Why California will keep RMS Queen Mary afloat regardless of cost

Don’t let the constantly changing reopen date for RMS Queen Mary fool you. She’s now in good hands, and the City of Long Beach won’t be letting her go – regardless of cost.

Although the world’s press has repeatedly cast doubt on the future of California’s RMS Queen Mary, those enlightened to the real situation have known otherwise.

And their worry-free manta has now been justified, with the Long Beach City Council recently granting a further $1 million to pay for ongoing repairs on the ageing tourist attraction. That’s on top of an already-suggested $289 million.

Once the Empress of the Atlantic, Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary made 1,001 successful crossings from Great Britain to New York. Built upon the proud Clydebanks of Glasgow and launched in 1934, the cruise liner quickly became Britain’s darling of the seas – changing the fate of history during both peacetime and war.

Winston Churchill claimed that her svelte ocean-going troop-carrying helped shorten WWII by a full year.

However, by 1967, the world had moved on. Air travel and science fiction firmly took precedence over ships and the romanticism of cruise liners.

Nearly all of the golden era’s iconic ships were sent to various breaker yards for an ignoble end, but RMS Queen Mary was given a reprieve.

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RMS Queen Mary: California's crown jewel

Throughout the prolonged bidding process to acquire RMS Queen Mary, it initially seemed that the ship was destined for a Japanese scrap dealer. Until the Californian city of Long Beach made an offer of $3.45m/£1.2m (roughly £17.1 million by today’s standards) to acquire the great liner.

Permanently docked in Long Beach, the RMS Queen Mary has been owned by the city for over fifty years and has subsequently served as a hotel, event venue, museum, restaurant and office space. Yet, the ship is currently far more than that.

The art-deco cruise liner has woven itself into California’s DNA. RMS Queen Mary has been an ever-present beacon of hope and success, a symbol of wealth, and an inherent figure of the Long Beach skyline. A well-known paranormal attraction, ghost hunters from across the globe descend to study the ship.

Each sunrise celebrates her existence, and residents of Long Beach have come to embed her well-being into their consciousness.

It’s this passion for the ship that has caused grievance with the manner of her recent treatment, and stimulated rumours of her impending demise.

The RMS Queen Mary's first-class entrance is world renowned (Image source: Shutterstock).

Shocking deterioration and taking back control

RMS Queen Mary was swiftly closed to the public in 2020, due largely to the pandemic, and subsequently fell into disrepair. Since then, various rounds of inspection of the ship’s condition have been undertaken, generating stark warnings that the 85-year-old vessel would sink or capsize without urgent assistance.

Leased out to various third parties over the decades, Long Beach only took back control of the RMS Queen Mary from the ship’s operating company in June 2021, amid concerns that proper maintenance had not been carried out.

“For the first time in decades, Long Beach has full control of the Queen Mary. We will be fully engaged in the preservation of this historic landmark and are incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The former ocean liner proved to be a challenge for operators as time’s onward march caused deterioration and age-related woes. A total of $289 million was suggested for renovations and upgrades in a study published in 2017. And that figure was just to prevent the ship from flooding, let alone upgrade the amenities.

When documents and inspection reports were published in 2021, the public became alerted to a need for $23 million for immediate repairs, or else face the consequences of years of neglect from the company that held the lease to operate the ship.

RMS Queen Mary remains a familiar sight for tourists and residents of Long Beach Credit: Shutterstock).

Why RMS Queen Mary is here to stay

The leasing company filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2021, agreeing to surrender the lease agreement amid accusations of default on several provisions – including the maintenance of RMS Queen Mary. She was in a bad way and still remains in critical condition.

That being said, RMS Queen Mary is unlikely to leave Long Beach anytime soon. While estimated repairs could bring tears to a glass eye, the ship earns the county somewhere in the region of $205 million every year. Long Beach earns $3.3 million per year in tax revenue from RMS Queen Mary alone.

Then there’s the economics of employment, with 1500 people directly or indirectly involved with the ship itself.

As a tourist attraction, the ship is second-to-none, and the image of failure in upkeeping one of California’s biggest attractions would not sit well with Long Beach officials. Nobody wants to be the party responsible for the demise of an inherited icon.

The lifeboats have now been removed from the ship to prevent further stress to the frame (Image source: Shutterstock).

For those reasons, the city certainly doesn’t want to part with Cunard’s opulent vessel. They need the ship to continue generating income and providing employment.

Getting rid of the RMS Queen Mary, or even letting her fall into disrepair to save on initial investments, would cut into the anticipated annual revenues, and prove economically irresponsible.

Renovation work kicked off early in 2022, with $5 million splurged on crucial repairs. Sadly, this involved removing the renowned lifeboats which had deteriorated to the point they affected the ship’s support system.

The severe cracks in the davits put unwarranted pressure on the frame, but the lifeboats haven’t been disposed of. What exactly will happen to them is yet to be announced.

A further $2.8 million was then spent on upgrading the plumbing, restoring the handrails, installing energy-efficient lighting and WiFi, and working on the ship’s boilers and heat exchangers.

RMS Queen Mary was slated to reopen during December 2022, but that has changed to Spring 2023. (Image source: Shutterstock).

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RMS Queen Mary: Opening in late-2022

Another injection of $1 million was unanimously approved on Tuesday, 1 November, 2022, to repair the flooring, door locks, carpets, elevators, refrigerators, and kitchen equipment.

Further confirmation that Long Beach remains dedicated to RMS Queen Mary can be found in their explanation of the funding for renovations. The city claims the hair-raising cost will be offset by the revenue previously generated from special events and activities – such as interior filming for Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour (2001), and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004).

The RMS Queen Mary was expected to partially reopen in early October 2022, and when this was changed, the media pounced on more speculations that it merited the end of efforts to save the ship; it was apparently all over.

Yet, with a freshly scheduled reopen date for the end of 2022, it seems that the naysayers have been silenced. The RMS Queen Mary is here to stay, and long may she reign.

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About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.