Ship Happens: Taking Kids To Visit the Queen Mary in Long Beach
Half a century ago on Halloween, the ocean liner Queen Mary made her last luxurious journey across the Atlantic, then set off the long way around to the Pacific (she was too wide for the Panama Canal) and docked in her permanent resting place at the port in Long Beach, California. There she has sat ever since, alternately charming and frightening visitors year-round, a key shape in the Long Beach skyline. She looks pretty, but is there a reason to bring your family on board the Queen Mary for a visit? Is there enough to entertain kids? We spent an afternoon on board so that we could know what we're talking about when we say absolutely, yes.
For starters, unless you've sprung for a Disney cruise, chances are your kids have never had the experience of standing on the deck of an enormous ocean liner. The scale alone is awe-inspiring. But even if your family has played shuffleboard with Cinderella on the high seas, there is much to the experience of this boat that cannot be found elsewhere. The Queen Mary is a window into a decadent age gone by.
Yes, this is all LEGOS, from stem to stern.
If your kids are old enough to know about The Titanic, it doesn't take much imagination to recognize the similarities between the two ships, with their old world splendor and immense scale. In fact, a model ship exhibit on the Promenade deck shows comparative sizes between a number of famous ocean liners: Titanic, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth (both), Lucitania, and others. The scale is truly awesome, and gets an extra kid filter with the recent arrival of a scale model made entirely from LEGOs. Kids inspired by the display can set to work on their own version at the Brick Shipyard (LEGO play area) around the corner from the models.
Wandering the decks themselves, peeking into rooms from cabins to ballrooms, and standing at the bridge seeing what the captain saw—all of these are ingredients for some fine imaginative play (and inspired selfies). My crew had a grand time pretending to run the ship, posing like Kate Winslet at the rails, and pretending to be locked up as stowaways.
Speaking of stowaways, one display provides the history of everyone who ever stowed away on the Queen Mary and what became of them. Walking through the rooms where some of them were locked up for the remainder of their crossing is downright eery, even on a sunny day.
One treat we discovered is that on some days, amateur HAM radio operators set up in the ship's radio room and offer a history lesson on how the ship's radio used to function. The volunteers are a wealth of information and finish up by teaching kids to tap out their own names in Morse code on the ship's transmitter. Every kid takes home a page with the Morse code alphabet.
In addition to all of the nautical treats of a vintage ocean liner, the Queen Mary is also a hotel and a floating museum. Fans of art deco bliss out admiring every little detail of what one crew member told me is the largest art deco collection in the world. The ship houses a permanent display (priced separately) honoring the late Princess of Wales; Diana: Legacy of a Princess showcases enough real princess dresses and jewels to strike your average Disney princess speechless.
Seasonal treats at the Queen Mary are fairly well known throughout the Southland; the ship's surrounding area is home to the holiday ice display CHILL in the winter, and the Halloween event Dark Harbor has been luring older kids on board (and sending them off screaming into the night) for years. But on an average, sunny, Southern California day, the real treat of the Queen Mary is leaning against the rail and feeling like you're king of the world.
Tickets to tour the Queen Mary start at $14 for kids and $25 for adults.