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A Voyage Back in Time: Staying at the Queen Mary

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The Queen Mary

Docked in Long Beach Harbor since 1967, the RMS Queen Mary, a luxury passenger liner that was bigger, faster and more powerful than the Titanic, once carried thousands across the Atlantic, including British nobility, Secretaries of States and Hollywood actors. Now a floating museum, popular event venue and a Historic Hotel of America, she is the only super-liner from the 1930s that remains intact — a glorious survivor from the golden age of transatlantic travel.

I had the opportunity to stay on the Queen Mary and immerse myself in the sights, sounds and tastes the ship has to offer, experiencing an extraordinary glimpse into what transatlantic travel was like during the '30s, '40s and '50s.

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Artwork in the lobby featuring every type of wood used to build the Queen Mary

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The Ship's Namesake: Queen Mary

INTERIOR OF THE QUEEN MARY

As soon as you step aboard, you are stepping back in time. The ship’s first-class area, now deemed the “The Promenade Deck” and housing the hotel lobby and shopping areas, still retains the feeling of extravagance: Odeon Art Deco carvings, shapely columns, high ceilings and untouched fireplaces. More than 50 types of wood were used for the paneling and intricate marquetry throughout the interior, earning the Queen Mary the nickname the “Ship of Woods.” Accented with modern materials - such as glass, marble, metal, enamel and even linoleum - the ship reflects a blending of classic style with modern-age design. Almost all of the original etched glass and commissioned art remain on the ship. However, much of the of the ship’s original flooring has been replaced with modern carpet.

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Promenade Deck shopping areas

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Etched glass

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Sleep quarters corridor

THE HOTEL: DELUXE KING ROOM

The guest rooms were originally first- and second-class staterooms, including suites that were once used by royalty and heads of state. The deluxe king room I stayed in showcases the original 1936 decor: wood paneling and Art Deco built-ins, the original four-tap (salt water or fresh water) baths and foot pedal toilet flusher. And, with portholes for windows, allowing brilliant views of the Long Beach harbor, it feels as though you are out to sea!

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Deluxe king room: harbor view

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View of harbor through porthole

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Original four-tap bath

THE SHIP: SELF-GUIDED TOUR

Although the Queen Mary offers many guided tours, the ship is definitely worth exploring on your own. The exterior of the ship offers panoramic views of the Long Beach Harbor, with lifeboats hanging above the walking promenades. The three red-and-black smock stacks provide a dynamic backdrop to the multiple-level decks, all of which are open to the public to explore. And, located atop the officers’ quarters is the restored wheelhouse, boasting brass navigation machinery.

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Exterior promenade

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Red-and-black funnels

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Wheelhouse

The enclosed promenade decks are detailed with natural teak floors, with magnificent bronze window frames. A second enclosed promenade, that once served the second-class passengers, now houses handmade models of famous ocean liners, with a few of the models cutaways on one side.

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Enclosed promenade

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Scale model of the Queen Mary

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Ship model cutaway

DINNER: CHELSEA CHOWDER HOUSE

Located off the ship’s enclosed deck, the Chelsea Chowder House & Bar is a contemporary take on the traditional fish house. Complete with subway-tiled walls, tables covered with butcher block paper and a decorative tin ceiling, this eatery boasts a variety of chowders, high-quality steaks and amazing seafood. The food was both excellent in flavor and presentation, and the views of the harbor from our table was the icing on the cake.

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Entry to Chelsea Chowder House & Bar

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Dinner for two

TOURS: THE GLORY DAYS HISTORICAL TOUR

I had the opportunity to take the Glory Days Historical Night Tour, where you are able to go behind the scenes of the historic ship. Our tour guide, a young ship enthusiast named Sandy, lead us into the ship’s expansive past, including her groundbreaking construction; her time as a troopship during WWII; and of course, her glory days as the world’s most luxurious and technologically advanced ocean liner. We wandered through the lower decks, visiting the chapel and passing by glass cases full of memorabilia and vintage photographs. One of the most interesting facts our guide discussed was the ship’s military past. Nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” after receiving a hauntingly stark paint job, the ship’s impressive speed and size made it an ideal troop hauler, often carrying as many as 16,683 men in a single voyage. Winston Churchill even claimed that her contribution shortened the war by a year.

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Model showing delineation of classes throughout the ship

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Sandy, our tour guide

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Queen Mary "A Book of Comparison" from the 1930s

The end of our tour focused on the Queen Mary’s main draw: ghosts! Countless prisoners of war are believed to have died on the lower decks, and former passengers and crew are also said to wander the corridors. We toured the now empty pool, which is supposedly frequented by a by a little girl named Jackie, and a watertight door no. 13, which crushed a young engineer to death in 1966. Guests have traveled from near and far to catch a glimpse of an apparition, feel a cold spot and smell aromas that linger throughout the halls belonging to a different era.

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Photograph of pool used during the '30s and '40s

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First-class pool

NIGHTLIFE: THE OBSERVATION BAR

The semicircular Art Deco-inspired Observation Lounge and Bar, located at the bow of the ship, provides music and libations to guests abroad the ship. The decor is unchanged since 1936, including a beautiful painting of dancing passengers above the full bar, the unique round "eye-ball" ceiling light fixtures, and original red and green lanterns.

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Observation Bar

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View from outdoor patio

BREAKFAST: CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH

Wrapped in the elegant grace of the Grand Salon and featuring harp accompaniment, the Champagne Sunday Brunch is awe-inspiring in and of itself. Free-flowing champagne and an incredible selection of food from across the globe fill the hall, while the interior design boasts original hand-painted Art Deco murals, tapestries, nickel-silver fixtures, oversized mirrors and rich leather wall treatments. The focal point of the room is a decorative map by Macdonald Gill. A crystal model of the Queen Mary would "travel" over the map, indicating where the ship was during the transatlantic voyage.

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Brunch display

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Decorative map

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Grand Salon

For more than eight decades, the Queen Mary has represented transatlantic travel at its best. The ship's immeasurable wartime, commercial, social and cultural influences on the world stage continue still, with more than 1.5 million people still marveling at her grandeur each year. For more information of hotel rates, dinner menus and tour times, visit queenmary.com.

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Queen Mary at night

All photography by Grace Lennon