A California Christmas with the QUEEN MARY serving as a backdrop to the Holiday Beach Bar. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2014.
With apologies to everyone freezing in other parts of the country – and the world – that are really cold, here in Southern California we actually pay to seek out an icy experience. The Christmas holiday season has arrived at the QUEEN MARY and for the third year in a row the centerpiece event is the CHILL attraction held adjacent to the beautifully decorated liner both outdoors and within The Dome, also known as the world’s largest igloo. Since it made its debut in 2012 CHILL has become an annual holiday tradition that has grown both in size and popularity. This year, a fair-like carnival atmosphere has joined the signature attractions of the spectacular 14,000 square foot Ice Kingdom, ice tubing and outdoor ice skating on a 6,500 square foot rink.
A frozen Surfin’ Santa welcomes visitors to The Ice Kingdom. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2014.
The Ice Kingdom visually rewards those willing to brave the chilly 9 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Massive ice sculptures, some more than 30 feet high, are hand-carved by a team of 35 artists flown in from Harbin, China. Working with individual blocks of ice weighing up to 400 pounds each, they sculpt a winter wonderland with a decidedly California twist, enhanced by a rainbow of colors and LED lighting. After donning a much needed parka, guests are greeted upon entering by a larger-than-life, surfing Santa decked out in a red and white stripped swimsuit and sunglasses, ready to catch a wave. He is cool in every sense of the word. Santa is well represented throughout including plunging headfirst down the chimney of a large house made entirely of ice. A 30-foot tall replica of the QUEEN MARY is another central feature within the Ice Kingdom. This year, the bow of the ship has been redesigned, providing quadruple ice slides that go through the sculpture itself. The imposing ship is faithfully rendered using red and black blocks of colored ice contrasting with white and crystal clear sections. Waves and leaping dolphins only add to the affect. The true meaning of Christmas is not neglected as guests pass through an icy archway into the midst of a beautiful nativity scene. Standing atop a series of pedestals, the Wise Men, shepherds, sheep and camels watch over the manger with the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A few more whimsical elements such as a realistic-looking group of penguins and an ice princess lead to an exit filled with frozen holiday wishes.
Ocean Liners and ice don’t usually mix, but they do nicely at CHILL. Photo by Shawn J. Dake c.2014.
As wonderful as the sights of the Ice Kingdom are, it is a welcome retreat to return to the warmth of the world outside. Within The Dome are additional exhibits, shopping and ice tubing. Of the latter, this year there are six lanes waiting for guests to glide down the two-story, 100 foot-long runs in a specially designed inner-tubes. Also new this year, admission prices include unlimited use of this attraction, the Ice Kingdom and a 60-minute session on the skating rink. Outdoors, a holiday village offers a gingerbread house, Candy Lane, a QUEEN MARY bounce house, Holiday Forest, holiday carolers and entertainment, and a visit with Santa Claus. There are a few “only in Southern California” elements thrown in too. How about trying a swing ride removed from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch? It provides dizzying views of the ship, the ocean and the entire CHILL venue from up there. Then there is the Holiday Beach Bar complete with a sandbox to play in and a giant sand sculpture at the entrance. For the hungry, a quick bite can be grabbed at North Pole Tacos, Rudolph’s Sausage and pizza or dozens of other on-site eateries.
Playful dolphins frolic in the waves off the starboard bow of the QUEEN MARY’s frozen replica. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2014.
A sign notes the provenance of the ride once owned by Michael Jackson. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2014.
Admission to the QUEEN MARY is also included in the price. The holidays are always a special time around the ship. The 21st annual tree-lighting ceremony is held at 8pm on December 3rd. The three tall funnels of the QUEEN MARY are lit with hundreds of twinkling lights. Dozens of decorated Christmas trees line the Promenade Deck. On weekends, carolers stroll the walkway. Mrs. Claus holds court in the hotel lobby offering storytelling and cookies too! There is something special about being aboard a ship at Christmastime and the QUEEN MARY is no exception.
The QUEEN MARY wishes you a Merry Christmas with candles sculpted in ice. Photo by Shawn J. Dake © 2014.
Tickets including the CHILL event are priced at $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for kids (ages 4-11). Discounts are available for on-line purchases in advance. Hours vary, but most days are open at least from 5pm until 11pm. Already this season, record breaking crowds are arriving, completely filling the parking lot at $20 per vehicle. CHILL is the biggest event of the year for the QUEEN MARY, with approximately 200,000 people expected to visit during the current run. CHILL and the Ice Kingdom are operating from November 21, 2014 until January 11, 2015. It’s worth it to brave the cold at California’s favorite nautical icon, the QUEEN MARY.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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