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Some Statements Don't Hold Water

March 24, 1991

Like David Rubin and Eric Sauder, I too am appalled at the destruction and deterioration that has taken place aboard the Queen Mary since the Walt Disney Co. took over the lease for the operation of the ship (Times, March 14). Almost as disturbing are the statements made to The Times by Bill Winberg, the ship's "historian."

The cabins that Mr. Winberg (and Disney's advertising) claims to have been restored as nearly as possible to the original quite simply have not been. Refurbished, yes. Restored, no. In fact, about the only original fittings still left in these Disneyfied rooms are the paneling and, in some cases, dressing tables and wardrobes. (Many of the latter, however, have been cut into or destroyed altogether to make room for oversize beds.) Otherwise, Disney touches predominate, from the ugly, vaguely Art Deco pottery vases glued in place to depressing, dark faux marble-covered dressers (also glued on) to the glaring light from white fluorescent lights, softened only somewhat by incredibly cheap-looking plastic covers. Most furniture in the cabins is poor-quality reproduction (again, vaguely Art Deco) or worse. In those few cabins where the original beds still exist, dime-store-quality upholstered headboards are nailed over the original beautiful and rare woods, effectively destroying the veneers. All over the ship, in fact, one sees wood paneling mutilated beyond repair because of various signs or notices that have been nailed, bolted or stapled to the walls and doors.

Also, contrary to Mr. Winberg's assertions, the furniture chained to the decks is NOT reproductive but, in fact, original, with Cunard Line markings still on the bottom. And what of the damage to the deck itself? As to removing the promenade deck windows to "give the tourists a breeze," why didn't Disney just open the windows? All of them were designed with the rack-and-pinion gears so that they could be cranked open or closed as needed. Their permanent removal has now opened the ship's interior to the weather, allowing wind, dirt, and rain to penetrate to parts of the ship that were never designed to handle such abuse, and the tourists I've overheard during visits to the ship complain of this area as a wind tunnel.

Finally, Disney may have spent "millions" on the ship, but my guess is that most of any such expenditure was for advertising. It certainly has not been used for either restoration or maintenance. Take the "Captain's Tour" and, as you stand on the catwalk in the empty boiler room, look down and observe the standing water in the bottom of the hull, accumulating from an overhead leak. There is so much standing water throughout the bottom of the ship, in fact, that a tour guide was heard to say that the hull is corroding from the inside out.

The Queen Mary is more than "just an old ship" (as described by one tour guide). She is the only survivor of a golden age in travel, and, more important, she is a work of art that will never be duplicated and can never be replaced. With the vast resources at its disposal, Disney could do a first-rate job of restoration and preservation instead of squandering funds on projects that not only cheapen the "Total Guest Experience" (to lapse into Disneyspeak), but hasten the beautiful liner's eventual destruction.

MICHAEL McGREW

Long Beach

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