April 19, 2013

Queen Mary graces Long Beach harbor

Posted in Between Us column, Dining, Travel at 6:40 pm by dinaheng

My sister Linda and I fell in love with London a few years ago, so on a weekend trip to Long Beach, we had to make a stop at the Queen Mary.

One of the biggest attractions in Long Beach, this historic vessel was considered the grandest ocean liner ever built when it launched in 1936. During World War II, she was pressed into service and became known as “The Grey Ghost,” carrying more than 800,000 troops through dangerous battles. In her retirement, she was purchased by the City of Long Beach, and is now a hotel and tourist destination.Dinah Eng

The ship offers numerous tours and exhibits pegged to its history during the war, and paranormal activities that have been reported aboard over the years. We took in two of the tours, “Ghosts & Legends,” a 35-minute walk with special effects that took us through the old boiler room, the hull and First Class swimming pool, and “Haunted Encounters,” an hour-long tour that explored more of the ship and gave an overview of the ghostly sightings that have been reported.

While “Ghosts & Legends” was entertaining, the special effects seemed rather cheesy, and the narrator couldn’t have been more bored, telling stories he’s no doubt told thousands of times over the years. Being able to walk through areas of the ship that once hummed with life on the “Haunted Encounters” tour, without the artificial theatrics, was much more satisfyng. History, after all, has a way of speaking for itself.

Queen Mary in Long Beach - Photo courtesy of the Queen Mary

Queen Mary in Long Beach – Photo courtesy of the Queen Mary

The highlight of our visit to the ship was seeing the exhibit on “Diana: Legacy of a Princess.”  The collection of dresses, photographs, hand-written letters and other memorabilia associated with Princess Diana and the Royal Family gave me a greater appreciation of the woman the world loved; sadly, more than the man she married loved her.

As a banner quoting her said, “I think the biggest disease the world suffers from is the disease of people feeling unloved. I know that I can give love for a minute, for half an hour, for a day, for a month, but I can give. I am very happy to do that… I want to do that.” If only everyone felt that way.

A deck of gift shops offers plenty for browsers and shoppers to enjoy. We couldn’t resist getting a sweet teddy bear t-shirt for one of our nephews, and knowing that I love stuffed animals, Linda bought me a Queen Mary Captain Teddy Bear.

Diana: Legacy of a Princess exhibit - Photo courtesy of the Queen Mary

Diana: Legacy of a Princess exhibit – Photo courtesy of the Queen Mary

For dinner that evening, we sampled the offerings at Chelsea Chowder House, a fish house that features what I call “safe food,” the kind of menu you can find at most conventional restaurants catering to tourists who may not have adventuresome tastebuds. With entreés ranging from Bass Ale Battered Fish and Chips ($21) to Surf & Turf ($40), there’s sure to be something that appeals.

Linda chose the Fried Seafood Platter ($29), shrimp, scallops, crab cakes with basil, lemon, tartar sauce, with French fries (which she substituted with Yukon mashed potatoes). I had the Black Board Market Fresh Fish ($28), which that evening was sea bass grilled with lemon butter sauce, rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables

As we waited for our meal, we enjoyed the lovely sunset out the window, while a manager explained that the restaurant was once part of the ship’s deck, converted to give nighttime diners a view of the harbor. It was easy to sit and imagine diners of the past enjoying their meals in the civilized luxury of the times.

Our dinner, unfortunately, was a disappointment. The food was inconsistent and tasted like something you’d expect at a casual restaurant like TGI Friday or Red Lobster. While Linda’s broccoli was nicely sautéed, the Yukon mashed potatoes were watery. My sea bass was in need of some seasoning, but filling. The bread, a warm French baguette from La Brea Bakery, saved the meal from being totally pedestrian.

The service was excellent, though, and as we walked off the ship, it almost felt like a cool London night.

For more information, check out www.queenmary.com.

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