January 23, 2005
QUEEN MARY LONG BEACH - REVIEW
Stow away aboard the Queen Mary for an uncommon hotel stay (article on presstelegram.com)
By Eric Noland, Travel Editor
"LONG BEACH - To ventilate the room, just swing wide the heavy, cast-iron porthole, and allow in a cooling breeze of salt-scented air.
When it comes time to nod off for the night, incline an ear to the harbor lullaby of foghorns and crying gulls.
And for a quiet spot to sip coffee in the morning, climb to the Sun Deck, find a steamer chair in the stern and drink in the view of the Long Beach skyline across the water, gleaming in the morning light.
As hotels go, there is nothing the slightest bit conventional about the Queen Mary, which has been moored in Long Beach Harbor since 1967 and welcoming overnight guests since 1972.
When the ship was plying the Atlantic Ocean a half-century ago, it provided one of the most luxurious travel experiences on the seas, and welcomed aboard British royalty, European nobility and Hollywood glitterati. It's difficult to walk the Queen Mary's hallways and decks and not reflect on those glory days - or its use as a troop carrier in World War II, when its decks were crammed with soldiers en route to Europe to combat Nazi Germany.
Spending the night here is a decided novelty, and it's probably not for everybody. There's no pool to sunbathe around (and I found only two lonely steamer chairs that morning in the stern). The staterooms reflect what was considered elegant in the 1930s - with rich, dark-wood paneling and dim lighting. The ship is also a floating museum, which means it is aswarm with tourists during the day, particularly on weekends.
But it has abundant charms, too. If you're planning on taking a voyage on the glistening new Queen Mary 2, it might be advisable to spend a night here just to better appreciate the contrast of then and now.
The best times for hotel guests are before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m., when the tour crowds aren't on board - although some of the ship's most interesting areas (the bow, the bridge) are closed during these off hours.
Plan to splurge on dinner at Sir Winston's, which combines fine cuisine with a romantic setting. It sits high in the stern, with windows that overlook the twinkling lights of the harbor and the city skyline beyond. The highly buffed wood surfaces and indirect lighting of the art deco motif heighten the enchantment.
Small wonder that this has become a special-occasion restaurant. When we ate there in early December, no fewer than three birthdays were being celebrated, and at the next table there was a marriage proposal.
Afterward, another signature Queen Mary room beckons. It is the Observation Bar, a dark, cozy art deco lounge in the bow that also has harbor-view windows (as well as seating outside). Clark Gable used to spend a good part of an Atlantic passage perched on a stool here, according to tour guide Roy Sorge.
The Queen Mary has many such rooms and features, but unfortunately not all of them are accessible to guests. During my visit, a great number were blocked with signs that read, "Private Function," though they were vacant.
The famed Verandah Grill in the stern can only be glimpsed through the windows. And for a look at the Grand Salon, the former first-class dining room, the best bet is to sign up for the ship's renowned Sunday brunch. The room's most distinctive features include a wood marquetry panel of the North Atlantic, where passengers could once track the ship's progress, and a faded tapestry depicting English country life (the Queen Mary 2 continues this tradition in its Britannia Restaurant with a towering tapestry of the QM2's prow).
Other important rooms, including the first-class ballroom and often one of the suites, can be seen on a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship ($6 for hotel guests). Meanwhile, the ship's comprehensive self-guided tour (free to guests) is recommended to any visitor.
When reserving a room, it's advisable to specify a first-class stateroom (from $169). They're the ones with antique furnishings and wonderfully decorative wood paneling - features that have made the Queen Mary distinctive over her 69 years. I had a room in what used to be the second-class portion of the ship, with wallpapered walls and nondescript furnishings; it was about as interesting as a motel room along an interstate.
It's also a good idea to request a stateroom on the starboard side, so as to have a view across the harbor to the city.
To fully appreciate the sounds and scents of the setting, be sure to swing that porthole open before you drift off to sleep.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: To reach the Queen Mary in Long Beach, take the 710 Freeway south until it ends and follow the signs to the ship.
COSTS: From $109 for an inside cabin, from $169 for a first-class stateroom (rates subject to change and can vary with availability). Parking is $10 per day."
Although I did not stay there, I visited the ship in December. See my pics: click here