Adventure Travel Abroad

The Last Story of the Great Ships – Cruising History

The Last Story of the Great Ships – Cruising History


Now a cherished hotel, museum and tourist attraction in Long Beach, Calif. the Queen Mary is the world’s most celebrated ocean liner (that did not meet with disaster). It measures 81,000 gross tons and has a length of 1,019 feet with a beam of 118 feet. Construction on the mighty ship initially known as “534” began at the renowned John Brown and Company shipyard at Clydebank, Scotland, in late 1930. On Sept. 26, 1934, it was launched by namesake HRH Queen Mary. Thousands braved torrential rain to watch as the giant Cunard liner slid into the River Clyde. As built, it carried 776 Cabin (later named First) Class, 784 Tourist (later named Cabin) and 579 Third (later named Tourist) Class passengers. Queen Mary’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York commenced on May 27, 1936. That August, it won the Blue Ribband from the French liner Normandie for fastest crossing. Normandie took it back in 1937 but in 1938, lost it permanently to the Mary, which set a new average speed record of 31.6 knots in August 1938. After the outbreak of World War II, the Queen Mary and running mate Queen Elizabeth were fitted to carry an average of 15,000 troops. With speeds that exceeded most U-boats and escort craft, the two giant Cunarders were credited by Winston Churchill with shortening the war by a year. They continued their trooping and repatriation duties until 1946. During this phase of its career, the Queen Mary was nicknamed “The Grey Ghost.” The Queen Mary returned to trans-Atlantic passenger service on July 31, 1947. The Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth maintained weekly crossings for the next two decades. Despite being surpassed in size by the twin-funneled, 83,000-gross-ton Queen Elizabeth and in 1952, losing the Blue Ribband to the SS United States, the Queen Mary would reign as the most popular and beloved ship in the world until the jet airplane brought down the curtain on trans-Atlantic travel in the early 1960s. The Queen Mary’s 1,001st and final crossing took place in September of 1967. It was sold to the City of Long Beach for $3.5 million and departed on a 39-night delivery cruise around South America. In December 1967, the Queen Mary triumphantly arrived in California with a 310-foot pay-off pennant flying overhead and four London double-decker buses on the aft decks. For the next three years, the ship underwent a $72 million transformation for a new role as an hotel, convention center and tourist attraction. Most of the machinery was removed for exhibition spaces, holes were cut into the side for new permanent gangways and a metal box was built around the remaining propeller. In 1971, the ship was opened for public tours and in December of 1972, the hotel and restaurants were also opened. Since becoming a California-based tourist attraction, the Queen Mary has been used as a the occasional Hollywood set, most famously for the 1972 Irwin Allen disaster movie, “The Poseidon Adventure.” Now classified as a building, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Visitors touring the Queen Mary take the elevators to level four and embark on the Promenade Deck’s original teak-lined, glass-enclosed port promenade. The Queen Mary’s pre-computer age wheelhouse has most of its original brass equipment, including beautifully polished, museum-quality Siemens double-headed telegraphs and twin Brown Brothers steering wheels, as well as Kelvin compasses. Few things are more appealing to the eyes of a ship-lover than the majestic, black-topped orange/red funnels of the Queen Mary, especially from the perspective of the bridge wing. In between the myriad ventilators, deck houses and trio of funnels, there are areas of open space on Sports Deck for sunning and brisk walks in the sea air. Sun Deck has a fully encircling teak walkway underneath a canopy of lifeboats and davits. The rare and now-endangered teak was restored in recent years by carefully cutting thin strips out of the original planks and laying them atop less exotic wood. The Verandah Grill was the legendary former first-class a la carte dining room located on Queen Mary’s aft Sun Deck. In the Long Beach conversion, this once-exclusive venue was turned into a hot dog stand. In recent years, the room was restored and is now largely used for private functions. The glorious maple burr and cedarwood paneled Observation Bar fronts an entire deck of public spaces and restaurants on Promenade Deck. The semi-circular space has a stepped-up terrace overlooking the cocktail bar. The room was recently used as a backdrop in the blockbuster Hollywood film, “The Aviator.” The Main Hall was the Queen Mary’s first-class foyer and shopping arcade and features paneling in oaknut, chestnut and elm burr. One of many highlights in the exquisite Main Hall is the sculpted plaster frieze by Maurice Lambert atop the center shop. The soaring Queen’s Salon is the former first-class