The portal to Santa’s workshop is in Newport Beach

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Christmas may be just a few days away, but Santa and his elves are taking a few more visitors to the workshop via a secret portal on Balboa Island, in Newport Beach. At Once upon a Christmas, families can feed Comet the reindeer, help the elves make toys and open a magic portal that leads to Santa’s lounge and have hot chocolate and cookies with the big man himself.

Every Christmas season Bella Gill suits up and goes to work in a very special place, but it’s not just any job.

“So I am headed to our portal to the North Pole, right here on Balboa Island,” Gill said.

Gill is a 20-year-old musical theater actor from Virginia who’s been living in LA for five years. She says her most exciting role so far is definitely as Holly the Elf, at Once Upon a Christmas.

“Here I am!” Gill exclaimed. “Time to go make Christmas magic!”

While Gill has played prestigious roles in musical theater, she says the positivity of this job is what makes it special.

“I played Maria in ‘West Side Story,’ I mean such a tragic story,” she said, “but now I get to be in the North Pole! That’s just so happy!”

Jim Vash is another elf at Once Upon a Christmas. For over 30 years Vash was a character player at one of the…ahem…happiest places on earth, where he played the Mad Hatter, and learned to come out of his shell.

“Well actually I’m a shy person, you know just really kinda quiet, until you put me in a costume and then I just go crazy. Like this!” Vash said.

For Vash, the best part of the job is seeing the expression on the kids’ faces, especially as the “magic portal” opens.

“Oh yeah, there’s always that one little one that just makes it all worth it,” Vash explained.

Both Gill and Vash say as soon as Christmas is over, they’ll start counting down the days until Holly the Elf and Jimmy the Elf can make their happy return next year.

Once Upon a Christmas has several options for immersive experiences, from a 15-minute visit with Santa, to a full VIP family party in the workshop.

Reservations are available from now through Christmas Eve – visit