If it hadn't been for a kingly blunder, the stately RMS Queen Mary would have been named RMS Queen Victoria.
That had been the intention of Sir Percy Gates, chairman of the Cunard Line, whose ships' names had always ended in the vowels ia.
When Sir Percy mentioned to King George V that he would like to name Cunard's "Project 534" after England's greatest Queen, the king replied: "My wife would be delighted." It then became a question of . . . noblesse oblige.
The 81,000-ton ship sailed long and proudly as a floating resort, was purchased by the City of Long Beach in 1967, and continues to serve in retirement as a hotel and Long Beach Harbor's main attraction, along with Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose and Londontowne, under the management since 1980 of the Wrather Port Properties. The former ocean liner is visited an average of 2.5 million people each year.
During a recent stay aboard, Capt. John Gregory, who lends both his British accent and his wit to ship's functions, in addition to officiating at more than 500 marriage ceremonies each year, had some fascinating facts to share about the formidable 16-deck ship.
"The ship has 10 miles of teak decking, three acres of open deck space, it is 1,119 feet long, it has 2,000 portholes and 10 million rivets," the captain said, adding that the ship was launched in 1934, but only embarked on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on Sept. 26, 1936.
The sumptuous interior of the Queen Mary includes the 9,000-square-foot Grand Salon and the 5,600-square-foot Queen's salon, both furnished with priceless original art of the Art Deco period, and first-class cabins paneled in matched zebrano burl wood with their original bath fixtures that include a choice of fresh or saltwater taps.
The mirrors are tinted pink to enhance the complexion of those who felt seasick, and miniaturized furniture is designed to give the illusion of larger quarters. And there are two friendly ghosts aboard, so they say, the favorite being the Lady in Green who drowned in the first-class swimming pool.
Pets are forbidden aboard, today's visitors to the Queen Mary are told. With one exception: a saucy pooch named Happy, the captain's inseparable companion for the past 10 years. "A spoiled cockapoo and very happy," he chuckles.