Cover: The Queen Mary Hotel, Long Beach California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
When the Queen Mary left Southhampton, England on her maiden voyage in 1936, she was the epitome of grandeur on the sea.
Featuring art deco styling, over 50 types of decorative woods, elaborate murals, paintings and sculptures, her luxurious accommodations and first-class pampering drew celebrities, royalty and dignitaries from around the world seeking to experience the finest in Atlantic crossings.
Over the years, the Queen Mary’s passenger list included Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth.
In addition to her luxury and splendor, The Queen Mary was also very fast with the ability to reach speeds of over 30 knots – an amazing feat given her size of over 1000 feet in length and weight of 81,237 gross tons.
When World War II broke out, the grand ship was painted grey, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, and converted to a troop transport ship. With her speed as her strength, she carried 765,429 soldiers on transatlantic crossings during her war service, including 16,683 American troops on one voyage from New York to Great Britain, a record that stands to this day for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel.
Following the war, the Queen Mary was returned to her original magnificence and set sail again as the most elegant way to travel the high seas. With the rise in popularity of air travel in the 1960s, the famous ocean liner made her final voyage in 1967, retiring to Long Beach, California, where she has served as a popular attraction, event venue, and hotel since 1971.
The Queen Mary hotel
Strolling along the wooden decks of the Queen Mary is like a journey back in time, providing a glimpse into what transatlantic travel was like in its golden age.
The cost of a first-class passage on the luxury liner in 1936 was $1070 – about the equivalent of $17,000 in today’s dollars. Consequently, the staterooms were large and outfitted to the standards of a fine European hotel room at the time.
Today, the Queen Mary Hotel’s 346 hotel rooms and suites include modern amenities such as a flat-panel television, an iPod radio, and plush beds, while also retaining the brass, polished wood, art deco styling and furnishings, and original accents of the 1930s.
In the bath, the original four faucets are still intact – cold fresh water, cold salt water, hot fresh water and hot salt water. Apparently, during the 1930s, salt water baths were considered therapeutic and, while the salt water options are no longer operable, the faucets are still in place.
The staterooms are located primarily in what was first-class during the ship’s voyages. Sailing on the open seas could a bit rocky, so the Queen Mary’s classes were not determined by level, but by the location nearest to the center of the ship. Second and third classes worked their way outward, with the crew’s quarters at the most unstable ends of the ship.
Our exterior stateroom also had my personal favorite feature: portholes. With a quick unlock of the heavy latch, the soft ocean air drifted into the room, and as I looked out onto Long Beach, I wondered how many other people had stood before this very same window gazing out to sea on this beautiful historic ship.
The Queen Mary’s amenities and services include shops, boutiques, a full-service spa, and a fitness center, with the latter containing a replica of the gym that was aboard the ship during its transatlantic voyages.
Dining and libations aboard the Queen Mary
The Queen Mary has a variety of restaurant options ranging from casual to fine dining and we tried quite a few of them during our stay.
In addition to delivering tasty fare and excellent service, each restaurant has incorporated elements of the ship’s history into their décor. The painting “The Mills Circus” by Dame Laura Knight that once hung in the Midships Bar can now be admired while standing in line for a Starbucks coffee and a pastry at the Midship Marketplace and the piano in the lounge at Sir Winston’s was once played by Liberace when it was located in the main lobby.
No place on the ship heightens the imagination like the Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge.
Once a meeting place for the first-class passengers, it’s hard not to visualize Clark Gable with a cocktail in hand discussing current events with his companions or Greta Garbo finding solitude at a table near the sweeping windows as she gazed out to the crashing waves.
Today, the Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge is as lively as ever and the perfect spot for an afternoon beer, an early evening aperitif and cheese plate, or a nightcap before turning in.
Touring the Queen Mary
While visitors can roam much of the Queen Mary on their own, the ship also offers several guided tours daily.
Glory Days Historical tour
The Glory Days Historical tour is an informative guided tour that explores the ship’s history, myths, and lore on a one-hour walk about the ship with numerous stops along the way including the Grand Salon, the massive former first-class dining room now used for private events, and the nursery, where period toys are on display.
If you are a history buff, the Glory Days Tour is not to be missed.
Then things got a little spooky…
Ghosts and Legends
The Queen Mary has long been cited as one of the most haunted places in the United States. Over the years, 49 passengers and crew members died aboard the ship from circumstances ranging from natural causes to gruesome accidents. An additional 338 lives were lost during World War II, when the Queen Mary collided with her escort ship, the HMS Curacao, slicing the smaller ship in half.
The high level of mortality has reportedly resulted in abundant paranormal activity aboard the ship, which the Queen Mary has embraced.
The ship’s Ghosts and Legends tour journeys to two areas of the ship where a large concentration of haunted activity is said to occur – the boiler room and the swimming pool. Descending via an elevator six fathoms below the ocean, the tour ventures through the eerie, cavernous empty boiler rooms (the boilers were removed back in 1967), where a crew member was killed in a horrific accident involving high-temperature steam and has since reportedly been seen haunting the area on frequent occasions.
Next up, the famous first-class swimming pool. The location of frequent reported female ghost sightings, the changing rooms next to the pool are said to be a vortex or gateway to another realm.
The Ghosts and Legends tours doesn’t allow photographs – we grabbed this one on a brief stop at the pool on the history tour.
Other reported paranormal activity aboard the ship includes: Stateroom B340, which is said to be haunted by a murdered purser and so active that the hotel no longer offers the room to guests; the engine room, where a fireman named Mr. Pedder, also referred to as Half-Hatch Henry, was crushed to death by Door No. 13 in 1966; and Bosun’s Locker, or the cargo hold area, which was damaged during the Curacao crash on October 2, 1944 – exactly 71 years to the day prior to the night we were spending on the Queen Mary.
Dun, dun, dun. Would we experience the sounds of metal tearing, pounding on walls, and water rushing in that others had described – especially on this anniversary of the tragedy? Nope. After an evening of the oh, so fun and scary, Dark Harbor, followed by a late-night visit to the Observation Bar, we retired to our stateroom and slept quite comfortably without a single bump in the night.
Queen Mary Attractions & Events
Throughout the year, the Queen Mary hosts a variety of events and attractions with two of the most popular being Dark Harbor, one of southern California’s most popular Halloween haunts and Chill, complete with larger-than-life ice creations made using over two million pounds of ice.
The Queen Mary
As is probably apparent by now, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Queen Mary. The ship was completely full the night we stayed, with everyone appearing to genuinely enjoy the experience. When we checked out, each party in front of us in line raved about what a good time they’d had staying on the ship. The Queen Mary still has it.
Location: 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, CA 90802
Design: Art deco
Rooms: 346 guest rooms and suites
Facilities: Fitness center, spa, six restaurants and bars, Sunday brunch
Spa: Services include Swedish and Stone massage, Facials and body scrubs, Manicures, pedicures and waxing, Reflexology foot care, Hair care and makeup services
WiFi: Included in daily facility fee
Restaurants & bars: Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge, Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge, Chelsea Chowder House & Bar, Promenade Café, The Tea Room, Champagne Sunday Brunch in the Grand Salon, Midplace Marketplace
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to the Queen Mary for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.