A good friend of mine suggested that we get a group of females together to visit the Princess Diana exhibit at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. What a lovely idea – the inspiration of Di and her feminine strength shared amongst strong females. Not only that, celebrating a British princess on a British ship offering a British high tea – I smelled a good travel article.
I have been on the Queen Mary many times. It’s history intrigues me. First sailing in 1936, this Art Deco vessel has had many lives. As a high end ocean liner, the RMS Queen Mary took royals, celebrities, and wealthy travelers across the pond in style. German silver handrails, ornate glass panels, and beautiful Deco artwork can be seen throughout the ship. Art Deco design – as a form of both art and architecture – is extravagant. This is quite fitting for a floating city meant for royalty. When World War II unfolded, however, the ship went from glitzy travel to serious transportation. The QM was painted grey, giving her the nickname “The Grey Ghost”, and she carried thousands of soldiers for the fight. Bunks filled the first class swimming pool and were stacked on the observation deck. After the war, she became a vacation vessel again, but with various renovations. Bringing her into the ’50s and ’60s, QM got a mod twist on her vintage design with changes in flooring and decor.
Back to present day, this ship is a cool place to visit and there are a variety of activities available to you on board. Speaking of which, I was really excited to see the Diana exhibit. Much like the previous renovations noted, a portion of sun deck was remodeled to accommodate this special event. When we first entered the museum-like space, I was a little confused. The exhibit begins with King George V. Wait. Where’s our beloved princess? Surprisingly, the exhibit provides you with a full history from George V to our current royals with, of course, an emphasis on Di. Pay close attention to the large family tree near the exhibit entrance. The Queen Mary is actually named after George V’s wife, so this is an appropriate start to the royal story. Rumor has it that the ship was to be named the Queen Victoria, after George V’s mother. Yet, when asked if the ship can be named after the greatest Queen of England, King George said his wife, Mary, would be delighted. George V’s son, Edward, famously traveled the Queen Mary with his American wife, Wallace, and their prize pugs. From that point, the story unfolds with both scandal and splendor as we weather the seas that bring us to Diana’s day. Don’t worry, the exhibit still focuses primarily on our favorite princess but educates you a bit along the way.
The story of Diana is beautiful, inspiring, and somber. I didn’t realize she was only nineteen when she married Charles. I recall being quite the idiot at nineteen. The very idea of becoming a wife at that age while also taking on a very public royal position, sounds frightening. Throughout this exhibit, you will see Diana not only carry her burden well, but you will see her love big and laugh loud. She evolves into a dedicated mother and becomes an advocate for charities around the globe. The marriage fails miserably and about a year later, we lose her. Her journey ended but the spirit of who she was remains intact – in this exhibit, in her children, and in the wonderful charities she highlighted.
The exhibit illustrates Diana’s life – and the royal lineage – through photos, handwritten letters, newspaper clippings, dishes, clothing (dresses!), videos, and a variety of other artifacts. I went from being merely educated about this family to really feeling an investment in who Diana was and how she came to be. Very moving.
After walking – and sometimes weeping – through the exhibit, the ladies and I dined at the Tea Room down the hall. This beautifully renovated space is at the front of the boat and boasts fantastic views of the Long Beach harbor. The inspiration of the British monarchy continued with gourmet sandwiches, salads, teas, and cookies. There were even ladies dining with fascinators, clearly enjoying the British theme. This is probably a good time to fess up. I went to the gift shop before even starting the tour and in a fit of fancy, bought my own tiara. Along with two other gals in our group. Yes, we were sober. And we wore them. All day.
Following tea, we took a leisurely walk around the Promenade deck, one level below the exhibit space. I highly recommend walking the perimeter of this oceanliner, checking out the shops, and visiting the regular exhibits on board. If you don’t have time for any formal tours, peak your head into the various ballrooms. On the weekends, they are usually decorated for weddings but you can catch a glimpse of their grandeur. If you plan to grab dinner, Sir Winston’s is wonderful. This fine dining experience is on Sun Deck towards the back of the ship. For drinks, check out The Observation Bar at the front of the vessel, Promenade Deck. Sometimes there is live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Lastly, the Queen Mary is also a hotel. I have stayed on board a couple of times and shared a suite with friends. I can’t vouch for the other smaller rooms, but the suites are lovely and have been updated nicely. One of the night’s we stayed was New Year’s Eve a few years back. This ship knows how to party. Each ballroom boasts a different band with a different type of music. I was completely impressed by the variety and the outrageously fun vibe on board. Most people were dressed to the nines and we danced in every venue. It was one of my favorite New Year’s.
Suffice it to say, the Queen Mary is a destination unto itself. Enjoy it’s history, it’s beautiful Art Deco past, and for the next few months, enjoy the Princess Diana exhibit. And if all of that doesn’t catch your attention, the boat is supposedly haunted. Is that really true? Well, let’s just say I have a few stories that might give you pause. But then again, this vessel has been around for over 70 years. It would be a waste if those bulkheads didn’t hold in a lot of great stories.
The Princess Diana exhibit will be around until Summer of 2013. Tickets are $35 for adults, group rates are also available. If you just want to check out the ship, it is $15 to get on board. Hold on to your ticket because it becomes a coupon on board, putting $15 towards purchases and meals. Go to www.queenmary.com for more information.
Special thanks to Lori Yamasaka for coordinating our tour group. Thank you to the fun ladies who were in our tour group. It was a great day, mostly because we were with a great goup. And finally, a big thank you to my two traveling gal pals – April Gonzalez and Jessica Knott. This is just another great day in the many adventures we’ve had and will continue to have.