lounge. If the 30-foot-tall central ceiling looks familiar, that’s because it inspired the set that went topsy-turvy in “The Poseidon Adventure,” where a number of extras and a Christmas tree plunged into the glass fixtures. This is a view of the first-class lounge in the 1950s with its posh armchairs, settees and burled wood tables, all since replaced with convention-friendly furnishings. The unicorn mural above the marble fireplace conceals a movie projector that gave the room a dual function as a cinema. The Queen Mary Hotel is accessed by taking the elevator to level three. Passageways in the Queen Mary Hotel feature exquisitely polished burled maple and walnut woodwork. Original former first-class staterooms such as this deluxe outside are paneled in lustrous woods and have many vintage fittings, such as Bakelite punkah louvre ventilators and Deco fans. Original rooms should be requested at the time of booking. Many people strongly believe that the Queen Mary is haunted. One of the ship’s most popular attractions is its “Haunted Encounters” tour that takes visitors to areas that have been the site of reported paranormal activity. Placards around the ship recount such sightings. No longer in use, the former first-class pool area is part of the “Haunted Encounters” tour. There have been repeated sightings of a ghostly little girl here. Located on R Deck, the recessed central dome over the Grand Salon, formerly the first-class dining room, soars some 27 feet. The columns and veneers are made of Brazilian peroba wood, which glows in both the incandescent lighting and daylight emitted through portholes on either side of the room. Here is a view of the room in its 1950s heyday when it was a haven of sea-going glamour. Today, it is used for an elegant Sunday brunch and private functions. Macdonald Gill’s famous trans-Atlantic mural on the forward bulkhead has been often imitated but never duplicated. Two crystal ships once traced the actual positions of the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary during their crossings. Reached from ground level by the stern of the ship, what is now called D Deck features the Queen Mary Story, a museum dedicated to the history of the Queen Mary and other trans-Atlantic liners. Giant, beautifully-constructed cutaway models of the Titanic and the Normandie are two key attractions. Also on display is what remains of Queen Mary’s vast power plant. The main engine control panel, shown here, and one engine room were left intact. Of the four massive bronze screws that drove the Queen Mary at record-breaking speed, only the aft/starboard survived. It can be accessed via the large box that was fitted to the ship in the Long Beach conversion. This is one of many spots where paranormal “sightings” have been witnessed. The SS United States is the largest, fastest and arguably greatest American passenger ship ever built. After 47 years spent in various backwaters from Virginia to Sebastopol, Tuzla (Turkey), and finally Philadelphia, the ship is now in the hands of the SS United States Conservancy, a dedicated team of preservationists seeking to find it a new home and purpose. In its heyday, the United States was a familiar sight on the Hudson River, its massive stacks and knife-like bow symbols of American pride. Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and, of course, White Star Line’s Titanic are the only ocean liners that have eclipsed the United States’ fame. The 53,330-gross-ton United States was designed by William Francis Gibbs, America’s foremost naval architect. Gibbs created a ship that could be modified with little effort into a Cold War trooper capable of carrying 15,000 soldiers. Fortunately never called into war duty, the United States carried 1,928 passengers in three classes (First, Cabin and Tourist) and 900 crew. United States was ordered in 1950 and completed in 1952 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. The ship was assembled in sections in a graving dock, much as modern cruise ships are built today. For decades, its underwater hull and machinery were considered classified and could not be photographed. The $78 million liner broke the trans-Atlantic speed record on its July 4, 1952, maiden voyage, achieving an eastbound average speed of 35.59 knots (41 mph). Affectionately nicknamed “The Big U,” the vessel could reportedly reach a top speed of 38.3 knots. It is shown here on its triumphant arrival in New York harbor. Its most opulent space was the first-class restaurant with its double-deck, domed ceiling and imposing glass fiber reliefs by Gwen Lux. Although considered austere by many, the ship’s interiors, designed by Dorothy Marckwald and composed of fireproof elements of brushed steel, linoleum and etched glass, were years ahead of their time. The airplane, union strikes and high operating costs put an end to the United States’ career in 1969. The ship was laid up at Newport News, where it sat until being sold to Seattle-based developer Richard Hadley in 1978. A new cruise service was announced