Can’t keep a Queen down

A ma­jes­tic ocean liner is get­ting a bow to stern ren­o­va­tion and a club in the boiler room.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By AN­DREW KHOURI

WHEN Joshua Sch­wandt stayed at the Queen Mary sev­eral years ago, he loved the Art Deco wood­work and the way the Ob­ser­va­tion Bar oozed an old-timey feel.

He wasn’t as ec­static about his age­ing ho­tel room. The shower only driz­zled wa­ter, and the bed felt like “one of those dorm room beds that have been slept on for 50 years”, he re­called.

“The ship is just su­per cool,” the 35-year old hu­man re­sources worker said. “But I think in this day and age, you just have an ex­pec­ta­tion of more com­fort or class.”

With con­sumers like Sch­wandt in mind, the city of Long Beach and a lo­cal de­vel­oper re­vealed last year a pri­vately fi­nanced US$15mil (RM64.36mil) makeover of the ship – part of a larger ef­fort to bring more peo­ple to the re­tired ocean liner and de­velop the 18.21ha ad­ja­cent­toit.

For the ren­o­va­tions, Los An­ge­les de­vel­oper Ur­ban Com­mons – which took over a long-term lease for the city-owned ship and ad­ja­cent land ear­lier last year – said it wants to give the Queen Mary the lux­u­ries of a bou­tique ho­tel, while pre­serv­ing the feel of a “by­gone era”.

Ho­tel cor­ri­dors will be re­habbed and larger flat screen TVs and faster WiFi will be added to the 346 state rooms and nine suites. So­fas, mat­tresses and car­pets will be re­placed within the rooms and show­ers up­graded.

The so­fas will be in their orig­i­nal Art Deco style and ex­ist­ing night stands, head boards and dressers will be re­fur­bished. Ur­ban Com­mons is even work­ing with Brin­tons, a Bri­tish com­pany that de­signed some of the orig­i­nal car­pet on board, to recre­ate pat­terns that ex­isted in 1936 when the ship em­barked on its maiden voy­age.

The rooms, which now av­er­age US$175 (RM751) a night, are be­ing spruced up in stages and the ho­tel will re­main open dur­ing ren­o­va­tions. The work is ex­pected to start in a few months and wrap up late next year.

“What we will do is greatly en­hance the guest ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ur­ban Com­mons prin­ci­pal Tay­lor Woods said. “We will stay true to the de­sign, but we will bring a con­tem­po­rary in­flu­ence to our ren­o­va­tions.”

The re­make will go be­yond the rooms and in­clude new en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, in part to at­tract con­sumers in the large mil­len­nial pop­u­la­tion.

De­tails must still be worked out with the city, but Woods said his com­pany wants to put a mu­sic club or speakeasy in the boiler room and add ameni­ties to the rear deck, in­clud­ing a cin­ema and sports area, where tourists could play shuf­fle board or bad­minton and wade in a shal­low pool.

Near the front of the ship, Ur­ban Com­mons wants to up­date the Ob­ser­va­tion Bar, which orig­i­nally served as the ship’s first-class lounge, and bring in more mu­si­cians, while ex­tend­ing seat­ing onto the deck to cre­ate an “in­door-out­door” ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The Queen Mary is one of our city’s most im­por­tant and best loved as­sets,” Mayor Robert Gar­cia said in a state­ment. “Th­ese ren­o­va­tions are a great op­por­tu­nity for our­down­tow­nandtheen­tirecity. We are look­ing to cre­ate an en­ter­tain­ment des­ti­na­tion with some­thing for every­body.”

Alan X. Reay, pres­i­dent of At­las Hos­pi­tal­ity Group, said ex­ist­ing ho­tels are in­creas­ingly ren­o­vat­ing to re­main com­pet­i­tive with new lodg­ings, which are un­der con­struc­tion in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia at a record rate.

“Ho­tels that do not ren­o­vate or up­date are go­ing to have a re­ally hard time in the next three to five years,” he said.

In Ur­ban Com­mons’ case, “they are (cre­at­ing) the cruise ship ex­pe­ri­ence without hav­ing to sail around down to Mex­ico”, Reay said. “That will def­i­nitely al­low them to push rates – no ques­tion.”

Woods said the ren­o­va­tions aren’t in­tended to raise prices, but ac­knowl­edged that if they make the Queen Mary more pop­u­lar, a nightly stay may prove more costly.

Over the last 12 months, the ocean liner has had an oc­cu­pancy rate of 70%, about 8 per­cent­age points lower than down­town Long Beach, Woods said.

The ren­o­va­tions won’t be the first for the Queen Mary, which presents chal­lenges for up­keep given it is a roughly 80-year-old docked ship – not a con­crete ho­tel tower.

In 2008, a pre­vi­ous lease­holder em­barked on ren­o­va­tions that in­cluded re­fur­bish­ing the rooms’ orig­i­nal port­holes and adding flatscreen TVs. The ship has been pe­ri­od­i­cally up­dated since it first came to Long Beach in 1967.

Ur­ban Com­mons’ re­make will be more ex­ten­sive and is also part of a larger, US$250mil (RM1.0726bil) plan for the area.

The city is work­ing with the com­pany to de­velop the 18.21ha next to the ship, which to­day are mostly park­ing lots. For decades the land has been the site of failed pro­pos­als to com­ple­ment the Queen Mary, in­clud­ing a Dis­ney ma­rine park and a sci­ence fic­tion mu­seum.

But Gar­cia has said none of those ideas ad­vanced as far as the cur­rent part­ner­ship with Ur­ban Com­mons.

The Los An­ge­les com­pany en­vi­sions an ad­di­tional ho­tel, carousel, re­tail shops, restau­rants and a small ma­rina – as well as an am­phithe­atre and gi­ant Fer­ris wheel.

For­mal plans haven’t been sub­mit­ted to the city and may change, though Woods said he hopes what­ever is ap­proved could open in three years.

In the mean­time, lo­cals and tourists must be con­tent with an up­dated Queen Mary.

Sch­wandt, the for­mer guest, said the com­ing im­prove­ments sound fan­tas­tic – es­pe­cially given a more re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence he had on board.

Ear­lier this year, the Irvine res­i­dent tried to stay on the ship for a night with his girl­friend. But he said the rooms staff of­fered him were so dirty that he can­celled his stay and de­camped for a mod­ern ho­tel in Hunt­ing­ton Beach.

He re­called think­ing he would never again book a room at a place that he loves for its his­tory.

Asked if new beds, show­ers and more en­ter­tain­ment op­tions might lure him back for a third try, Sch­wandt changed his mind.

“Ab­so­lutely,” he said. – Los An­ge­les Times/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

A cy­clist ped­als past Shore­line Aquatic Park with the Queen Mary in the back­ground. — MARK BOSTER/TNS

Vis­i­tors at a ship­board mar­itime mu­seum on the Queen Mary.

Real es­tate de­vel­op­ment com­pany Ur­ban Com­mons is propos­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar plan to ren­o­vate the Queen Mary and de­velop a re­tail and en­ter­tain­ment venue in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. — Pho­tos: LUIS SINCO/TNS

Vis­i­tors walk past a photo of the 1930s com­edy duo, Lau­rel and Hardy, on the prom­e­nade deck of the Queen Mary.

Plans are in place to ren­o­vate the Queen Mary and de­velop a re­tail-cu­menter­tain­ment venue.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.