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Travel & Holidays in later life



Once the pride of Cunard's fleet, the majestic, Clyde-built, liner, The Queen Mary is now an iconic luxury hotel and attraction in Long Beach, California. Hugh Taylor and Moira McCrossan went on board for a few days during one of their visits to Southern California.

Travel Facts



The Queen MaryThe Queen Mary

To the older members of our family who grew up in Clydebank in the 1930s she’ll always be job number 534.  A towering reminder of the spectre of unemployment in the dark days of the depression.   But it was also a symbol of hope, of better times to come. When work did restart in early 1934 after three years of enforced idleness there was hardly a household in the area that didn’t have at least one member working on her.   On September 26th the entire community assembled to witness the launch of the largest ocean liner the world has ever seen and to hear Her Majesty the Queen name her The Queen Mary.

As we drove up the side of this massive monument, an attendant stepped forward to take our car and arrange for our bags to be transported to reception. We stepped off a lift and walked into the main reception area where the first class transatlantic passengers of yesteryear checked in, completed the formalities and were led through wood panelled corridors to our room a former first class stateroom.

Queen Mary Long Beach CaliforniaVery little has been altered. The room still bears all the hallmarks of 1930s opulence. Wood venered art deco furniture with Bakelite handles. This fore runner of plastic was the last thing in high fashion when the Queen was built. In the en suite bathroom the massive tub has a set of taps offering various combinations of water, fresh or salt, hot and cold. Unfortunately they don’t work anymore and the tub gets filled from a more mundane modern fitting. Long Beach has pumped millions of dollars into restoring the Cunarder to her former glory and she bears comparison with the top luxury hotels of the world but with the addition of an ambience which few of them can match. Just to walk along the promenade deck at night and look out over the water to the floodlit shoreline of Long Beach is a delight in itself. Then there’s the food.  We started with a scrambled egg breakfast in the Promenade café and finished the first day with  an absolutely splendid broiled swordfish filiet served with caviar and basil olive oil with angel sweet potatoes in Sir Winston’s, the classiest restaurant on the boat. But it was the Sunday Brunch in the former first class dining room that was the culinary highlight of the trip. It’s another Long Beach icon attracting hordes of city dwellers every week and making booking essential. We counted about three wedding parties and a handful of obvious family celebrations amidst the sea of people who were thronging round the massive buffet tables. From the minute the waiter leads you to your table it’s one long extravaganza of international eating. In fact there are so many choices of food that it would take several visits to sample everything. Japanese Sushi, Roast Beef, heavenly blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Just about every variety of pasta known to the human race at the Italian table, fresh seafood, French wonders and several tables positively groaning with cakes and sweets, puddings, jellies and wicked little things filled with cream and covered with chocolate. And as if that wasn’t enough the waiter was constantly on hand pouring out limitless quantities of Bucks Fizz and coffee. Two hours for this feast seemed about right and by then we were ready to repair to our stateroom for a well earned siesta. Unfortunately we had signed up for the ‘ Ghosts and Legends’ tour so we rose from the table, groaning and headed to the muster point.

Queen Mary Long Beach CaliforniaThere have been several paranormal sightings on the old Queen and although this tour was via several of the sights, in reality it’s just a ghost train, without the train. We were shown into a small room with television screens which run footage of the  boat's history and heard about some of the tragic deaths that had occurred. Then our guide pressed a button and to the strains of eerie music the door opened and we were led into a dark corridor.  We groped our way by torchlight to the disused first class swimming pool, our guide telling us of sightings of women dressed in vintage bathing suits, wandering the decks near the pool.

‘Experts’ , he said ‘ have described this area as the vortex for paranormal activity aboard the ship.’  At this point the lights went out and we could hear the sound of splashing, the echo of feet and the banging of a door. The lights came back on and a trail of glowing wet footprints could be seen heading to the changing rooms.  We made our way deeper into the bowels of the ship, to areas where no one is normally allowed to go. In the engine room we were told  of a young man who got cut in half by a watertight door during a routine drill in 1966.

‘Visitors and crewmembers have reported seeing him’ said our guide. At that point someone screamed, we looked round and there floating above us was the figure of half a man. All smoke and mirrors we reckoned but all the same, we were begining to feel apprehensive. We worked our way through a ghostly nursery to the plaintiff wails of a child who had reputedly died a few hours after being born, to a very realistic reconstruction of a boiler explosion in the very depth of the hull. But it was when we arrived at the bow area at the very lowest level  that we nearly cracked. We were being told of an incident during the Queen’s years as a troopship. During manoevres she hit the British cruiser HMS Curacao, slicing it in half with the loss of 300 soldiers. Forty years later, a television crew left their audio recorder running overnight in the exact location where the two ships collided. As the tape played back the next day, incredible sounds of pounding could be heard. 

At that point in the narrative a red light started flashing and a klaxon blared. The signs under the warning light read "Hull breached".

‘ This has never happened before’ said our guide ‘ but if we stick close together and make it to the lift we should be OK. I think.’  Some of our companions were getting a bit nervous but when the sound of creaking and groaning was accompanied with water gushing from between the hull plates the screaming started. We knew this was just more special effects, of course it was and we were in no danger. Nevertheless we were glad to get onto that lift, get the door closed and see the pointer click steadily up the deck numbers.

‘Now’ said the guide ‘ I’m going to take you to the scariest place on the ship’  We looked at him, he smiled and said ‘ we call it the gift shop’.


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