The Queen Mary has for years been a landmark in the city of Long Beach, an iconic ocean liner serving as a majestic sentry at the port and a popular attraction for both tourists and locals.
But the aging ship has in recent years become more of a white elephant, in need of millions of dollars in repairs just to stay afloat.
Years of mounting financial woes, a pandemic shutdown and the need for an overhaul made for an uncertain future for the Queen Mary. Financial audits showed the ship was running a deficit, and at least one report warned that it was at risk of sinking if it didn’t get that crucial repair work.
But now, the 90-year-old ship seems to be headed for smoother sailing, with financial records showing it is finally turning a profit for the city of Long Beach.
On the ocean liner that has been turned into a hotel and tourist attraction, rooms are being booked, visitors are touring the ship, and the Queen Mary’s operator said the number of visitors had been outpacing the figures from before the COVID pandemic, signaling a new, hopefully better, era for the famous ship docked in the Long Beach harbor.
But the recent financial turnaround will do little in the short term to address the extensive repairs needed to keep the ship afloat and open to the public.
The Queen Mary closed for more than three years because of the pandemic, and stayed closed due to those much-needed repairs. But once the ship reopened in April — this time under the city’s direction instead of a leaseholder — visitors began to return in greater numbers. Although the ship still needs significant mending, new paint, new floors and other work to keep the ship safe for visitors was completed. The ship has about 200 rooms and several large halls that can be booked for weddings and other gatherings.
“Even though it’s been here since 1967, it was kind of a relaunch — a new Queen Mary if you will,” said Steve Caloca, managing director of the ship under the contracted operator, Evolution.
It was a slow reopening, with just over a dozen rooms booked in the Queen Mary in all of April. But financial records obtained by The Times show the number of bookings quickly multiplied in the following weeks.
By July, more than 4,300 room nights were booked in the Queen Mary, and the ship’s operator has seen at least 3,730 bookings a month since.
“We reopened after a 3½-year hiatus, which is nice, and we’re making money, which is nice,” Caloca said.
The Queen Mary was still operating in a deficit during the first two months it reopened, according to financial information provided by the city. By June, however, the ship’s revenue had begun to outpace its expenses.
According to city records, between June and October of last year, the ship generated more than $12.6 million in revenue and more than $3 million in profits.
It’s not just rooms in the ship’s hotel that are bringing in visitors and their cash, Caloca said.
“We were getting the word out that there are things to do here,” he said. “It’s not just a beautiful ship.”
The Queen Mary began to offer old and new tours of the 1,019.5-foot ship, and hosting events to draw in locals, such as $10 entry fees on Tuesdays, he said.
A game room and revamped observation bar are available for overnight and day guests, and the ship also rolled out the commodore’s office, where officers are available to answer guests’ questions about the ship.
“We asked, what can guests do now that they’re staying at the Queen Mary; what kind of content can we provide?” Caloca said. “We’re able to create things for people to do here in Long Beach.”
For the city, it means the Queen Mary has generated more revenue in the last few months than it did for an entire year before the pandemic shut it down.
“Because of these new investments and amenities, we witnessed more visitors within six months of opening than we did in a full year prior to the pandemic, and I’m proud to share that the Queen’s profits in 2023 finished strong by coming back into the black for the first time in years,’’ said Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson.
But the ship has also needed, and continues to need, repairs and maintenance, Caloca said.
Much of the work done on the ship has centered on keeping it safe for visitors, as well as regular upkeep like painting, new flooring and lighting, and replacing new boilers and electrical transformers on the ship.
For the Queen Mary, which has been in dire need of repairs and work for years, turning a profit in 2023 is a significant turnabout in its recent history.
Financial audits of the ship obtained by The Times show that from 2007 to 2019, the Queen Mary saw losses of more than $31 million.
A profit could mean the ship could get some much-needed TLC to keep it financially, and literally, afloat.
“When we get excited about the money, it’s not that we made a profit,” Caloca said. “It’s that we made money, but now we can put it back on the ship that we love so much.”
The city of Long Beach took over the Queen Mary in 2021 after worries that the aging ship was not being maintained. One 2017 study of the vessel found that it needed up to $289 million in upgrades and renovations, including work to keep parts of it from flooding.
Court documents and inspection reports also found that it needed $23 million to keep it from capsizing.
Making the ship a profit center for the city has been a challenge for several lease operators that have been hired to operate the ship over the last few decades — including the Walt Disney Co.
In 2005, Queen’s Seaport Development Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and was found by Long Beach to owe $3.4 million in back rent. In 2009, the hotel was also at about a 50% occupancy rate.
Now, the profits coming in can also be geared toward new activities and entertainment to keep attracting guests into the Queen Mary, Caloca said.
This summer, operators hope to reopen a movie theater at the ship, which can double as a lecture hall and host other events, Caloca said. Another 100 rooms are expected to open by April.
“It’s not just, ‘Let’s fix it so it doesn’t break,” Caloca said. “It’s also, ‘Let’s fix it and make it so people want to come.’”