By WADE DANIELS
In the wake of the hit movie “Titanic,” a surge of popularity is washing over the Queen Mary. Ticket sales for the Long Beach attraction are more than double the normal amount for this time of year.
“This is usually the slowest time of year for us, but attendance has been incredible,” said Queen Mary spokeswoman Lovetta Kramer. “There was an immediate jump in ticket sales after the movie was released in December.”
From Jan. 1 through Feb. 16, 70,322 people bought tickets to tour the ship, compared with 33,462 visitors for the like period last year.
That’s bringing a small windfall to the city of Long Beach, which owns the ship, and to the RMS Foundation Inc., which operates the Queen Mary under a lease agreement.
Profits from the Queen Mary are projected to reach $2 million this year, double last year’s amount and a vast improvement from past years when the attraction lost money under various other operators.
One factor contributing to the recent popularity is an exhibit aboard the ship featuring some 40 artifacts recovered from the Titanic wreckage, including crystal vases, kitchen cookery and bottles. Another factor is that the Queen Mary bears a strong resemblance to the ocean liner in the movie, Kramer said, so people are coming aboard to see the real thing and even to act out scenes from the movie.
“There’s the scene where (“Titanic” star) Leonardo DiCaprio is embracing his lady love (co-star Kate Winslet) from behind at the bow of the ship, and she has her arms out like she’s flying,” Kramer said. “People are going to our bow and re-enacting that scene.”
Though there are some visual similarities between the Queen Mary (which was launched in 1934) and the Titanic (launched in 1912), there are also some notable differences. The Queen Mary is bigger, at 1,019.5 feet long and weighing 81,237 gross tons, compared with the Titanic’s 882.9-foot length and 46,329 gross tons. Also, the Queen Mary’s decor reflects the Art Deco era, while the Titanic featured Gilded Age styles.
Jonathan and Gretchen Lamb of Los Angeles visited the Titanic exhibit on their fourth wedding anniversary last Wednesday with their infant son Stephen, saying they had seen the movie once and were planning to see it again.
“Seeing this exhibit solidifies the humanity that was lost in the Titanic,” said Gretchen, a dance instructor. “They have an old newspaper displayed here that lists the names of some of the people who died in the wreck. That really struck me.”
The exhibit, called “Titanic: The Expedition,” opened last May in anticipation of the movie’s then-scheduled summer release. When the release was delayed until December, the Queen Mary got an extension on its lease of the exhibit from New York-based RMS Titanic Inc., a public company with the rights to items salvaged from the Titanic. The exhibit is scheduled to close April 1.
Kramer said she and other Queen Mary officials have been somewhat surprised at the response to the exhibit. “We expected it to be a good movie, but it turned out to be something great for us,” said Kramer.
The Queen Mary’s attendance may also be receiving a boost from a cross-promotion arrangement with the movie’s producer Paramount Pictures Corp., which allows anyone with a ticket stub from the movie to buy a Queen Mary tour admission for $6 instead of the usual $12 for adult general admission.
After the movie’s Dec. 19 release, Kramer said her office received calls from several individual theaters wanting to set up promotion deals with the Queen Mary. Rather than make smaller deals, ship officials contacted Paramount to set up an arrangement whereby any theater in the region could participate in the promotion.
The increased number of visitors to the Queen Mary is also having a positive effect on other businesses in the Long Beach area, said Melissa Mills, a tourism industry consultant with PKF Consulting.
“Any time there is increased traffic at the Queen Mary, restaurants and other businesses in Long Beach benefit,” Mills said. “It helps (in the longer term) because L.A. County people who might not otherwise visit Long Beach are familiarized with the area and may find something they want to visit again.”
After the Titanic exhibit departs, Long Beach officials hope to maintain the improved Queen Mary attendance levels with the help of a decommissioned Russian Navy submarine. A diesel-powered Foxtrot-class sub, capable of firing torpedoes, will be moored at the Queen Mary’s bow in May and visitors will be able to board and explore it starting in early June.
A separate admission will be charged for the sub, similar to that charged for the Queen Mary tour, but those prices have not yet been determined.
“People are interested in submarines and particularly ones from the Cold War,” said Joseph Prevratil, president and chief executive of the non-profit RMS Foundation Inc., which operates the Queen Mary under lease from the city of Long Beach, the ship’s owner.
The 3,000-ton submarine is now an attraction at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Australia, where it has been on display since its 1995 decommissioning, attracting up to 250,000 visitors a year.
“It looked like a real winner of an attraction there (in Sydney) and I thought it could do the same here,” said Prevratil, who visited Sydney to see the vessel.
The RMS Foundation can lease the submarine from its owner, Sydney-based Foxtrot 641 Pty Ltd., for up to five years, depending on how well it draws customers.
Kramer said the Sydney company will receive a percentage of ticket sales, but she declined to offer specifics.
Prevratil and other officials are developing a plan to add even more attractions to the Queen Mary’s 54-acre site. Details about those plans will be announced in March, Prevratil said.
In an interview last year, Prevratil mentioned the possibility of building a theme park at the site called “Future Port,” as well as a maritime museum and a special events center.
February marked the five-year anniversary of the RMS Foundation operating the Queen Mary; its current lease expires in 2015.