We boarded our flight at around 6 p.m. on a Saturday evening in mid-January. We lost three hours in the air and landed at LAX before 9. Six of us–myself, my husband, my sister, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were traveling. We had rented two cars. We were shuttled to the rental locations, picked up a small SUV and a mini van and were soon on the 405 South headed to Long Beach. The traffic was heavy but moving.
I had booked the Queen Mary Hotel. The Cunard Line had spared no expense on building this legendary ocean liner which made her maiden voyage on May 27, 1936. The Queen Mary represented an era known for its grand elegance. In her lifetime she had hosted royalty, dignitaries, and Hollywood celebrities.
Throughout the ship today you can see photos of past guests like Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and of course, Winston Churchill who now has both a suite and restaurant named after him. During World War II the Queen Mary was painted grey and carried troops. In 1967 she arrived in Long Beach where she was turned into a floating hotel that still retains its polished brass, wood paneling, and original artwork. Staying on the Queen Mary would be much more than a place to sleep. We would be turning back the clock and getting a glimpse of what transatlantic travel on this luxurious ship was like and adding our names to the elite list of those who had slept inside these lovely staterooms.
The Queen Mary isn’t for everyone. There is no pool and staterooms, with the exception of things like carpet and bedding, have not been updated, only maintained. The old girl is rough around the edges but it is exactly the lack of change that allows guests to see what life aboard this historic vessel was like during those stylish sailing years.
It was almost 11 p.m. by the time we pulled up to the dock, valet parked, and entered the lobby. For us, who had lost 3 hours, it felt like 2 a.m. We were tired and ready to crash.
Our vacation package had not given us any choice of rooms and only allowed us an inside room without a window. I had attempted to upgrade our rooms from home but was told I’d have to wait until we checked in and was assured there would be plenty of rooms to choose from. When we reached the desk, I asked to upgrade to a mini suite but none were available. “What happened to plenty of rooms being available?” Tired and unwilling to argue, I settled on an upgrade to a deluxe stateroom with a harbor view.
When we finally reached our room on “A” deck, I was very disappointed. The room was costing an additional $300 for the week and, although it did have a port hole window with a view, it was also small and rather drab. It looked nothing like the photos on-line. An even bigger problem was the loud music playing upstairs in the bar. It was so loud that it caused the walls to vibrate and I half expected the ceiling to cave in. I can sleep through just about anything but even I was not sleeping through that. I immediately walked back to the lobby and asked for a room change for both John and I and also for my sister who was in the room next door.
With over 300 rooms on board you wouldn’t think there would be a problem getting the one you wanted but the desk worker seemed to have a hard time finding two rooms together. Because there didn’t seem to be that many guests I had to wonder just how many of their 300+ rooms were prepared for guests.
We were finally given two new rooms on “B” deck at the opposite end of the ship from the bar. The new room was a vast improvement over the first. B411 was roomy with two port holes looking out across the harbor. The room had two closets and was tucked in at the end of a quiet hallway. My sister had a similar room around the corner. We unpacked and were finally in bed by 1 a.m. The bed, always my biggest worry when I travel, was exceptionally comfortable with a softer than normal mattress and a cushy down comforter. I would have no more complaints throughout my stay.
On the Promenade deck, there is an area with a few shops selling Queen Mary souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, and other items. Several onboard restaurants include the five star Sir Winston’s, the Chelsea Chowder House, Promenade Cafe (which was closed for renovation during our stay), a Tea Room, the Observation Bar, and a Midship Marketplace which sells lighter fare like sandwiches, fruit and yogurt.
One morning, we chose to eat the breakfast buffet. Served in the Chelsea Chowder House it was a bit pricey at $18 per person but the food was very good and the view was beautiful. The buffet consisted of fresh melon and other fruits, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast, oatmeal, and pastries which were fresh, tender, and delicious. As we ate our meal, we watched dolphins swimming in the harbor. There were only two other couples in the restaurant reinforcing our feeling that the Queen Mary did not have a lot of guests.
Most people who visit the Queen Mary however, are not there as overnight guests but have come to participate in one of her events or to take one of her many tours. We picked up a headset and wandered the ship on the 1 1/2 hour self guided audio tour. There are other, guided tours available as well. Also aboard is a model ship gallery, a 200 ft. long replica of the Queen Mary made entirely of Legos, and a theater showing 10-15 minute 4-D movies. A special “Princess Di” exhibit was on display during our visit. Near the tour center one evening we found a well made and interesting film playing to an empty room. The repeating film told stories of various people who had worked on or sailed the Queen Mary.
Our group signed up for the “Ship Walk” tour, one of several “ghost” tours offered throughout the week. It ran most evenings from 8-10 p.m. As we sat down to wait for the tour to begin, we were surprised when about 15-20 other people joined us. That was more people than we had seen on the ship all week, and at $44 a head, it was easy to see where the ship was making its money.
Our tour guide, Tony, led us into passages and parts of the ship not seen on other tours including a visit to the first class swimming pool, now in disrepair and empty of its water. He told us many stories and legends of the Queen Mary along the way. Despite all of the stories of ghost sightings posted around the ship, our tour did not produce any visitors from the beyond. It was, nonetheless, a fun way to spend a couple of hours. The tour was pricey and there was no break for the overnight guest on evening tours (daytime tours were discounted). But, as we soon discovered, the high cost was not unlike other attraction fees found around the Los Angeles area. L.A. as a whole was very expensive and attraction fees added significantly to our travel costs.
Right outside the front door and a short walk into the parking lot will bring you to the Passport bus stop. This bus is a free shuttle that will transport you around the town of Long Beach. It stops at the Queen Mary every 20 minutes, I believe, all day and evening long, although be sure to check the schedule.
Would I stay at the Queen Mary again? Certainly. Would my sister? Maybe not. As I said, the ship isn’t for everyone. I don’t mind a few rough edges as long as my floor is clean, the bed is comfortable, and the neighborhood is safe. If you need everything to be shiny and new there are lots of other LA hotels you can book- at a higher price of course.
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