and brochures were published but nothing came of the venture. Meanwhile, the SS United States’ cash-strapped owners decided to sell the ship’s fittings. In 1984, the old liner was opened up to thousands of curious visitors before its interiors were auctioned off. The United States was sold in 1990 to new owners who had it towed to Turkey and later the Ukraine for removal of asbestos and other toxic materials prior to a planned return to service. In 1996, it was towed back to the U.S. and berthed at Philadelphia’s Packer Marine Terminal. In 1996, the completely gutted ship was moved to its current location and through the efforts of the now defunct SS United States Foundation and the SS United States Conservancy, “The Big U” was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, although nothing came of plans to rebuild the ship. In 2003, the United States was once again put up for sale. Outbidding scrap merchants at the 11th hour, Norwegian Cruise Line bought it in the hopes of rebuilding it for their NCL America division. Unfortunately, this never came to pass and in 2011, it was once again put up for sale. Although scrappers offered double the price, NCL agreed to sell the United States for $3 million to the Conservancy in March of 2011. Kept afloat and intact with contributions from members, local philanthropist Gerry Lenfest and even Crystal Cruises (who considered purchasing and rebuilding it in 2016), the foundation continues to seek out a new static role for the ship. Although the United States looks dishearteningly weathered after spending more than four decades in waiting, the decay is largely cosmetic. Made of aluminum, the two massive funnels were deliberately oversized to make the United States instantly recognizable from a distance and to give it the impression of “power and grace” intended by architect William Francis Gibbs. Peeling paint and superficial rust aside, the grace and beauty of the ship’s architecture is unparalleled. Far ahead of its time, the United States was built with an aluminum superstructure that was fused to the steel hull in a special process that averted the corrosive effects of marrying the two incompatible metals. All but the graceful shell of the wheelhouse, where luminaries like President Eisenhower and John Wayne once visited, was auctioned off in 1984 or later stripped away in the Ukraine. The United States’ upper decks feature tiers of graceful, open promenades including a fully encircling promenade on Sun Deck. Even the decking was made of a fireproof, concrete-like compound in lieu of traditional teakwood planking. All true trans-Atlantic ocean liners had a glass-enclosed promenade and the United States was no exception. This is the starboard first-class promenade in an aft-facing view. The first-class public rooms were located directly inboard of the promenades on Promenade Deck. Only the shell remains of the First Class Ballroom, which was recently used as a backdrop for the Colin Farrell action flick “Dead Man Down.” The bar was built for the movie and is not an original fixture. This is the lovely First Class Ballroom in its heyday. It had a square footprint but looked elliptical, thanks to a circular dome and four curved etched glass screens depicting sea life. Portions of these screens are now onboard Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Infinity. Note also the propeller blade and glass-topped tables. Far aft, Promenade Deck continues with open deck space, the forward portion of which was reserved for first class. Removed to prevent unnecessary drag on the United States’ overseas tow, the four bronze screws were placed on the ship’s afterdecks. Of the two that remain, one is on aft/port Promenade Deck. On Upper Deck, large open spaces have been cleared of everything but the ducting, some wiring and the support beams. This is the section where some of the ship’s finest first-class suites were located. With names like The Duck Suite and The Red Suite, these lavish apartments had spacious sitting areas and separate bedrooms. Standard First Class Cabins were also very spacious and well-appointed. This one has twin portholes and a long dresser. Long-since-removed accommodation and reception areas were located on Main Deck. This is one of the original builders’ stencils that were exposed when the ship was gutted. The once-magnificent First Class Dining Room is located on midships A Deck. Even its empty framework is impressive. Note the table base mounts in the decking. Hopefully, there will be more to the story of one of the mightiest ships to ever grace the seas. One of the most successful trans-Atlantic liners and cruise ships of all time, the Queen Elizabeth 2 is currently in Dubai awaiting the next phase of its long career. Also known as the QE2, it replaced Cunard’s venerable Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The 963-by-105-foot ship was built by the John Brown and Company shipyard at Clydebank, Scotland, and launched by HRH Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 20, 1967. After