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A nostalgic stay on the Queen Mary

Cheri Sicard is the author of The Low Carb Restaurant Guide -- Eat Out at America's Favorite Restaurants and Stay on Your Diet (2004, M. Evans) and two other books.

A visit to the Queen

The Queen Mary was, in her heyday, called "The Queen of the Atlantic." Bedecked in art deco elegance, the ship was unlike anything the seas had ever known. Superb craftsmanship made up her 12 decks and some of the world's most renowned statesmen and stars made Atlantic crossings in her comfortable cabins and statesrooms. Learn more about this majestic ship, and what it offers for a great getaway!

Queen Mary

A wonderful hotel

Originally launched in 1934, she was retired from regular passenger service in 1967 after completing 1,001 crossings of the Atlantic.

Her seafaring days are now a thing of the past, but history lives on at the fabulous Queen Mary, now permanently docked in Long Beach, California. A popular spot for visitors to tour, the best way to get a true feel for this very special place is as an overnight guest, for the former "Queen of the Atlantic" has found new life as a luxury hotel.

A stay at the Hotel Queen Mary is a great way to get the most out of a Southern California vacation. It would be hard to find another hotel that is so much a tourist attraction, in and of itself.

An almost tangible aura of history permeates the air. While lying in bed at night, I couldn't help thinking who might have slept there in years gone past. Clark Gable? The Duke and Duchess of Windsor? Marlene Dietrich? Fred Astaire? Winston Churchill? Any of these, plus scores of other luminaries, might be the answer. If only the walls could talk! I delighted in roaming the halls and just soaking up the history, imagining what it must have been like to actually sail across the ocean in this massive vessel.

The ship (and likewise the rooms) still maintain the art deco splendor of yesteryear. Rich wood paneling covers the walls. Portholes look out onto expansive views of the Long Beach Harbor. Bathrooms still have their original fixtures (hot and cold fresh and salt water, although today only fresh water will come out).

The suites on board are exquisite, some having a sitting room, two bathrooms and two bedrooms (the smaller of these was originally intended for the servants of passengers who traveled with their own maid or butler). Of course, unlike bygone days, the rooms are now equipped with modern amenities such as cable television and telephones.

Ghosts and history

The size of the vessel is overwhelming. The hallway outside my room seemed to stretch on forever. I had the eerie feeling I was in a hall of mirrors.

Eerie feelings are not uncommon to visitors of the Queen Mary, as the ship is reportedly haunted by several ghosts, although I personally didn't experience any supernatural phenomena. Nonetheless, it isn't difficult to believe, considering all the history the ship has seen.

Guests have reported other worldly visitors in a couple of the rooms. The ballroom has a lovely, albeit transparent, lady who regularly makes appearances. The pool room (no longer used for its original purpose) sports some mysterious ghost "footprints" that refuse to go away. The sound of children's laughter has also been heard here, when no one was present to make the sounds. The ship's most famous and persistent ghost has been seen around the area of "Door 13" in the ship's lower regions. It was here that, decades ago, a worker was crushed to death in an incident involving the heavy doors.

A good way to really explore the ship, and also learn about the ghost stories, is to go on a historic tour, offered periodically throughout the day. Even if you are not a hotel guest, it is well worthwhile to pay a visit and take in the tour.

Guide Fred Buser, a retired navy man, shared a wealth of knowledge about the ship. His enthusiasm and love for her was apparent and contagious. She has an interesting and colorful history, both as a luxury passenger ship and as a wartime carrier for troops -- she carried 16,200 people at once during a wartime crossing when she was known as "The Grey Ghost."

Wining and dining

Queen Mary

History aside, the hotel offers some great drinking, dining and dancing options. Every Tuesday afternoon from noon till 2 pm, there is big band tea dancing in what was formally the first class salon. Sundays offer an extensive Champagne Brunch with 11 am culinary stations including a carving and entree station offering a selection of specially prepared meats; an oriental station featuring such far east favorites as crispy duck with lemon grass soy sauce and stir fried shrimp; a pasta station with a selection of gourmet pastas and sauces; and a south-of-the-border station featuring authentic Mexican specialties.

Additional selections include breakfast favorites, a salad bar, fresh seafood, gourmet deli meats and cheeses, fresh baked goods, a dessert table and a separate buffet of children's favorites.

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