There’s Something About (Queen) Mary [Summer Travel 2019]

Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

“The Queen Mary is the closest thing to a living being that I ever commanded; she even breathes.”

—Captain J. Treasure Jones, the vessel’s last skipper

How do I describe my fascination with an ocean liner? It likely has to do with my lack of actual seafaring experience. I wasn’t expecting The Love Boat, but at the very least, a sense of nobility when boarding and exploring this vessel fit for royalty. I had barely 24 hours to get acquainted with the Queen Mary, yet there was so much ground to cover, figuratively and literally.

The RMS Queen Mary was owned and operated by the Cunard Line. Construction began on “Job #534” in December 1930 and was completed in September 1934. Mary’s May 27, 1936, maiden voyage put her on a designated route from Southampton, England, to New York City, with a temporary stop in Cherbourg, France. During wartime, she was drafted to transport supplies and military for six steady years.

After checking in, I quickly realized how long the hallways are. From our cabin to the elevators was quite the hike—not that I was complaining. We were certainly getting our steps in that night! Research taught me that when Queen Mary was a luxury liner, cabin class was based on the boat’s pitching movement at sea. First-class assignments were in the middle of the ship, and second-class was farthest aft, leaving third at the farthest forward.

Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

Our meal that night was at Chelsea Chowder House and Bar. Panoramic views of downtown Long Beach welcomed us as we browsed the selections. As much as I craved piping-hot rolls slathered in sea-salted butter, we chose a newer dish of avocado fries with Tajin aioli to start. A diverse listing of surf-and-turf preparations, not to mention a quartet of chowders, made for a tough decision, so we opted for a Chelsea salad while waiting for our lobster boil. Candied walnuts and cucumbers crunched alongside tomato and feta chunks, while tart balsamic gave a pleasant bite.

The highlight of dinner, our boil featured a whole, 4-plus-pound lobster. Its serving platter was framed with corn cobs and generous amounts of linguiça sausage, red potatoes and steamed clams. After a cursory lesson in breaking down shellfish, we tore into dinner with gusto, relieved we hadn’t filled our bellies with bread. We won the battle of us versus the lobster, although the sides could’ve easily fed more.

Despite the wind picking up, we intended to walk off our seafood. The manager on duty recommended heading up one level to the Sun Deck, the only floor that would allow passengers to circle the entire perimeter. At the far end of the liner, we stumbled upon its wedding gazebo. In RMS Queen Mary Manual by Gary Chambers, Commodore Everette Hoard stated in his foreword, “An estimated 55 million people have visited the ship in Long Beach since [its] opening in May of 1971 as a hotel, attraction and place for special events. More than 10,000 weddings have been performed onboard the majestic liner.” To say couples consider this a special place is quite the understatement.

Below that, on the Promenade Deck, we cruised past photographs of celebrities from decades past who graced the walkways. We swung by the Observation Bar for a nightcap, its dim lighting giving the Art Deco lounge a moody vibe. Trekking down one more staircase to our quarters, we paused in front of the 24-hour fitness center to gawk at a retro exhibit of workout equipment. Also on this side of M-Deck is a silver and china display with detailed descriptions of the many events at which pieces were prominently used.

Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

Inside our room, modern comforts such as wifi and Direct TV kept us entertained. Ben Sherman’s British toiletries blended argan oil and citrus bergamia. We noticed a set of “fresh water” shower fixtures in addition to the standard hot/cold. A fold-open desk maximized space and doubled as a nightstand. Plus, an abundance of shelving could display photos, books and stationery. The most notable feature was an impressive vanity between the bathroom and our bed. With a press of a button, the entire room would fill with light. Cabin designers clearly understood the importance of grooming and appearances, as many hotels still aren’t very accommodating with mirrors and lighting.

The next morning, we grazed on a quinoa breakfast bowl at Promenade Café while discussing Queen Mary’s food service with its food-and-beverage director. Projects in the works included a Saturday, outdoor brunch to rival the ship’s already-impressive Sunday service, plus a grab-and-go outlet of substantial selections to accommodate tour visitors seeking quick bites or guests checking in after hours.

Illustration by Jouvon Michael Kingsby. Design by Federico Medina

Visitor access includes the Wheelhouse, where one can understand the complexities of the ship’s navigation control center. Children of all ages will appreciate the Shipyard, which houses a replica of the ocean liner made from 250,000 LEGO bricks. However, the preferred way to explore is with a tour guide. Attention to significant particulars, including the 56 varieties of wood used, won’t be glossed over. The glamorous Queens Lounge, with its striking floor-to-ceiling details, left us in awe. The Grand Salon, where Sunday brunch is served, is an impressive layout to behold.

Stepping beyond a casual visit, being a part of the charm and nostalgia that is the Queen Mary made for a staycation I thoroughly enjoyed. For me, travel isn’t necessarily about distance. Rather, it’s enjoying a destination where I don’t have to make my bed.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

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