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The Titanic might have grabbed headlines as the world's most glamorous luxury liner, immortalized on the Silver Screen by Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet's love story in the Oscar-winning 1997 eponymous film, but there was another ship that was almost twice the weight, which did not sink, and she is still afloat, as a hotel.
If you like to do a little time travel with your present-day travel, the Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, California is a great place for a weekend getaway.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the RMS Queen Mary's maiden voyage, when she set sail from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France to New York for a five-day voyage in 1936. The massive ship (1,000 ft/310 metres long) carried an average of 2,000 passengers and 1,200 crew per crossing. First class had many amenities, including an indoor swimming pool spanning two decks and a first-class dining room spanning three stories.
Three years later, in the summer of 1939, after 72 runs, the Cunard line's jewel was requisitioned as a war-time ship. After they removed all the furniture, carpeting, silver, china and tapestries, and painted the ship grey-blue, she became known as the "Grey Ghost," carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, generally too fast for German U-boats to catch. After the war, the ship was again refitted and resumed passenger service until 1967 when it was done in by passenger airlines.
Cunard put the Queen Mary up for sale and the city of Long Beach bought it to use as a tourist attraction, museum, hotel and event facility.
The ship is still undergoing renovations to ensure it offers an authentic 1930s experience. Everything from the main hall to the observation bar, as well as many of the ballrooms (now used for private parties), are restored to their original glory. There is even a grand Sunday brunch in the Grand Salon, which used to be one of the dining halls for first-class. Even the 314 rooms (ranging in price from $119 to $269, or up to $359 for a package), are authentically appointed, with modern additions like flat-screen TVs and iPod docking alarm clocks. The exterior ship rooms have two porthole windows with a view of the ocean - you can imagine a wealthy matron looking out 75 years ago.
To get more of that old-school cruise vibe, dine in Sir Winston's restaurant and lounge, which serves classics like Beef Wellington and Chateaubriand. The quiet, upscale setting has views of the water from its portholes. The newly renovated Chelsea Chowder House and Bar, along with most of the other bars and cafes, feel more modern.
Two exhibits display Queen Mary historic artefacts, such as original silver, china and crystal, and the dining room settings from first, second and third class. There are also tours available for different interests, including Art Deco (a bit dry, unless the 56 different types of wood used to make the boat is of interest). On the maritime history tour, you will hear about the war veterans who came back to visit years later and laid down on the deck floor while telling their families: "This is where I slept during the war."
There is also a tour for those interested in the paranormal. Rumours of ghosts have haunted the Queen Mary since it came to Long Beach. Some guests say they saw ghosts in the pool areas wearing 1930s bathing suits. Others claim they heard metal crushing and children crying, related to an accident during the war when the RMS Queen Mary accidentally rammed into and split an allied ship in its path, the HMS Curacoa, off the Irish coast, killing 239 people.
The hotel staff takes all the ghost stories in stride. "A lot of people say that we are haunted," said exhibit coordinator Will Kayne, a ship officer. "Considering she's 75 years old, any building has one or two eerie stories." As for the ghosts, he said, "We are not here to prove or disprove them, just to tell the ship's stories."
Correction: This story has been corrected to read that the Queen Mary was almost twice the weight as the Titanic, and not "almost twice the size", as previously stated.