Queen Mary in Long Beach: Touring the Historic Ship

Historic RMS Queen Mary is Docked at Long Beach Harbor

A large ship docked in Long Beach

TripSavvy / Christian Hundley 

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. It's the Queen Mary. Not the Queen Mary II which is the flagship of the Cunard Cruise line but the original RMS Queen Mary which was built in 1937.

She had a long and fascinating career before making her 516th and final voyage to Long Beach, California on December 9, 1967.

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

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

an illustration of the Queen Mary and a few tips for visiting.
 TripSavvy / Adrian Mangel

What You Can Do at the Queen Mary

It may not be as enormous as today's mega-cruise liners, but the Queen Mary is an elegant reminder of a bygone era. 

The least expensive way to see the ship is the self-guided tour which takes visitors over the 1,020-foot-long Queen Mary, from the engine room to the wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the tour route is poorly marked, and the big ship can be quite intimidating when toured on your own. You may get more out of your experience if you take one of their guided tours. 

They offer several themed tours which change from time to time. One of the most popular is Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary which dramatizes paranormal and historical events aboard the ship. You can also take tours in the evening which include haunted explorations and midnight ghost tours led by paranormal experts. You can see a list of current tours on the Queen Mary website.

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 two showers and three toilets) provides an interesting contrast to the Queen Mary in size and luxury.

Events at the Queen Mary

Every Halloween, the Queen Mary is home to Dark Harbor, an event they bill as a "Terrorfest."

The ship also hosts seasonal and holiday celebrations, mystery murder dinner shows and a Scottish festival and other events. You can find their upcoming events on their website.

Why You Should Know About Going to the Queen Mary

The visitor experience could use some improvement, but the history is fascinating. In places, the old ship still shows hints 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.

Unfortunately, some people say the ship has become somewhat ill-kept compare to a decade ago and the visitor experience can seem disorganized.

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.

You will 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.

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. 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 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

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