A few years ago I was in Auckland, New Zealand at the same time the Queen Mary 2 was in port. One mighty and extremely luxurious cruise liner (launched in 2003 the 75,000 tonne, 1,132 feet / 345 metre long QM2 can carry 2,620 passengers along with 1,253 officers and crew)! It always stuck in my mind that I should go to Long Beach, California and see the original Queen Mary some day…
RMS Queen Mary
On December 1st, 1930 the first keel plate was laid for Cunard Lines new ocean liner, the Queen Mary (81,961 tonnes, 1,019.4 feet / 310.7 metres in length, designed to carry 2,139 passengers along with 1,101 officers and crew). Despite work stoppages due to the Great Depression in 1931, construction recommenced on April 3rd, 1934 and by September of that year the ship was launch and readied for internal fitting. By early 1936 sea trials had commenced and on May 27th, 1936 the Queen Mary set of on her maiden voyage first sailing from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France then on to New York (the voyage took 5 days, 5 hours and 13 minutes). At that time was considered the grandest ocean liner ever built. Many successful transatlantic voyages were to follow including world time record crossings and carrying her largest number of passengers (August 30th, 1939: 2,552 people)
From March 1940 to September 1946 the Queen Mary entered war service and was repainted a drab grey, which resulted in the ship being dubbed “The Grey Ghost“. She was refitted as a troop ship (including the fitting off anti-aircraft guns – a Bofors gun can be seen on the foredeck today) in Sydney, Australia and the first troop transport voyage was from Australia to Scotland on May 5th, 1940. During those World War Two years she transported 765,429 military personnel and sailed 569,429 miles / 916,407 kilometres at sea. The Queen Mary could carry 10,000 military personnel but apparently once carried a still remaining record of 16,000 on one voyage (very crowded and the luxury was nowhere to be seen for these fellows)!
One interesting voyage during that time on May 5th to 11th, 1943 transported British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to New York to meet with President Roosevelt with 5,000 German Prisoners Of War onboard too! Although the war ended in 1945, the 13 military voyages in 1946 were to transport thousands of European war brides to Canada and the United States!
After the war it took 10 months to retrofit the Queen Mary back to a luxury ocean liner and from July 31st, 1947 she continued to sail during the heyday of transatlantic travel from the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s. British royalty and the wealthy were joined by celebrities and dignitaries from around the world who enjoyed the luxury of ocean liner travel. By the 1960’s though, jet air travel had started to take over and ocean travel was seen as being passé. Figures from the Queen Mary website really highlight the downturn in transatlantic ocean travel:
1954 – by ship: 1,000,000; by air: 600,000
1957 – by ship: 1,000,000; by air: 1,000,000
1961 – by ship: 750,000; by air: 2,000,000
1965 – by ship: 650,000; by air: 4,000,000
In April 1966 Cunard Lines announced that the Queen Mary was up for sale and she was purchased by the City of Long Beach for $3.45 million in July 1967. On October 31st,1967 the Queen Mary on her final voyage was sailed to Long Beach, California and was officially handed over on December 11th, 1967. Tours of the ship commenced in May 1971 and the first hotel guests stayed onboard by November 1972. The Queen Mary remains a major draw card as a tourist attraction and hotel today.
Wandering the decks of the ship and some of the stately dining and retail areas you get some idea of the luxury of the ship from its interior wood paneling and art deco styling. It is really interesting touring the bridge, officers quarters and engine room too. There are various guided tours you can take but you are also able to explore many areas of the ship on your own. It’s a great day!