I visited the Queen Mary for the first time in December. It was the first time I travelled to anything outside of walking distance from my hotel while in LA. I rented a car for the weekend and drove out to Long Beach to see one of the most famous ocean liners in the world, which, after 31 years of service, became a floating museum and hotel. I didn’t know the Queen Mary was out here until I arrived and I’m glad that I found it. I’ve had an interest in the Titanic and steam ships of that time since I did a book report in fourth grade; the Queen Mary is as close to being on the Titanic as I can get.
Though it set sail 24 years later, the Queen Mary still shares much of the tradition, design, and technology its competitor’s ill-fated liner. While touched with more modern elements, the design is largely similar to Titanic and visiting it transported me back. It not only reignited my interest in the Titanic itself but expanded my interest to the entire history of Atlantic ocean liners. My first trip was overwhelming, including in two tours and nearly five hours of walking and exploring. There was so much to see – the bridge, the bow, the decks, the restaurants, the hallways, the model ship exhibit, the Lego exhibit, the outside, the inside. I took two guided tour and wandered by myself trying to take it all in. I didn’t have time for the self-guided audio tour and could not see the engine room due to a private party. I knew I had to go back.
Prior to my visit to Queen Mary my knowledge of ocean liners was largely limited to the Titanic. I have some fantastic books and knew a lot about its design, technology, and story, but I didn’t know much at all about other liners of the era. After learning about Queen Mary I decided to expand my knowledge to other steamships of the era and through the present. I read some great information online and watched some documentaries, including a fantastic six-part series on YouTube called The Liners. I bought some books about ocean liner history and even spent part of my Christmas vacation building a large-scale Atlantic ocean liner out of Legos. It is the largest and most ambitious Lego I’ve ever made and is the first time I’ve ever tried to color-match blocks. Thousands of Legos from the boys, Sally’s, and my sets are tied up in this thing.
As this past weekend is the last time I would be in L.A. I found it fitting to make my final visit to Queen Mary. I could see what I missed and close out my experience in a familiar way. I spent about four hours visiting on Sunday. I started with the two-hour audio tour which took me across the entire ship. It was extremely informative and thoroughly enjoyable, much more than the guided history tour I took the last time. I felt like a moron carrying around an Android device on a lanyard with late-90’s style headphones, but I wasn’t the only one and it was totally worth it.
I finally made my way to the engine room which contains about 40% of the history of the entire ship. Many areas of the original engine room are open for viewing via several open catwalks. The lighting is supposed to be dark but the lights were actually off the first time I went down. People were walking around with their cellphone flashes on to shine light in the dark areas not illuminated by the few bulbs that were actually on. It was very creepy. After walking through the entire area in very low light I saw an employee walk down the stairs to turn on the real lighting so I made my way through it again. What an amazing mass of pipes, catwalks, tubes, gears, gauges, handles, cranks, shafts, and wires. It was just insane.
In addition to the mechanical systems of the engine and associated systems, there were several sections dedicated to museum space. There were bunks, artifacts from the war, a machine gun, and a war bride state room from when she was used as a troop ship in WWII. There were examples of first, second, and third class state rooms, complete with bedding, furniture, and plumbing fixtures. There were even first and second class dining settings. I saw the only remaining propeller attached to the ship, visible from a room built outside of the stern that allows you to peer down into the dark blue water. It is a sight eerily similar to images of the Titanic underwater.
While it was great to walk the Queen Mary’s decks and see some of the internals I can’t help but wish that more of the original ship was left. It was agreed that the ship should never sail again so all of the boilers, the forward engine room, the turbos, and three of the four propellers were removed. To create more museum, restaurant, and shopping space, the officers quarters, second class swimming pool, turkish baths, first class library, drawing room, lecture room, library, cinema, third class dining hall, and all second and third class staterooms were removed. The first and second class lounges and first class dining hall were reconfigured and repurposed as well. I understand why it was done, but I wish more of the ship was left alone or not completely gutted. It would be great to be able to go to those areas and see them as the were, restored to their original state. They didn’t have to keep all of the second and third class rooms, just a few, and they could have taken out some of the boilers but not all.
Still, it is the closest one can get to the heyday of the ocean liner where a trip to America took 5 days across the rough and cold Atlantic, a time when a trans-atlantic trip was an event, and a time when the class system was still very much in use. It was a more formal and more segregated, but slower-paced and less distracted. Afternoons were spent in lounge chairs on the decks watching the ocean go by, reading in the library, and chatting in the lounge. It was relaxing, calming, and I know I need more of that.