CHILL at the Queen Mary in Long Beach
And now for something completely different.
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. But maybe this season you're ready for something you've never seen before - something, dare we say, completely different? Well, if you want to see your kids' eyes pop out in winter wonder, it's time for a family drive down to Long Beach, where you can CHILL at the Queen Mary and experience ice in ways you've probably never imagined.
CHILL is a multi-event happening that all centers around ice. The Queen Mary's holiday set-up lets you skate on ice, slide on ice, tube on ice, and walk through a world constructed entirely of ice. The central attraction is the Ice Kingdom - an indoor pavilion chilled to less than 10° Fahrenheit - where enormous ice sculptures await. It's hard to imagine, much less to describe, the magnitude of this display; the 2014 version takes an ironic beachy theme, along with an icy reproduction of the Queen Mary herself, all intricately carved in frozen crystals. A set of slides constructed entirely from blocks of ice keeps kids' blood pumping in the arctic atmosphere, and there are oodles of photo ops at every turn.
The temperature itself is a novelty to SoCal kids, and the beauty and scale of the sculptures is the stuff that dreams are made of. Bring your warmest winter clothes, but don't worry if your coats aren't designed for polar expeditions; everyone is handed a full-length parka at the door. Don't even think of skipping the parka; there's a lot to see, and without the arctic gear you won't last more than 5 minutes in the Kingdom. It's worth noting that many of the parkas seem to have broken zipper this year, though, so do make sure to be bundled underneath as well. This year Ice Kingdom admission is included with all tickets.
Sharing a pavilion with the Ice Kingdom is another 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. The ice tubing is also an indoor activity, but not in the deep freeze zone; a light jacket is warm enough to enjoy sliding down the hill. This year's tickets all include unlimited trips down the tubing hill. Opening weekend there was virtually no waiting at all, but if the line gets bad later in the season, an Elf Pass ($15 extra) acts as a front-of-line pass.
The third 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 much smaller this year, though, making skating a less significant part of the day's activities. Organizers try to limit the crowds on this smaller rink by only issuing a certain number of passes per one-hour session. Guests can skate as many sessions as they like, as long as there is space; staff recommend collecting passes for your desired skating session at the start of your visit.
Kids wanting a visit with Santa can stop in to chat with the whole Claus family in their cabin - 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.
Other 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 ride-on bull styled as a reindeer ($5), a giant swing ride from the Neverland Ranch ($5, or free with Elf Pass), and an enormous bounce house. Food includes pizza, sausages, grilled cheese, crepes, burgers, gourmet candy apples, and ice cream, and there is even a full bar with a sandbox to warm up chilly adults' insides while kids play.
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-$48 for adults and $25-$48 for kids, depending on the date. Elf Passes (front-of-line) cost $15. Family 5-packs are available on many dates for $99. Figure in parking ($20), or plan ahead to look for parking farther away. Purchasing tickets online generally costs $5 less. There are also plenty of deals to be had from local deals websites, so keep your eyes peeled.
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 11pm 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, 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, 2014 until January 11, 2015.
Originally published November 22, 2012, with updates each season