Queen Mary in Long Beach: Touring the Historic Ship

Historic RMS Queen Mary is Docked at Long Beach Harbor

Queen Mary in Long Beach
David McNew/Getty Images Staff

In Long Beach, California you can see a cruise ship that doesn't go anywhere. That might sound a little weird, but in fact, it can be fun. 

There have been two ships named Queen Mary. Today's Queen Mary II is the flagship of the Cunard Cruise line, but her predecessor the RMS Queen Mary was built in 1937. She had a long and varied career before she made her 516th and final voyage to Long Beach, California on December 9, 1967.

Since then Queen Mary has been docked in the Long Beach harbor, converted into a hotel and tourist attraction. Guides' voices echo in the now-empty engine room, where 27 boilers once generated 160,000 horsepower. She's been in Long Beach longer than she sailed the oceans, and the ship has become an icon for its home city. 

What You Can Do at the Queen Mary

While not as enormous and sleek as today's mega-cruise liners, the Queen Mary is an elegant reminder of a bygone era. There are several options for visiting the Queen Mary:

Self-guided tours: take visitors over the 1,020-foot-long Queen Mary, from the engine room to the wheelhouse. It's least expensive, but the tour route is poorly marked, and the big ship can be quite intimidating when toured on your own. Be sure to keep a map with you at all times.

Daily guided tours: explore the glorious past of Queen Mary, from the luxurious dining room to the indoor fresh water swimming pool.

The Glory Days tour covers more information about the woodwork of the boat than you'll want to know but also gives you some insight into some famous guests.

Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary: dramatizes paranormal and historical events aboard the ship.

Tours in the evening: include haunted explorations and midnight ghost tours led by paranormal experts.

4D Movies: ​The ship has a theater above their engine room which features the ongoing "Planet Earth" and a rotating feature. Last we went, it was a Spongebob Squarepants movie. You do get sprinkled on and your seats shake so prepare yourself for a fun, and "interactive" showing. 

Holiday Events: Every Halloween, the Queen Mary is home to Dark Harbor, an event they bill as a "Terrorfest." From late November through mid-January, they host CHILL and The Ice Kingdom at the Queen Mary.

The Scorpion, a Foxtrot-class Russian submarine, is moored just below the Queen Mary's bow. A tour of the cramped quarters and military conditions (78 crew shared 2 showers and 3 toilets) provides an interesting contrast to the Queen Mary in size and luxury.

Is the Queen Mary haunted? You can make up your mind for yourself — just click on over to this page to find out if the Queen Mary is haunted.

Why You May - Or May Not - Want to Skip the Queen Mary

The visitor experience could use some improvement, but the history is fascinating. In places, the old ship still shows a hint of her former glamor. People who like it best are interested in history or in the glamor of bygone days - the time before airplanes displaced the ocean liner as a means of trans-oceanic travel.

For many years, the Queen Mary was a fun place to visit, clean and well-organized with a lot of renovations going on.

Unfortunately, on my last visit, I found the Queen Mary somewhat ill-kept and the visitor experience disorganized. I got a ticket for the self-guided tour, but they didn't mention that the audio tour was included. Staff members are scarce so it's helpful to carry your map for reference during your tour. I wandered aimlessly for quite a while before realizing that I needed to go upstairs to start the tour. After that, route signs were extraordinarily poor or missing altogether. Sadly, I soon gave up and left.

Also, you'll need to take the elevator quite often, especially if you're going to and from exhibits. Unfortunately, the elevator isn't marked like modern ones with "Level 1, Level 2" Instead, it uses old ship jargon.

For example, the 4D theater is on level 2, but it's marked as level "R" on the elevator. The map spells this out in an easy to understand manner. 

Recent reviewers on Yelp give the Queen Mary low ratings compared to other Los Angeles area attractions. Reviews at Tripadvisor are somewhat higher. You may want to read them before you go.

If you decide to visit, a guided tour is a good idea. It will help you understand what you're seeing, and you won't have to worry about getting lost.

Hotel Queen Mary

You can also sleep in the ship's former staterooms at the Hotel Queen Mary, imagining yourself on a transatlantic journey along with Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, and others.

The smaller rooms are reasonably priced but somewhat dark and cramped. For a taste of the luxury of a bygone era, splurge on a Deluxe Stateroom or a Royalty Suite. You can read other visitors' reviews and compare prices on the Hotel Queen Mary at Tripadvisor.

Brief History of the Queen Mary

Bigger, faster and more powerful than her predecessor the ship Titanic, the RMS Queen Mary had a long career that included 1,001 successful Atlantic crossings. Built at the John Brown shipyard on the Clyde, Scotland in 1937, the Queen Mary held the record for the fastest-ever North Atlantic crossing.

For three years she carried the rich and famous across the Atlantic in great luxury. During World War II, she carried troops and afterward, she ferried war brides and children to the United States and Canada before returning to service as a transatlantic cruise ship.

In 1967, the ship's owner Cunard sold the Queen Mary for $3.45 million and she made her 516th and final voyage to Long Beach. She was permanently docked and has been there ever since.

What You Need to Know About Visiting the Queen Mary in Long Beach

Queen Mary is open daily. You don't need reservations for a simple visit or tour, but you might need them for some of their seasonal and special activities. You can find their hours, ticket options and special event information on this page.

They charge an admission fee and parking is extra. Allow a few hours for a leisurely tour. It's prettiest on a sunny day, but any time is fine. Because most of it is indoors, it's also a good rainy day activity.

Queen Mary
1126 Queens Hwy
Long Beach, CA
Queen Mary website

Take I-710 south toward Long Beach and follow the signs to the Queen Mary. From downtown Long Beach, you can take the Aquabus to the Queen Mary. You can also take Long Beach Transit's free Passport bus to get there from other tourist attractions in downtown. You can get directions to the nearest stop on Google Maps.