fitting out and delays due to a damaged turbine, the 65,863-gross-ton ship finally entered service in May of 1969. When powered by its original steam engines, QE2 could achieve a top speed of 32.5 knots. With its pencil-thin funnel and sleek lines, the ultra-modern QE2 was a dual-purpose ocean liner and cruise ship. Its original capacity was for 564 first-class passengers, 1,441 tourist-class passengers and 1,400 for one-class cruising The antithesis of its traditional predecessors, it had wide expanses of open deck and two outdoor pools that were especially popular in warmer climes. The QE2’s trendy, modern interiors were at the time described as “Bond Street meets Twiggy” and a complete departure from the polished nickel, burled woods and ornate trappings of the original Queens. This is the two-story Double Room, which was later converted into the ship’s showroom. In 1972, the first of many alterations saw the addition of a block of penthouse suites atop the ship and the elimination of an observation bar. Over the years, the QE2’s profile and layout would undergo many changes. In 1975, it embarked upon the first in what would become an almost annual tradition of world cruises. In 1982, QE2 was requisitioned for trooping service in the Falklands War. Helipads were built atop the stern and the public areas were turned into dormitories. When it returned to regular service the following year, the funnel was painted in Cunard’s orange and black colors and the hull was painted dove gray. In 1983, the unpopular gray was switched for a more traditional black hull color. By this time, QE2 was beginning to experience increasingly frequent mechanical problems. Further refits at this time saw the installation of an all-weather Magrodome over the stern pool and more interior modifications. In 1986/7, QE2 was sent to Hamburg for its most extensive refit to date. At that time, the original steam power plant was replaced with MAN B&W diesels, new propellers were added, yet more alterations were made to the interiors and the distinctive funnel was enlarged. The now one-class, 70,327-gross-ton, 1,777-passenger QE2 was faster and more economical than ever, capable of a new top speed of 34 knots. QE2’s outer decks have seen many changes over the years but there are still plenty of teak-covered nooks and open spaces where guests can sunbathe or curl up in a deck chair under a wool blanket. The ship’s tiered afterdecks have been home to an ever-evolving scenario of open air pools, Magrodomes, tennis courts and putting greens over the years. Although QE2 never had an enclosed promenade, the ship does feature a traditional teak-lined boat deck with solid mahogany cap rails where guests can enjoy a walk in the sea air. Passengers enter via the circular Midships Lobby, which was distinguished by its sunken seating area, dramatic lighting and futuristic fiberglass pillar. The murals and burled veneer were added in the 1994 conversion. Perhaps the grandest of the QE2’s public spaces, the Queen’s Lounge still retains its dramatic columns and honeycomb ceiling, although the furnishings and decor have evolved significantly with time. Throughout the ship’s career, this room was the elegant setting for afternoon tea. The bottom level of the former Double Room was converted into a show room and its balcony has been a shopping gallery throughout the ship’s latter-day career. Another latter-day addition, the popular Yacht Club is a ballroom and lounge located near the stern of the ship. One space that never changed throughout the ship’s career is the double-deck Theater, once the realm of guest lecturers and movie screenings. Although the QE2 eventually became a one-class ship, its dining options were anything but. Guests occupying the most expensive suites had exclusive access to the legendary Queens Grill, considered by many to be one of the finest restaurants ever put to sea. Almost as legendary as the Queens Grill, the Princess Grill was also for the exclusive use of suite guests. Note the original steel-framed chairs and bronze statues. As more suite accommodation was fitted to the ship, the Britannia Grill was added as a complement to the Princess Grill. All three current Cunarders — the Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria — have Queens and Princess Grills. Non-grill guests were assigned one of two traditional restaurants, depending on their stateroom category. Shown in its final incarnation, the Caronia Restaurant was originally the Columbia Restaurant and, like the rest of the ship, has undergone many alterations over the years. At the bottom of the dining tier, the Art Deco-inspired Mauretania Restaurant has also undergone several name changes and decorative styles. QE2 was built with two indoor pools that were handy on cold or stormy Atlantic crossings. Eventually, one of the pools was converted into a spa. One of the ship’s most distinctive features was its huge library and bookstore featuring a vast collection of nautical books. In latter years, QE2 featured a Heritage Trail