You can get married on The Queen Mary (the dry-docked huge ocean liner permanently moored in Long Beach), and we can provide everything but the husband,” said its commodore, Everette Hoard, during a recent interview. Hoard, with more than 35 years of hands-on experience representing the popular tourist attraction, knows how to bring in the business.
The Queen Mary is a privately-owned, historically-based fun place to visit. She is a luxury passenger ship sitting on top of a beautiful body of water, never intending to be on the high seas ever again. The Queen Mary is a central part of the Southern California entertainment complex that features retired ships that have now become floating museums, hotels and venues, though the environs are not super-friendly for disabled patrons.
There are bigger ships on the cceans today, but these are the cruise ships designed for pleasure trips. The Queen Mary represents the period of time before air travel, in wartime, where the only way to move people across the Atlantic Ocean was by using a passenger ship. No longer economically viable as a means of regular world travel, The Queen Mary was purchased lock, stock and barrel by the City of Long Beach in 1967, to give the Old Dame a retirement home. Forty years later, she is now a marvel of entertainment to be enjoyed by the tourists, by the curious and by the many people seeking its restaurants, hotel rooms and adventures.
Visiting this icon, you start at the bottom and work your way up through the many decks and promenades, after buying an entrance ticket at the front gate. There are private and public tours, exhibits, gift shops, Lego models and opportunities to see the fabulous dresses of a fairy princess. All one has to do to get started is to cross the gangplank.
And greeting each new temporary resident on board the multi-faceted, multi-level now-stationary vessel is Commodore Everette Hoard, sporting his bright white Naval uniform. From the tip of his cap to the soles of his shoes, Hoard is sparkling white complemented with his gold buttons and epaulets. Hoard greets each new visitor personally, is willing to have his picture taken, and is the repository for each nugget of information about the old ship.
A visit to the Queen Mary without meeting Commodore Hoard would be like going to Disneyland and not meeting Mickey Mouse.
Now, this old boat does need constant updating to reach ADA standards. That it has historical significance does not excuse its barriers to full family entertainment. There are not enough elevators and compliant bathrooms, and the floors are uneven and the thresholds are treacherous.
Hoard assured this reporter, that the real changes are coming soon. Anyone who needs special assistance should contact Hoard directly before boarding.
The good news is that The Queen Mary will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of its first cross-Atlantic sailing, in 1936, during the fourth weekend in May. As with the Scottish Highlands Games held last February, and the just completed FantaSea Magic Show held this April, the gala celebration will be a full-weekend event, with ongoings all over the ship. Plus, the celebration will coincide with the Memorial Day Weekend events, which include free admission for Veterans and reduced admission for family members.
Unlike the other Southern California ship attractions, such as San Diego’s USS Midway, a former Navy aircraft carrier and the Port of Los Angeles’ USS Iowa, a famous Navy battleship, the Long Beach-based Queen Mary is a floating hotel, with reasonably-priced staterooms, kept in the same condition as the days of yore.
“These days, with the computer-booking sites, people might just rent a room, sight unseen, and then find out, to their delight, that they are staying in a deluxe room, with lots of extra space, on board a vintage ocean liner,” Hoard said.
There is so much to do on board that visitors should plan for a full day. The Queen Mary is open 365 days a year, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. History buffs will like the recorded oral histories of the War Brides. Children will enjoy the ship models made with 100 percent Lego bricks.
There is genuine camaraderie among the visitors, local and international, and no one says Welcome On Board as well as its effervescent, all-purpose, friendly, resourceful holder of the keys, Commodore Everette Hoard.
Hoard talks to the ship as if it were his mistress. Sometimes he coos, and sometimes he is stern. And the Old Girl talks back to him, too. There are rumors of ghosts and goblins on board. While he has never been at the helm, he knows his ship well, from port to stern, deck to deck, feature to feature, and he is really the best face of understanding to the ship’s admiring public.
There is a complete wedding chapel on board. Caterers and wedding planners put together a comprehensive wedding package, complete with overnight rooms reserved for the guests, so no one has to drive back home immediately after the ceremony, and can linger and enjoy the attraction as long as they like.
The Queen Mary is a versatile venue, which pays homage to both the United States and the United Kingdom, having served both countries well. Veteran memorial services can also be scheduled.
All floating museums, whatever their reason for being, have to be updated and brought into the 21st Century if these rusting relics are to thrive and to survive. Adding a 4-D movie theater, with comfortable seats, located at the street level, is what the Queen Mary has done. Watching the presentation with 3-D glasses was fun, but when the porpoise jumped out of the screen and the viewers got splashed with real water, that was an exciting experience. The bubbles floating through the air added to the magical moments.
What does the future hold for the Queen Mary, which is situated near an empty locker that used to house Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose Airplane, and has a real submarine for viewing next to it? And will Commodore Hoard still be on board, greeting guests, wearing his white uniform, (and sometimes, on more formal occasions, it is a black uniform), providing interesting historical tidbits?
“I am not planning on retiring anytime soon,” asserted Hoard, who has represented his ship’s owners in New York City several times this past year. “I enjoy coming to work every day, and I put in long hours. The Queen Mary is my life.”
What a wonderful life that must be.