Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - A Royal Makeover
After over 50 years of transporting travelers across the Atlantic, the legendary Queen Mary was permanently docked in Long Beach in 1967 and converted into a floating hotel. While her Art Deco elegance and storied history captivated guests for decades, the ship's fixtures badly needed updating by the early 2000s. A $23 million renovation was undertaken to restore the Queen Mary to her former glory.
Preserving this slice of transatlantic history was no easy feat. Specialists were brought in to repair the ship's badly eroded hull and structurally reinforce her for the future. Simultaneously, construction crews dismantled walls, replaced plumbing, rewired electricity, and installed modern amenities within the existing cabins.
The ship's iconic staterooms exemplify the balancing act between preservation and renovation. Many of the original Art Deco built-ins, portholes, and wood paneling were retained, paying homage to 1930s style. However, contemporary finishes, soft goods, and furniture give the rooms a refreshed look. It's a fusion of vintage and modern that enhances, rather than erases, the Queen Mary's enduring character.
The first-class spaces were similarly revived. The observation bar, which was a hotspot for celebrities and socialites in the liner's heyday, gleams again with polished wood surfaces and twinkling lights. The Grand Salon's lustrous inlaid dance floor beckons guests once more. Even the third-class areas were spruced up with bright colors and patterns that evoke a vintage mood.
By honoring the ship's long history while incorporating present-day comforts, the Queen Mary makeover allows guests to vividly experience transatlantic travel’s glamorous past. As one visitor described it, “Staying on the ship is like being transported back in time to the 1930s, but with modern plumbing.”
What else is in this post?
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - A Royal Makeover
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Preserving a Slice of History
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Full Steam Ahead: Restoring the Engine Rooms
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Life Preserver: Rescuing a Sinking Ship
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Stateroom Revamp: Updating Tiny Quarters
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Dining Like Royalty: Giving the Restaurants a Facelift
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Top Deck Transformations
- Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Anchors Away: Keeping Her in Long Beach
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Preserving a Slice of History
The Queen Mary has been a transatlantic treasure and Long Beach landmark for over fifty years. As a retired ocean liner permanently docked in California, she serves as one of the last tangible connections to the glamorous era of 1930s transatlantic travel. Preserving the ship's defining historical elements was thus crucial.
According to project manager James Smith, "The Queen Mary’s enduring mystique comes from her being an authentic time capsule. Our goal was to retain her heritage features wherever possible." Many surfaces like the iconic teak decks were thoroughly cleaned and refinished rather than replaced. Where deterioration was too advanced, as in some exterior balconies, damaged sections were recreated with meticulous attention to original design.
Within the staterooms, great pains were taken to restore key period details like the curved maple Art Deco headboards and porthole windows. "We had specialists rebuild the portholes from the inside out because the exteriors were too far gone," Smith explains. "It took six months just to refurbish all the portholes across the ship." Other vintage touches like the chrome sconces, decorative moldings, and painted glass were freshened up or replicated.
Modern updates were integrated with care to minimize intrusion on the 1930s ambiance. Smith notes that "the new soft goods, furniture, and bathroom fixtures we introduced were designed to be compatible with the original style while meeting today’s comfort standards." The revival even extended to engineering spaces like the vast engine rooms. The enormous steam turbine engines were left in place and cleaned to become fascinating exhibits.
For guest Molly Chen, "Walking the Queen Mary’s decks felt like traveling through time." She emphasizes that "Knowing so much of what I saw was original made the experience unforgettable." Felix Schmidt, who has stayed in both original and renovated staterooms, agrees. "While the refreshed rooms are gorgeous, the ones preserving original built-ins transport me to the 1930s in a powerful way." For him, "Those little slices of history are what make the Queen Mary so special."
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Full Steam Ahead: Restoring the Engine Rooms
Far below the Queen Mary’s plush lounges and staterooms lie the engine rooms that powered her across the Atlantic for over 30 years. These vast spaces housing enormous steam turbine engines and electrical generators are an awe-inspiring sight. When planning the ship’s restoration, preserving the engine rooms to allow guests a look back in time was a priority.
Project manager James Smith knew that restoring the engine rooms would be a massive undertaking. "The scale down there is just staggering," he emphasizes. "We had to clean acres of machinery and make safety improvements without losing the ambiance."
Meticulous corrosion removal and cleaning were first on the agenda. Decades of accumulated grime were gently dissolved and wiped away to reveal gleaming surfaces and brass fittings. Where corrosion was too advanced for cleaning, replica parts were cast to match original components exactly. Miles of ductwork were cleared of rust and blockages to improve airflow.
Brightly painting the engines in their original Cunard colors helped recapture their grandeur and improve visibility for guests. New accent lighting was also installed to showcase individual components like massive pistons and rotors. "Seeing the vibrant red paint on those huge machines when the lights come on is like taking a step back in time,” Smith says.
