story and photos by Kayte Deioma
Long Beach ‘s most familiar attraction is also a great rainy day destination. The RMS Queen Mary, the former luxury ocean liner and WWII military transport, is now a Hotel, museum and constantly evolving attraction. The Queen can keep you occupied indoors for a couple days, and you still may not have time to discover all her secrets. Guides expert in the illustrious lady’s bipolar past can introduce you to both of her historic personalities. Others will expose the skeletons in her closets, boilers and guest rooms.
If you only have a couple hours, skip the guide and start with the self-guided walking tour of the ship. The walking tour takes you through exhibit areas not visited by any of the guided tours. These exhibits include original furnishings from the ship’s dual lives as a cruise ship and a military transport. General Admission includes the self-guided tour map and the Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary special effects show. If it’s raining, bring your umbrella. You’ll want to step outside for a few minutes on the upper decks.
The walking tour starts with an orientation video, then takes you through the engine room and up the escalators to the Promenade and Sun Decks. If your timing is right, you can catch a lifeboat drill by Roy Sorge or one of the other ship’s officers at Lifeboat Station 23 on the starboard (right) side of the ship. You can imagine being on the Titanic as you watch the lifeboat being lowered. Drill times are posted daily and are more likely to occur weekends and in summer.
Up on the Sports Deck, the self-guided tour continues to the ship’s Communications Center and the Wireless Room, where you might catch members of a local amateur radio station on the air. Toward the bow of the ship you can visit an exhibit of the original officers’ quarters, and the Bridge and Wheelhouse. Alas, you can’t stand at the helm or any of the dozen roped-off controls. But you can get closer to the charts and maybe a ghost or two next door in the Chart Room.
Down one level, soldiers sleeping, playing, sick and at-arms populate the WWII exhibit along the port side. Along starboard is a historic exhibit of the cruise ship hospital, barber shop, and gymnasium – all looking more torturous than you might expect on a luxury cruise. There is also a charming nursery, where the sound of children playing could be your imagination or a paranormal encounter.
If you find yourself in need of refreshment at this juncture, the Sun Deck Deli is next door. It’s in the process of getting a facelift, so construction noise may mar the experience.
Your tour continues back down to the Promenade Deck where you can peek into the Observation Bar or stop for a beverage if it is after noon. Then head out to the bow area (with your umbrella, if necessary). Little kids and big kids can climb around on the giant machinery used to dock the ship and check out the 40mm anti-aircraft gun.
Back inside, you can visit the Passenger Information counter where helpful Ship’s Officers can give directions and recommendations, make restaurant reservations and sign you up for guided tours.
The Promenade Deck houses the main shopping area on the ship. Warm gleaming wood-paneled walls curve around a newsstand, oriental gifts and souvenir shops. Several eating establishments including the Starboard Bakery (featuring Starbucks coffee if you’re dying for a caffeine fix), the Promenade Café, Chelsea Restaurant (dinner only) and California Shakes are also on Promenade Deck. The Promenade Gallery with original artwork from the Queen Mary is also on this level
At this point your self-guided tour map directs you to the Ghosts and Legends Show. If you decide to skip the Show, take the hotel elevator down to Deck B and make a U turn to the right down the corridor to the bow (front) of the ship where you will find the Carpathia room. Cut through the Carpathia room to reach the Treasures of the Queen Mary Archive exhibit. Documents, sea-faring paraphernalia, tableware and other artifacts fill glass cases. In the re-creation of a first class stateroom, an evening gown and tux are laid out on the bed ready to step into for a first-class evening of dining and dancing aboard the Queen.
Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary
Retrace your steps and take the escalator or elevator down and out to street level and turn right where a stairway leads up to the entrance of the Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary special effects show. Beware! Loud noises and flashing lights may scare small children. Shows take 30 minutes and start every hour at quarter past.
On the day of my visit, a half dozen eight to ten-year-old boys are along on the tour. They had been scared off the previous hour at the point where the big scary door opens and you can see light and smoke behind the door. That is to say, the entrance itself scared them off. But they are back. They huddle together, arms over each others’ shoulders as our guide leads the way through the sinister door.
A second guide comes along to escort anyone who wants to turn back tothe nearest exit. One of the boys who has apparently experienced the show before is encouraging the others. “It’s not scary. It’s not real. It’s like Universal Studios.” And in fact, once inside, they seem to take the exploding boiler, haunted swimming pool and leaking hull in stride. Just the right amount of scary to thrill a nine-year-old.
If you haven’t already visited the Treasures of the Queen Mary Archive exhibit, you can follow the signs at the end of the Ghosts and Legends show down the stairs one level to Deck B.
If you have more time, sign up to take one of the other guided tours of the ship. A variety of tours offer different perspectives on the ship’s history and on the neighboring Russian submarine Scorpion. You can buy a variety of package tickets with your attraction entrance fee at the outside ticket booth. If you happen to be staying or eating on the ship, or if you want to add something that was not included in your ticket package, you can purchase individual tour tickets at Passenger Information on the Promenade Deck.