Getaway for a Queen Mary stay with beaches, canals, culture, vintage shops, and ethnic food in Long Beach, one of the coolest corners of LA.
By Maryann Jones Thompson
We dropped our bags and plopped onto our beds. I marveled at each of the 1930s details that still filled our Queen Mary cabin. My teenage daughter scrambled to open the porthole curtains, settled down on the bed, cuddled up with her iPhone, and gasped.
“Uh, mom, I don’t know if we can stay here. My friends say this boat is haunted!”
One Snapchat from the deck of the Queen Mary had brought a barrage of urgent warnings about ghosts and hauntings. Our mom-daughter getaway to Long Beach’s famous floating hotel immediately became much more interesting – and we were both about to earn some street cred for being brave enough to last through the night.
The Queen Mary has been docked for decades at the Port of Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles. Commissioned in the 1930s, the ocean liner began service in 1936 and made a living moving the jet set between continents in the utmost luxury.
But WWII pulled it into military service as a troop ship. And by the time the dust settled, so had the passenger ship industry. The legendary liner was in need of a home and Long Beach obliged in 1967. The management and ownership have had a turbulent few decades, leaving the boat as a reasonably run-down, over-water hotel – but one I’d wanted to stay at since I was a kid.
Once on board, it became obvious why there are so many ghost stories. Empty corridors stretch into the horizon. Lonely decks ring the ship. Gutted and rusty engine rooms fill its belly. And decades of celebrities have come aboard, from the Duke of Edinburgh to Audrey Hepburn.
If you search for “haunted Queen Mary” or “overnight in B340,” you’ll get reports from dozens of YouTubers who’ve braved the ship. Time Magazine says the boat is one of the most haunted places on earth. And TV shows Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted agree. (But if you ask the staff on board, they’ll tell you that none of it is really true.)
God bless the capitalists at the Queen Mary. They now rent out Stateroom B340 for $499 per night (including Ouija board). They’ve turned the rumors into a highly popular Halloween season “haunted boat” – Dark Harbor – and a “ghost stories” tour that tourists pay hard cash for all year round. They even open some of the engine rooms and let them become “decayed” for a scarier effect.
My daughter and I were most scared by the long line to check in – and then by the “resort fee” of $15 each. But the front desk clerk assured me that for that extra cash, we could receive “unlimited faxes.” Horrifying.
Of all the tours, we enjoyed the Steam & Steel Tour the most. The Queen Mary was not just a luxury liner, it was fast: The boat held many speed records. The wonders of the engineers of its day completely boggle the mind.
After the boat was permanently docked in Long Beach, a room was built on its side to showcase its incredible propellers. Now they are covered in coins tossed by tourists.
The guides and staff aboard the boat are Queen Mary aficionados. Many are theater students from nearby Cal State Long Beach and their training shows. The enthusiasm for many of the guides and waitstaff is infectious.
But the Queen Mary does a great job of festive and fun holiday décor and shows. And it is so inexpensive to stay there – rooms in early January ran about $120 for a city view cabin, that I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even the food in the dining room was good and not too expensive. The murals and decor in the foreward bar rivals that of Rockefeller Center.
Fans of Art Deco style will go wild on board. The details will make you overlook the threadbare carpet and aging paint.
Disembarking for the day in Long Beach, we headed first to check out the canals of Naples, a darling beachside community south of Belmont Shore. You can even rent a gondola, if you like.
Parents with young children flock to Mother’s Beach, a park and patch of sand on Alamitos Bay.
For a longer beach day, the Seal Beach Pier or Sunset Beach (free parking if you get there early!) are a better way to go. Bolsa Chica is the next beach south, and another spot to aim for on busy beach days – you can actually still have campfires in fire rings there – again, if you get there early enough to snag one. (You can get RV reservations at Bolsa Chica, too.)
If you happen to be near Sunset after 4pm, make a point to eat King Crab legs at Captain Jack’s, a local institution and a meal that’ll leave you full for 36 hours.
One our favorite streets to stroll in Southern California is 4th Street “Retro Row” in Long Beach. They’ve got classic second-hand and vintage spots to shop – a la what Melrose used to be like in Hollywood. These shops aren’t cheap but they’ve got cool stuff and great variety.
4th Street also has a bunch of great food, an arthouse theater and some classic bars to check out (sans kids, of course.) My daughter was most excited by the roller skate shop.
Long Beach makes for a great base for travelers visiting both LA and Orange Counties. The Long Beach Airport is perfectly small and lovely – like Burbank Airport – easy to get in and out, and just 15 minutes from the Queen Mary.
Both spots are the jumping off point for Catalina Island adventures. We stayed a week but even if you’ve only got a day, Catalina is worth the day trip.
Back aboard the Queen Mary, any fear of ghosts was overpowered by tired feet and full bellies. I was out like a light. When my daughter awoke the next morning, I asked how she slept.
Maryann Jones Thompson – October 2019
After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist, ghostwriter, content strategist and market researcher, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved
Finding best family photos from travel's worst year
Developing next-generation leaders through study of African heritage
From N’Orleans to Memphis and from Atlanta to Birmingham, a must-do journey
Crane’s Beach House is the perfect antidote the winter blahs
Reminders of why we explore—and what that means for future travel
Climb up, stroll down or just enjoy the views
All the masterpieces, views and deliciousness - none of the crowds
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Grab your sweetheart for a getaway - or plan one!
No Pier 39, Union Square or Crooked Street from this local mom.
Native daughters dish on Covid-safe beaches, scenes & dishes
Ski, board, or just play in the powder? We've got your mountain.
Must-have resources for planning Covid-safe vacations
Oh, the places you can REALLY go - without quarantines, vaccinations or worries
Follow these rules and find Aloha
Deciding to go is simple. Picking an island is difficult. We can help.
Dunes, beaches, islands, swims and sunsets around a great Great Lake
The best spots to stay & play - from Na Pali to Poipu
An incredibly array of paddling around the peninsula
A Lesser Antilles isle with less tourists & more action