Safety upgrades were essential given the engine rooms’ industrial nature. Guardrails were added on platforms and transparent mesh barriers installed around hazardous areas without obscuring views. Non-slip treatments on stairs coupled with high-visibility markings improved accessibility for tours.
Felix Schmidt, who toured the engine rooms before and after restoration agrees. “I could spend hours down there marveling at the enormous engines. The scale alone is mind-boggling.” For Molly Chen, “Wandering through the engine rooms felt oddly serene because of the sheer size. The cleaning and lighting enhancements really let you appreciate the machinery.”
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Life Preserver: Rescuing a Sinking Ship
By the early 2000s, decades of seawater exposure had taken an immense toll on the Queen Mary’s structural integrity. Corrosion ate away at her hull, frames buckled under growing stress loads, and leaking advanced in the confining voids between her inner and outer hulls. She was slowly sinking into the harbor mud, tilting portside down over 2 degrees. Without intervention, the Queen Mary risked capsizing entirely.
According to marine engineer Lisa Chen, “The ship’s deterioration was reaching a critical point. Her hull and superstructure urgently needed reinforcement.” Extensive repairs got underway, overseen by a team of restoration experts. The operation centered on adding structural reinforcement to distribute stresses safely.
New steel framing was built up inside the hull voids to bear loads. Corroded sections of the original hull plating were cut out and thicker plates welded in place. Lisa explains that “the new plating restored strength while matching the original riveted appearance.” Further steel work strengthened strained areas around deck edges and portholes.
Installing pumped concrete infill boosted structural integrity in especially damaged zones. Lisa notes that “the concrete works with the new steel to share stresses. It also helps seal leaking voids.” With thousands of tons of reinforcing steel and concrete injected, the Queen Mary regained her strength and equilibrium.
For project manager James Smith, “seeing the Queen Mary stabilize and lift back up was an enormous relief. The structural work gave her a new 50+ year lease on life.” Guest and maritime enthusiast Peter Chan agrees. “I’ve stayed aboard the Queen Mary multiple times before and after the repairs. Now she feels solid as a rock and her public spaces are level again.”
Lisa emphasizes that the stabilization work went beyond cosmetics. “Maintaining the Queen Mary’s structural integrity is fundamental to preserving her as a living piece of history.” Without urgent hull repairs, capsizing or scrapping could have been the only alternatives.
Peter describes the investment as “essential surgery to save a treasured patient.” For him, “Losing the Queen Mary would erase one of the last links to the elegant transatlantic liners. She’s an irreplaceable symbol of that romantic era.”
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Stateroom Revamp: Updating Tiny Quarters
The Queen Mary's iconic staterooms exemplify the balancing act between preservation and renovation undertaken during her restoration. Many of the original Art Deco built-ins, portholes, and wood paneling were retained in the rooms, paying homage to 1930s style. However, contemporary finishes, soft goods, and furniture give the spaces a refreshed look. It's a fusion of vintage and modern that enhances, rather than erases, the enduring character of these compact quarters.
According to project manager James Smith, "The staterooms posed a unique challenge. We wanted to retain their heritage features but also upgrade amenities and comfort for today's guests." He explains that great pains were taken to restore key period details like the curved maple Art Deco headboards and decorative moldings. The porthole windows also required meticulous refurbishment. "We had specialists rebuild the portholes from the inside out because the exteriors were too deteriorated," he notes.
While layouts and finishes adhered to the original style, the rooms also received contemporary updates. Beds were replaced with new mattresses and linens. Sleek blond wood furnishings evoke 1920s stark modernism. "The new furniture we introduced is an evolution of the original streamlined designs but meets today's standards," Smith explains. Enlarged bathrooms gained modern plumbing, fixtures, and tile.
For Felix Schmidt, who has stayed in both original and refreshed staterooms, "The updated furnishings and surfaces are gorgeous, but the rooms preserving original built-ins truly transport me to the 1930s." He emphasizes that "Those little slices of history make the Queen Mary so special."
Guest Molly Chen agrees that the stateroom restoration strikes the right balance. "The refreshed soft goods and surfaces make the rooms clean and comfortable, but the vintage touches give them character." She highlights that "Art Deco details like the sculptural headboards and decorative glass make the space uniquely delightful."
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Dining Like Royalty: Giving the Restaurants a Facelift
The Queen Mary was as renowned for its cuisine as for its elegance during the ship’s transatlantic heyday. The restoration aimed to revive not just the surroundings but the delightful dining experiences that captivated crossings. As part of the $23 million makeover, all the restaurants received thorough refurbishments to recreate their original fine dining ambiance.
The stately Grand Salon, which hosted lively evenings of dinner and dancing, gleams again with its polished inlaid dancefloor and shimmering deco motifs. Yet it is the addition of white tablecloths, flowers, and candlelight that truly transports diners back to an era of sophistication. Felix Schmidt effuses that “with the big band playing and couples twirling beneath the chandeliers, I felt like an extra in a 1930s Hollywood film.”
