As many of you know, David Niven is my absolute hero lifestyle wise and I consider his delightful, insightful and hilarious memoir about Hollywood, Bring on the Empty Horses, to be essential reading for anyone who chooses to be a part of this crazy company town. That's why I was absolutely thrilled his beaming face was in exhibits all over the Queen Mary. The charming, devil may care aristocratic allure he exuded can be felt all over this massive, once luxurious transatlantic ocean liner which was christened by its namesake the Queen Mother in 1936. That and the decided pallor and occasional odor of decadent decay.
And ghosts. One cannot forget the ghosts.
When Lonnie and I arrived at the Queen Mary, which has been docked in Long Beach at the Port of Los Angeles since 1968, we were overwhelmed with its size. The thing is huge; it doesn't seem real, with hundreds of portholes and slanted red smokestacks that look almost like blow up, massive replicas. Once we bought our tickets we tried to figure out a way onto the ship and were slightly grossed out by the number of flies that seemed to breed in the various stairwells. We made it on board (not on the designated tour path, we later found out) and entered an empty, beautifully molded art deco wood paneled hallway, which we learned is part of the still functioning hotel. From there on we started to explore.
We had total free reign.
This is the coolest thing about the Queen Mary and why Lonnie I had so much fun. We are both people with few boundaries- if we see a locked door (or an old safe in one instance, or a room where a meeting was taking place,...or maybe they were fat ghosts!) we are going to try and open it. If we see a mysterious curtain we look under it. We discovered multiple masterful art deco ballrooms, massive kitchens(some functioning some not), beautifully weathered old bars, food-less restaurants with fanciful murals and cheap metal tables. A maid let us peek into a very pretty, expertly crafted cabin. We walked down creepy hallways that seemed to go on forever, like in The Shining, and I freaked out not once but twice when Lonnie hit his head on low hanging exit signs.
We eventually made it onto the deck, where we found an amphitheater, a strange chapel, a shuffle board court, a beautiful promenade lined with stores(some closed, some open) like a downtown street. We found a radio room where two very old men (Lonnie joked they must have come with the ship) sat messing with a CB radio and "broadcasting live" while insisting they take my picture in front of a microphone. We climbed over everything and anything we liked, staring into the rather lovely harbor,and going into side closets. Not once did we see any kind of security guard.
Once we got on deck we were on the official touristy path and there were many half-assed exhibits to be seen. This is something else fascinating about the Queen Mary- the sad, kind of makeshift-ness of it all. The people who work in the almost empty stores looked pale and lonely, the hotel workers stand rather silently behind the check-in desk. The exhibits are not very informative and look like high school history projects that were put together in the early 70's. This is a permanently docked cruiser after all.
Which brings us to the lamest, but most hilarious part of The Queen Mary experience. The Ghosts and Legends Tour. The Ghosts and Legends Tour is included in a regular adult ticket, so we decided to go since it was the only way to see the pool and the hull of the ship. And boy was it a treat. A man with a pointy beard and BA in theater from OverActing College led us and some very eager tourists into a small room where we watched video reenactments of paranormal events that had supposedly(read: never) happened on the ship. He kept telling us we "should" be alright and then led us down a hallway with a blinking red light.
And that's when the fun began. Much to our surprise the tour was short on history and long on cheap special effects. The already creepy enough pool filled with dry ice and recorded children's cries. In the already inherently terrifying, futuristic hull that once housed the furnaces, where we "should" have been safe cold mist shot up our ankles as we stood on a platform. Our host informed us that if the mist had been steam, we would have been severely burned.
And on and on it went. The Queen Mary was commissioned by the Army in WWII, called the Grey Lady for its new coat of paint, and transported over one million American soldiers to the European front. Isn't that cool? Not as cool as the thought that some ghost solders might attack us in the "Grey Lady corridor" which I am pretty sure was just a 3rd class hallway, though it was so dark I couldn't tell.
I have no doubt that the Queen Mary is haunted. You could feel whispers of conversations and assignations all around- on the velvet couches beside the old travel office, in front of the wall mural with its very own moving ship which tracked the Queen Mary's progression across the Atlantic. But if the ghosts are in anyway as classy and clever as Mr. Niven, they are in these places- not some cheap two bit Knott's Berry Farm attraction.
Subjective Coolness: A+
Directions: Take the 101-S to the 1-5 S. Take exit I-710 S towards Long Beach(17 miles). Continue on West Shoreline Drive. Turn right at Queens Way, take exit for Queen Mary/Cruise terminal and merge onto Queens Highway, continue on Windsor Way. Parking is to your right.
Hours: Daily 10pm-5-pm. They also have various events at night, check website for details.
Price: General Admission: Adults: $24.95(steep but totally worth it, you bums!), Seniors:$21.95, Children: $12.95. Parking rates vary but for us it was $8.00.