Not the Reef Knot (8) A Visit to the Queen Mary

In 1993 Rudi Van Dijk travelled to the USA to see the Queen Mary. Judging by the slides he brought back it must have been an amazing visit, in-spite of the shop doing the processing damaging a number of the slides. The report below was written by Rudi at the time and any opinions in it are his. Unfortunately Rudi has passed on and the slides that he took no longer exist. I was only able to get one duplicate from him and that was an image across from the ship. Other than that one any images associated with this article are from my own collection or from the Wikipedia page about the hotel.

Almost 30 years have passed since this report was written and the situation with the ship has become a precarious one as changes are made and the ship deteriorates. Maintenance is an ongoing thing with any vessel and in many ways the Queen was always in some sort of trouble due to deferred maintenance. There are a lot of rumours about her condition and as I write this in 2022 I cannot say what the situation is like at this point. It is best to visit the ship or the website to see for yourself. The Queen Mary Heritage Foundation website has a wealth of information about the ship and is worth the visit too. At the time of writing the Hotel Queen Mary is closed

A Visit to the Queen Mary

It was after resuming my hobby as a ship enthusiast in 1990, that I discovered that the greatest of all ocean liners was still around. Regretfully very far away from us, moored in the City of Long Beach, California, USA. That is about 20 000 km of flying and expensive irrespective of how you do it. I opened a special savings account and started saving R200 pm for the purpose of visiting the great ship. In 1992-93 there were some disturbing developments as to her future. Walt Disney Enterprises were not renewing their lease on her, and she was going up for sale. There were rumours of her being scrapped, and one company even wanted to tow her back to England. Fortunately Long Beach City signed a 5 year lease and the ship was re=opened to the public.

Commercial postcard from 1980’s

In August 1993, I noticed an advertisement by Logan’s Travel for a return trip to LA at under R5000, including 2 days in Rio, 3 days in hotel accommodation in LA and 7 days car hire. I made the bookings and added 4 days on the Queen Mary to it. The airline was Varig, and I cannot fault their service. I departed from Jan Smuts at 2 am on the morning of 27 September to San Paulo and Rio. The plane got to Rio at 8 in the morning and after booking in at the hotel I went sightseeing. Rio was a great disappointment, it was crowded, dirty, poor, and almost nobody speaks English. They have the weirdest currency called Cruzeiro which is worth almost nothing. The same night at 10 we left for LA via San Paulo and Lima in Peru. After a long flight we arrived at LA airport at 9 in the morning. The airport is about as big as Johannesburg. I picked up my car from Hertz and drove to the Hacienda with the steering wheel on the left, driving on the right, Help!!!

After checking in I got a map and headed straight to Long Beach, the home of the Queen Mary.

Hotel Queen Mary, Long Beach: Image by Mike Fernwood

My first impression was: BIG! Very Very Big! This ship makes the QE2 look medium. The ships exterior is in pristine condition, the only thing that spoils it externally is the hotel entrance building and the ten gangways running into her. I went inside to confirm my reservation and took a quick look around. Then I went to see all the LA attractions, Disney World, Hollywood, Universal Studios, Sunset strip, Venice Beach and more over the next few days.

On the 1st of October I booked in at the ship. My cabin was on A Deck forward on the starboard side. The cabin was original save for the television and had two portholes. I unpacked and lie down on the bed to take a break and was wondering if I was on a ship or a building due to the lack of engine vibrations. When I heard that glorious booming sound of the ships horns. My hair stood on end and I rushed to reception to find out when the horns were recommissioned, only to find out that they had never stopped working and are sounded every 3 hours. The passageway from my cabin running to the stern was so long, that even by lying on my stomach I could not see the end of it. The whole ship interior is covered in the more beautiful woodwork and one can only look in awe at the craftsmanship that must have gone into it. Over the next days I went on every guided and unguided tour possible and must say that all the areas including the aft engine room, open to the public, are a very good condition. The (illegible) is slightly defaced by some stupid little shops and stalls in various places, but at least the Americans have preserved her largely intact. I nearly got arrested for climbing over a fence and getting onto the breakwater for my bow shot slides, but it was worth it. The stern is so fenced off that I had to go on a harbour cruise to see the stern. By taking a bus to the marina opposite the ship one can get a beautiful view of the starboard side which is great for photography especially at night. There are various souvenir shops aboard, which sell great stuff as well as trinkety junk, but strangely enough no Queen Mary models kits. These were found at a hobby shop in Garden Grove L.A.

Night shot taken by Rudi

As much as I had enjoyed myself on the Queen I knew that there was at least 60% that I had not seen and could not persuade anybody to show it all to me. Then on my last night aboard while having dinner in the starboard restaurant I struck gold. The group of people at the next table were having a conversation and I quickly identified them as ship enthusiasts. I introduced and joined them. As it happened they were the committee of the Queen Mary Foundation. I explained my pitiful plight to them and they immediately offered their help. That wonderful night I was taken on a complete tour of all the previous unseen parts by Dianne Rush, the president of the foundation. This is a person worth meeting, friendly, pretty and a total Queen Mary disciple. I was in heaven. But what a shock. Forward of the aft engine room there is nothing until you reach the bow. All the boilers, condensers, and generators are gone. The machinery was not removed with care either, just cut away and torn out, and I felt anger and sorrow inside of me. But still, it was quite an experience standing in those enormous caverns, big enough to house most new cruise liners filled with people with the same passion at my side. That was something I shall never forget.

The Queen Mary is back in good hands and safe for the next four years. The Queen Mary Foundation is fighting for her permanent preservation and I shall do what I can to help them. If you are more than an armchair ship enthusiast, join them and help preserve the last remaining liner of that glorious era of the superliner. It costs $30 a year, and that works out to a measly R1.95 a week which is less that I spend on cigarettes a day.

RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach 15/02/2010. Image by Sergey Yarmolyuk

The Queen Mary is not in perfect condition, and one can criticise the Americans for that, but at least they had the foresight to preserve her. Although the British built her they have never preserved one liner or battleship. So I say all the best to the American and keep up the good work. The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!

Rudi Van Dijk.
January 1994.

DRW 2022. Created 08/05/2022. Article originally written by Rudi Van Dijk. Wikipedia Images attributed as follows: 

Hotel_Queen_Mary,_Long_Beach.jpgMike Fernwood from Santa Cruz, California, United States derivative work: Altair78 (talk), Hotel Queen Mary, Long Beach 01, resized, adj gamma, CC BY-SA 2.0

Sergey YarmolyukRMS Queen Mary 20100215CC BY-SA 3.0

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