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Refurbished Queen Mary Readies for Waves of Visitors : Tourism: The ocean liner, closed two months, will reopen Friday. Admission is free; guided tours will cost $5 for adults, $3 for children.


LONG BEACH — After two months of unemployment, Joy Ortega was tickled to be polishing furniture in preparation for Friday's reopening of the Queen Mary.

The cleaning would soon be done, and Ortega, 64, would reclaim her position of seven years as a cashier at Sir Winston's restaurant aboard the vessel. "We're all doing everybody's work," said Ortega, who tried unsuccessfully to find another job while the ship was closed. "We don't care what we do as long as we get everything done."

Cook Jesus Sanchez, 33, was preparing sauces that would flavor the veal and filet of sole on opening day. Sanchez said he always thought that the Queen Mary would reopen, but he admitted worrying.

"If not, what (was my family) going to eat?" asked Sanchez, a father of three.

City officials are hoping that Friday ends the darkest and most painful chapter of the Queen Mary's 25-year tenure in Long Beach.

The Walt Disney Co., which took over the Queen Mary in 1988, closed the city-owned ship Dec. 29. The entertainment company decided not to renew its operating lease after years of losing money on the tourist attraction.

About 1,200 full- and part-time employees lost their jobs.

The ship is reopening under new management--the nonprofit RMS Foundation Inc., headed by Joseph F. Prevratil and backed by Robert Gumbiner, founder of FHP Health Care.

Since Feb. 8, about 150 employees have been shining up the ship for opening day, when another 150 workers will be brought on board, spokeswoman Lovetta Kramer said. About 1,000 employees will be hired by June.

The ship will be reopened in stages. Sir Winston's, the Promenade Cafe, the ship's bars and some shops will open Friday. Tours will be offered as well.

The fast-food restaurants, bakery, wedding chapel and banquet services will reopen Saturday. The Queen Mary brunch will resume Sunday.

The hotel will not reopen until March 5, and rides for children should be in place by mid-May. The dome that housed the Spruce Goose will be used for concerts and other special events, but no opening date has been set.

So far, the biggest change is the cost of boarding the vessel. The admission price, which reached $17.95 under Disney, has been eliminated.

A guided tour of the ship will cost $3 for children and $5 for adults. Tickets will be sold for the children's rides once they are installed.

By eliminating the admission charge, Prevratil hopes that many more visitors will walk the decks of the historic ocean liner and patronize its tour, shops and restaurants.

Attendance declined steadily after 1984, when 1.6 million people visited the ship.

"The high price of admission to the Queen Mary in the past was a major deterrent," Prevratil said.

Long Beach officials are hoping that the Queen Mary will make enough money to break even while the City Council decides whether the ocean liner fits into the city's development plans.

"We saved our only major tourist attraction," said Councilman Warren Harwood, one of the biggest supporters of keeping the Queen Mary rather than selling it. "It's a great relief and a lot of satisfaction."

Prevratil said he is confident that the crowds will return, if not this weekend, then by the time the ship's grand reopening is held in June.

"If it doesn't rain, we're expecting a pretty good crowd."

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