February 24, 2006

queen mary ships meet in long beach

Queen Mary Ships Meet in Long Beach

By Deborah Schoch, Times Staff Writer
1:51 PM PST,February 23 2006

Traffic jammed the approaches to the Long Beach waterfront today and thousands of residents walked to beaches and flocked to parks to witness the historic first meeting of two of the world's great ocean liners.

The Queen Mary 2 cruised through San Pedro Bay and rendezvoused with her venerable sister, the Queen Mary, permanently docked in the harbor facing the Long Beach skyline.
Horns sounded from each ship at 1:30 p.m. in a mutual salute.

After the brief encounter, like ships passing in the night, the Queen Mary 2 then headed back out of the inner harbor, as smaller boats parted to make way for the majestic ocean liner.

Sightseers crowded on the palisades in Bluff Park and Bixby Park overlooking the harbor. Blimps and news helicopters buzzed overhead. Traffic slowed to a crawl along Ocean Boulevard, and crammed to a halt on the approaches to the Queen Mary's berth. Small pleasure craft flooded the harbor.

On one street near the beach this morning, a dozen children from a preschool headed for a vantage point, each wearing glittering colored crows.

The atmosphere was festive, and the anticipation this morning was palpable under clear skies and swaying palm trees.

Betty Gray still has the old steamer trunk with its faded "Cunard" sticker that she took on board the Queen Mary in 1956. Somewhere, she still has the $315 bill for that six-day, one-way trip from Southampton to New York. She says she can remember as if it were last night, dancing the foxtrot with her husband to big band music in the ship salon.

Onboard the old ship, which is now a hotel and museum in Long Beach Harbor, Lovetta Kramer, its unofficial historian, has been rummaging through dusty file cabinets for bygone first-class menus listing such entrees as fried calf brains, and for faded photographs of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy relaxing in deck chairs.

Today, at San Pedro Bay, Gray and Kramer will join other former Queen Mary passengers and fans to witness the 70-year-old ship they love as it meets its namesake, the sleek Queen Mary 2. At noon, the two Cunard ships are expected to salute each other with booming horns.

Thousands of people came out to view the massive 2-year-old Queen Mary 2, or QM2, after it arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday for its first West Coast stop. "This makes the [old] Queen Mary look like a peanut," said Dell Potenza, 58, of Huntington Beach, who inspected the ship from a distance Wednesday afternoon.

The ship is so big that it had to back into its terminal because it could not fit under the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It spent the day docked double-wide, in Berths 91 and 92, and attracting so much attention that it caused traffic jams both on and around the bridge all day.

But it is today's meeting of the two Queen Marys that ocean liner aficionados have been waiting for.

Some dismiss the event as blatant commercialism, benefiting Cunard and the financially beleaguered old Queen Mary in Long Beach. But boat lovers see it as historically significant.

The old ship was among the grandest of its time; the new ship, loaded with every lavish modern amenity, is the world's largest and most expensive ocean liner.

The meeting brings into sharp relief the contrast between two eras: the heady years of the last century when opulent ocean liners ruled the Atlantic, and the efficient and plugged-in early 21st century, when hardly any American takes a ship to Europe, but quick cruises to the Caribbean or Mexico are popular.

Passengers aboard the first Queen viewed the ocean from windows and cabin portholes -- if they were lucky enough to have cabins that had windows -- or from the decks outside.

Most of those aboard the QM2 can relax outdoors in private, on the balconies connected to 80% of the staterooms and cabins. The balconies give the boat, viewed from the side, a little of the look of a massive waterfront hotel or condominium complex.

On the first Queen, passengers could send radiograms ashore in emergencies but remained for days on end largely isolated from the rest of the world. The ship published a daily newspaper to keep passengers vaguely abreast of world affairs. But the new ship offers constant updates from such cable news stations as CNN, viewable on the televisions in every cabin.

Those on the QM2 receive temporary ship e-mail addresses and can surf the Internet in their cabins, at 13 WiFi hotspots scattered around the boat and in an Internet cafe called ConneXions. Anyone can reach them any time, even their faraway bosses at work onshore.

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