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British luxury in California: the Queen Mary, Long Beach

Amanda Angus / 28 March 2016

Holiday hunter Chris Parker goes into detail about a recent stay aboard a very British liner found under the blue skies of California…

The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California
The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California

I’ve just got back from a trip to find the best hotels and experiences to be had on the USA’s west coast. One of my findings that I’m most excited about is the Queen Mary, a famous British-built ship that you can now find moored at the harbour at Long Beach in California. I’m hoping to build in a three-night stay here as part of the tour I’m currently working on; given its incredible history, I know it’ll appeal to our customers!

As you approach the ship you really get a sense of how people would have felt when they were about to embark on a voyage in the 1930s and 40s; back then the Queen Mary was a luxurious cruise liner, and people felt that a journey aboard her was the only way to travel. Of course, when war broke out she played her part; in 1939 she was stripped of her luxury and became a formidable troopship, known as the Grey Ghost. So named for her new paint of coat designed to keep her camouflaged at sea and for the way she turned up in port unannounced, as the Grey Ghost she transported over 800,000 Allied troops and Churchill himself on no less than three occasions – in fact, Churchill is reported to have said the Queen Mary, along with the RMS Queen Elizabeth, played such a huge role in the Second World War that they shortened the duration of the conflict by at least a year.

Then, once the war finished, the Queen Mary was restored to her former glory and returned to her original calling as a luxury liner. However, after two decades her popularity began to diminish; holidaymakers now preferred to travel by air, or if they did want to sail, they were opting to sail aboard newer cruise ships boasting outdoor swimming pools and other amenities the Queen Mary didn’t offer. So, with some reluctance, Cunard retired her – but she was saved from the scrapyard by the city of Long Beach, who bought her and installed her in the harbour in 1967 – and that’s where she’s been ever since!

I must admit, I think her latest incarnation as a floating hotel sees her at her very best. On the seas she was said to be a ‘roller’ – this meant she wasn’t particularly stable in bad weather and rolled from side to side. Now, securely fastened to the side of the harbour, surrounded by a low wall of rocks that ensures the water around her remains calm, you can’t even detect a faint rocking – brilliant news for anyone who doesn’t consider themselves to be a good sailor! But aside from that, when you’re on board, it’s not hard to imagine how it would have felt to be a first class passenger during the 1930s, sailing across the Atlantic during her heyday before the war broke out – all the furnishings are so luxurious, and they’ve kept some original features just for the aesthetics. My favourite example of this is in the bathrooms, where on the wall you can find four taps – one for cold water and one for hot, of course, but also one for cold salt water, and one for hot salt water! It would have come out the sea when they were sailing, as salt water was seen as healthy to bathe in. They’ve got the original heating system on show too, which is a series of vents that would blow hot air in from the boiler if it was cold, and cold air in from outside if it was hot – quite ingenious really! It’s a very authentic experience, and really harks back to the golden age of cruising, when this mode of travel was only available for the very rich and famous. They really embrace that era too; playing throughout the ship is music from the 30s and 40s, so it’s really not difficult to find yourself slipping back in time.

In fact, the longer I spent on board, the more I liked it. My cabin had two portholes and was really very spacious – I had a king-sized bed and a seating area, which suited me perfectly! The level of service is really top notch, the waiters are always watching to see if you need more coffee or juice. I spent an evening out on deck with a cold beer, watching the huge new cruise liners come in, so you get a great sense of the old and the new. I think it will be an incredible addition to our range, I’ve never experienced anything remotely similar to it, and I think our customers will be very pleased!

 Chris is hoping to launch his latest tour in our June brochure collection – if you’d like to be one of the first to experience the Queen Mary’s hospitality with Saga, simply request a brochure. In the meantime, you can read about the rest of Chris’s latest trip to America (part 1 / Part 2), find out about a very different mode of transport across Canada’s Rocky Mountains, or if you’ve been tempted to take a holiday to the USA, have a look at our range online…

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.