On June 1, the Cairo Caravan, one of the oldest and largest belly dance conventions in the country, will shimmy onto the Queen Mary. What other types of events has the art deco icon hosted? Chris Nichols recounts his most memorable experiences onboard the ship
I like spooky, atmospheric places and love sneaking into closed-off areas, but I was not prepared for the fear factor that comes from being plunged into the bowels of the Queen Mary on the one-way elevator of doom. We all know how beautiful the original suites are, with their wraparound woodwork and art deco details, but when the ship dropped anchor in Long Beach to become a hotel, a cluster of rooms was carved out of mechanical space below deck. These are not the rooms you want to stay in. The dark and claustrophobic quarters make a Super 8 seem glamorous. Even worse was finding my way back to these windowless wonders after an evening stroll. That is when I met the haunted elevator that self-selected ever-worsening destinations deeper and deeper below the water line. Should I select the darkened hall of steam or the red-lit corridor of doom? I eventually disembarked and stumbled through the ghostly darkness until a staircase brought me back up into the light of the promenade.
The all-star disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure was inspired by a real-life incident onboard the Queen Mary. Novelist Paul Gallico was in the dining room during an Atlantic crossing in 1937 when a giant wave nearly knocked over the ship and inspired the book, which inspired the movie. The first time I saw the film in its entirety was in the first-class main lounge, now known as the Queen’s Salon. Alamo Drafthouse, a Texas theater outfit, was staging a nationwide “Rolling Roadshow” series, presenting classic movies in their original filming locations. Key scenes of Poseidon were shot in Long Beach, with replicas and models standing in for the rest. Actresses Stella Stevens and Pamela Sue Martin were on hand for the event, which I seem to remember included a sing-along of the movie’s theme song, Maureen McGovern’s The Morning After—although I may have made that decision myself. To the disappointment of some, the ship stayed upright through the screening.
Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my (ample) stomach. Too much is never enough, and one summer evening after throwing a party that included a barrel of grog, a sea shanty band, cannon fire aboard a tall ship, and a live parrot show, I stiffed a couple of pirates. I admit it, it was shameful and awful, but I had been spending money like a, well, drunken pirate, and it was my only way out. When it came time to pay the last two members of the pirate crew, I found my bag all out of booty, so I quietly slipped out of Rainbow Harbor and hightailed it to the Queen Mary, a safe place to hide and ponder my next move. They had my number, and I figured I’d send them a check. An hour into further libations at the Observation Bar, I felt the velveteen rickrack of a privateer at my shoulder and secured a quick loan from a friend before I was forced to walk the plank. I still throw a big party every summer but no longer allow costumes that include swords.
Photograph courtesy queenmary.com