filled with important Cunard artifacts such as this bas-relief from the first Queen Elizabeth. Sadly, these treasures left Cunard’s realm when the ship was sold by the Carnival Corporation in 2008 to Nakheel, a Dubai-based company that planned to rebuild it into a stationary luxury hotel. When Nakheel’s expensive and drastic conversion plans were crushed by the global economic downturn, rumors of the QE2’s possible scrapping began to circulate. Subsequent plans to convert the ship into a five-star hotel in either Singapore or Hong Kong seem to have stalled and the ship remains “as is” at Dubai. The boats and davits were removed in 2016. Now better than ever following a massive refit in 2016, Cunard Line’s 2,961-guest flagship Queen Mary 2 measures 151,800 gross tons. Although the term “ocean liner” is used to describe many of today’s cruise ships, the QM2 is a bonafide dual-purpose liner and cruise ship. What distinguishes a liner from a cruise ship? The 1132-by-135-foot QM2 has a long, tapered bow meant to cut through all types of seas, a reinforced hull with a relatively deep draft of 33 feet and powerful Wartsila diesels that can drive its four pods at a maximum speed of 30 knots (much faster than most cruise ships’ average of 22 knots) The QM2 was built by Alstom-Chantiers de l’Atlantique at Saint Nazaire, France. The shipyard, originally known as Chantiers de l’Atlantique, produced some of the world’s most famous liners, including the Ile De France (1927), Normandie (1935) and France (1961). Today, the yard is now part of the STX Europe conglomerate. Since 2006, instead of Manhattan’s well-known midtown Hudson River cruise terminals, the QM2 has used Brooklyn’s Red Hook Cruise Terminal as its New York base. The facility is located across from Governor’s Island and also hosts the ships of Princess Cruises. Our tour begins with the QM2’s outer decks. There is an open platform on Deck 11 with a forward-facing view over the long prow. This view, looking aft from midships Deck 13, faces the funnel, a foreshortened version of the iconic QE2’s, with wind scoops designed to push exhaust skyward. The QM2 has acres of open teak decks. One of the most appealing features of the QM2 is its beautifully terraced stern, which is shown from the vantage of Deck 12. The impressive architecture of QM2’s forward superstructure, partially inspired by that of the Queen Elizabeth of 1940, can be enjoyed from the wedge-shaped upper level of the fo’c’sle on Deck 7. Deck 7 is fully encircled by a teak-lined promenade, one of the ship’s most popular features. The Commodore Club is a gorgeous bar with alcoves to either side that overlook the bow from the vantage of Deck 9. Named for two past Cunarders, the Carinthia Lounge is a brand new space added in place of the underused Wintergarden in 2016. The vast and recently revamped Canyon Ranch Spa on forward Deck 7 has a large thalassotherapy pool. The completely restyled Queens Grill is the legendary dining venue for residents of the ship’s top Duplex, Penthouse and Queens Suite accommodation. The Princess Grill, shown facing aft, is located on the port side of aft Deck 7. It is the posh dining venue for the QM2’s Princess Suite accommodation. Located on forward Decks 6 and 5, the dual-level Illuminations Planetarium is a QM2 exclusive. In addition to being used for high-tech projections of the stars and planets on its retractable domed ceiling, it doubles as a lecture hall and cinema. The Royal Court Theater is located on forward Decks 6 and 5 and is the main showroom featuring Broadway-style shows, celebrity guest lecturers, musicians and comedians. It was enhanced with a new LED backdrop and proscenium in 2016. A stylized bronze medallion of the QM2 crossing the Atlantic is the centerpiece of the ship’s Grand Lobby. The Chart Room Bar is largely inspired by a similar space on the QE2 and is one of the QM2’s most elegant lounges, boasting oversized furnishings, a tall ceiling and a frosted glass panel of the Atlantic Ocean. Spanning Decks 1, 2 and 3 and offering two seatings for dinner, the Britannia Restaurant is the QM2’s main dining venue and takes its decorative inspiration from the first-class dining room aboard the first Queen Mary. The open-seating Britannia Club Restaurants, both located aft of the Britannia, are reserved for guests in Britannia Club staterooms. The Empire Casino is located on the port side of Deck 2 between the Royal Court Theater and the Britannia Restaurant. The Golden Lion Pub can be found on the starboard side of Deck 2, just forward of the Britannia Restaurant. It serves up one of the best pub lunches at sea. Queens Suites feature a separate sitting area, a bedroom and a large balcony. All have been refreshed with new soft fittings and furnishings. Slightly smaller Princess Grill suites have also been refreshed with new soft fittings and artwork. Sheltered Balcony staterooms are located in the ship’s hull and have queen beds that can convert to two twins, a separate sitting area and a veranda with a solid steel railing.