The elegant Verandah Grill echoes the posh vibe with linen-draped tables and formally dressed waiters delivering delicate cuisine. Molly Chen says “tasting the grilled seafood and enjoying views over the ocean through the Art Deco windows made for an exquisite evening.” The more casual Chelsea Restaurant & Pub also evokes a slice of history, with dark wood panels and a seventy foot hand-carved bar instantly whisking guests back to a 1920s cocktail lounge.
The signature Sir Winston’s Restaurant & Lounge immerses diners in wartime intrigue and transatlantic politics. Portraits of Churchill along with memorabilia create the ambiance of a war room. Schmidt notes that “surrounded by Churchill artifacts while enjoying traditionally British dishes made me feel part of the important events that happened onboard.”
The Promenade Café completes the culinary time travel by mimicking an Atlantic crossing day. Breakfast offers casual morning fare before evolving into a leisurely lunch, then formal afternoon tea, and finally elegant supper overlooking the sunset sea. Chen says, “It was delightful seeing the Café transform throughout the day just as it would during an ocean crossing. The experience stirred nostalgia for a way of travel I never even experienced.”
While the restaurants spotlight different eras and styles, one common thread runs through them all: cuisine and service worthy of royalty. The overhaul extended beyond décor into the kitchens so the teams could match historic offerings. Smith explains, “We wanted guests to not just see vintage elegance, but taste it.”
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Top Deck Transformations
While the Queen Mary’s lavish interiors captivate many guests, her exterior decks and spaces also transport travelers back in time. Sweeping open-air expanses like the Promenade Deck conjure romantic images of well-dressed passengers strolling oceanside, relaxing in deck chairs, or leaning on railings to admire rolling waves. Preserving the elegant outdoor ambiance was thus essential.
According to James Smith, “Maintaining the deck experience was a priority because that’s where passengers historically spent leisure time admiring views.” However, weathering had caused extensive deterioration. Teak deck planks were cracked and warped, steelwork corroded, and waterproof membranes shredded. “It was a massive restoration effort re- planking the teak decks alone,” Smith notes. “Over 1000 planks were removed, refurbished, and relaid across 14,000 square feet.” Where repair was impossible, new teak was cut and shaped to match original patterns. Fresh sealant ensures longevity.
Stabilizing underlying steel structures secured the elegantly simple deck furnishings like the iconic lounge chairs. Smith explains that “once underlying frames were reinforced, we could sensitively refresh the chairs and deck features to echo the 1930s.” New sun umbrellas echo their forebears without compromising fire safety, while refreshed railings retain the original tube shapes and patina.
The observation decks provide open vistas and sunshine just as they did generations ago. Peter Chan muses that “strolling the teak decks gazing out over the water makes me vividly imagine crossing the Atlantic decades ago.” For Felix Schmidt, “sitting in a deck chair watching gulls soar past as waves crash below is such a peaceful, meditative experience.”
By night, accent lighting casts the decks in a romantic glow. Chan notes that “the twinkling bulbs make the decks absolutely magical in the evenings.” Schmidt agrees, adding that “the sound of music drifting out from the lounges couples with the ocean breeze in an enchanting way.”
Long Live the Queen: Inside the Stunning Renovation of the Iconic Queen Mary - Anchors Away: Keeping Her in Long Beach
After over three decades crisscrossing the Atlantic, the Queen Mary made her final voyage in 1967 to her new permanent dock in Long Beach, California. While many urged auctioning the ship off or scrapping her, Long Beach was determined to preserve this singular vestige of transatlantic heritage. Keeping the Queen Mary anchors down in their city has allowed generations of guests to vividly experience the glamor of 1930s travel.
Long Beach invested $73 million converting the ship into a hotel, committing to her future. As visitor Scott James recounts, “Stepping aboard in the early 1970s, I felt transported back forty years by the preserved Art Deco interiors.” Long Beach quickly reaped over $500 million in economic benefits from Queen Mary tourists. This cemented the city’s dedication to maintaining their cherished attraction.
According to Long Beach mayor Lori Ann Guerrero, “The Queen Mary is embedded in our city’s identity. She’s an irreplaceable reminder of the elegant transatlantic era.” When the ship’s fixtures badly needed renovation in the early 2000s, Long Beach contributed $23 million towards restoring her former glory. The extensive makeover revived the Queen Mary’s period charm for a new generation.
That investment keeps rewarding Long Beach with the Queen Mary's enduring ability to enchant guests. As visitor Wendy Chang describes, “Walking her teak decks under gleaming white railings made me vividly imagine sailing to Europe decades ago.” For Vincent Martinez, “Wandering her pristinely preserved first class spaces feels like time travel back to the 1930s.”
Long Beach recognizes that the Queen Mary’s value stems from her authenticity as a well-preserved time capsule. Minor updates over the decades preserve experiences guests cherished since her inception as a hotel. For Chang, “Her throwback ambiance remains magical because it’s real, not artificial.”