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City Says No More Free Rides on the Queen Mary

August 08, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Officials have given the Queen Mary's free admission policy a burial at sea because too many people have been spending too little money when they visit the historic ocean liner.

Looky-loos push up security and maintenance expenses, said Joseph F. Prevratil, president of the RMS Foundation Inc., the nonprofit foundation that runs the city-owned ship.

Ship officials last week began charging $5 admission for adults and $3 for children 4 and older.

"We expect it will generate at least 10% to 15% more (income)," he said.

The admission charge is a minimum spending limit, he said. Visitors will receive "Queen Mary dollars" equal to the admission charge that can be spent at some of the ship's restaurants and on its tours and children's rides.

Prevratil and RMS took over the Queen Mary after the previous operator, the Walt Disney Co., decided last year not to renew its lease. Disney, which charged as much as $17.95 for admission, lost money on the ship for years.

RMS eliminated the admission charge with the hope that visitors would flood the ship and spend enough money at its restaurants, shops and other attractions to keep the Queen Mary afloat.

The crowds have not disappointed--about 300,000 people have boarded the ship since its June 23 grand opening. But many visitors are simply strolling the Queen Mary's wooden decks while keeping their wallets in their pockets, Prevratil said.

RMS has had to hire about 100 more employees to handle the crowds, he said. The ship also suffers wear and tear, requiring more long-term maintenance.

Prevratil called the move precautionary and not a reaction to a financial crisis.

"The success of the Queen Mary, in one way, has dictated this," he said. "It also proves that in these recessionary times people just don't have enough to spend."

City officials are watching the situation but are not alarmed about the financial viability of the ship.

"We figured he would have to charge something eventually," said city spokeswoman Joan Caterino.

Prevratil said RMS has spent nearly all of the $2 million donated by local philanthropist Robert Gumbiner to reopen the ship. But since the grand opening, the Queen Mary has generated more than $2 million in gross revenues and is operating in the black, he said.

RMS officials hope the ship can generate enough revenue in the busy summer season to weather the traditionally slower winter. They also plan a national fund-raising campaign to generate money to restore and maintain the ship.

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