Reader Comments

  1. So really the luxury cruise ship, queen elizebeth, we all and know today is actually queen elizebeth 3!

  2. Something is actually going on with the QE2 now. The ship has been moved, workers are on her, some parts, like the radar mast, are cleaned up and painted, they look like new, new lights and so on… It seems that she will be a floating hotel in Dubai after all. You can find photos and comments on: theqe2story. com/forum/index.php/topic,7479.0.html

  3. These are the largest and best known still existing ocean liners, but there are also a few smaller Transatlantic liners: 1) SS Great Britain (1845), museum ship in Bristol, England.  2) MS Stockholm (1948), still in active cruise service renamed MV Astoria.   3) SS Rotterdam (1959), hotel and musem ship in Rotterdam, Holland.   4) MS Aleksandr Pushkin (1965), in active cruise service renamed MS Marco Polo.

  4. I refuse to listen to or watch a video with a computer voice. I watched 45 seconds of this one and then turned it off. I'm interested in the subject so I will look elsewhere.

  5. Great, Yet another Boring, Dry, Elevator Music laden semi-informative post. And I can't express how much everyone hatez the text to voice. I think there's a "skynet," computer out there making these! 🤔

  6. The fascinating 'doco' of the Queen Mary is ruined by the ridiculous 'stilted' commentary. Who is this joker? He talks like a human version of a robot but worse and he can't even read! PLEASE, at least someone who speaks English for a classic English ship!!

  7. what a shit vid stupid electronic robot can't even pronounce word's right you what ma cheen ary is it was removed no shit.

  8. The Queen Mary never met with disaster? Tell that to the souls of the 338 men who were killed when she cut her escort in half.

  9. The QE2 opened as a floating hotel in Port Rashid, Dubai, in April 18th 2018, after a refurbishment that took 2 years and over $ 100 million, which included a complete repainting in a dry dock in march.
    This was a "soft" opening, because the work isn't completed yet, the "grand opening" is planned to october.

  10. Yes she did the qm colided with hms curacoa and hit by a tidal wave in the movie the poseidon adventure 1972-1976 in 2012 she returned to long beach california

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