area. The outdoor area is used so creatively, though, that just exploring the sights, lights, and decorations counts as entertainment. There are food and shopping areas, wandering Christmas characters, and even ice-themed bars for grown-up treats.
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Tubing is under the stars this year! Photo courtesy of the Queen Mary
The add-on package, aka the Ultimate Expedition (total price $69-$79), includes five extra activities, all of which are new to the attraction this year. The ice bumper cars are just what you'd imagine and provide a shriekingly good time. The ice tricycles I didn't see coming at all: an icy track with a variety of giant trike styles to ride through light displays and shimmering tunnels. We finished that one laughing pretty hard, too! Our next shrieks were on the zipline, which sails over the entire area with a really satisfying ride and view. Next on the pass is a visit to Santa's stocking workshop, where everyone gets to make a stocking souvenir to bring home, with the help of a glue-gun-wielding elf.
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Skating and bumping in front of the Alpine Bar... Photo by Lilly Fassnacht courtesy of the Queen Mary
Last item on the Ultimate Expedition is a 4-D movie version of the old Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer TV special we all know and love, starring everyone's favorite reindeer, Yukon Cornelius, and Hermy the Dentist/Elf. It's a slightly shorter version than the original (about 15-20 minutes), which means the wait isn't long, but it adds all sorts of in-seat surprises. The movie plays in the 4-D theater on board the Queen Mary, which is a great excuse to board the vintage ship and poke around. Our kids loved going down to explore the engine room before and after the screening.
Triking through the light tunnel
But the entertainment doesn't stop there. Other experiences you can pick up along the way include ice shuffle board, gingerbread house building, and a ride and/or photo op on the giant rocking horse. 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 the performers really spend time with each child and offer a lovely memory whether or not you buy a photo.
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There is Christmas fun everywhere you look.
Food options are also very different this year. Instead of offering the usual theme park fare, the attraction is divided into country-themed sections, all of which sell food of the related region. A red lantern bedazzled area offers dim sum; an Alpine village has fondue, a Swiss deli, and an Alpine bar with a view of everything. A windmill announces the Dutch area, with a breakfast buffet at the Waffle House and an ice bar for the over-21 set. A sparkling Russian skyline draws kids in for cheese perogies (one of the most kid-friendly meals in the park), and a full-on Octoberfest area feels like Germany with beer, pretzels, sausages, pastry, and lederhosen galore. Food can be purchased a la carte or as part of a food passport for a little of everything.
Photo by Lilly Fassnacht courtesy of the Queen Mary
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. On Sunday evenings there is the added bonus of an impressive fireworks display over the harbor.
Grand Expedition admission costs $29 for adults in advance ($35 at the gate) and $19 for kids ($25 at the gate). 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). The longer you stay, of course, the more add-ons are likely to be requested, though we could have spent plenty of time just enjoying the skating and tubing. Seasonal ice rinks are great, but this is the only one in town with a meandering track set up slam against the side of a vintage ocean liner. Penguin-shaped walkers for beginning skaters make it more fun, too.
CHILL opens at 4:30pm on weekdays, weekends, and holidays, including Christmas Eve and Day and New Year's Day.
CHILL at the Queen Mary is open December 13, 2017 until January 7, 2018, every day except New Year's Eve.
Originally published November 22, 2012, with updates each season
All photos by author unless otherwise noted