Guest bloggers John and Sandra Nowlan report on their recent visit to Long Beach, California to indulge their interest in all things “Cunard.”
She was called, “The Ship of Beautiful Woods” because of the spectacular woodwork created from the rarest trees in the British Empire. The Queen Mary, the pride of Britain and the crowning achievement of the historic Cunard line, retains her sleek black hull, white superstructure and three giant red smokestacks as she sits proudly in a prime spot in Long Beach harbor.
Visiting The Queen
The former liner, veteran of more than a thousand Atlantic crossings, is now on permanent display as a hotel, restaurant and top tourist attraction in this California city, just south of Los Angeles.
Queen Mary was launched in 1936 as Cunard’s luxurious and speedy entry in the lucrative trans-Atlantic passenger service. In World War 2 she served as a troop carrier for the Allies, narrowly escaping German submarines. Returning to passenger service after the war, she continued to dominate the North Atlantic until jet travel began to make her unprofitable in the 1950s. In 1967 she was sold to Long Beach and made her last journey from Southampton, avoiding the Panama Canal (just too long and too wide) and arriving in California for the official turnover to the city.
It truly is a step back in time to join a guided tour of this magnificent ship with its teak decks, Art Deco interior design and superb wood paneling in the 346 comfortable hotel staterooms. One interesting touch is the four-tap bathtub – hot water fresh, hot water salt, cold water fresh and cold water salt. Unlike modern ships, the navigation bridge includes a real wheel for steering. There’s also a major section of the ship devoted to Britain’s Royal Family, particularly Princess Diana and her legacy including many of her evening gowns, dresses and personal accessories.
At night the three huge funnels on the Queen Mary are decorated with dancing lights, making this 1,000 foot beauty hard to miss. In fact, for a close-up look from the water, Harbor Breeze boat tours offers hour-long day or night excursions of the Long Beach Harbor including a sail alongside the Queen Mary.
Aquarium of the Pacific
In addition to the former Queen of the Seas, the waterfront is the location of the superb Aquarium of the Pacific, one of the top marine exhibits in the United States. With its emphasis on creatures from the Pacific Ocean, it displays over 11,000 animals in 50 sections. Particularly fascinating are the shark and sting ray tanks, the penguin habitat and the jelly fish tanks. It’s the best display of “jellies” we’ve ever seen with ideal lighting to enjoy the slow graceful movement of these ancient invertebrates.
The Aquarium of the Pacific offers guests a unique, extra-cost chance to take a “behind the scenes” tour. We joined a knowledgeable guide as she showed us incubation tanks where everything from baby sharks to tiny sea horses were raised until they were ready for public display. We watched as restaurant quality food was being weighed and prepared to keep the fish healthy. We chatted with volunteer SCUBA divers as they prepared to enter the giant tanks to feed the fish and entertain the crowds. Overall, it was a very impressive attraction and worth a visit of several hours.
Other seaside delights
With Long Beach stretching for miles along the Pacific Ocean, we were anxious to sample some of the city’s renowned seafood and it didn’t disappoint. Parker’s Lighthouse, directly on the waterfront across from the Queen Mary, features mesquite grilled fresh seafood and boasts a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its extensive cellar. While enjoying the wonderful view we sampled tasty grilled opah and sea bass along with a glass of wonderful California chardonnay.
During our three days in Long Beach we also found a terrific Mexican restaurant (Lola’s), an authentic Greek Café (George’s) and a breakfast restaurant around the corner from our hotel (Breakfast Bar) that featured imaginative egg and meat dishes.
We liked Long Beach a lot more than we thought we would. The city of 460,000 was modern, clean and designed to be pedestrian-friendly. From our hotel we could walk to the harbor and its many attractions, passing parks, green space and imaginative buildings like the city’s Convention Centre. Impressive.
IF YOU GO
Visit Long Beach (official tourism site)
Disclosure: The Nowlans were guests of the Long Beach CVB but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.