Queen Mary, Long Beach, CA
Greetings, kids! We're one more remaining weekend till Christmas, which puts us right in the thick of the holiday season, so hope you've been getting all your holiday activities done. If not, well, you're just a terrible, terrible person who is going on Santa's Naughty List.
Or something like that.
But that's not the point of today's update. We're actually going to look at this year's Chill event over at the Queen Mary, which we normally cover when haunted happenings are afoot in the form of Dark Harbor. For those who aren't into the macabre, however, they also happen to have a pretty charming and festive winter holiday event as well--one that we covered last year too--and we took a stop last Wednesday to check out the first night of this year's Chill!
This year, Chill has been completely redesigned and features an international winter festival motif called the International Holiday Expedition. Featuring the North Pole (America, apparently), China, Russia, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, the idea is an experience that brings various international and cultural iterations of the winter holidays to one site, next to the Queen Mary. The grounds are laid out on the parking lot and Village area beside the ship, since the Spruce Goose Dome has been sold to usage as a renovated cruise terminal. This has provided a much more cohesive theme than the two-part scheme we saw last year, and a lot more overall pizzazz too!
Chill incorporates an Ice Adventure Park this year full of a combination of standard-admission-including and upcharge attractions. Those who purchase a regular ticket can enjoy Ice Skating with free rental, Snow Tubing, the Giant Rocking Horse, and all the live entertainment provided on site. Guests who opt for the more expensive "Ultimate Expedition" pass can also enjoy the North Pole Express Zip Line, Amsterdam Bumper Boats, Shanghai Speedway Ice Cycle Track, "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" 4D theater holiday movie, and free Stocking Shoppe decorating. Alternately, guests can pick and choose from the second list of attractions ala carte and pay their upcharges individually.
The rides and attractions are pretty fun, providing a much richer and improved winter fair environment than we saw last year by virtue of the overall layout. Maps were missing on this first night that we attended, which would have been beneficial in identifying the specific locations and walking paths to various attractions and areas, but the whole grounds was compact enough that we didn't have much difficulty figuring things out.
From our visit, by the far the best attraction of the night in my opinion was the ice skating. In many places (including Chill last year), ice skating is confined to a solitary rink, with guests skating around in circles and generally having nothing more than that. This year, at Chill, however, the rink has been expanded to include an actual skating course with diverging paths that took skaters all around the Chill festival grounds. It felt like a lazy river in ice skating form, and it was a wonderful and exciting wrinkle to a traditional winter fair attraction.
The zip lining also provides a pretty nice rush at a solid length, though the line for this appeared to be the longest of all the attractions at Chill. Snow Tubing is fun but short--but fortunately, the line moved quickly in our experience. The Ice Cycle Track is really just riding tricycles around a relatively short, white track. And the Bumper Boats are pretty and silly, but a bit slow and not quite that bumpy. Nonetheless, from our experience and observation they all provided just fun experiences that the whole family could enjoy.
Our media coverage included a "Drink Passport" that actually had some food options as well, yielding a taste of the dining options from each of the six countries represented in the "International Food Faire" portion of the "International Holiday Expedition" overlay. The culinary provisions at Chill this year are vastly improved from last year's event and overall even better than Dark Harbor's usual normal carnival food style eateries. In addition, a few places have some nice temporary pop-up restaurant structures erected, which pleasantly surprised us with how nicely they were furnished. A cozy waffle house and a lavish Swiss chalet are among the nice digs, and the actual food and drink we sampled proved generally pretty tasty!
Much like Dark Harbor, Chill features a large assortment of live entertainment for guests. They range from scattered small stages across the grounds to "whole park" shows that are visible from almost everywhere throughout Chill. Lets take a look at a few of these!
Acrobats in China
China's Forbidden City provided acrobatic and performance art from traditional Chinese culture for those inside the Ice Cycle course. We caught the tail end of plate spinners and the entire showing of a chair balancing acrobat that delighted and astonished, but martial artists and lion dancers also rounded out the line-up. Their maneuvers and athleticism were certainly very impressive!
Inside a large dome within Russia's Blizzard Boulevard area, aerial acrobats performing on silks give shows several times a night. Their elevated gymnastic dances were beautiful to watch and provided bonus entertainment for those skating by on the ice course and those enjoying a drink from the bar situated on one side of the dome!
Around the central Christmas tree, several performances take place throughout the night, featuring festive dancers clad in their Christmas prettiest coupled with an elaborate light and music show conducted off the hanging strand light curtains draped across several rigging structures across the entire Chill grounds. It is worth noting that the location of the Christmas tree--surrounded by a roundabout portion of the ice skating circuit--makes direct viewings more complicated for non skating guests. They have to find scattered walkway areas off of attraction queues to watch, or behold the show from a farther vantage point. To us, this seemed the most inefficient aspect of the Chill event, and though the performers do their best to circle the "in the round" stage and provide equal viewing, the set-up still feels a little odd.
The Christmas tree lighting is an extension of the hourly (or so) shows, but with different costumes and the incorporation of characters representing the six countries featured in the International Holiday Expedition. The general story is relatively simple--the various icons come together to light the tree and illuminate the Christmas spirit. And after the tree is lit, an extended synchronized light and music show plays on.
While the theatrics of this show were excellently done, we found the pacing and length of this ceremony to be a little odd. Mostly, the light show that followed the actual lighting (although the tree didn't really remain lit; its lights pulsed and danced with the spectacle afterward) seemed to continue and continue and continue--an unexpected extension to what is typically a relatively compact holiday occasion. The visuals were certainly dazzling, but with each subsequent song, it felt like the tree lighting was receiving encore after encore after encore, which came off puzzling. I realize a ton of work was put into the programming and testing and design of this portion of the evening's entertainment, but the whole sequence felt misplaced.
Near the end of the night, the skies above the Queen Mary was lit up by fireworks, accompanied by Christmas carols and a general sentiment of awe and wonder. Thankfully, the fireworks show itself was short and sweet, serving as a nightcap for a lovely evening. On Chill's normal schedule, fireworks are slated for Sunday evenings, as Chill wraps up its operating week (the event runs Tuesdays through Sundays and is closed Mondays).
While we had fun at Chill last year, our most notable criticism was the blatant discrepancy in quality and ambiance between the magnificent Alice in Winterland half of the event and pretty much everything else. Fortunately, this year, the entire event feels much more cohesive and thorough. Incorporating the Village and the parking lot area as one large site and thoroughly distributing all the entertainment and dining and attractions throughout made for a very festive environment, and a commendable effort was placed into really "icing up" everything. It is Chill, after all!
On the Boat
The Queen Mary herself is open separately from the Chill event and doesn't require Chill admission, but guests who go to Chill can also stop by the ship and just taken in the holiday decorations that have been laid throughout the interiors.
Back inside Chill, one of the upcharge attractions that is less "ride" based is an ice bar in the Russia section. For $15, guests gain admission plus a five-Vodka sampler. For those who've been to ice bars before, this was a pretty basic iteration, but for those to whom this idea is novel, it was a nice little experience.
Around the Midway
The theming throughout Chill really impressed us, as I've outlined already. Something about how everything pulled together created a much more immersive and charming environment for this year's event. It's not to say that last year's event was poor, but there were definitely noticeable dropoffs in quality across swaths of the event. This year, everything seems to function more tightly and intimately, providing a lovely winter holiday atmosphere!
Chill runs from now through Sunday, January 7. You can find more information and purchase tickets at Chill's official web site from the Queen Mary. This is a great event with only a few quibbles, but overall a fantastic way to spend several hours with family, friends, or a fun holiday date. Kudos to the Queen Mary team for a really great event this year!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.